I have extremely mixed feelings about writing this, on the one hand there's great potential for storytelling in the universe behind the series proper, on the other we've got the cack-handed 'harem comedy' that is the series proper… I've got an entire essay on that but I won't have you guys suffer through it because that's not really what you came here for.

Despite my reservations (and there were many), here's the story. Enjoy. If not, tell me why not and maybe I can work on making it better so you might be able to enjoy future updates.

Project Vulkan

Chapter One: Bleeding Metal

I'm relatively sure that, had certain events not taken place much longer beforehand (such as my parents bumping uglies together on a dark, cold New Year's Day just under 27 years ago), then the events that I'm about to relate to you probably would not have happened. Or maybe they would and you'd just be listening to some other prat drone on instead of me. My gut tells me French, or American, maybe Japanese if they've not had enough playing the centre of attention these days and considering they've found a male kid able to pilot one of the things stirring up so much trouble on this earth then I doubt that's the case.

It starts, funnily enough, with a young woman. Not just any young woman though; a genius who comes about maybe once every dozen, maybe even every hundred generations; someone who manages to bring about real change, real advancement for the species as a whole. Space-faring technology allowing us to freely manoeuvre and work in the cold, black void. Perhaps in enough time this technology would even have led us to even greater spacefaring wonders and those of us who'd ever seen Star Wars or Star Trek or Stargate would be able to one day live out the Space Captain fantasies of our childhoods.

Only we went and turned these things into battlesuits so we could keep flinging mud and explosives at each other. Smart.

The weaponisation of the IS and their female-only pilot requirement is what's currently got me hovering over the middle of the Pacific Ocean in something twice as large and only half as powerful as a standard Third-Generation IS, which, by measure, probably wouldn't even be able to stand up to a First-Generation model. To compound matters further, my only backup is four other units similar to mine – each in various states of damage – and an Australian IS pilot who, even at her top speed, is still more than half an hour away from the combat zone.

By the time she gets here me and my fellows will probably be little more than chunks decorating the ocean floor. The only consolation is that our opponent's bones will probably be joining ours once Claire makes her entrance and I've no doubt her vengeance will be a swift and terrible thing to behold… probably. I'd like to think we've gotten fairly close over the couple of months we've known each other.

One of the opposing IS' cuts through a Vulkan in the time it took me to think all of that, which was probably less than a heartbeat. IS units are scary machines. In my heads-up-display the vital signs of one Yani Grover wink out of existence. I snarl; my fury at his untimely demise made all the more potent by mine and this infernal machine I'm piloting's lack of ability to sufficiently engage the Infinite Stratos. If I could only close with the blasted things; if this bucket of bolts was only quick enough then I might stand a fighting chance.

Another Vulkan's vital signs, this one belonging to one Vijesh Nair, blink out. Over the comms we hear his death message – a pathetic gurgle laced with static as his Vulkan collapses in on itself. We're dropping like flies and it's barely been ten seconds. Forget half an hour, we won't last five minutes at the rate things are going.

I spot a tiny island cluster below us, more than a thousand feet below us. I mutter some incoherent praise for the auto-senses the Vulkan grants its pilots. Like everything else on this contraption it's nowhere near the level of an IS unit but it's infinitely better than flying with just the naked eye.

I open my comms to the two other survivors:

'Lead to survivors: spread out wide and make for that island cluster to the…' I glance at the transparent compass displayed on my HUD, conveniently located above a little 3D miniature map, 'South-East. Evasive pattern. Move!'

By the time I finish a beam bright as the sun spears another Vulkan through its midsection, and Travis Connell goes to meet whatever maker it is he believes in. I and the other survivor – a mousey little bastard I know as Reg, I never bothered to learn his surname – dive with all our speed towards the tiny archipelago. If we can make it – scratch that, if I can make it, Reg has just bitten the dust – I might be able to use the terrain to ambush our attackers. I'd wager quite comfortably that the ladies piloting those IS's have next to no experience on a good old fashioned ground war… now I just have to pray that my trump card will do what the Stonewall techies say it will.

'Isty-bitsy spider climbing up the spout…' I hear a voice taunt over my comms, I just stop myself from groaning. I know that voice, it's been haunting our entire operation for longer than I care to remember.

'Down came the rain and flushed the spider out!'

One of the engines on my unit explodes as an energy beam lances through it. It's an immaculately placed shot, designed only to take the engine out, not damage the Vulkan itself. I'd almost be impressed but for the fact I almost span entirely out of control. I've now got three engines left and I'm still a good way away from the island cluster, if that freak takes out–

Yeah, there goes another engine. The pilot's compartment is now bathed in amber light and those damned damage alarms won't shut the hell up. I know I've lost two engines I can see it on the fucking damage report that pops up on my HUD, obstructing my vision every time something explodes.

A sleek, black IS appears in front of me. Almost immediately following its sudden appearance the other three IS units following it seem to materialise around me. I lurch my Vulkan to a halt in mid-flight and realise that these bastards were simply toying with us. We were so low a threat they didn't even bother to utilise their full power against us, toying with us and picking us off at their leisure. That in itself is almost as infuriating as our lack of ability to do anything about it.

The voice from earlier crackles through my comms; her Japanese accent is thick, but her amusement (amusement!) is plain to hear.

'My thanks for the target practice; my friends haven't had these things long, they needed to work out the kinks.' If it weren't for the fact I'd most assuredly be reduced to atoms then I'd lunge for her neck this very second.

'What the hell do you want Kanon?' I ask the psychotic woman piloting the black IS in front of me. It materialises a large blade in one hand, which is almost as big as the Vulkan is tall, before pointing it squarely at the pilot's compartment at the centre of the Vulkan.

The woman piloting the black IS would probably be pretty were it not for her pallid features, her beady, brown eyes, the ugly sneer stretching said features, or her gangly physique that made it seem like she'd taken a ride on a medieval torture rack… okay so she wasn't pretty at all but her long, black hair was nice. Shame it resided on a head like hers.

'That mech,' Kanon said bluntly, all mockery gone and her face deathly serious, 'you step out; we take it and leave you alive. No one gets hurt.'

'Except the four men you just killed,' I muttered darkly.

My men…

'Naturally,' Kanon chuckled lightly.

'Why mine? Why not the others?' I asked.

'Oh Grayson,' Kanon sighed, 'please tell me you don't expect us to play this game. We know you had your unit modified.'

I suppose I should be shocked, but I'm not. Not really. I'd guessed they had a mole in Stonewall; they seemed to appear far too often at the worst possible times for it to be mere coincidence. Everyone else suspected it too, but despite our reservations the Stonewall Executive Board of Directors insisted the project continue despite the dogged attacks. It was entirely down to the skill of Claire Eckhart that the project had survived this long, but she was a long way away now.

Phantom Task… were four of its members not staring me down with weapons capable of destroying me in mere nanoseconds I'd have laughed. I understood what they were suggesting with it but really, Phantom Task… it's not exactly as catchy as 'Taliban', or 'The Seven Kings', hardly the sort of name I'd expect to strike terror into the hearts of civilised people.

'Hand it over,' Kanon snapped, her blade not wavering for a moment, 'now!'

'Surely you don't expect me to do it over five-hundred feet above the ocean,' I retorted, and almost as soon as the words left my mouth I felt my lips tug and form a sly smile. I had a plan. A stupid plan to be sure, but if it worked it might very well see me out of this alive and the Vulkan system in the hands of a slightly saner organisation.

'Fine, if you're going to be such a baby I'll promise you that, once you're safely out of the mech, one of my girls here will drop you safely off a few lengths from one of those islands below us. Happy?'

Right. Sure. I don't know you as well as some Kanon, but I know enough about you to know that any promise that comes out of your mouth is worth dog crap. If I'm going to die, I'll do it giving you the biggest birdie your beady little eyes will ever see.

I sigh, deliberately heavily over the comms. I only just stop myself smirking upon seeing Kanon's smug, victorious grin. You've got the better machine, no doubt about that, but it doesn't make you psychic.

And it certainly doesn't make you invincible.

In a heartbeat I engage what the Stonewall Techies have dubbed 'The Void'. This genius piece of tech was developed entirely by accident on a hot summer's day, and it shorts out and disables the hyper-senses of any IS unit within a hundred metres of my Vulkan. Suddenly those bitches surrounding me are fighting without their near 360 degree field of vision, and without view magnification. All they have to guide them is the naked eye. The sudden change from being able to see almost everything to being yanked back to your regular bog-standard human eyesight, is disorienting, or so Claire tells me.

Kanon falters for a moment, briefly unsure of what's going on. She then shoots me a glare so piercing it chills me. The feeling is immediately overwhelmed by the surge of energy that courses through my body at finally being able to strike at the witches. Years of combat instinct take over and I pluck the Vulkan's combat knife from its sheath on the unit's ankle. There is no fancy movement, no spinning of the blade for any attempt at such theatrics in this bulky mechanised suit would see me drop the weapon and my chance vanish before my eyes.

Kanon recovers quickly though and the blade passes over the top of her head as she drops several feet in the air to avoid my attack. I continue arcing the blade however, and plunge it straight through the shields of the IS unit to my left. The weapon stops an inch from the woman's bare skin, the IS' absolute defence kicking in and locking the unit up. She drops like a rock and I cackle at the jubilant feeling of finally being able to dish out retribution for all the crap these people have put us through.

I spin the Vulkan in the air, wheeling on the other two IS units, one of which has materialised a short-barrelled submachine gun and has levelled it at my face. I slap the weapon aside with my superior reach and the burst she lets off catches her friend, who recoils a little as the shots impact against her shields. The knife lances through the shields of the shooter and she goes to join her friend for a dip in the Pacific.

The last of Kanon's evil little helpers appears to realise that she needs to back away and her thrusters flare but I lash out with my Vulkan's free arm, giving her a vicious hook that further disorients the pilot but doesn't do any real damage to her shields. Two quick thrusts from the blade in my hand changes that and a third IS plummets earthward, the pilot unable to do more than scream curses at me in her native tongue.

I don't bother turning to fight Kanon, she'll come to me, I'm certain of it. Instead, I blast towards the island cluster with all the speed that my two remaining engines will allow.

I get to about two-hundred feet above ground before she's back on top of me.

'I'm going to tear you out of that tin can, rip your head off and floss my teeth with your spine!'

How colourful.

'Good luck,' I bait, though I know that even with her hyper-senses dulled, she's still piloting a vastly superior machine to the one I'm using. Even more to the point; she's been piloting for much, much longer than I have in a machine I assume is infinitely easier to use than the clumsy Vulkan.

Another alarm and another confounded damage report tells me that my Vulkan is now missing an arm. That will make combat rather more difficult I imagine, particularly if–

My train of thought is interrupted by the screeching of metal and pain exploding across my gut. There's a rather long, sharp object that's impaled my Vulkan and, by extension, myself. Goddamn that hurts.

'You still alive in there?' Kanon's voice, dripping with liquid malevolence, taunts over the open comms. The blade (at least, I think it's a blade, rather hard to tell when you're trying not to pass out from pain) twists sharply and I have to bite my lip hard enough to draw blood to stop myself crying out.

'I'm going to drag you back to our base and me and my friends are going to cut you out of there… and when they do…' the threat in her voice could have chilled a robot.

It's at that point I see her, and even though it hurts like a bitch to even breathe, I begin to laugh.

'She's early,' I manage to gasp out.

'What are you talking about?' Kanon asks sharply. I realise that the Void is still engaged, the poor bitch has no clue what's coming, and that makes me laugh harder. It's a horrible, wet sound and it agonises me like nothing else ever has.

'What is so goddamn–!'

She doesn't get to finish.

Claire Eckhart slams into Konan's unit with all the force of an angry God. She drops the blade and I feel myself falling.

'Elliot! You in there?' Claire asks over the comms, she sounds worried; it doesn't suit her in the slightest.

'Hey…' I manage to say, still in free-fall, 'gonna take a nap now. Wake me when it's over.'

'Oh it's over,' Claire practically seethes, 'this psycho just doesn't know it yet.'

I don't hear her answer. I don't hear the clash of blades and the roar of gunfire overhead. I don't feel the impact as my Vulkan strikes the surface of the Pacific and begins to sink. I don't feel the water seep in and begin to flood the pilot's compartment. I don't see Kanon's IS, broken and battered; flee the airspace from the brutalising that Claire dished out. I don't see her dive towards the ocean, her hyper-senses searching for me and my comrades. I don't see her fish my unit from the depths and cradle what's left of my machine to her IS as she powers home.

I'd passed out long before then.


I've taken, and will probably take a few more creative liberties with the IS and what information I've taken from the Wiki. Those of you who actually read this shit will probably spot those, though in future releases I do plan to address one or two of these so if you'll just bear with me on those.

There's also a reference to a simply outstanding Thriller/Horror series, to say I'm simply a fan of said series would be a severe understatement; otherwise I'd have no reason to point it out in the end-of-story author's notes. Hell the main reason I even mentioned it was because I think it's so good that you people should give it a read.

Rambling time over. Those of you expecting an update to one of my other stories on this site will have to wait a bit, I'm sure back in that wonderful little world we call reality you're all equally busy even if you don't celebrate the holiday. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays folks.