I presume I had to clarify something that changed in this fic compared to canon AC, namely

1 FALKEN doesn't exist in 1998 Conflict

2 And thus, COFFIN (see below)

3 Steam Catapult is relatively outdated, and most aircraft catapults are EMALS (Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launching System), driving the launching shuttle with EM power than steam pressure.

4 Boeing ABL (Airborne Laser) is operational in Osea, albeit with limited number.

5 Likewise, naval railgun is operated solely by Aegir Fleet

Bear in mind, not that I hate the fighter or anything, but I just want to adjust the technology with real world. EMALS, ABL, and Rail gun is within research capacity of real world, and considering how advanced Strangereal is, I wonder why they don't even exist, while Excalibur and Stonehenge is. Especially in case of Stonehenge, since human engineering has more difficulty scaled up than down.

FALKEN will make a sudden appearance, and while not as over the top as god forsaken cheater that is Morgan, it's nature as one-of-a-kind superfighter is pivotal to the plot as well. (First guess is wrong, trust me)

Infinite Stratos

-Unsung War of the Shattered Sky-


Izuru Yumizuru & Okiura


And everyone else!

Operation 03: Legacy of the Demon Lord Part 2

20 September 2004, Allenfort Airbase, Newfield Island, North point.

0900 Hours

North point is the name of country resides northeast of Usea, most of the population have distinct racial and cultural background from the mainland. Even though it used standard language, it has certain unique linguistic system and nomenclature as well.

Ichika Orimura for example, while he was born and raised in Ustio, his heritage originated from this country, hence the odd name and appearance.

It didn't take him a lot of time for him to adapt since he arrived here eight years ago, one year after the Great War engulfed his country ended.

And yet, now he felt like a stranger once again.

North Point Coastal Defense Airbase, for him, is just as alien as Belka for him. Struck with Mariner flightsuit and babbling different jargon for a lot of things, for starter.

And the fact that he was completely stranded from the chains of command.

It was all a lie on his part, though.

Everyone is so friendly it hurts; he was more bothered by the fact that 70% of ISAF Air forces really are composed of women.

Well… what's left of them anyway, the fact that 'Men are expendable' viewpoint still at play largely what caused it all. ISAF causalities are close to two million as of now, and more than 80% of them are men.

"Ensign Orimura reporting, Ma'am"

He arrived in the commander's office, though he changed into ISAF air force uniform just now, he still kept the navy's insignia taken from his piloting outfit. It was awkward, but wearing a damp flight suit would be rude.

The room was simple, but well decorated, as expected from a high officer's room. Ichika straightened his back and saluted proper, facial expression remains perfectly neutral.

Greeting him is unexpectedly a young woman, but not ANY young woman, as he could see from her uniform; she's someone of way higher rank than him. She was calm, and her blond, curly hair is tied due to its length.

Her crystal clear blue eyes made its way to pierce Ichika's gaze, but Ichika remains passive. This incited a chuckle on her part, realizing on how stiff he is, and more than that, not out of personal awkwardness. Ichika simply did what a good soldier do.

"Please sit down, my rank is higher but technically you're not under my jurisdiction" the base commander is very young, probably slightly younger than his sister, in fact "My name is Natasha Fairs, I was born in Osea but moved here shortly before college"

Ichika noted that she didn't formally introduce herself, probably to ease him. It was somewhat unnecessary, but he was thankful either way.

"Ichika Orimura, 24 years, freshly graduated from Naval Aviation School shortly before the war and turned out to be top dog amongst his peers and is pressed into reserve pilot team, however, circumstances prevented your deployment until very recently. Am I correct?"

Ichika felt like to dig a hole and bury himself, is he ever that good? All he can remember is that the flight instructor had a field day scolding and punishing him, never once praised him.

But refuting the so called military facts is suicide, so he simply nodded.

"Yes, Ma'am"

She didn't even avert her gaze away before went for the next stuff "Squadron 118 were annihilated before they're born, I'm sorry for you to hear this… but none of your teammate survived"

Ichika lowered his head in response, not that he really surprised. His teammates were preparing for takeoff until rain of explosive pillar unleashed furious hell to the flight deck, burned everything.

"What's more is what you did afterward; you alone managed to turn the tide of battle"

Ichika honestly feel that he's overrated, he only shot down several bomber and a damaged fighter, his only accomplishment is survive the initial onslaught and wait until reinforcement arrived.

"That's not true ma'am" Ichika firmly refuted "Sky Eye and Hanagumi is the reason why"

"And why did you say that?"

"Enemy SEAD units - or rather, their absence. The coastal SAM system still operational, though covering much lesser range than normally due to the total blackout of long range Early Warning system. I figure that someone somewhere is handling Erusian SEADs because the network is mostly intact"

"You're interesting, indeed. However, they actually underestimated the amount of short range SAM we installed here" the beautiful, blond commander chuckled "Hanagumi divert from their main course after we spotted a small force of Rafales on their way to mainland. The reason of why they're short one plane is that single plane has to resupply. And this is where your role is crucial: you inflicted a lot of damage into enemy's bomber formation and saved this base"

Delivering a wry smile in response, the young pilot knew exactly what she's speaking about. Short range SAM is not only cheap, but also easy to operate and move around. After suffering so much loses, there's no way ISAF will play nice. Missile spam is not something beyond them.

But without good air cover, short range SAM is just glorified target practice for stealth aircraft… or heavy jamming. That has been demonstrated by the loss of the fifth navy battlegroup, in spite of heavy surface to air implements, they're annihilated soundly by Erusean naval aircrafts.

So either Erusean stupidly forget to destroy them, or they can't. The Etendards already spent their munitions on Ichika's comrades, so he figured they won't be able to advance further. Not to mention Etendard wasn't a long range aircraft to begin with.

In fact, up until yesterday, ISAF defense line in North Point is simply impenetrable until the long range warning and defense network is disabled.

"However, despite the overall success of thwarting enemy's main objective, the resulting damage and casualties is unacceptable" Natasha clenched her teeth, which only gives around the overall situation, every single individual in ISAF are furious.

The navy alone lost no less than two supercarriers and their escort complements, the ground force has been plinked and bombed to oblivion and a fraction of air force aircrafts and a whole base has been erased off records. Casualties numbered over a thousand from each branch, and probably still growing.

Meanwhile, the enemy is, at best, suffered a little over a hundred, along with several dozen planes of various types. The only part where Erusean didn't triumph is that they failed to destroy ISAF GHQ in the mainland as judged form their flight trajectory.

For some people, numbers are numbers, but for others, it's more than that. The psychological damage is nearly unbearable. That includes Ichika himself.

"Currently, the higher echelons are talking about possibility of rapid response combined operation. The viability of inflicting as much tactical and strategic damage to the enemy, we're pretty confident about it. However, once again, we simply did not want anymore senseless sacrifice. Each and every lives lost in the battlefield has to be count"

Ichika can read where this conversation going, there's good chance that he will work together with Air Force and Army, after he met his new team of course. After all, Squadron 118 is no more.

Sure as hell it wouldn't be easy, but that's the only viable solution.

"As it decided, highly likely you will be pushed into active service again. However, do remember that I'm not one to overstep my bound, until the new order from the Navy came, you are free to stay here. For now, you can dismiss"

"Affirmative" Ichika saluted soundly, but shortly before he left, Natasha called again "Uh, please wait a minute"


"Could you please join Hanagumi in the simulator room? It's mostly personal interest, but I'm not the only one who wanted to know the extent of your abilities"

"I'll do my best" Ichika smiled.

Natasha sighed in disappointment as she pulled out her drawer, looking at a framed photo. Slowly, she delivered a soft smile as she recounted memories of the past.

Stood there are five people, two males and three females, all within their 20s and is in their glory. They have returned as hero once again, despite being lowly mercenaries at the time. Around this time is when they're absorbed into newly formed ISAF as special task force.

Her eyes focused on one of the female, the only one with no smile pictured.

"And you said he was different like day and night with you and her, you liar"

Ichika walked along the corridor, and by then, he noticed, roughly a fifth of the base were in the state of repair, the damage was light, but after spotting that bloodstain near the holed wall, Ichika shut himself up.

Things really don't go so well, but at least, he survived. He will get his payback no matter what.

But first thing first, the problem is this to put with hyperactive, less than stable twin sister. At least, until he moved SOMEWHERE. If not, he'll probably explode, and that's the last thing he wanted.

"Yo dawg, how was the affair with base commander"

Ichika rubbed his chin, mumbled "You're telling me now, Madoka, she's probably younger than Chifuyu-nee"

She whistled and chuckled, elbowed him teasingly as they walk "What, y'a didn't know? She joined Scarface in 1995, and both of them are involved in 1998 Conflict after neesan joined one year prior"

Hearing that, he froze on the spot with jaw stretched slightly. The comical situation last for roughly five second, and he put a palm on his face in response "I didn't see it coming"

She winked at him as she dragged his sleeve childishly "Hey, even nepotism can be reasonable"

Simulator rooms were unusually empty; that it's not really a big base to begin with might say something regarding ISAF's military condition.

There are eight simulator units in total, and six of them are standardized for Air Force personnel (three Osean and three Yuktobanian model), the other two is mostly to introduce how Navy roll, apparently based on the cockpit of a Hornet and navy MiG respectively.

"Ran, learn to improvise, you moves are too predictable"

"I'm truly sorry"

Ran Gotanda slump her head on the simulator screen, feeling even less happy when it was shown that her scores aren't half bad, especially as far as her age and experience concerned. She wasn't even finished basic entry when the war began.

But in the brutal battlefield, simply by being decent is not enough. What's more, she was placed in an elite squadron, that's quite taxing by itself.

"Don't 'sorry' me; you're here for a good reason. If it was anyone else, they will not survive using a tiger like you are"

Bossy, stubborn, bossy, tall, menacing, bossy, did she already think that word three times? Well, maybe, but it was appropriate.

In her crispy suit, the Pilot Officer stood aside the simulator unit, looked down at the younger teammate with mixed emotion.

"Your harsh reassurance enlightens me truly" Ran replied with a mocking tone, her superior just chided but seems to realize that ranting about her mediocrity will not give anything satisfactory.

"I just say that we don't have enough time"

The bright red haired young woman knew that, behind her unsympathetic words, there's a genuine concern and care. The only thing annoy her to no end is that this woman doesn't knew when to back down, or rather, too prideful to apologize.

It should be expected, by the start of war, Ran weren't even halfway into graduation. It was less than five months ago she began combat maneuver and training, and yesterday is her first dogfight ever.

But once again, ISAF need each and every capable pilot in their hierarchy, even those that's clearly under ranked or over ranked, or sometimes, less than adequate attitude. As long as they're loyal, functional, and effective, they're in.

The fact that the legendary Wing Commander Chifuyu Orimura joined the fray once again should give some clue how dire the situation is. Anyone past OF-3 normally won't sit on top of the hot seat of a cockpit, but comfy chair in a specially prepared working room.

Meanwhile, on the other simulator, the squad leader popped out with truly concerned look, almost childlike even. The fact that her physical appearance doesn't match her biological age made it even worse.

"Ara-ara, Shinonono-kun, be lenient a little to her" she said as her big, moist eyes widened even further. As one can say, like a dog pleading.

Pilot Officer Houki Shinonono is not amused "Are you being serious, taichou?" Houki purposefully use the local terms for emphasis.

But no matter what, Flight Lieutenant Maya Yamada earn her rank through years of service and whatnot, hence she dismissed it lightly without losing all her charisma.

"To make up with our lack of manpower, ISAF had tried to maximize the efficiency of training doctrine to maximum level. Trying to speed it up further will result in critical failure, that was the least thing we want to worry about"

Houki went into silence, eyes closed, hidden behind her shortened bang. Maya was right, either way, so she will not fight a losing debate. She is not THAT stupid.

Ran continued to sortie once again, this time, she should be able to avoid being panicky like usual. The static equilibrium within the room was broken shortly by a distinct voice of a male.

"Flight Officer Orimura reporting! Ensign Orimura is here as requested, ma'am"

Ichika was surprised his twin sister is able to held such a serious, firm expression, but then again, military will do that to anyone. He went a long as proper and saluted.

"Thank you very much, Orimura-kun, ah, but if he's also an Orimura, this would be awkward then, if somehow three of us confined in a tight situation-"

"Taichou" Houki coughed before her quirky captain can continue her unnecessary (and sometimes unethical) ramblings. Ichika had met a lot of women in ISAF military, and this one is not the strangest either way, so he just smiled in response.

"Ah, su-sumimasen! I should introduce myself first, Squadron Leader Maya Yamada at your service"

There should be a cricket somewhere; Ichika practically BEGGED it, anything, just to defuse the awkward silence. Scratch that, this is certainly one of the strangest one.

"Where we just now again? Oh right, Base Commander Fairs seems to have special interest for you, Ensign. What did you say if I asked for some recordable demonstration, then?"

Finally, he was relieved. Madoka almost laughed her stomach off, while rudely pointing at him. To say he was irked is an understatement; he was really dead tired with the expectation crap when his first combat sortie happened just yesterday.

"Pardon me to say this, Ma'am. I feel so hyped and that burdened me a lot. But no matter what, it is a reasonable request and within my abilities to fulfill, so I am obliged to do it"

"We will see dat, bro" a light tap on the shoulder came from his female counterpart, who giggled teasingly before jumped into a simulator unit. Sometimes he felt that he wanted to question why ISAF want a pilot with loose attitude and speech impediment.

"I figure you're not familiar with ISAF Air force cockpit layout, if was convenient that we have two navy unit here for the purpose of comparison, F-18 and MiG-29K respectively"

Ichika held his chin accordingly as he recalled his memories, he already flew both aircrafts in combat maneuver and training. Each of these aircraft has its own merit and flaws, both are great choice either way, after generalization of improvement over aircraft engineering post Belkan War, the status of Yuktobanian aircraft's infamous 'not user friendly' hardware had all but diminished.

Fulcrum is closer to Viper than a Hornet is, so he will choose the MiG instead.


"Yes, Ma'am?"

Facing him is a woman roughly his age (assuming her age doesn't fool him like the flight leader is), she was tall and proud, much like his older sister in fact. Her reddish brown hair hardly longer than his twin sister's own black hair, but it was tied into short ponytail… which somehow defied gravity and split into two.

Her dark blue eyes stared into his intently, watching his reaction unveil. He didn't really do anything for few second, until he opened his mouth "What can I do for you, Ma'am"

"… nothing, be sure to fulfill that boast-worthy expectation of yours and don't slow us down"

"I think I already made points about my abilities being overrated" he said, but she seems to ignore it.

As soon as Ichika sat on the mock cockpit, Yamada's voice echoed on his helmet's speaker "Please engage the COFFIN System."

"Wha? Oh right" Ichika whip out the nearby manual book (conveniently there on the seat even), and proceed to push the buttons he never found at a real Fulcrum. Within ten seconds, the simulator unit is fully enclosed, apparently by display screen "Wut"

"[To enhance the effectiveness of training, we're working with North Osea's Grunder Industries to develop this system. This cockpit, as you see, is capable of projecting high-resolution image on the screen, simulating real life flying experience visually]"

Then it switched to Madoka's voice instead, her playful tone had returned to its glory, which he somewhat glad "[In short, darling, this is really an expensive arcade console… except it's not for gaming. Some proposals has been submitted regarding of the possibility using COFFIN design in real aircraft, but it's still too fragile to be viable]"

"What I can say, it's awesome" Ichika confirmed.

Everyone wasn't wearing anti-g external implements, but they still wear their flight suit for convenience. Ichika just got his out of laundry, distinguish him from everyone else. Either way, since he's not a foot soldier, the point is moot.

He looked around, minus the instrument for COFFIN system, everything else is similar to the revised Fulcrum cockpit, and so, he began to simulate the check and recheck process as proper.

"Flaps, rudder, engine, landing gear, weaponry, all check"

The entire machine vibrates a little as the engine ignited, unusual that Ichika never experience it in the old simulator unit, but it's better that way, feels more real even if a little.

"All clear, Mobius One, Takeoff"

And the machine shook harder as the catapult drove his virtual plane to the sky (though there's no apparent g-force whatsoever), the environment uncannily resembles the sea-faring landscape of Newfield Island in general, something he had seen several times during flight training, and yesterday, of course.

Soon after, he was in the vicinity of data-variant of Allenfort Base. He rendezvous with the four-woman flight team.

"[We'll receive in-flight briefing very soon]" Yamada-taichou's extremely soft-sounding voice overtook the simulated engine noise.

It happened so fast that Ran actually froze on her spot, the briefing we're just that: destroy these bandits yadda-yadda.

Truth, Ichika is using a Fulcrum, which far from bad unit, but taking out TWO FLIGHTS comprised of Viggen and Mirages BY HIMSELF is really much of a stretch. Yamada's kill count might be much higher, and the rest of Hanagumi (including herself) is no pushover, but then again, they work together.

Granted, the system's AI is quite predictable, and easier than the Erusian fighter pilot they fought yesterday (which say something about the uselessness of 'single player mode').

All happened in the timespan of five minutes.

He might be not as good as Yamada, but that amount of talent cannot be found in any newbie, no wonder he challenged the entire Erusean attack group yesterday, with a Phantom no less. Granted, he made a point of using the existing SAM network as support. But still!

The second sortie has him versus Yamada; he was able to hold her for SIX MINUTES before declared shot down. The computer system is advanced enough to model a realistic damage calculation rather than 'two direct hit = dead'. While the lack of g-force might help, no one else in the squad able to do that against Yamada, as of now.

Had she met him five years ago, she will instantly fell in love.

"Holy crap bro, I love you so much"

"The heck are you doing, Madoka?!"

"Go away wench, he is mine!"

"That is NOT the problem here! Besides, there's BIG difference between simulator and real deal"

Houki simply can accept him being that good… yet.

In front of her, the infamous maverick pilot Madoka become 20% more excited than usual, immorally smothered her brother without shame. As the first one with so called uptight attitude, Houki takes great offense into that and tried to pull her away.

Okay, scratch that. Ran actually fell for him, or at least, that will justify her inner fangirl to resurface. His existence made 24 years old air force officers act like jealous schoolgirls! Isn't this technically fraternization and breaking military code?


The phrase hit her inner fangirl like a sack of brick, and thus, her brain froze the very instant the realization came. Her mouth left open like a confused goldfish.

"Would you PLEASE behave yourself?" he frowned after nonchalantly pushed his sister out of his way (gently enough) "Madoka, that's embarrassing"

"You keep telling yourself that"

"No, just no. Wing Commander Orimura will out for our blood. Look, we're already 24 years old; we're commissioned Officer first class serving in military, possibly getting promoted soon. And we're not even in the same branch. By doing this, you might jeopardize us off accelerated promotion. Can. You. Dig. IT?!"

Emphasis is very much required if he wanted her to take him seriously, it never fail as far as he can remember.

"Aye fellow-"

A pair of arms hook Madoka's body at once, dragged her out of room as quickly as Yamada began to spoke. The answer to her supposed to be question is a cheery shout from two anonymous young women came out of nowhere "Commander Natasha is calling~!"

Ichika can't believe he'd lose a nerve like that, to his sister even, but for some unknown reason, he lost something… something that's actually bad for him. He don't know what, just that he felt… glad.

"Ara-ara" Yamada knocked herself silly "I feel embarrassed, I'm sorry, Orimura-kun. I was unable to discipline my squad member properly"

Even though she said that with dorky expression, Ichika knew she was serious, and he was serious himself, he felt no obligation and he will do what he should do.

"I am the one should apologize first and foremost" he bowed in response "I take full responsibility causing this mayhem, Ma'am"

Squadron Leader Yamada just smiled softly on the direction of the door.

"But really, she must love you so much that she purposefully made you angry"

"How does THAT even work?" Houki thought aloud. If it was her years ago, she will bluntly ask. But now, she opted to be silent. Leered at the youngest people in vicinity, that is, Ran, she seems to be confused as well, maybe even more so considering how stunned he is.

"It's not within my authority as military officer to say so, but before the war, I'm a combat instructor, and knew how to be a teacher. You let yourself confined and had your emotion bottled up, and she will not let you destroyed from the inside because of that"

Yamada's frail looking hand firmly held his shoulder tight, her innocent eyes pierced directly into his realm of mind, indicating how serious she is. "And do remember, you're not alone"

Ichika's eyes widened in a painful realization, he has no parents, all he had is his sister, and now, he distanced himself from them. To say its stupid is an understatement.

Yamada is the shortest member in the entire squadron, possibly one of the shortest in the entire base even. Her shoulders were narrow and relaxed, her eyes are so big and both her face and attitude made her easily mistaken for a young teen.

"Oh, by the way, we will stay on standby until the next, scheduled training after lunch. Be sure to ready for emergency deployment, but no need to be so tense."

"Yes, Ma'am!"

But behind all those superficial qualities, within her is a senior military officer and more so than that…

"She's really like a mother huh?" Ran giggled cheerfully (Ichika doesn't know about her brain crashed before) "She's very kind and caring, and yet, is no slouch as a leader and teacher"

"…I feel like having a mother I never had" Ichika smirked.

"But you really don't want her to be angry" Houki commented coolly, to which Ran froze again in response.


"Rang me if Yamada-taichou called, I'll be in the dojo beating the crap out of straw dummy"

"Did I just hear about a dojo?" a newfound interest was hinted in Ichika's voice.

"North point, you know how tight we embrace tradition and all. We're taught Karate, Judo and Kendo in the academy, but Houki-san knew Kendo as long as she could remember" Ran shrugged in response, she didn't like martial arts THAT much though, but she admit it was fun enough not to be a waste of time.

"Interesting" Ichika snapped his finger and approached the taller girl, walked beside her. She, as Ran expect, quickly put a defensive stance… and he broke through that using sheer ignorance and bright smile. What a smooth operator…

Ichika stopped midway when Houki said "Fine" a loud, but without implication of being angry whatsoever.

"Anyway, do you have a brother or someone like that?"

Ran nodded "My mother said I did, but I never remember him at all" and she was being honest at that, her mother said about divorce back when she's barely one year old.

For a while, Ichika look stunned, before reverted into his usual face "I see… Well then, please tell Madoka I'll join her at lunch"

"Sure thing"

Ten minutes later, Madoka walked out of Natasha's office, cracking her neck. She wasn't the type who liked military procedure at any rate, but then again, why she joined Air Force again? Oh right, because the career prospect. Ichika's outburst reminded her of that.

Or rather, that's what he said, considering their job; Ichika has only one thing in mind: save as many people as possible. They're nowhere near as noble as Red Cross or IMF, but strong air force ended the war quickly as proved by history… and yet Ichika ended up in the Navy.

She still confused why, but then again, Navy also needed their share of decent pilot. Perhaps Ichika also wanted to try something new.

Madoka and Ichika got separated for a while after the occupation of Directus –the capital city of Ustio- by Belkan Force, she knew the war was horrific, she saw a lot of atrocity and misery, but she was sure Ichika experienced worse than her. Oh, and her older sister too, but that's a given.

Losing a fiancé is no small business.

If anything, she acted like mentally retarded hyperactive woman to do just that: she wanted to balance it out with her brooding-for-life siblings. Oh, how it feels good. Worth the scolding, indeed.


"Ooh, Ran, just what I need!" the woman waste no time at all and smothered the poor young officer cadet affectionately "geez, stop that already"

"Why? I never have a little sister to cuddle with, my twin brother is an ass, and my older sister… well…"

Less said about Chifuyu Orimura, the better. Ran admittedly joined air force because of her, but after knowing her closer… she just as scared of her as most people…

Chifuyu is a patron saint for each and every female pilot, but she's not the best example of goddess to worship. War goddess maybe, but…

"Okay, okay. Ensign Orimura said he'll join you during lunch"

"O-ho, and where is that jerk of a brother now?"

"He seems to be interested hearing about the dojo"

"Figures… wait-"

"Yes, she's with Houki-san"

Madoka giggled, Ran can SEE the mischief hinted in her eyes, and too afraid to ask. She kept silent as they strolled across the mostly undamaged runway, half running. It always become their usual fare

Ran's though still latched on Ichika's question, but she will put that down at least. It would be ironic if Ichika knew her brother, when she herself didn't.

"Houki will be screwed silly, possibly literally. You knew, those sailors and their reputation of masculinity… when they didn't do each other of course…"

Blood rushed into each and every vein on Ran's skin, made her bright pink in the process. She wasn't a child anymore, she's almost 23, in fact, and no longer uncomfortable with the facts of sexuality.

But to say it nonchalantly like Madoka? Nay.

"How could you say that about your own BROTHER?! Besides, Houki-san is the least person I'd expect to fall so quickly"

"I knew him as long as I lived, sweetheart. The number of people fall for him is mind-boggling, hell… that probably includes me"

Ran really doesn't want to hear this and muttered "I really hope you're kidding"

"You know, those 'let's marry when we grew up' thing? Even the great me aren't exception, sistah. And maybe you too~"

The way Madoka is smiling, she was honest, but that's made it even worse.

"Well, I admit, Ensign Orimura is really attractive… should avoid event flag with him, I think" in spite her humorous answer, she doesn't seems to be eager on it. If it was anyone, they'll mistake it for sarcasm.

"Well, well, considering he'll be with us for few days ahead, try to endure it"

Considering I have to endure YOU for five years, why not. Ran thought while smirking, it's not like there's shortage of handsome men she could date, but one addition never hurt, especially one that she could only ogle on.

In the dojo, situation was tense. Ichika and Houki both wore proper kendo attire, but without protection implement.

If it was anyone, they might joke about "Protection is for pussies".

Unfortunately, this woman is damn serious on it.

He charged first at blinding acceleration, but she intercepted his attack quite easily, he stepped aside and switched from frontal thrust to side swing, aiming for the waist.

It wasn't left unguarded either.

By then, Ichika realized that he's just plain outmatched. She wasn't toying with him for sure, but she's not going all out either. No matter how many times Ichika attacked, he always failed.

And a soft, but appropriate humiliating strike to his neck ended the match.

"…I guess that will count as Ippon"

"…if it's a real duel, your head will roll on the floor"

Ichika's face remains unmoving; she was quite surprised on that "What? You're not going to laugh?"

"Why should I?"

Again, that came as surprise to her.

"Most people did" Houki spat, sitting seiza style whereas Ichika sat cross-legged, both lean on the eastern wall of the dojo "They said I have to let loose sometimes…"

"If you don't want to, don't. People can only change should they want… or they need to" Ichika smirked "Though, it will not hurt to try to smile sometimes"

"…well, even Madoka wasn't half as bad before you came here" Houki nodded; her expression flushed by fatigue but mostly embarrassment. She though Ichika will flinch in guilt, but again, he listened seriously, and the way she spoke, accusing him as being the one at fault is definitely not her intention

And she was glad; for once someone didn't take her word the wrong way.

"I guess even she had to hold back most of the time"

"Military business, figures. We often held out so much that when we snap, we either become insanely dangerous or plain nuts. I remember, the last thing my sister said before I joined Navy officer school is not to stop being human, feeling all sort of emotion despite the hardship and regulation tell us not to"

Despite his relaxed posture and smile, Houki can see that a true soldier to the core lies within him, as their eyes met.

A sudden jolt in her heart forced Houki out of her trance; she stood up and straightened her face. "Sigh, of all people why I should tell you"

Though, if Houki had to be honest, it's because Ichika listen without lingering motive at all. With that assured, she changed into her flight suit again and politely left.

"T-thank you for listening to me, anyway" she said "Say, if you're interested, I always training at seventh after dinner"

First thing first, he managed to contact his friend somehow, which he glad he able to. His friend wasn't changed at all, in fact, or probably, that's because they met frequently online.

"[You got shot down on first sortie?]"

"Not shot down, idiot, I ran out of fuel" Ichika said "Circumstances forced me to takeoff before the tank is filled. Can't give details, but it's really… that bad"

Ichika didn't need to tell Dan he lost his entire comrade in the ensuing fire, or their flagship sunk or… Ichika couldn't even hold his sadness from erupting anymore. Dan certainly winced on the way Ichika look, and really guessed the worst.

It was silence for several second, before Dan resumed.

"[Well, what can you expect; this transmission could be traced by someone for all we knew. Either way, congratulation for your survival]"

"Thanks, eh, by the way, do you have a sister or something?"

"[Well, I already told you, my parents divorced before I could even remember anything, but father said something along that line]"

Ichika snorted: a small world indeed. Though, he wouldn't pry too much seeing the circumstances unfit, at least until he knew her better.

"Well, either way, I met my sister and her all-female squad"

Very expected answer came from across the continent, with all the excitement and curiosity "[Are they beautiful?]"

Ichika don't know why, but he felt a little pride when he said "Understatement of the year, brother"

"[Humbly request a picture]" Dan made a mock worship gesture, made Ichika laugh "Let's see if I can get one, but no guarantee on that"

22 September 2004, Allenfort Airbase, Newfield Island, North point.

1500 Hours

The tarmac is warm; the sun just gradually dropped halfway into slumber. From the sky, two navy jets dove gently and landed relatively smooth, despite being designed for carrier operation.

More so than that, Ichika recognized one of them. A light blue colored Two-seater Su-33* Flanker with a snowflake painted on the nose. It was Tatenashi's plane, one of the first people taking off during the sudden assault by erusea.

It was accompanied with a darker blue MiG-29K, the same unit he used in the simulator. To his surprise, it has Ribbon strip painted on its tail.

It was supposed to be his team's Emblem, Ribbon Squadron.

It was Tina Hamilton. This light brown haired Osea-Eurasian young woman is a classmate in the navy. And when the Flanker's canopy popped out, he simply smiled.

No one sat in the backseat; her number two is Tina after all.

"Ready for your test ride, darling?" came a husky voice, which he had familiar with, the Flanker's pilot alluringly pointed behind with her thumbs and winked her bright red eyes, seductively ruffled her trademarked, pale colored messy hair in the process.

"Yo" Tina jumped out of the ladder as soon as she reached reasonable height, and made a high five with him.

"I'm sorry with what happened with the Ribbons"

"…Where are the rest of the Faeries?"

Utter silence came as answer, and Ichika truly regretted his question, still, it's now or later.

"Suicide dive against Erusian first attack airfleet, there are too many of them for us to hold…" Tina replied somberly, rested on Ichika's shoulder whilst seeking for comfort. He platonically put his hand on her head; wondered if such childish method will work.

He really didn't want to repeat what happened with Madoka.

"Starting now, we'll work as two-plane, three pilots' team. We will work as complementary members, we are expected to join any other flight in executing their mission while carrying our own task in the process, and thus, Second Battlegroup has high expectation put upon your shoulder, Sub-Lieutenant Orimura"

"So I've been promoted huh… what a joke"

"Expectation… what are they talked about?"

An F-15 tugged and then released aside the Fulcrum, Houki quickly boarded it. Still, Maya climb the stairs and explained to her at least.

"Orimura-kun's performance certainly something not to be scoffed off. It's certainly strange for him not to be deployed soon, right?"

"But then, crap sailing all the way" Ichika boarded the smaller jet, seemingly satisfied as he examined the cockpit. It's been months since he rode the real one "Mobius One here, ready"

"Tina, let's go"

Tina boarded the Sukhoi, sat behind Tatenashi and quickly wore the required apparel, operating the instrument skillfully at that "Aye"

"Undine here, ready"

Finally, Hanagumi's plane has been tugged into position, consisted of F-15 (possibly C variant), MiG-29M, and F-20 Tigershark.

Ichika recognized the emblem, therefore, it was Houki, Madoka, and Ran in that order. Apparently, the tigers they used before were temporary placeholder when their craft underwent total maintenance.

"We're going to loiter around the island twice, they'll return to their carrier after that" Houki's voice was heard on Hanagumi's radio "Consider that Flanker as our leader, she's an ace, so respect her"

"Roger that"

And thus, all five aircraft takeoff accordingly, executing a blessedly boring patrol mission, something that the Orimura Twins liked since they're little, flying with not much burden.

"Someday, we'll fly in the peaceful sky, together"

Rank = Note that for this fic, the Rank of ISAF is the same as British Armed Force rather than US. Hence Yamada's Squad Leader rather than Major.

SEAD = Suppression of Enemy Air Defense, popularly known as Wild Weasel in the US. They head first into the thickness of enemy SAM and AEW to cripple them.

Yukes on Catapult = Do note that in real life, Russian craft isn't supposed to use catapult, but Post Belkan War in this fic, engineering technology gap between East and West (Yuktobania and Osea) is rectified. Hence no complain about Yuktobanian hardware being maintenance heavy like IRL.