AN: Hey everyone. This story is officially not dead! Truthfully it never was, but I know it seems like it. It's a decent chapter, but its still a lot of character/world building at the moment. I hope you enjoy it, please read and review, I like knowing what you all think about it and trying to do better for next time. Thanks!
Infinite Strike Witches Chapter 5
In Witch we make some Friends.
Ichika Orimura followed Major Mio Sakamoto and American Representative Candidate Natasha Fairs down one of the most ornate hallways he had ever seen. The walls were made of white dressed stone with a wooden runner and a plush carpet ran down the center of a polished stone floor. The ceiling was at least twelve feet high and was held up by arches that were regularly spaced down the hall. Occasional alcoves held apparently real suits of armor, the doors were all solid wood and light was provided by bronze lamps with light bulbs burning in them.
Despite the plush surrounding the mood of the group was rather low. The three of them had been summoned by Lt. Colonel Wilcke to her office immediately after landing and she had not been happy to see them. Ichika didn't know what was wrong, but the stiffness in Major Sakamoto's back was not helping. Natasha had apparently picked up on the mood as well and there was also a slight stiffness in her gait.
Major Sakamoto had told Ichika to shape up and act like a man when they had been on the Akagi and he currently had no idea what was going on. In Ichika's world, a man knew at least as much as he was able to find out easily, so he decided to ask what was up.
"Major Sakamoto," Ichika asked softly, after checking to see if anyone was around, "Why are we in trouble?"
"And how much?" interjected Natasha.
"How much trouble…" said Sakamoto, "I'm not so sure. That depends on a number of things which I'm not sure about, the why is easy." She pointed at Ichika, "You're why."
"What?!" exclaimed Ichika, "What did I do? I don't even know the lady!"
"No," said Sakamoto, "you don't. And she doesn't know you either. But you're a man and that's enough."
"Huh?" coughed out Ichika.
"She's a man hater?" asked Natasha.
"No," said Sakamoto, letting out a sigh as they continued past several doors, "She doesn't hate men. But she has banned the men from any unnecessary contact with the Witches. There are…several reasons for that. But you were talking to Charlotte and Eila, so you're in trouble for that, I'm probably in trouble for bringing you and depending on what message central HQ sent, she might have a major head of steam built up over that."
"Well at least I'm not in trouble," said Natasha sarcastically.
"Yeah," agreed Sakamoto in a similar tone, "that's great. She probably thinks you're another Witch that I found somewhere, so she's probably not mad at you."
As Sakamoto led them through the castle they came to a room that contained several plush couches and a grand piano. On the other side of the room was an ornate staircase made of the same wood as the doors they had seen. Sakamoto led them towards it as she started speaking again.
"Mi…I mean Lt. Colonel Wilcke is actually a very caring leader and a great officer. She just worries about her charges a little bit too much sometimes," said Sakamoto as they ascended the stairs.
"So try not to take her attitude personally Ichika," Sakamoto said sympathetically, "She doesn't actually hate you, she's just had some experiences that say you shouldn't be around her girls."
"Ugh," said Ichika, "What is it with me and German women. They all dislike me for something I didn't do before they even meet me."
"I don't think Lieutenant Hartmann dislikes you," said Natasha, with mild humor in her voice, "She seemed nice."
"Great," said Ichika, "That makes one out of four."
"Four?" asked Sakamoto, turning down a hallway similar to the one they had been in, except for the high windows, "How do you figure four?"
"Well first was Laura," said Ichika, "I'm still not quite sure why she was pissed at me, but we're friends now so it doesn't matter; now Colonel Wilcke and Captain Barkhorn seem to hate me for something too."
"Hate is a strong word Ichika," said Sakamoto, "Colonel Wilcke doesn't hate you and neither does Captain Barkhorn."
"Well neither of them appeared to like me very much either," said Ichika grumpily.
"I already told you why the colonel is upset," said Sakamoto, "And Captain Barkhorn just has that face until you get to know her."
"Great," said Ichika, "another Houki. That'll only take three years."
"You really shouldn't judge people before you know them Ichika," said Natasha.
"It's kind of hard when you're already judged yourself," Ichika said.
Natasha had nothing to say to that so she didn't try to respond. It was then that Major Sakamoto stopped in front of a door that had a brass plate on it simply saying "Lt. Colonel Minna-Dietlinde Wilcke."
Sakamoto turned to face Ichika and Natasha, giving both of them a serious look. "I want both of you to stay out here," she said seriously, "I'm going to go in and see what I can do before you meet the colonel."
"Yes ma'am," said Ichika.
Natasha just nodded in agreement.
Sakamoto turned back around and knocked on the door, waiting a moment before hearing a faint, "Enter."
She turned to Ichika and gave him a smile before she turned the handle of the door and entered. Ichika sighed and slid down the wall next to the door before ending up on the ground.
"I'm sure the major will be able to do some good," said Natasha, taking a spot on the wall across from Ichika.
"Let's hope so," said Ichika, the tone in his voice not indicating he had any hope for that outcome.
Major Sakamoto shut the door behind her quietly and turned to face a room she knew well. There was a medium sized desk in the middle of the room, with two chairs in front of it and one behind. There was a typewriter on the right side of the desk and an in-out box on the left along with a stack of files in the middle. The desk itself was flanked by several filing cabinets on each side and a window behind it. Other than that the room was nearly empty, lacking any "I love me" pictures, only her citation for the Iron Cross signifying her years of service; a testament to Minna's lack of self-congratulation. However, it was also bare of any photos of friends or loved ones besides a small picture of the 501st.
Minna herself was currently standing with her back to the door, staring out the window over the gray castle walls and over the English Channel towards the cloud shrouded Calais.
"Major Mio Sakamoto reporting as ordered," said Sakamoto formally, raising her hand in a formal salute.
Minna stood there for a moment before turning and walking to stand in front of Mio. Staring into Sakamoto's eye she stayed that way for a few seconds before suddenly moving forward and embracing Sakamoto.
"Mio," she said happily, "I was so worried about you."
Sakamoto was taken aback for just a second before she returned her friends embrace.
"Worried about me?" she said, "Why were you worried about me?"
Minna released her grip on Sakamoto and stood back before answering, "Central HQ forwarded Captain Ichegawa's report to us as soon as they got it processed," she said, lifting the report off the desk and showing it to Mio. "It wasn't very detailed, but it did mention that you were attacked by a dreadnaught and had lost your Striker." Setting the report down she sat on the desk, "That's why I was worried about you," she said.
"Oh," said Sakamoto, surprised by Minna's announcement, "Is that the one that mentions how Miss Fairs saved my life?"
"Yes," said Minna, "It did mention that, I was planning on thanking her for it after you introduced her and her "friend."
"Friend?" asked Sakamoto, Minna's tone making her wonder, "Minna, what exactly did that report say?"
"The report said that you and the ready fighters engaged a flying type dreadnaught along with twenty supporting fighters," answered Minna, "All eight ready fighters went down but managed to destroy sixteen enemies before they did. You managed to severely wound the dreadnaught but its firepower damaged your Strikers and forced you to ditch. It was then that Miss Fairs appeared with her prototype Striker and her "support personnel." She managed to save you and destroy the dreadnaught without further loss of life."
"Ah," said Sakamoto, understanding at least partially why Minna was upset. Now she just had to set the record straight. "Minna," she said in a serious tone, "That report is false or at least parts of it are."
"What?" said Minna, a look of shock on her face, "Why would Captain Ichegawa falsify his report?"
"Because both he and I thought it was a good idea," answered Sakamoto.
"What?" said Minna again, her brain churning overtime. Normally she would have gone off on somebody who even mentioned falsifying reports, but Sakamoto was one of her closest friends and a consummate professional. If she had falsified her report then something big must have gone down. Taking a breath to calm herself she said, "Can you explain, please?"
"The short version is that the boy saved me, using something similar to a Striker," said Sakamoto, which got a look from Minna, "Do you want the long version?"
"I think I better get it," said Minna, rubbing her forehead, "Is this why I got a message from command saying you were bringing a man and that General Galland is visiting tomorrow?"
"Probably," said Sakamoto, "I called her from the Akagi to explain and get a cover story set up."
"Great," said Mina, "I can tell this is going to be good already."
"It is," said Sakamoto, "Most of the report is accurate except for the end. How it actually happened was…" Sakamoto explained to Minna how Ichika had appeared in front of her, managing to save her and take out the dreadnaught without getting hit. She also explained her talk with Captain Ichegawa, her call to General Galland and the ideas they had discussed
"So that's what really happened," finished Sakamoto, now seated in front of Minna's desk.
"That's a lot to swallow," said Minna, seated in the chair behind her desk.
"True," said Sakamoto, a small grin on her face, "But you didn't see him make the armor disappear into thin air like the rest of the girls did."
"No I didn't," agreed Minna, "But I'll see it sooner or later." Pausing she asked Sakamoto, "What do you think of him?"
"Ichika?" said Sakamoto, thinking about the boy, "If you want to know if the girls will be safe around him then my answer is yes. Other than that I couldn't tell you much, but my gut feeling is that he's a good man and someone we could use around here."
"How can you say that the girls will be safe if you don't know him?" asked Minna, her voice curious.
"Because of Natasha," said Sakamoto, "I think it would be better if she explained it to you."
Minna sighed and nodded, saying, "Alright, bring her in."
Sakamoto nodded and went to the door. Opening the solid wood she gestured to Natasha to come in, saying, "The Colonel would like to speak with you Miss Fairs." Glancing down at Ichika she gave him a reassuring smile and a wink, closing the door after Natasha came in.
For her part Natasha wasn't certain how this was going to go, but she fell back on her military training as she approached the desk. Taking a position of attention and saluting she said, "Representative Candidate Natasha Fairs at your service ma'am."
Surprise flashed briefly in Minna's eyes, she had assumed that both visitors were civilian but Natasha's salute was too good to be anything but practiced. However she quickly recovered and returned the salute and then extended her hand, saying, "Lieutenant Colonel Minna Wilcke, a pleasure to meet you Miss Fairs."
Taking Minna's hand Natasha gave it a solid shake. "The pleasure is all mine," said Natasha, "I understand that we're going to be in your care for a while."
Minna gestured for Natasha to sit, with her and Sakamoto following suit. Once they were all settled Minna said, "That is actually what we are in here to discuss Miss Fairs."
"Really?" said Natasha, her right eyebrow rising, "I was under the impression that it had already been decided."
"Partly," answered Minna, "I have no problem with you staying here and Miss Miyafuji was already expected. What I do have an issue with is your…friend, Mr. Orimura staying here. Major Sakamoto has already explained your circumstances to some extent, so I know that putting him in with the male ground crews we have stationed here would be a bad idea, which means that he would have to stay near the Witches. However I have, for a variety of reasons, orders in place preventing contact between the Witches stationed here and any men except for that necessary for the completion of duty. Putting any male, no matter the age, near my girls is something that makes me worry about them. "
"Major Sakamoto," continued Minna, gesturing to the person in question, "believes that you can alleviate these worries. If you can I welcome you to do so. However, if you can't, I will find myself in the position of having to request that Mr. Orimura be transferred somewhere else."
Natasha had listened carefully to Minna speak, wanting to develop her own opinion on the colonel. From Minna's tone and facial expressions she found that Major Sakamoto was right. Colonel Wilcke hadn't shown any sign of hatred when she spoke of the maintenance personnel or Ichika and had seemed to be genuinely concerned about "Her Girls". But Natasha also saw that it would be hard to convince her to let Ichika stay. So she decided to bring out the big guns in response to Minna's statement.
"I will certainly do my best," she said her tone polite, "Firstly, has Major Sakamoto had time to explain to you about our equipment, the Infinite Stratos?"
"No, she hasn't," answered Minna, "In fact I was under the impression that you were a Witch with an advanced Striker Unit until about five minutes ago. Major Sakamoto has explained nothing beyond her rescue at the hand of Mr. Orimura."
"Ok," said Natasha, her brain churning, "Then I should give you some background before explaining about Ichika."
"Please do," said Minna, nodding slightly in agreement.
"From what Major Sakamoto and I have discussed, in my world the Infinite Stratos or IS functions similarly to Witches in this world," said Natasha, "It is the ultimate concentration of military strength, faster, better defended and wielding more firepower of anything of conceivable comparison. We haven't discussed numbers, but my impression is that the number of Witches worldwide is low, maybe in the thousands or tens of thousands."
"That is mostly correct," agreed Minna, "At least for frontline capable Witches. The actual number that have lower but still detectable magic capabilities is estimated to be somewhere in the hundred thousand range."
Natasha nodded in acknowledgement, "Well the IS has a similar situation except more extreme. There are exactly 467 IS cores, of which only about 300 are available for action at any time and we can't make any more. This means that IS's are the ultimate symbol of power, so much so that controlling only a few would allow you to rule your own country. Can you imagine that much power?"
Minna shook her head, saying, "No I can't, not personally at least."
"Neither can I," said Natasha, "But barely a day ago I was involved in a battle involving seven top of the line IS's, all of which I believe to now be in this world."
"How does this relate to Mr. Orimura?" asked Minna.
"Of those seven," returned Natasha, "six of them are piloted by females, me included. In fact, Ichika is the only known male user of an IS. Before him only females could pilot an IS."
"Why?" asked Minna, "Is there something different about females in your world?"
"Not that we can find," answered Natasha, "There are several guesses as to why only women can pilot an IS, ranging from spite on part of its female inventor to simply because it's black box technology. But the bottom line is that when the IS was introduced ten years ago females became the dominant sex in the world. Ichika grew up in that world; as well as following behind a sister who was and arguably still is the top IS pilot in the world. Then when his ability was discovered he suddenly became one of the most important males in the world."
"What would you expect him to do then," continued Natasha, her tone becoming questioning, "When he was taken and put in a school filled with nothing but hundreds girls who have little to no interaction with any man besides him, most of whom have been in all girls schools for most of their lives and almost all of them find him interesting simply because of what he can do?"
"I'm not sure," Minna said slowly, "But after a period of time I'd expect him to probably become something of a womanizer based on what you've described."
"And I'd probably agree with you," said Natasha, "Having so many people fawning over you is generally a direct route to a big head and bad habits. But that didn't happen with Ichika. Not only did he not get a big head, he didn't even have a girlfriend after almost three months. This is including five girls who are constantly around him, two of whom lived with him in the same room and one of whom publicly kissed him while declaring they were married."
"That's…not what I would expect," admitted Minna, her face becoming thoughtful, "Though having five girls coming after him at the same time is not a stellar recommendation, unless you want to tell me that he didn't encourage any of them."
"He didn't encourage any of them," said Natasha, her voice frank.
"How can you know that?" asked Mina, her voice questioning, "I mean you said he lived with two of them, how can you possibly know what he did in his room?"
"I'm not privy to how they got the information," said Natasha, "But all five of the girls were watched closely due to their various circumstances and Ichika was probably watched more than the rest of them. All the reports I was given said that Ichika was not only, not encouraging them, but that he was completely unaware of their affections in the first place."
Taking a deep breath, Natasha said, "He also said as much to me when we talked on the Akagi. Or at least that he hadn't noticed until recently and was playing that he still hadn't to make sure he didn't hurt any of them." Looking Minna in the eye she said, "I believe him."
Minna looked in Natasha's eyes and saw that she believed what she was saying. Moving her gaze over to Sakamoto she gave her a questioning look. Sakamoto nodded in response. Looking back to Natasha, she gave her another look before saying, "If what you say is true, then I will allow Mr. Orimura to stay on base. But if there are any complaints of inappropriate behavior from the Witches he will be gone. Is that understood?"
"Perfectly Colonel," said Natasha, "But I think you should tell him that yourself, I'm not his superior, just a little older and more experienced."
"I plan on it," said Minna seriously, "But you're the one who said he would behave, so I'm going to hold you responsible for him. If he goes you go too."
"I'm fine with that," said Natasha, no hesitation in her voice.
"You put a lot of faith in him for somebody you apparently only know through reports Miss Fairs," said Minna, her voice skeptical.
"And you seem quick to judge for somebody who knows nothing besides the fact that he saved one of your subordinate's lives," returned Natasha.
Both women gave the other a measuring look. Both were strong willed, determined and opinionated. Both of them were not the kind of person that backed down easily. But neither of them were the type to make enemies for no reason.
"So you're sure?" asked Minna one last time.
"Very," said Natasha.
"Then that's that," said Minna, waving her hand, indicating that the topic was discussed, decided and done.
"Is there anything you wanted to talk about before we bring Mr. Orimura in?" asked Minna.
"No," said Natasha, shaking her head slightly, "He needs to know just as much as I do."
"Alright," said Minna, switching her gaze to Sakamoto, "Would you bring him in Major?"
Sakamoto nodded and stood from her chair, walking over to the door. When she opened it Ichika had stood and was waiting against the wall instead of on the floor. His eyes were closed, his arms across his chest and his head was down. To a casual viewer he would have appeared to be the picture of casual nonchalance. But Sakamoto could see the small tells around his eyes and mouth, while his hands grip on his arms was a little too tight.
When she opened the door he glanced up at her, his face admirably calm given the situation. But Ichika had been blessed, or in this case cursed, with expressive eyes. Despite admirable self-control some of his worry appeared in his dark brown pools.
Sakamoto couldn't help but give him a small reassuring smile though her voice was level as she said, "The Colonel will see you now."
Ichika nodded the worry in his eyes fading at Sakamoto's smile. Straightening up, he entered the door as confidently as he could. Upon entering he walked up to Minna's desk, between the two chairs and assumed something that could have been called attention. Ichika knew enough not to salute, so he simply said, "Ichika Orimura here to see Colonel Wilcke."
Natasha for her part was mildly surprised at how composed Ichika seemed. While not perfect, his stance and greeting were such that no one in the military could really call him to task for it.
Minna simply sat behind her desk and seemed to be examining Ichika as he stood. Finally, after Sakamoto took a stance behind her chair, she gestured towards the vacated seat in front of her and said, "Please sit Mr. Orimura."
Ichika nodded and sat, though there was a slight tension in his shoulders. Minna paused for a second before continuing. "As Major Sakamoto has probably told you, normally men are not allowed unrestricted access to the Witches stationed here. Even the mechanics who service our Striker units are only supposed to speak to us on matters of military concern. Despite this," a small grimace seemed to flicker across her face, "And due to your….specific circumstances, Major Sakamoto and Miss Fairs have convinced me to allow you to stay with us."
Something inside Ichika seemed to pop at her statement and the built up tension seemed to leak out of him, though he still didn't say anything.
Minna continued in her impassionate tone, "However, if there are any complaints by the Witches regarding your behavior towards them then I will have you removed, is that clear?"
"Yes ma'am," said Ichika, nodding his head to make sure his acknowledgement was clear.
"Good," said Minna, her voice softening just a little, "Now with that taken care of onto other matters. Both Major Sakamoto and command have told me of your seemingly "Magical" technology. As commander of this base I want to know exactly how dangerous it is and how I can best make use of you in case I need too." She looked first at Natasha and then at Ichika when she spoke.
Natasha and Ichika looked at each other and Ichika shrugged his shoulders, surrendering the initiative to Natasha.
Turning to Minna Natasha spoke frankly, "Honestly Colonel the only answers I can give you are "Extremely" and however you want too. IS's have no comparison in my world and we have almost eighty years of technological development on yours. The only thing I don't know is how an IS compares to a Witch, though I imagine that they would still be outclassed on an individual basis."
As Natasha finished speaking Minna looked over to Ichika, "Do you have anything to add Mr. Orimura?"
"Uhm, no ma'am," said Ichika, his tone only slightly hesitant, "I've only had three months training on an IS so if you want to know anything beyond that then you need to ask Na… Miss Fairs."
Minna nodded and turned back to Natasha, "You say that you'd be extremely dangerous even to a Witch, but the only thing you've faced is a Dreadnought. Do you have any basis for this?"
Natasha nodded, "Do you remember how I told you about Ichika's sister?"
Minna nodded and Ichika twitched when Natasha mentioned Chifuyu.
"Well, she won the IS Olympics twice with only a sword," said Natasha, "And the Olympics consist of the IS's fighting one on one duels till there's only one left standing." She paused there before adding, "And Ichika is equipped with that same sword if you'd like to see it."
Minna gave Natasha a look and then turned to Ichika, "Is that true?" she asked.
"Yes," said Ichika nodding, "I could show it to you if you want."
"Right here?" asked Minna, "In this room with no danger to anyone?"
"Yes," answered Ichika.
"Alright," she said, mild caution in her voice, "Show me then."
Ichika nodded and then lifted right hand. One second it was just his hand and a white bracelet around his wrist. Then there was a flash and a gold trimmed white gauntlet with black fingers appeared clutching the hilt of a sword. A moment passed and then a blue-white blade made out of light appeared from the hilt, reaching most of the way to the ceiling.
"This," said Ichika looking at his blade, "Is Yukihira Type 2, Byakkushiki's main weapon."
For her part Minna managed to keep her jaw attached, though there was definite surprise on her face. Natasha was smiling at Minna's reaction and Sakamoto had a thoughtful look on her face. Ichika took his eyes off Yukihira and looked at Minna, who stared for a few more seconds before composing herself. Taking a breath she looked at Ichika and Natasha again before speaking.
"Alright," she said, her tone only a little off from before, "Two questions: First, can you do that for all of your armor? Second, do you have any more weapons?"
"Yeah," said Ichika raising his left hand. There was another flash of light and there was a similar gauntlet on it as well. "This is my Setsura upgrade, it has three modes: a particle cannon, an energy shield and an energy claw." As he said each of them he briefly demonstrated each, showing each mode but not doing anything with them. After he finished he dismissed both hands and looked towards Minna again.
She was looking back at him, her eyes thoughtful. Ichika found her look to be…intense. Like she was trying to peel away the layers surrounding him and get right to his core. The stare only lasted a few more seconds before she broke it and asked a question.
"Is there any limit to those weapons?" she asked, her tone thoughtful.
"Well, there's one for me," said Ichika, his voice sounding mildly embarrassed, "All of my weapons are energy hogs so if I use them for too long then my shields will become drained and I can't fight anymore. But most IS's don't have that problem."
Minna paused at that, before asking, "Then why does yours?"
"Honestly I'm not really sure," said Ichika sheepishly, while looking down "Like I said I've only been operating an IS for three months and that's mostly concerned with basic piloting. But from what people have told me and what I've figured out myself, it means that my suit is supposed to be operated by someone more skilled than I am. Since it's designed almost purely for offence, the person piloting it is supposed to be skilled enough to take advantage of that fact. I'm not, so I end up losing a lot because I run out of energy."
Ichika paused for just a second before continuing, "The only reason that I managed to defeat Miss Fairs Silver Gospel was because of my friends and Houki's ability to recharge shield energy. I'm also honestly not sure how useful I'd be in a fight against something besides an IS, since most of my weapons are for close range."
Looking back up, Ichika saw that the Colonel was giving him that look again. But she again broke it quickly when he looked up. Switching her gaze to Natasha, she asked, "What about yours?"
"Well," said Natasha, her gaze moving back to Minna too, "The Gospel is, or was last time I checked, equipped with magnetically contained and guided plasma weapons."
Ichika, Minna and Sakamoto all looked at Natasha like she had just grown a third head, though Ichika at least had something resembling comprehension in his eyes.
Natasha sighed, "It shoots little pieces of the sun and can guide them on target with a force-field," she said, looking mostly at Minna and Sakamoto.
Both Minna and Sakamoto looked suitably impressed at that. "What about energy consumption?" asked Minna.
"Nothing like Byakkushiki's," answered Natasha, "Though it does drain my shields a little when I fire a full barrage, my normal fire rate doesn't affect it in the slightest."
"That sounds…much more useful," said Minna.
"Yeah," said Natasha, "That's because my IS was designed primarily to fight in a war, not tournaments."
Sakamoto gave her a look when she said that, as did Ichika.
"I thought you said it was illegal to use an IS in war," said Sakamoto.
"It is," said Natasha, her face grim, "But the US military was sure that somebody would eventually break the treaty and wanted to be ready."
"That sounds like it would make somebody break the treaty," said Minna.
"I don't make policy decisions Colonel," said Natasha, "I just fly them."
Sakamoto gave a small grunt at that, she had obviously had similar sentiments before.
"True," said Minna, looking thoughtful again. Looking up again she said, "Speaking of which Miss Fairs, you're obviously at least partly military. Does Representative candidate translate to an actual rank?"
"Technically a Representative Candidate is answerable only to the government under which they serve," said Natasha with a small grin, "Practically it means that nobody under a full Colonel ever gave me orders that weren't from somebody with a higher authority. But I didn't really have a command either. So either a Captain or a Major would be an appropriate rank I suppose. Why?"
"Because I don't want the fact that the two of you came from another world," Minna said that with some disbelief still in her voice, "to become common knowledge. That means you need to have some cover stories. You being a Captain will draw fewer questions than being a civilian."
"Ah," said Natasha, she then looked at Ichika then back at Minna, "What about Ichika? He's not military"
"I think making him a pilot trainee and leaving him in the hands of Major Sakamoto would be the most appropriate thing to do," said Minna, looking at Ichika. Major Sakamoto's face didn't change when Minna said that, but an undeniably pleased air seemed to appear around her.
"As for the rest, Major Sakamoto has already laid the foundation. You're both part of an experimental Striker program run exclusively by the Witch Council. Anything else we can fill in later or deflect to people with higher rank. You both understand?"
Both Ichika and Natasha nodded in response to Minna's pointed question.
"Good," she paused there before suddenly looking behind them at the door and then sighing, "Charlotte, Eila come in. Perrine and Francesca, you have five seconds or I'll have you cleaning latrines for a week."
There was a scramble behind the door; some scraping, several thuds and a few grunts were audible. Then there was silence, before a mildly embarrassed Eila and guilty looking Charlotte, changed into a brown jacket, came in, both rubbing the backs of their heads.
"Hello Ma'am," said Shirley, a silly grin on her face, "Did you need us for something?"
"How much did you hear?" said Minna, resignation in her voice.
"Ooh not much," said Shirley, "Just the part about Natasha being a Captain and something about experimental Striker units!"
"Eila?" Minna said, shooting a look at the Finn.
"Same thing as her ma'am!" she said, "Nothing secret or anything!"
Minna sighed again. "Well," she said, "If you happened to…remember hearing something else keep it to yourselves."
"Yes ma'am!" the pair chimed in unison.
Turning to Natasha and Ichika, Minna said, "This seems to be a good stopping point in our discussion seeing as how we've been interrupted. Was there anything else that you two wanted to discuss?"
Natasha shook her head no, but Ichika's mouth opened before he flushed slightly and shook his head no.
"Out with it Ichika," said Sakamoto, "Remember what we talked about."
"Yes major," said Ichika, before gulping and continuing, focusing mostly on the wall behind Sakamoto's head "Uhm…why…," another pause and a deep breath before a rush of words, "Why aren't any of you wearing pants?!"
There was a pause in the room as all four Witches looked at Ichika. Eila and Shirley we're behind Ichika, so he couldn't see their faces, but he could feel them staring at him. Lt. Col Wilcke, he couldn't call her Minna like the others, was just looking at him with a blank expression. Major Sakamoto had a look of mild surprise on her face. Then she burst out laughing.
"Ahahahaha," Sakamoto guffawed, "I guess you wouldn't know that now would you. It's simple really; our Strikers need skin or skintight contact to function. Since we're on the frontline, it's easier to just not wear pants in case of an alert."
"Oh…ok," said Ichika, his face still red.
Natasha meanwhile, had a thoughtful look on her face, one that Minna noticed.
"Did you remember something Miss Fairs?" she asked.
"No," said Natasha, the look disappearing when she looked up, "just had a thought, nothing important."
"Alright," said Minna, her tone indicating that she wasn't entirely convinced. "Eila, Shirley, I would like you to show Mr. Orimura and Miss Fairs around the Castle please. Make sure they know how to find whatever they need."
"Ma'am," the both replied.
"With that, I think we're done here," Minna said to Natasha and Ichika, "Someone from Headquarters is coming down tomorrow to see us so make sure you get some rest. I'm sure we'll have more to talk about later and my door is always open in case you have a problem."
Ichika and Natasha both nodded as they stood. Shirley and Eila led the way out of the room, Natasha followed. Before he left, Ichika turned to Minna and bowed, saying, "Thank you for letting me stay Colonel," before turning and walking out the door.
After it clicked shut, Minna let out a sigh. Sakamoto looked at her.
"Why're you sighing?" she asked, "I thought that went well, all things considered."
"That's why I'm sighing," said Minna, "If that boy is half as upright as you and Miss Fairs paint him to be, some of the girls are going to be after him in a week."
"And that's a problem?" said Sakamoto, moving to sit in the chair vacated by Natasha.
"Yes," said Minna, looking at Sakamoto, "You know why I don't let the girls talk to the men, things happen to them and the girls get even more stress than they already have. They're running on the ragged edge as it is."
Sakamoto sat for a second before saying, "Did you ever consider that it might be good for them to have men around?"
Minna made to say something but Sakamoto held up her hand.
"Hear me out," she said, "I'm not saying we should let them go do whatever they want with the mechanics. But sometimes it's good to have a man around to do things, even if it's only psychological."
"Maybe," said Minna, "But I'm still concerned."
Sakamoto grinned, "Well, you wouldn't be you if you weren't. Give me a chance with him and then we'll see what you think."
A small smile appeared on Minna's face. "Alright," she said, "I'll give you a chance. Now don't you have things to be doing since you just got back?"
"Yes I do," said Sakamoto as she stood, "I'll see you at dinner."
"Of course," said Minna, nodding at Sakamoto, "See you then."
Minna watched as Sakamoto left, before standing and looking out her window over the channel, her face troubled.
Out in the hallway, Eila and Charlotte led Natasha and Ichika back towards the stairway and the intersection closest to it.
"So," said Charlotte, "Where to? I don't think you have rooms assigned yet, but they're all down this hall here." She pointed to the left.
"Maybe I'll show you mine later," said Eila, sidling up next to Ichika with a grin.
Ichika, despite still feeling uncomfortable, managed not to flush. "No thanks," he said, his tone only mildly strained, "I'm sure I could find if I needed too."
Eila looked like she was about to say something else, but she was interrupted by Charlotte. "That was pretty good," said the red-head with a grin, "The last person she tried that on turned beet-red and ran off."
"T-thanks," said Ichika, flushing just slightly at the praise.
"As I was saying," continued Charlotte, "Is there anywhere you want to go or should we just give you the tour?"
Ichika's stomach growled, reminding him that it had been about seven hours since he last ate. "Do you have a kitchen or something?" he said with an embarrassed grin, "I'm kind of hungry, and we didn't have lunch."
"Sure!" said Charlotte brightly, "Follow me!"
The small group trailed after the tall girl, heading downstairs. As they were walking down one of the many similar hallways, Charlotte glanced back at Ichika quickly before turning to face forward again. But Ichika, seeing the look on her face, said, "Is something wrong Charlotte?"
As they neared the corner, Charlotte turned her head to look at Ichika as she turned and said, "It's nothing, I mean it's just…"
It was just perfectly cliché. Natasha watched the collision happen in almost slow motion. Charlotte rounded the corner at the same time as another girl, the one that had left with Yoshika, was doing the same. Neither of them was looking where they were going and their shoulders collided. Charlotte, being the larger of the two merely stumbled a little, catching herself quickly. The other girl somehow managed to trip on her own feet and turned what should have been a quick recovery into a near fall. She was only saved when she ran into the person nearest to her, who just so happened to be Ichika.
Ichika didn't see it coming. One second he was talking to Charlotte and then the next somebody was stumbling towards him. Instinctively he reached out and caught them, wrapping his arms around their body. Looking down, he saw a girl with a pretty face, matching blue eyes and long, light brown hair. She looked up at him a stunned look on her face.
They stayed like that for a second before Ichika realized that his arms were still wrapped around her and that he should probably be letting go. Releasing his arms, he realized that she had her arms around him as well and had not let go.
"Uhm, it's ok to let go now, I won't let you fall," he said, placing his hands on her shoulders instead of around her waist like before.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" said the girl, releasing Ichika and stepping back, her face bright red in embarrassment. Her stepping back allowed Ichika to get a good look at her. She was wearing a white collared shirt with a green tie that was partially covered by a beige V-neck sweater which was in turn partly covered by an unbuttoned black jacket that hung off her shoulders. She was also wearing green and red striped socks that almost completely up her thigh. She was currently standing with her hands grasping her elbows and her head slightly down, giving her an extremely shy air. It also served to push her rather impressive assets together, almost causing Ichika to stare.
"It's ok," said Ichika rubbing the back of his head and forcing himself to look at her eyes, "You just grabbed me when you fell. It's not a big deal. I'm Ichika, Ichika Orimura, what's your name?"
"I-I'm L-Lynette Bishop," said the girl, perking up slightly when he didn't chastise her.
"Well Lynette," said Ichika holding out his hand and smiling, "It's nice to meet you."
"I-It's nice to meet you too," said Lynette, softly grabbing his hand and giving it a small shake.
Rather abruptly, as if they had been in their own little world for a time, the rest of the people around them broke in nearly simultaneously.
"This is great!" said Yoshika, who had been walking with Lynne, "Lynne-chan and Ichika-senpai are friends!"
"Lynne that's cheating," said Eila, "Getting the guy to catch you isn't fair to the rest of us."
"Hmm," said Charlotte, "I should've thought of that first. Making a quick grab are we Lynne?"
Unheard by anyone else Natasha muttered under her breath, "He's doing it again…"
Lynnette, her head now down, was turning even redder at the comments of her fellow witches. "B-b-b-but I-I d-didn't…I-I mean…"
Ichika, using his finely tuned sense of the obvious and his own desire to get out of the situation as quickly as possible, stepped in to help out the embarrassed girl, "Lynnette," he said, shaking her shoulder lightly to get her to look at him, "weren't you showing Yoshika around?"
"Wh-what?" said the red faced girl, her eyes barely managing to focus on Ichika's face.
"Weren't you showing Yoshika around before we bumped into you?" asked Ichika gently, though insistently.
"Y-yes, yes I was," said Lynnette, grasping onto the straw Ichika held out.
"Then why don't you keep showing her around, we're on a tour ourselves so we need to get going," said Ichika.
"O-ok," said Lynnette, finally managing to calm down slightly.
"Good," said Ichika with a smile before turning back to Charlotte, "Weren't we on our way to the kitchens? I'm hungry."
"Yeah yeah," said the American with a grin, "follow me." With that she headed down the corridor she had been turning into when she ran into Lynnette, with Eila following close behind, still muttering about Lynne cheating.
"Bye Yoshika, Lynette," said Ichika waving at the two girls, "See you around."
As he started down the corridor he heard Lynnette call out, "It's Lynne!"
"What?" he said, turning back to the pair.
"It's Lynne," said the English girl, "My name I mean. My friends… call me Lynne."
Ichika smiled at her again before saying, "O.K. Lynne, see you later."
It was then that Natasha grabbed his arm and hauled him down the hallway, preventing Ichika from seeing Lynne turn an even brighter red than before.
As he struggled to keep up with the angry American that was partially dragging him down the hall Ichika said, "What was that for?"
"You did it again," said the Blonde, her voice flat.
Ichika opened his mouth to protest, but then closed it again, recognizing that this was one of those things he couldn't win. So he simply lengthened his stride and followed after her.
Back at the intersection Lynne stood there for a second, staring at the space where Ichika had been. Then she whirled around and put her fists under her chin, face still bright red.
"B-b-b-boy, I t-talked t-t-to a b-boy..." she muttered under her breath.
"Lynne, are you ok? Your face is red," said Yoshika, the smaller girl concerned for her new friend.
"T-that was the first t-time I t-talked to a-a b-boy," said Lynne, her stress and embarrassment finally bleeding out of her.
"Really?" asked Yoshika, "The first time ever?"
"W-Well I have brothers," said Lynne, "But besides them I never really talked to men much."
"What about school?" asked Yoshika.
"I went to an all-girls school," said Lynne, her voice sad.
"Aren't there men on base?" asked Yoshika, "I saw them when we landed."
"Colonel Minna issued orders so we're not allowed to talk to them unless it's necessary for military matters," said Lynne, her voice still morose, "And since I'm new I haven't talked to them either."
"Oh," said Yoshika, her normally perky voice somewhat down. Perking up she said to Lynne, "Well, now you can practice with Ichika-senpai! He's really nice, I'm sure he'll be happy to talk with you."
"A-are you sure?" asked Lynne, nervousness coming back into her voice at the mention of Ichika, "I-I mean I don't even know him that well and-and…"
"Of course!" said Yoshika, moving her face close to Lynne's, "Ichika-senpai is really really great!" Looking around she became shy for a second before saying, "I get homesick sometimes and Ichika-senpai told me that if I did I could come over and sleep with him so I could feel better and that was just after we met. I'm sure he'll talk to you if you want Lynne!"
"O-ok," said the shy girl, "I guess I'll try…"
"Yay!" said Yoshika again, "Now we can all be friends together!"
"Yeah," said Lynne softly, smiling at Yoshika's antics.
"Come on Lynne lets go," said Yoshika, pulling Lynne towards the stairs, "You haven't showed me up there yet.
"Ok," said Lynne with a small smile, letting Yoshika lead her towards the stairs as she said under her breath, "Friend's with a boy…"
"Here we are," said Charlotte, gesturing grandly into the witches' dining room and attached kitchen. Grinning as she spoke Charlotte said, "Everything here you could want, everybody's from different places so we've got just about anything you can think of."
Ichika stepped into the kitchen, looking around at the large stoves and refrigerator, wondering how much he could cook with the implements he saw. Opening the fridge, he asked Charlotte, "Is there a cooking schedule?"
"Not really," answered the redhead, "We've got a cook so we don't have to do it ourselves, though you're welcome to do so." Pointing to various cabinets and drawers she said, "Dishes are there, silverware is in those drawers and dry goods are over there."
Grabbing what appeared to be some ham to make a sandwich, Ichika stuck a piece in his mouth before asking, "You really don't cook for yourselves?"
"Nope," answered Eila, her previous grin coming back, "Why? Are you some kind of master chef or something?"
Working quickly with a knife and a loaf of bread Ichika quickly set about making a large sandwich for himself. "Not really," he said, slicing the bread with no problem, "But I grew up with only me and my sister. She was working all the time so I ended up being the one who did most of the domestic activities, even from a young age." Looking up at Natasha he asked, "Do you want some too?"
"Sure," said the American, feeling her stomach rumble in response to the sight of food.
"Just give me a second," said Ichika, who quickly set to work on another sandwich.
"So," asked Charlotte, mildly impressed at Ichika's quick food preparation despite his claims, "What can you cook O not master chef."
"Well," said Ichika, finishing up Natasha's sandwich and opening the fridge to put the ham back, "Just about anything really." Shutting the fridge he handed a plate containing a beautiful looking sandwich to Natasha. Continuing he said, "I mean, traditional Japanese food is my specialty, but I can cook most western styles too."
"How about hamburgers?" asked Charlotte with a grin.
"That's like, baby cooking," said Ichika, taking a bite out of his sandwich. Chewing before he continued he said, "I mean, you press the beef into a patty, put some seasoning on if you want and don't burn it, not very hard."
"Oh?" said Charlotte, "Well then you'll have to make me one sometime, so I can see if you're not full of hot air."
"Fur," said Ichika, his mouth muffled and full of ham. Swallowing he said, "I mean sure, if you have the ingredients I can make it."
"What about potatoes?" asked Eila, "Know any good potato recipes? We've got a lot of those and the chef can't seem to make anything other than fried."
"Sure," said Ichika, finishing off his sandwich, "I mean there's baked, mashed, roasted, potato salad, potato soup…"
"Stop stop," said Charlotte, waving her hand, "You're making me hungry and it's not time for dinner yet." Gesturing at herself and her assets she said, "I've got to eat right to maintain my girlish figure."
Ichika, looking at Charlotte, wisely decided not to say anything. Turning back to Natasha, who was just finishing her sandwich he asked, "How was it?"
"Good," she said, licking her fingers, "I mean, it was a ham sandwich, but it was a good one."
"Thanks," said Ichika, favoring Natasha with a grin. Grabbing her plate as well as his own, Ichika walked back to the kitchen to wash them, leaving the two Americans and the Finn alone.
Turning to Natasha, Charlotte asked, "So where did you get him?"
Eila added with a grin, "And where can I get one?"
Natasha, who was now getting used to the witches thinking her and Ichika were together, didn't want to claim Ichika after denying it before others, but wasn't entirely sure she should leave Ichika to the two witches tender mercies, asked a question in return, "Why? What's it to you two?"
"I mean…what's not to like?" said Charlotte, glancing back at the kitchen where Ichika was cleaning, safely out of earshot, "I mean he cooks, cleans, and seems like a nice guy…"
"And he looks yummy," said Eila, the lewd grin still on her face.
"And that," said Charlotte with a similar grin.
Deciding that she didn't like the two younger girl's looks, but still not wanting to be completely honest, Natasha said, "What makes you think he's mine?"
Looking back at Ichika, still busily moving around the kitchen, Eila snorted, "He certainly didn't pick you up," said the pale girl, her head swiveling back to Natasha, "He's not the type."
"Even I can tell that," said Charlotte, "And besides, if a girl is older than the guy, she's usually the one who picked him."
"Which means you got him," said Eila. "Or," she said a glint in her eyes, "That he's fair game. So which is it?"
"It's…complicated," said Natasha, thinking fast even though she wasn't entirely sure why she was doing it, "We've only known each other for a short time…and a lot has happened, so I'm not entirely sure what he thinks of me." That statement was at the same time completely true and a lie, she thought.
"So you're not dating?" pressed Eila.
"Well, no," said Natasha, deciding not to outright lie to the girls, "But…it's a possibility."
Natasha had hoped that this would discourage the two girls, but she had hoped in vain. Eila merely looked like she was preparing for a challenge, though Charlotte at least had a thoughtful look on her face.
Natasha opened her mouth to say something but that was when Ichika walked back into the room, causing her to shut her mouth so as not to give away anything.
Walking up to the three girls he smiled and said, "All done in there, where to next?"
Eila took the opportunity to stand up and grab his arm, pulling him along behind her, "C'mon," she said, "We should show you…uhm…the hangar!"
Ichika didn't resist, too surprised by the energetic girl to put up any resistance. Natasha was about to say something but stopped as she saw Charlotte's eyes light up.
"Yes, the hangar!" she said a little too excitedly as she stood up and followed them, "Very important!"
Sighing, Natasha followed after the three and they quickly reached the hangar, which was filled with tools, parts and the Striker units that the witches used, each on its own stand along with a couple of spares that were against the wall.
Also inside the hangar were Gertrude Barkhorn and Erica Hartmann, Barkhorn going over the weapons mounted next to her Striker while Erica was lazing on top of the stand.
"A real soldier of Germany would check over their own equipment every mission Hartmann," said Barkhorn as she looked over one of two MG-42's that were laid out beside her.
"Don't wanna," said Hartmann lazily, the little blonde stretching her arms as she did, "Besides, I've never had any problems and I know you haven't either. There's a reason we get the best mechanics Trude."
"Still, a real soldier…" Barkhorn began before noticing the four that had entered the hangar. "Hello," she said to the group as they headed towards her and Hartmann, though not warmly, "I take it that you've been allowed to stay since you're not in handcuffs," the last part was directed at Ichika.
"Ah, yeah" he said, not really sure how to respond to the brunette, who, despite being about three inches shorter than him and weighing a good twenty pounds less, was one of the more intimidating people he'd ever met, "Colonel Wilcke said I could stay as long as I behaved."
Trude nodded at that, "Then see that you do so." Pausing just slightly her face eased up just a bit and she held out her hand as they approached, "I guess we haven't been formally introduced, Captain Gertrude Barkhorn, 501st Joint Fighter Wing."
Ichika took her hand and returned its measured grip, "Ichika Orimura, ah, I guess I'm a pilot trainee, or at least that's what Colonel Wilcke said."
"Really," said Trude, looking at Ichika, "I guess you'll be staying for a while then."
"Yeah," said Natasha, stepping up towards the slimmer girl and offering her hand, "We've been attached to your unit indefinitely. Captain Natasha Fairs, experimental Striker Pilot," she said as an introduction, the lie rolling right off her tongue.
"Captain?" asked Trude, her eyebrow arching as she took Natasha's hand, "Are you going to be part of the command chain?"
"No," said Natasha, returning the shake, "It's mostly a formality for the regular forces, Ichika and I won't be interfering with your unit."
Barkhorn nodded, "Good, no offence but we need the best combat efficiency we can get at the moment."
"I understand perfectly," said Natasha, "I know how messing with squadron dynamics can effect combat performance."
While this was going on, Erica had hopped down of the Striker stand and offered her hand to Ichika. "Hi," she said her voice noticeably warmer than Barkhorns, "Erica Hartmann, First Lieutenant, but you can just call me Erica, or Hartmann, everyone else does."
Ichika returned the gesture, "Ichika Orimura, you can call me Ichika."
"So you'll be staying here awhile?" asked the blond pixie cut girl.
"It looks like," said Ichika, who was much more comfortable talking with Hartmann than Barkhorn.
"Cool," she said, "It's been awhile since there have been guys around. What'cha doing in the hangar anyway?"
"Uhm, well Eila and Charlotte were showing us around and they said that we should come here," said Ichika, "I'm not sure why actually."
"Yes, why did you bring them here?" asked Trude, turning back to the rest of them.
"Well, uh," said Eila, "We'd shown them the dorm hall and the kitchen so this was the next place I thought of."
"I wanted to see his new Striker," said Charlotte simply, "It looked fast." She turned to Ichika, "It is fast right?"
"Uh, yeah," said Ichika, "It's pretty fast."
"Good!" said the redhead excitedly, "We can have a race!"
"I don't think…" started Ichika, but was interrupted by Natasha.
"That's a great idea," she said happily, "We can do it tomorrow, Colonel Wilcke said something about brass from HQ coming down tomorrow and they'll probably want a demonstration."
"Sounds like a plan," said Charlotte grinning, "Make sure you're ready for it Ichika."
"I will be," said Ichika, his turning his head slightly to glance at Natasha out of the corner of his eye.
"Great!" said the cheery American before gesturing to a Striker stand a little way down the hangar that seemed moderately more tool cluttered than the rest, "That's my stand, I do most of my own engine work. If you'd let me I'd love to take a look under your units hood." She paused briefly before brightening again, "Well, if it has a hood I mean."
Ichika was about to open his mouth and reply when out of nowhere a long drowning howl echoed through the castle and its environs.