- INFINITE STRATOS -

PAXIS

- 6 -

"Boy Meets Boy"

It was October 18th, a freaking godsent Sunday. Since Rin and I'd battled the Obsidian IS, a week and a bit had passed. Days were slow, I didn't understand the lessons...

You know. The usual.

I yawned loudly and rolled over to look at the clock beside my bed. It was really cool, because it was a touch screen with a clock that switched to any mode of time-telling thingamabob you could ever want.

It read 9:32 AM.

"Muuuuuuuurgghh...," I groaned, mashing my face back into my pillows. Obviously, Houki'd gone somewhere else to spend her day; otherwise she'd still have been in her yukata, reading on the other bed. In all honesty, I was glad she was gone. I needed to sleep in every once in a while. Not to mention it would be nice to have a day away from her scowling - not that I didn't enjoy her ever-sunny disposition.

The sad part of it all was that 9:30 was sleeping in now.

Remember those test scores I'd helped Maya carry over to the staff room that time? You know, just before my mom went apeshit? Guess who got top marks in every category!

That's right! Not me!

I failed that test, actually. Although, I'd managed to get myself much higher in rank.

After some digging, I'd learned that every pilot in the school had a numerical rank. When I'd transferred in I was automatically rank 574. By October 18th, I'd fought Cecilia Alcott twice and won once, I'd defeated a haywire IS the size of an elephant, and I'd won several battles against a number of annoying girls who thought that I was just a pathetic poser.

My rank was now 491, which was quite a jump. Then again, it would've been a bigger jump if I could've avoided my dozen-or-so losses.

I pulled up my blanket to my cheekbones and flipped a switch on my night table. The curtains closed again and I tried to even out my breathing.

Or rather, I would've if the Japanese woman at the end of my bed hadn't spoken up.

"Much as you deserve the sleep, Murdoch, you need to get up."

I turned over to see Chifuyu standing in casual clothes. Tee shirt and jeans kind of stuff.

"Fifteen more minutes...," I pulled the blanket over my head.

"Bullshit. You're just going to get even sleepier."

"Then I'll cut you a deal: gimme fifteen minutes and I give you permission to not wake me up."

Chifuyu grabbed the foot of the blanket and yanked it clean off the bed.

"I insist."

"Okay! Okay!"

Five minutes later I was leaning against my desk in jeans, a shirt and a hoodie that Cecilia'd been kind enough to come with me to buy a few days ago. I let out a colossal yawn, and then sneezed.

"Well, that was attractive," Chifuyu smirked and tossed me the tissue box.

I blew my nose. "Hands off, teach."

"You wish," she laughed, "Anyway, I'm here for a few reasons. The first being..."

*Stab*

She quickly jabbed my bicep with a syringe and withdrew it into a sealed tube. "Ow!" I yelled, "That was a little uncalled for!"

"Buck up, moron. Tabane told me to send her some blood."

"Oh, so she's a vampire now?!"

*Whack!*

She whacked me with her attendance clipboard.

"And where the hell'd that thing come from?!"

She didn't give me a response, and just stared at me, bemused as she shoved the sealed syringe into her pocket.

"Anyway," she said, "Aside from the blood sample, Tabane wanted me to have you run some tests with Paxis."

I groaned.

"So, arena three?"

"Grab your IS suit."

I dragged my sorry ass over to the closet and yanked out my white and blue suit, slinging it over my shoulder.

"Question: is there going to be any sort of upside to today?"

"Well, my brother's coming over later to show his friend's sister around, so you can spend time with boys for a while."

"Okay, upside accepted. To the arena!"

We took the elevator to the ground floor and left the dorms. I turned left down the path to arena three.

She stopped me before I got more than three steps and pointed down the other path. "So you don't intend to have breakfast?"

"Point taken. To the caf!"

And so we ate. Chifuyu expressed how impressed she was with my voracious appetite and I told her that a Caesar salad with a low-fat vinaigrette as dressing didn't seem like enough for a three-and-a-half pound Yorkie.

All that fantastic stuff aside, by 10:43, Chifuyu, Maya and I were standing in the middle of arena three, reading over a list of stuff that Tabane wanted them to take readings of.

Most of it had to do with Reiraku Byakuya, the Yukihira Nigata's energy blade, and their effects on the rest of my systems. The few things that weren't were about the Passive Inertia Canceller - which Maya explained was what allowed the IS to move free of most inertia -, the Hypersensor package - which, for some reason, wasn't mounted on my head, but in the circle of light on my chest that I'd affectionately dubbed my ARC light (the name confused Houki, so I guess Iron Man wasn't well-known in Japan) -, or the physical augmentation systems.

I just found it a bit disturbing that the last item on the list was 'shirtless pics'.

"I am not doing that," I asserted.

"What," Chifuyu asked mockingly, "Afraid to show a little skin to older women?"

"No, not older women. Just her."

"Well, think about it. You send her pictures of your bare chest and she may just do the same for you."

I coughed.

Through all of this, Maya just stood there and blushed. Quite furiously, I might add. When Chifuyu let out a chuckle in a very under-her-breath manner, the little green-haired woman cut in. "O-okay, Sten. Why don't you go ahead and b-bring out Yukihira?"

I cast my eyes to her. "Not enjoying the conversation, are you?"

"N-no... Not really."

I shrugged. "Anyway, fair ladies, if you would step back."

Maya and Chifuyu stood back a ways.

I deployed Paxis' right gauntlet and the Yukihira Nigata materialized. The metal blade collapsed and the light blue energy that could slice through nearly anything flashed into shape. Like this, Yukihira Nigata was almost as tall as I was, from prow to pommel.

"So, now what?" I asked.

A path of holographic target dummies appeared. "Well," Chifuyu said, "Start by destroying these targets with the regular energy blade, and then we'll go back over it with Reiraku after."

"No IS?"

"Just what you have now."

I ran at the first target. They weren't anything special; just a loosely human-shaped holographic projection with a three-ringed target in the middle.

I impaled it and dragged the blade out, using my momentum to slash the second and twirl it over my head. Kendo was beyond my comprehension. It was a sword art that required years of training to use effectively, and I'd been doing it for about a month.

Whoopass Fu, on the other hand, was a transposable skill. The principle was the same for almost every weapon designed for use in hand-to-hand combat: keep a firm grip on the weapon with the thumb and index finger knuckle, while using momentum and gentle nudges to guide strikes.

Pure hand-to-hand involved eyeballing the opponent's collar area. You can tell where a lot of body movement comes from just by looking at how someone flexes their neck. Overall, Whoopass Fu was a good fighting style.

About seven seconds after I'd dissipated the first target, I hacked apart the last one.

"Great, Sten. We got what she wanted. Now repeat all that with Reiraku Byakuya active."

So I did. It was still easy, but I noticed the blade moved much more easily when it glowed orange. It must neutralize negative reactions, too.

"Okay, Sten. Flight drills."

I materialized the rest of Paxis and sent Yukihira Nigata away. I looked up just as a long course of rings appeared about a hundred feet off the ground. I shot through them as fast as I could without using Ignition Boost to accelerate faster, but I still found my time unsatisfying. Not to mention that the rings didn't disappear when I went through them. I did a little upward of forty laps in a minute and fifty-seven seconds.

But yeah. Blah blah blah flight drills blah blah blah PIC testing blah blah blah shirtless pics...

All that fun stuff behind me, I set out for the changing room. Maya walked me.

"So, no offense, but why exactly were you here today?" I asked.

"Well..." she said, fiddling with the drawstrings of my sweater (she'd insisted on carrying something), "I need to know more about your IS if I'm going to be your Operator."

I smiled. "Oh, okay! Don't take that question the wrong way, though; I really enjoy your company. I was just a bit curious."

She blushed.

"Besides," I added, "I see your logic. Paxis isn't exactly your typical IS unit, now is it?"

"No, it isn't," Maya confirmed. "I've never seen an IS with the Hypersensor in the chest instead of mounted on the pilot's head before. And that light-"

"ARC light," I corrected.

She smiled. "Right. It has a whole bunch of power conduits coming off of it that don't lead anywhere."

"That's weird."

"I wonder what they all do."

"Well, one of them's definitely a Unibeam."

She looked up at me curiously.

...

Wait, seriously?

"You don't know what a Unibeam is?"

"No clue."

"What about Iron Man?"

"Is that the one with the cape and blue tights?"

A little part of my soul died at that moment. "Never mind..."

Maya laughed and hooked her arm around mine. Not that I minded, of course, but it was a bit more touchy-feely than her usual 'shy schoolgirl' persona.

I bent my arm slightly to bring her a bit closer.

Wait, what?

Okay, I was starting to creep me out, now. Maya, I'd found out after some gentle probing (not a word, fools), was twenty-one. Hence, six years older than me. And my teacher.

So why exactly was I hitting on said twenty-one-year-old teacher, you may ask?

Simple answer.

She started it.

A few minutes of awkward yet somehow satisfying and fulfilling silence later, we were in front of the entrance to my locker room. I took my sweater from her and smiled. "Thanks."

She smiled back, her cheeks dusted red. "My pleasure."

She walked off, her fingers meshed together in front of her. It was, to say the least, a little too much cute for one woman.

I dragged my eyes away from her retreating figure and sighed. I really had to get over this whole 'hot for teacher' thing...

I turned back to the door and walked into the locker room. Now that I thought about it, it seemed an awful waste for only one person to have over a hundred lockers all to himself.

Then again, I could have as many IS suits as I wanted and never have to have two in the same locker.

I walked up to my locker and punched it. Oh yeah; I had a punch-to-open locker. Win level: 1000%!

I touched a button on the datapad that I'd left in the metal box and started to talk. "Note to self: establish some limits about what you'll do for Tabane. Shirtless pics? Too far. Beyond that, it's getting a bit nippy out there. Not that I mind, of course; I'm Canadian. But still, bad weather for posing. And for the love of God, man! Get it together on the Maya side of things!"

I pulled the zipper down from my neck and dragged it along the track to my left shoulder, around, under my armpit and down to my waist. Weird layout, right?

I'd taken to making voice recordings while I was changing. No particular reason why; just wanted something to do.

"So I think I'm gonna have some Sloppy Joes for lunch today. They're on for an American special, so I hope I can get there before they're all gone. Actually, I'm probably gonna be the one to clean them out. The girls hardly eat anything. Well, aside from Takatsuki. We regularly pig out. She told me the reason she's okay with gaining weight is because it apparently just all goes to her boobs, so no complaints on my end."

I yanked my suit down to my waist and paused. "In other news, my dad still hasn't written me back, but that's sort of understandable. It isn't like he's nextdoor or anything. Mom's talked to the headmaster two or three times, trying to get me expelled and Paxis handed over to some chick named Kanzashi who apparently didn't get an IS because pretty much every company in the world scrambled to make one for me as soon as they found out about me and scrapped 'em just as fast when Tabane beat them to the punch. I should probably apologize to her. But, getting back on track, so far mom's had no luck, but getting called out of class to talk to the headmaster is getting a little annoying. Not that she isn't a nice lady, but-"

"Hey."

"JAYZUS!" I leapt ten feet into the air. Why the hell was there a girl in my freaking locker room?! Actually, that's a bad question. Never mind.

I turned around to see someone unexpected behind me.

"Olivia?" I asked, a little shocked.

Standing there, arms crossed across her stomach and eyes on the floor, my older sister looked really nervous. Not that I could really blame her; mom would probably have a cow if she knew Olivia had so much as seen me.

The fact that my IS suit was hiked low around my waist only added to the awkwardness. Well, for me, at least.

"Umm..." she said.

Damn right. Ever heard of catching someone in the hallway?

"I feel obligated to tell you that if you're here to tell me that you hate me and want nothing more than to chop off my nuts and feed them to me, get in line. My room mate's got dibs."

Her eyes went wide and she started shaking her head rapidly. "No no no! Nothing like that! I just wanted to talk to you..."

I raised an eyebrow. "Oooookay...? Any reason you couldn't come when I'm not almost naked?"

That was when she realized that my current state of dress was less than ideal. "I just thought maybe this would be more private."

"Yeah, I suppose. Anyway, what's all this about?"

"Well, we haven't seen each other in ten years. Whether mom likes it or not, you're still my baby brother and I want to get to know you."

Well, that wasn't what I was expecting, to say the least.

It actually made me a little bit... mad.

"And what makes you think I'm even a little enthused to get to know you?"

Her breath caught and she visibly gulped. "I just thought-"

"No. You don't get to do this; not now, at least. You've only just walked back into my life after how many years? Oh yeah! Ten!" I yelled.

She cringed.

"To be honest, I'm not sure if I even want to have a relationship with you at all, let alone a siblingly one! So no, I don't give a damn what you thought, Olivia! You abandoned me, plain and simple. I have every right to completely bust my head at you right now, and frankly, I'm inclined-"

She rushed up and threw her arms around me.

I just stopped. Why was she trying so hard to do this when I was pretty sure I was making it clear I wanted her to leave? Why make it hard on both of us?

I was poised to shove her away when I felt hot tears on my bare shoulder.

She was crying. Sobbing, more like.

That was when I realized that she really meant this.

Olivia Murdoch wanted to be my sister again.

"I-I'm sor-sorry that w-we left you!" she bawled, "Y-you're a g-good person, and you deserve be-better!"

To put the feelings that were shooting through me in those moments into words would take a lot more words than I know. It was pissing me off, but at the same time I was starting to calm down. She meant this. She was being sincere, and that gave me pause. God, that sounded sappy. I like to think I'm not a sappy person.

Rin could probably write a book on all the sappy things I say and do.

But, that didn't matter. In the end, Olivia's desire to make everything right pierced the wall I'd put up around my desire for my sisters to be a part of my life. Suddenly, at least one of them mattered.

I slowly put an arm around her to show that I understood, and I ran my other hand down the back of her head to the nape of her neck. My eyes were wide as I struggled to hold back tears.

"I-" I sputtered, "I don't know what to say..."

So, neither of us said anything. We just hugged as she cried and I finally let the waterworks go.


What seemed like hours later, she left to go tell Valerie that they had a brother again. I'd thrown my clothes back on and was on my way to meet Ichika and his friends. Apparently, they were touring around because the friend's little sister was going to attend ISA next year and wanted to get the lay of the land. I thought that was as good a reason as any.

From what I knew, they'd already left the monorail station and were probably, if I knew anything at all about the layout of the school at this point, headed past arena four. That, I'd decided, was where I would intercept them.

So yeah. I walked, and stuff...

Eventually, I spotted them; a pair of redheads and another guy just a little bit shorter than me. Ichika was gesturing to the arena. "-lots of arenas to facilitate a greater number of battles. People regularly challenge each other here, so there has to always be an arena available. There are five at the Academy."

"Six, actually," I said, startling them, "Though, one of them's an open-air, holographic racetrack that goes around the whole island, so it doesn't technically count, I suppose..."

Ichika smiled. "I was wondering when we'd meet up. It's good to meet you."

I shook his hand. "Likewise."

He pointed out the two behind him. "This is my buddy, Dan Gotanda, and his sister, Ran."

I held out a hand and said, "Great to meet you guys!"

When nothing happened I took a closer look at him. Dan was giving me a bit of a 'dead fish' look, and Ran was hiding behind her brother and weakly holding up a finger at me, her jaw hanging a few inches over her feet.

"D-Dan, is that-?"

"Yeah."

"St-Sten Murdoch?"

"I prefer to go by Santa Claus, but yeah. That'll do," I joked.

No reaction.

Ichika leaned over to me. "Just give them a minute. Meeting you is sort of a big deal right now."

I furrowed my eyebrows. "Really? I was under the impression that most of the world (women (cough cough)) didn't like me."

"Actually, you're a bit of a celebrity right now."

What the f*ck? Is it even possible to be a celebrity without knowing it? I don't think so.

"Interesting..." I muttered.

Ran and Dan hadn't moved.

"Anyway," I said, clapping my hands together, "If we're done being dead fish, hows about we get on with this tour thing?"

So I took them through the school. They were a little amazed by the academy spire, but then, who could blame them? It was pretty amazing and beautiful.

Ran stopped me as we passed the IS storage hangar. "Hey, Sten?"

"Yeah?"

"How many IS Units does the academy have?" she asked.

"I think around two or three hundred. I don't really visit the storage hangar often, obviously, so I don't know."

She nodded and looked back around. "So I'd only really come here if I needed to fight someone?"

"Well, yeah," I said, "But word through the grapevine is that next year each student is going to be supplied with their own PTU until they graduate, which means the school'll have to double its supply of units."

"What's a PTU?"

"Personal Training Unit. Kind of like a run-of-the-mill Personal Unit, but supplied to trainees to see if they've got potential. They wanted to just give them to second and third years, but I guess they realized it'd be efficient to go another path."

Dan nudged me. "So you're the only guy here?" he asked, a smirk on his face.

I laughed and nodded. "Unfortunately."

"What the hell do you mean by that? I know guys who'd kill to be in your position!"

He sure was naïve. I considered giving him a good smackdown, but thought of a better solution to it. "Dan, I imagine you wear underwear, yes?" I asked, looking at him with partially squinted eyes.

He gave me an odd look. "Yeeeeeah...?"

"Now, I bid thee imagine waking up and looking in your drawer to find bits of clothes missing; every day getting closer to having to attend school in your pajamas... Never knowing when the clothing will run out..."

The three of them just looked at me. I groaned in annoyance.

"They raid my underwear drawer! Houki's laid traps, but they get past, somehow."

"Wait," Ichika said, "Houki? As in Houki Shinonono?"

"Yeah. She's my roommate."

"Wow..." he muttered, "I mean, I knew she was here but I never thought that she'd be roomed with a guy. She must be hard on you."

"Oh, you know. Beatings, training beatings, lunch beatings, beatings before bed... nothing I can't handle," I laughed, "Rin's been pretty much the same."

"You know Rin, too?!"

I guess Rin didn't tell him. Not surprising, really; that girl's head was a bag full of cats.

"She used to live near my house up until three years ago. Kind of my best friend."

"Huh..."

My pocket buzzed.

This confused me greatly, as I didn't have a cell phone. I tapped my pocket and there was definitely something in there. It felt flat, with defined corners and a definite rectangular shape.

I reached into my pocket.

"Something wrong, Sten?" Ran asked.

The thing was a slate of glass with a holographic display and a thin metal rim. A very high-end phone, by the looks of it. "Any of you lose your cell?"

"Nope."

"Nuh-uh."

"I have mine at home."

I raised an eyebrow. "Well, shit."

That was when I noticed a small, pulsing icon near the top left. I tapped it and a window with a bunch of text in it popped up. Judging by all the stars and hearts in it, it could've only been from one person. I opened the message and didn't get past the first line.

Hi, Stennie-Kun! 3

"Oh, this'll be good," I said. I stuffed it back into my pocket and turned back to the three Japanese kids, "Sorry, guys, but I have to go deal with this."

We said our goodbyes and I walked over to a bench well away from any other IS units. God knows, if I stood too close, Tabane might hack in and have one glomp me for her. I pulled out the phone and reopened the message.

Hi, Stennie-Kun! 3

It's Taba-Chan! I know you've been dying to hear from me about all the super-genius things I've been working on o.O but I'm gonna put that off for a while!

This couldn't be good. I walked over to the vending machine and cracked open a Coke can.

I just wanted to tell you... I'm pregnant! 3 Guess who's the daddy!

I ejected my mouthful of coke all over the vending machine.

Kidding, Stennie-Kun! Honestly, you're so eassyyyyyy! So, I wanted to tell you that I'm gonna come visit in a bit. Excited! Don't tell Chi-Channnn, I want it to surprise her, 'kay? And I should tell you what Houki wants for Christmas! Ooh, I should tell you what I want for Christmas!

Jeeze... stop getting ahead of yourself, Tabane. Christmas isn't for another two months.

But that can wait a bit, okay? In truth, I just wanted to check up on you after that whole Obsidian thing... Are you okay? 3

Well, at least she was normal about being concerned.

I heard you got beat up pretty bad, but you saved the day like a superhero! I wish I'd been watching the news... I miss you. But that's beside the point! I'll be there soon and I'll make sure nothing happens to you! 33333

3 Love you, Stennie-Kun! See you soon! 3

I sighed and hit the reply button.

Sounds good. I'm fine, just a few cuts and bruises. Nothing a manly man like me can't handle! ;)

And also, not funny! I spat my drink all over the place!

I stuffed the phone back in my pocket and stared at the dorm.

Anyway, I did very little that day, so I'll skip to the end.


Houki rolled the blinds shut and plomped back onto her bed. Seeing her dressed casually was rare, but I had to say I wasn't complaining. Anything and everything she wore seemed to suit her. I knew a lot of people who would've been jealous. She'd had a draining day, from what I'd heard from her when she walked in. She'd barely said two words.

I was sitting at my computer, mucking about on some game. I wasn't sure what it was. There were Elves. Least, I thought they were Elves...

Ooh.

Anyway, shut up Sten! Get on with the story!

And upon the door, a soft hand did rap thrice...

"'S open," I called lazily and rubbed my face.

Maya walked in, in all her charmingness, and smiled. It was heart-meltingly cute. In fact, her cuteness had somehow been magnified a few hundred times. It was actually a little bit stunning. Rather, she was, now that I took a closer look at her. She had her hair tied back in a low ponytail, but for a pair of strands running down beside her face, and a necklace with a crystal heart-shaped pendant was clasped around her neck. She had on a pair of sparkling white earrings, too. Also, while she normally wore short dresses of various colours, she'd opted instead for a skirt and a loose, pale blue, long-sleeved shirt with an IS on the front.

Needless to say, I was a little bit stuck on words. "Uhhh... hi, Maya."

She beamed and her cheeks went red. Again. Too easy...

"Hi, Sten," she then turned to Houki, "Miss Shinonono. I'm here to inform you that the school has made new arrangements for you. From now on, you'll be roomed with Shizune Takatsuki in room 1006."

Houki shot up off the bed. "What?!" she cried, a lot more distressed that I thought she'd be, "But I thought the school was fine with me and Sten living together!"

The corner of the petite teacher's mouth twitched, and she poked the arm of her glasses. "A fifteen-year-old girl and boy living together? I'm sure the arrangement has been quite uncomfortable for you, even if the school tolerated it up until now."

Houki looked like someone had killed her dog. She glanced at me. "But I... I..."

"Hey, it's okay," I got up and hugged her, "I'm sure you'll have just as many awkward moments in another room as you will here."

She was silent for a second, before she shoved me away and exploded. "You mean you don't even care if I move out?!"

"Houki," I stammered, "I didn't say-"

"Miss Yamada, I want to move out right now!"

She quickly grabbed her bag, stuffed her yukata into it and stormed out the door, not even bothering to grab her toothbrush. Maya had at some point moved over to clutch my arm as we watched the girl huff and puff and blow the house d- I mean leave.

"Well...," she said slowly, "That was a little bit odd."

"For me, not so much."

Treat me like a freaking demon, why don't you? Honestly, it's like I was a damn piss-everyone-off machine! I ran a hand through my hair and sat on the foot of my bed.

"You know," I said quietly, "Sometimes I wish she could understand me."

Maya sat down beside me and put her hands in her lap. "Well, she is a teenage girl. I know from experience that they aren't the most understanding."

I leaned my head into her shoulder. Or, I would've if she wasn't so short. I felt much better as our heads rested against each other, and we just enjoyed each others' company.


I was five minutes into trying to sleep when I heard someone knock again. I swear, Maya had looked like she'd had to summon all of her strength not to crawl into the second bed and sleep there. Maybe she's forgotten something when she'd left?

I threw off the covers and trudged over to the door, scratching the back of my head the whole way there. I unlocked the door and there stood Houki, arms crossed, feet apart, and eyebrows furrowed. "I..." she trailed off.

"I'm sor-"

"I've- I've come to broker terms..." she ground out slowly.

"And you're speaking so formally because...?"

"In regards to the individual tournament next month..." she clamped her hands over her arms and had to force every word out, "If I win..."

"If you win, then what?"

"Then... Ugh! THEN YOU HAVE TO TAKE ME OUT ON A DATE!" she screamed, way louder than necessary.

I thought I heard some muttering down the hall as Houki and I stared at each other awkwardly. Her lips were pressed together so hard I was afraid they'd bruise.

"Umm..." I said, blinking, "Okay. You know, all you really had to do was ask."

She turned very robotically and marched off, down the hall and around the corner. I wouldn't have minded so much if she'd just asked me out, but screaming it at the top of her lungs for the whole dorm to hear was a bit much. Ah, either way, it was 11:33. Who the hell would've been up to hear, anyway?

- IS -

"Hey, have you all heard the latest rumor?"

"What, you mean about the IS from the other day?"

"Supposedly a machine that was still in testing went on a rampage."

"No! Whoever wins the tournament this month gets to go on a date with Murdoch!"

Off to one side of the bustling classroom, Houki and Cecilia were talking about various cool new IS odds and ends. Both were a bit annoyed by the strange attitudes of their classmates.

Not that giddy was out of the ordinary, but they seemed more hyped up than usual.

"So, do you know what it is that all these girls are so excited about?" Cecilia asked.

"I have absolutely no idea whatsoever," Houki replied, sorting through her notes.

At the back of the class, Lucy and Fox Girl were standing with another friend. They all looked a bit nervous.

"The story's distorted and spreading like crazy...," Lucy muttered.

"You must have said something to someone," the third girl said, "That has to be it."

"Oh, no way! I don't really think that could've been what happened at all!" said Fox Girl, smiling lazily.

At which point, I walked in. "Morning, everyone."

I immediately noticed almost everyone in the class freeze nervously. I took the fact that I'd yet to be swooned over today as a good thing, but it was odd. Not that I was complaining, but still. Odd. "You all seem a bit nervous. Something wrong?"

"Nothinggggg!" they all replied.

I shrugged. Wasn't all that weird, now that I thought about it.

I walked over to my desk just as Chifuyu and Maya arrived. The Teacher From Hell immediately yelled for everyone to get seated as Maya got up behind the lectern. Silence ruled for a moment or two, before she said, "Okay class, before we begin, I'd like to introduce to you yet another new transfer student!"

Again?!

As the door slid open, I started silently praying that it wasn't someone I knew.

What happened next shocked me to my core, and my eyes went wide.

Because the one who walked in was a boy.

My mind spun in a hundred different directions as I observed him. The first thing I noticed was that he was very petite. Maybe a bit taller than Rin. He had green eyes that were set into a face I would've said was really pretty on a girl, and his braided blonde hair reached to the middle of his back.

"I am Charles Dunois, and I have come from France," he said happily. I could've told he was from France even if he hadn't told us; the heavy accent was a dead giveaway, "It is nice to meet you."

"Dude, you're a dude...," I said, trying to string together any form of coherent thought.

"Oui," he replied, "I heard about a male student who was in the same situation as I am, so I transferred here."

I then noticed that no one had started squealing until that moment. After all, for them, prospects were quite slim with just me. But now, there's a new guy. And a French one, on top of that.

"There's a second male student!"

"And he's in our class!"

"He's soooo cuuuuute!"

Charles smiled good-naturedly and bore with it.

"Silence, dammit!" Chifuyu yelled, "That's quite enough!"

The entire room went silent. Even Charles looked a bit scared.

"Today we're conducting joint practical training with Class 1-2," Chifuyu said, "I want everyone changed and assembled in arena two ASAP."

I was about to get up, but Chifuyu finished, "And Murdoch?"

"Yeah?"

"Since you're both males, I want you to keep an eye on Dunois, okay? Okay, let's get moving, girls!"

"So you're Sten Murdoch," Charles said, walking up to my desk, "Nice to meet you! I am-"

"I heard your introduction, Charles. No time for rehashing. We've gotta get going," I grabbed his hand and started out the door, "The girls'll be done changing faster than we will, so we need to move fast."

As we speed walked down the hallway to the stairwell, I explained the situation. "This school's outfitted for girls and girls only, so we have to get changed in the locker room at arena three. The girls don't exactly like it when we change with or anywhere near them."

"Oh, right..."

I looked back at him. His face was a tinted red and he was pursing his lips a bit. "You look a bit anxious, Charles. You need to piss or something?"

"No, that's not it."

He was so French.

Just as we were coming up on the doorway to the stairwell, a pair of second years shot out from around the corner. "Hey! I see the transfer student!"

"He's standing with Murdoch!"

"Mondieux," Charles muttered.

"Ah, shit," I'm sure you can guess which one of us said that.

At which point the whole freaking horde joined the first two.

"Lookit! They're holding hands!"

"I like Murdoch's brown hair, but I like the blonde too..."

"To hell with it! Run for it, Charles!" I barked.

I sprinted around the opposite corner, Charles hot on my heels and the horde on his. We'd have to take the southern stairwell, which would put an extra minute and fifty seconds on the trip, if not more.

"They're getting awaaaaaay!"

"Hey, at least stop and let me take a picture for the school paper!"

We neither stopped nor let her take a picture for the paper. We turned another corner and I jump-kicked the stairwell door open.

"What are they making such a racket for?" Charles asked.

I fixed him with a look of pity. "We're guys, they're girls, why the hell do you think they're chasing us?!"

"Oh yes! That must be it!"

"Just keep running, okay? We don't have much time."

Two minutes later, we arrived. I directed Charles to his assigned locker then hurried over to mine.

"Looks like we managed to shake the horde," I said.

"I'm sorry," Charles said breathlessly, "I've already gotten you into trouble."

"Man, don't even worry. You're sorta saving my life. It's... tough. Being the only guy in the school, I mean."

"No, really?"

I smiled and punched my locker. The door opened. "Yeah, really. Anyway, I'm Sten Murdoch," I held out a hand to shake.

He took my hand and shook vigorously. "Hello, Sten! You may call me Charles, if you like."

By chance, I then glanced at the clock. 9:43. A flame of panic erupted in me. Actually, more like a supernova.

"Shit! Time, time, time!" I cried, pulling my IS suit from my locker. I threw off my jacket and shirt and was in the middle of dropping my pants when Charles meeped and whipped around, hands over his eyes and face red as a tomato.

"Charles?" I asked, "Something wrong? You'll be late if you don't change pronto, and our teacher happens to be quite insistent on punctuality...," I growled, clenching a fist in mock anger.

"Mmm- I'm going to get changed now, but would you mind looking the other way, s'il vous plais?"

"I wasn't really going to stare at you anyway, bro," I said, turning back to my locker.

Charles went to his and I resumed pulling my clothes off. As I stood in my underwear I briefly turned back to him and said, "Just hurry the hell up, okay- holy shit, how'd you get that on so fast?!"

"Is something wrong?" a flustered Charles said, pulling on the hem of his fully-donned IS suit. His was a different design from mine, being two pieces instead of one. The first was a pair of knee-length Notex tights, and the second was a skin-tight Notex shirt that only went to the end of his ribcage, leaving his whole midriff exposed. His was a gunmetal gray with orange lines at the waist and the shirt's hem.

"No, it's just that you changed incredibly fast," I said, "Do you have a trick to it?"

"Oh, not really," Charles said awkwardly, absent-mindedly poofing his hair, "I don't..."

"Well, there's a cryin' shame. These outfits are a pain in the ass to put on. Since ya can't wear any underwear under them, my things are always getting caught."

"Your things get caught?" asked a blushing Charles.

"And how," his face lit up like a Christmas tree and I laughed.

"But whether or not I can get my nuts into my suit aside, your suit looks pretty easy to put on."

Charles nodded and smiled as the red faded from his cheeks. "Yes; it's an original made by Dunois."

"Ain't that your last name?"

He nodded. "That's because my papa is the CEO," he said, "As you know, Dunois is the largest IS related corporation in all of France."

"Ah, so your dad owns the company?" I smiled and shoved my upper uniform into my locker, "Now I get it."

"Mhh? What do you mean?"

"You're a classy guy, Charles," I said, "So I figured you must be from some prestigious family somewhere."

He didn't really show it, but I was quick enough to catch the ghost of a frown that dashed across his face. I was about to ask about it when I glanced at the clock. "Holy shit! Run!"

And so, only half into my wetsuit-like IS interface suit, I dashed through the hallways, Charles' hand in one hand and my other desperately holding on to the hope that I would survive Chifuyu's wrath if Charles was late for his first freaking class.

That, and keeping my suit from falling and flashing the world.


Before I start: yes, we were late.

But, to be fair, Takatsuki tripped me. It hurt.

As we always did for practicals, our class stood in ranks. Obviously there were twice as many of us as usual, which brought our number to an even sixty.

Charles stood just behind me, his back ramrod straight and his chest puffed out. He looked like he was trying to be as professional as possible.

"Relax, man," I whispered back to him.

His eyes glanced around in confusion at the girls standing around him. Most, if not all of them had their shoulders dropped and a few were even slouching. He let out the breath he'd been holding and relaxed.

Houki glanced over from beside me. "How is he?"

"Pretty cool," I replied, smiling, "Seems like a real stand-up guy."

"Good to know we have at least one of those around here."

"That's cold."

"Hmph!" she turned back toward the front of the group, where Chifuyu was standing, garbed in her mysterious track suit.

"Your practical training for today begins now," she said, glaring at us. I don't know why she was glaring; obviously one of us had pissed her off, "For today's purposes, we'll need to demonstrate a real battle. Huang! Alcott!"

"Ma'am!"

"Ma'am!"

"Since you both have your own machines, I'm sure you'll gladly volunteer."

Rin huffed in annoyance and walked off to the side, "What a nuisance... Why is it always me?"

Cecilia followed a step behind. "Ugh... oh my, such a vulgar spectacle. Do I really have to do this?"

Once they were out of my earshot, Chifuyu smirked as she walked by them and muttered just loud enough for them to hear, "Show a little enthusiasm! This is the perfect chance to show off for the boys..."

Rin and Cecilia both stiffened visibly, before settling themselves into stances that screamed 'swagger'. The latter of the two flicked her single earring.

"It looks like it's time for I, Cecilia Alcott, to step up and show you all how it's done!"

"Yeah, and I can show you all the difference between a simple cadet and a Representative Contender!" Rin said, equally as enthusiastically. Honestly, her comment was more offensive than inspiring.

The rest of us just sort of stared at them awkwardly.

Charles leaned over my shoulder. "What did the teacher just say to those girls?"

"Hell if I know. Probably something to do with a shoe sale, or what-have-you."

Cecilia put her hands on her hips and leaned to the side. "So, who's my opponent?" she looked over at Rin, "I wouldn't mind tossing you away, Restaurant Girl."

Rin smirked confidently. "Haha. Watch it, bitch. You're dead meat."

"Oh," Chifuyu said, "Don't get ahead of yourselves. You haven't met your opponent!"

I finally registered a whistle from above. I almost ducked for cover, thinking it was a bomb; but seriously, who would bomb us? ISA was a freaking school!

Five seconds later I regretted not running. For, falling from the sky clad in one of the green IS units that I'd seen in the third year class/hangar/thing, was Maya Yamada.

And, in typical Maya Yamada fashion, she was tumbling out of the sky, completely and utterly out of control. "GET OUT OF THE WAY!" she shrieked.

As everyone else scattered, I turned to run but tripped over a rock.

F*ck my life.

Maya meteored straight into the ground, somehow managing to land right on top of me. The impact alone should have killed me, but I managed to deploy Paxis' chestplate (the part that deals with shield emission) just before touchdown.

Everything was dark, and for a second I thought I'd gone blind. But the pillow between me and her should've protected my face, right?

Wait... pillow?

I brought my hands up to my face and grasped the pillow, trying to push it away. I stopped when I heard a soft moan.

I opened my eyes.

I had a very big boob in either hand, and Maya was blushing to her roots.

But she was smiling, too. Is that okay? Like, student groping teacher - teacher enjoys?

No?

Crap. Does this mean I'm a molester?

"Yes," she said softly, making absolutely no move to get off me, "There does appear to be a little bit of a problem here."

Was that giddiness? Excitement? A particularly paltry attempt at a sultry tone of voice? One of those three things holds true, and it isn't the first two.

I noticed I was still cupping her breasts.

"You see, if this progresses, we'll be breaking a number of school rules about student-teacher relationships, and while I must admit that I'm willing-"

I still feel bad about doing it, but I rather unceremoniously dumped her to my right and scrambled to my feet. A blue bolt of energy whizzed by my ass and I flinched, looking over to see Cecilia aiming Starlight Mk III at me.

She laughed good naturedly and smiled, but I could see boiling rage in the vein that popped in her forehead. I thought only Houki did that. "So sorry, I seem to have misfired!"

"Yeah! You missed firing at my ass! By an inch!" I snapped.

I heard the all-too-familiar sound of Souten Gagetsu snapping together and turned toward it just in time to see Rin hurl the weapon at me. "Steeeeeen!" she screamed angrily.

*Bang! Bang!*

The tip of the double bladed sword sank into the ground and the smoking barrel of a sniper rifle stuck out from between my legs. No, that's not a joke.

I leaned down and looked under me to see Maya was on her belly, rifle in hands, staring down the scope. She looked up and smiled. "Hey, Sten! You didn't get hurt there, did you?"

I chuckled, totally frazzled. "Just my pride, Maya. Just my pride."

And indeed, my pride never recovered. What little I had left at that point, that is.

Chifuyu smirked devilishly as she walked over and chuckled. "By the way, Miss Yamada used to be a Representative Contender. Making a shot like that is nothing for her."

"Thanks," Maya said, standing, "But that was a long time ago, and I could never get past being just a Contender!"

"Well, you're still more than a match for these two. Together."

"What?" Cecilia asked, "You can't mean it's going to be two against one?"

"I don't think that's a very good idea," Rin pitched in.

Chifuyu raised an eyebrow and yanked my arm, pushing me back in ranks. "Oh, don't worry," she said, "I'm sure your embarrassment won't last very long."

The two of them frowned, obviously more than a little peeved. They turned to each other and nodded, before pulsing their bootjets and rising high into the air. Maya followed them, not far away.

"Just so you know," Cecilia said, "I'm not going to hold back!"

"We weren't actually being serious earlier, anyway!" Rin shouted.

Chifuyu looked up at the three of them.

"Are you seriously doing this?" I asked quietly.

"Just remember to take notes, Murdoch. They're in for quite a thrashing. Now, would you mind connecting me to them via IS channel?" she said.

I held the Paxis bracer out in front of her and turned on the external mic. "Go for it."

Chifuyu raised her hand. "Let the carnage begin!" she yelled.

Cecilia immediately deployed her BITs and started blasting. Maya jetted out of the way, weaving skilfully between the bolts and raising the shield on her arm when Rin fired Ryuhou.

"Mister Dunois!" Chifuyu snapped, "I'd like you to tell us about the IS that Miss Yamada's using."

Charles bolted to attention again as soon as he heard his name and nodded. "But of course," he said, "Miss Yamada's IS is a Rafale Revive, made by the Dunois Corporation. It was created at the end of the second generation development, however its specs are not inferior to the early third generation models. This is the latest mass-produced model IS that is currently in use. Right now, its market share ranks third worldwide. Furthermore, this model can be modified for combat, artillery and defense."

Maya was like a bullet, dodging every Ryuhou bolt, Starlight blast or swipe of Souten Gagetsu that came her way, all the while pounding away at their shields. It was incredible, the skill the petite woman possessed.

Maya laynched a spray of bullets at Rin, who in her haste to dodge, slammed straight into Cecilia. An RPG launcher materialized in Maya's hands and she fired a single shot. Cecilia and Rin fell out of the sky like a pair of tangled up teenage girls. Which they were, I suppose...

They finally made ground not far from us, sending up a cloud of dirt from the new crater.

Chifuyu and I walked over to the edge. I was amazed at how she didn't complain about the craters that were made on a daily basis by the girls. I certainly got chewed out every time!

"Euuuh... I can't believe this is happening to me!" Cecilia moaned.

"Couldn't you tell she knew just exactly which was you were going to go to escape from her?!" Rin yelled.

"And what about you?! You were taking unnecessary shots like an idiot!"

We made it to the edge of the crater just as Maya landed behind us. "I hope you now understand what your instructor is capable of," Chifuyu said, "and knowing that, show her the proper respect. Murdoch, show me your notes."

"They're a little on the colloquial side, so be warned," I handed Chifuyu my datapad and pulled up the note I'd just taken. It simply read:

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

"A+, Murdoch."

"Yesssss!" I threw up a fist in victory.

We walked back over to the rest of the group, and Maya's Rafale Revive dissipated into a bracelet on her left wrist. She had a smile on her face that stretched from ear to ear.

"Well," I said to her quietly, "Someone's beaming."

She blushed and her smile turned to an expression of embarrassment. "I'm not..."

It was actually painful, how adorable Maya was. I patted her shoulder and went back to my place in front of Charles. "For the first phase of your practical training, you'll form teams. Those who have Personal Units will be the team leaders. The five of you will be demonstrating and teaching basic combat maneuvers with melee or ranged weapons, depending on the provided IS. That's it, so get forming, already!" Chifuyu ordered. It was still beyond me how she managed to sound so irritated so often.

However, those thoughts fell by the wayside as approximately 2.7 gaggles of girls surrounded me, shouting out different yet ever-similar variations of the phrase 'pick me'.

I noticed that Houki was among them, although she'd just crossed her arms and was glaring at me. I waved her over, but she just stood still. And glared. Did I mention the glare?

Figuring that going any further to invite her closer would spell my doom, I shrugged and sniffed as the IS units we'd be using were wheeled out onto the arena floor. Charles' and Cecilia's groups had Rafale Revives, while Rin's and mine had the commonplace Uchigane. They each came with an attendance list for both classes.

"Okay," I said, walking over to the unit and detaching it from the cart, "Here's our IS. Just so I can get a look at this, how many of you have flown at least once since the entrance exam?"

About seven or eight of the seventeen girls raised their hands. "Okay," I said, "That's an amount we can work with."

I yanked down a lever and the harness that held the IS in transport mode fell away. I kicked it back to the cart as the boots and wings moved away from the torso unit and the skirt snapped into place.

"So, let's start with some basics just to get you guys warmed up. In order of your attendance numbers, I want you to put on the IS, activate it and walk forward a ways," I stood akimbo and smiled at them, "Got it?"

They gave their affirmatives.

"So, who's first..."

I looked down at the attendance list but scarcely caught a glimpse of it before a Japanese girl screamed," Me! Me! I'm Kiyoka Aikawa, and I'm on the handball team! My hobbies include watching sports and jogging!" she bowed and held out a hand to shake, "Nice to meet you!"

I quirked an eyebrow. "We have a handball team?"

Oh, sure, Sten. That's what you take away from that.

Next thing I knew, the rest of them had there hands out too. I glanced over at Charles and saw he was in pretty much the same predicament I was.

I chuckled. "Welcome to the man meat grinder, Charles."

I tried to ignore them and, much to their irritation and Aikawa's joy, focus on her.

"I assume you know that normally there's a machine that helps you put an IS on, right?"

"Yes!"

"Well," I said, "We obviously don't have one here, so you'll need to assemble it manually. There should be a mental connection when you touch an unlinked IS."

She touched the Uchigane and her eyes visibly widened. "Wow..." she muttered, "This is so different from normal..."

"Yeah, it is. Anyway, imagine a latch unlocking and the unit should open."

The boots hissed as they split, and the torso unit slid sideways. On my urging, Aikawa mounted.

"Okay, now lean back into the torso and extend your fingers."

A minute later, Aikawa was standing clad in the Uchigane, looking like she was about to fall over.

"You stable?" I asked, my gauntlets deployed so I could catch her.

"Yeah," she replied, standing up straight.

So, I had her walk a couple dozen steps, then switch with the next girl, and the next and the next until we got to Houki.

"Okay, I assume you know how to mount by now?"

"Hmph!"

"Fantastic."

She stomped over to the Uchigane, slipped her feet into the boots and leaned back into the torso. All the sections snapped into place and the Hypersensor package fitted itself to her head.

"Okay, go."

Her walking was exemplary; maybe some of the best I've ever seen. And, after all four seconds of it, I applauded.

"Pure artistry, my dove. Simply magnificent."

"Shut up, Murdoch!" she snapped.

I waved her back over. "Don't take off the IS, but I want you to stand with the group."

When all of them were assembled I related the next part of what we were doing. "Okay, so now that we've got that out of the way, we'll move on to the basic combat drills. Houki, I want you to come at me without your katana and give me a good one-two, okay?"

She didn't even respond. I had to deploy my IS faster than lightning, because one second the irate Japanese girl was in line and the next her fist was slamming into my cheek. I hit the ground hard and put my metallic palm to my aching jaw.

"Okay," I groaned, "Consider me one-two-d."

I got back up and gestured for her to stop.

What, you were expecting a lengthy fight? No! I get beaten up enough as it is!

"Okay! So, ladies, as you can see, Houki was rather merciless. But that's not what I wanted to illustrate."

Houki gave me an exasperated glare and I smiled. I loved her to death, but her bad attitude was really starting to piss me off.

"Lucy, can you tell me where Houki went wrong in her strike?" I asked, pointing suddenly at the redhead.

She startled a little and her eyes jumped left and right as she looked for a solution. She was obviously a little bit lost. "Ummmm..." she muttered, "I-... I don't know..."

Houki kept giving me the stinkeye.

I patted Lucy's shoulder reasuringly and shrugged. "That's correct."

"Huh?" Lucy said.

"Huh?" Houki growled.

I paced back and forth and gestured for Houki to dismount. She stepped off the IS and I gestured Aikawa back to the mech. "There were no flaws in Houki's attack. It was precise, it was accurate and she didn't hesitate for even a second. That's exactly what you want in an attack. You could all take a few hints from Houki's technique."

Houki blushed faintly.

"Okay," I said, gesturing back over to Chifuyu, "I'm going to go back to Miss Orimura for a minute, so pay attention to Houki."

"WHAT?" Houki screamed as she was crowded and questions were screamed.

I chuckled and jogged over to Chifuyu. She was standing under the pit, clutching a datapad and typing something. Couldn't see what, but whatever. "Hey, teach."

"Murdoch," she greeted without looking up, "Don't you have morons to look after."

"Yeah, and we need a second Uchigane."

"Any particular reason?"

"I don't want to take a punch to the face every time one of them puts on the IS."

"Good enough."

She snapped her fingers and pointed at the pit's field door. It snapped open and another cart with another Uchigane floated over to my group. I waved my thanks to Chifuyu and walked back over to the group.

"Okay, kiddies. Take turns putting on an IS and beating the hell out of each other, okay?"

One of them mounted and the fights started. I walked over to Houki and stood beside her as we watched them. "So... you're mad at me."

"Yes."

"Any particular reason why?"

"Yes."

"I don't suppose you'll be willing to tell me what I did, would you?"

"Nope."

"Would you if I took you out to lunch when class lets out?"

She froze. I cringed a little bit as she turned toward me so slowly, I could actually hear her spine creaking. No hit, blow or strike of any kind. I looked over at her as saw two things.

One, that she seemed more than a little bit perplexed.

Two, SHE WASN'T PISSED.

She didn't really say anything, so I thought that maybe she wasn't so interested. But then, she spoke. Quietly, and a little timidly, but her voice was definitely what I heard. "But... Why?"

I smiled and put a hand on the back of her neck. "Because I was (apparently, I added silently) an ass last night, so I figure I ought to make it up to you."

"Oh, well... Okay then."

She smiled to herself.

I heard a crash and looked over just in time to see Aikawa dropkick Fox Girl in the face. Fox Girl's IS fell off. "Oh, guys! Focus!"


And so, we found ourselves back in class the next day. Houki had enjoyed lunch. I think. I mean, Charles had tagged along, but that was unavoidable. I kind of had to take him everywhere. We'd sat on the roof and we'd eaten. Obviously.

Charles was a pretty cool guy. He could cook. I could cook. We could cook. It was kind of great.

Houki and I patched things up.

Then Cecilia and Rin jumped me.

Charles moved into 1025, too. So I wasn't lonely anymore.

Anyway, enough of my boring summary.

Maya stood in front of the class, lecturing. "In an official League match, battles work slightly differently. Those of you who have talked to your Operators know that their job is to feed information to the pilot. For the purposes of fairness to all students, your Operators are supplied with the enemy IS unit's data. However, in League matches, the opposing team's data is encrypted, meaning the Operator has to focus on both managing the pilot and gradually decrypting the data."

I raised my hand.

"Wouldn't that get a little bit crazy? I mean, it would be absurd to expect someone to focus so much on two things at once."

"Good question, Sten," she said, "There's actually a trick to it. You can actually bring in premade decryption patterns to use. With a little back-and-forth between the things to focus on, it doesn't take long to adapt them to suit the situation. Then all there is to do is wait until the reach the next encryption layer."

She ordered us to page 327 just as the door opened and my god-awful mother walked in. She tromped over to Maya and whispered something, before handing her a datapad. The colour drained from Maya's face as she read it over. My mother turned away, smirked evilly as she glanced at me and stood by the door.

I tried very hard not to panic.

Maya breathed deeply in and out a few times, keeping her hands on the lectern to keep herself steady. "Okay...," she said, "I have two things to announce. Thing one, it seems that we have a new transfer student."

Aw, hell! Not another.

The door opened and in tromped possibly the shortest fifteen-year-old I'd ever seen. Could not have been much more than 4'10". Her uniform was girls standard, but for the military-looking slacks that flared around her thighs before tucking into her black kneeboots. But perhaps the most striking thing I could see about her was her lustrous silver hair. She would've been pretty if not for the stern looking scowl.

She stood by the lectern and turned toward us. A holographic slide appeared beside her with her name on it. "Everyone, this is Laura Bodewig. She's transferred in from Germany to join our class for the rest of the academic year," Maya said.

"Introduce yourself, Laura," my mother said.

"Ya vol, Instructor (A/N, I have absolutely no idea what she's actually saying in the Eng Dub when she says this. If you know, PM me so I can fix this)," she said, standing at attention. As she stomped her foot, her hair was jarred and fell away from her left eye to reveal a black and red eyepatch. If I hadn't thought she was weird before, I most certainly did at that point, "I am Laura Bodewig!"

Her accent was as thick as molasses and more German than lederhosen-wearing schnitzel. And the way she carried herself, I'd be damned if she wasn't military. I waited for her to continue her introduction, but she just stood there. Maya twitched.

"Is, uh... Is that all?"

"Yah, that's all," she said, before turning her one red eye on me. I waved slightly as she walked up to my desk.

"Hi," I said, "I'm Ste-"

*SLAP!*

Laura pulled back her hand and viciously slapped me across the face. I keeled over and almost fell out of my chair at the force of the blow. My cheek felt like fire.

"I do not approve of you Schwein," she scathed, "And I refuse recognize that you are her son."

I groaned and stood up, more angry than I'd been in a very, very long time.


Maya Yamada, while she only looked like she was a bit uneasy, was panicking internally. This couldn't have turned out any worse. When the German military had asked to send a new Representative Contender to the Academy, she'd been worried.

After Sten had asked her to be his official Operator, she'd asked Miss Orimura about her time in Germany. The officers there had been receptive and willing to learn, and had been model cadets. Especially Laura Bodewig. The girl had become quite attached to her teachers.

The problem was that she had taken a particular liking to Elizabeth Murdoch.

The bespectacled woman watched as Sten rose and clenched his fists, his eyes swimming with an anger that Maya hadn't known him for.

"Charles," he called to the boy who sat beside him, "You know that rule about not hitting girls?"

The Frenchman's eyes widened as he realized what was about to happen. "Sten, no!" he cried, a second too late.

As Sten's heavy fist slammed into Laura's nose, Maya didn't even need to glance back down at the datapad to be horrified. The awful, awful words were imprinted on her retinas.

As of 6:00 this morning, Sten Murdoch is accused of the brutal assault of Olivia Murdoch on Sunday, October 17th, at 11:15 in the morning. He is to be notified of this, and placed on academic probation. If any more such incidents occur, he will face academic suspension, and potentially expulsion and arrest.

Expulsion and arrest.

Laura hit the floor and shrieked in pain.


A/N! Excited, eh?

Okay, that took a pathetically long time to finish. A thousand apologies.

So, yeah. Stuff...

I'll start working on Chapter 7 immediately, so hopefully it won't take quite as long.

It seems to be a common thing that writers have some sort of emotional problem, and I'm afraid I've fallen into that too. It's taking up a fair bit of my time, trying to deal with it, so any support you guys can offer is appreciated more than you know. I know my writing isn't the best, but I want to get there someday. So constructive criticism is good.

Anyway, I ask you to review and tell me what you liked and didn't this time around. Even just a 'good job!' is the thing that gives me the energy to face the day.

Have a good one, guys!