Author's Notes

Hey guys, here's the new chapter for Iron Stratos. Apologies for the lateness of the upload, I got my job, and I had to work almost overtime to get through some of the projects given due to the new year, so that only left me at best 4-5 hours to work this story T.T

So thankfully with the holidays that I just got, I managed to cram through this chapter in time to give to you guys.

This chapter takes place just before, during, and just after the events of Volume 8, adjusted to suit the time frame of my story.

Without further ado, let's start the chapter!

= Chapter Start =

Part 1

It was a small room where they met, one that was underground and beneath an unassuming looking shopping district in San Francisco. It looked so ordinary, one might be forgiven that nothing serious ever happens in that district.

Except said room was a giant conference room located 20 stories down and has been built to withstand a nuclear fallout and has enough stealth technology to ensure their conversations would not be overheard. Countless spies have attempted to listen in on their work, but so far none have gotten anything apart from meaningless static.

The members taking part in this little discussion were also not of the ordinary. Consisting of 8 males and 6 females, all were sitting around a very big table that was centred in the room. Their choices in clothing could not be any different: some wore suits and dresses of the finest material around, while others wore casual clothing to this meeting, a man in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts being the most visually jarring of the whole lot.

Outside of the duties expected of their group, each of them held high positions in various places, such as IS Corporations, NSA, NASA, the Pentagon, even the White House, and had contacts with some of the most powerful people around.

This group was Phantom Task, and this room was where they were to hold their first serious meeting in a long time.

"Ladies and Gentlemen" The person in the black coat stood up to address the room. "Thank you very much for coming under short notice."

"Well, it's not like we have much to do on our end." One of the men in a suit commented as he laid back on his seat. "Heck, my side is so boring, I'm a little tempted to just blow stuff up just to get my business rolling, and just to kill off time."

"Wish I could say the same." The guy in the Hawaiian attire grumbled. "I have to deal with a lot of black market merchants that kept trying to bargain their way out of a deal that would be beneficial for all if they were not so picky about the amount."

"So, why are we here?" The lady with the blonde hair and revealing dress asked the coordinator.

"As you probably know, the IS Council apparently set up a secret meeting that no one was informed of, not even some of the top members of the Council were privy to that information." The coordinator spoke while pressing a button at his desk to display documents to the others via small screens at their side of the desk. "Of course, our spies themselves did not get this information."

"We should just get rid of them." The man next to the one in the Hawaiian suit snorted while crossing his arms. "We planted those spies in the corporations and the council so that they can get this information. If they can't do it, why should we continue to have them in our payroll?"

"As much as many of our comrades believed so, they still have some use, so we can't get rid of them." The coordinator gave a somewhat mocking smile to show sympathy to them. "At the very least, thanks to this incident being exposed, the committee would have to share the information with the other corporations to avoid the backlash. They can't afford to hold back on anything if they want to maintain the trust they have with the corporations. This will give us the information we need to figure out what they are really going about."

"Well if that's all there is, it will have to be fine." A Spanish woman with a black dress and a hat with a dark veil to cover her face spoke. "What else is there on the agenda today?"

"We are currently approaching Phase 3 of our plans." The coordinator replied while an attendant started handing out documents to the members. "We are able to gain the designs and the prototypes from forty out of the 100 targets we assigned, and we are able to make some headway with the studies made on the cores."

"Whoa, that's fast." One of the other males commented. "I thought we won't hit Phase 3 for another 6 months."

"True, but thanks to Squall and her team, we were able to gain a lot of ground with all the samples we attained, and the R&D have been working their butts off to get the working prototypes functional and ready for production." The coordinator smiled as the others read through the documents, some nodding at the news given.

"Now those girls, we should consider giving them a raise, maybe a promotion while we are at it." The man who was disparaging the spies now complemented the girls with a look of contentment at the good news. "Well, aren't we generous all of a sudden?" The woman next to him asked him with a raised eyebrow.

"I like results and efficiency, and Squall's team delivers both." The man gave that simple reply.

"Well then, if there's nothing else…" The members started to stand up when a voice interrupted them.

"Hold on a minute, I doubt that's all?" Everyone turned to faced one of the youngest members of the group still seated in his chair. He was wearing a plain business suit that seemed a little lacklustre when compared to the more expensive suits worn by his seniors, but he still commanded a high position in the outside world as the aide to the boss of one of the biggest corporations around.

"Oh, whatever do you mean?" The lady in the dress asked while placing her hand on her hips. The guy responded with a look that said 'you are kidding?'

"I believe I speak for everyone when I say, rather than the issue with the IS Council and the committee, we want to hear more about those mysterious units that had appeared recently and attacked various terrorists groups and one of our bases." The young man motioned with a hand towards the coordinator while raising an eyebrow.

To say that the mood in the room changed dramatically was an understatement. The tension became so suffocating, one might expect it to snap at the drop of a coin.

The coordinator looked at the man for a while before letting out a light chuckle. It was a simple chuckle, but one could feel the amusement that was in him. "Yes, you are correct. The real reason would be related to those machines." Reaching into his pocket, he took out a flash drive and insert it into the USB slot at his end of the table, then fiddled around with some of the buttons. During which, the others got back to their seats while restraining their high expectations for the information.

"Without further ado, let me show you what my team has assembled from our findings." He pressed a button that opened a slot in the middle of the table, revealing a mini projector lens. Another button displayed a huge holographic projection for all to see.

"These images were taken during the first few incidents, starting with the Border Wars and up to the recent hijacking incident." The coordinator spoke while using a remote to display the images of the machines at the different incidents. "Based on the images and sightings, we can confirm there are at least seven units in total. As far as we can tell, each has capabilities to handle various situations that grants it total domination over its opponents. However, it is clear that particular units are given specific equipment to handle areas that fall within their skill-sets."

"As for similarities, there's the fact that all of them share elements of IS infrastructure, but it's worth noting that this does not mean they are IS units. For one thing they do not possess IS Cores, that much is clear when we checked the number based on the ones we have and those still under the corporations and pilots."

"As for their purpose, no one knows that is apart from the fact that they appear in various locations to either stop a conflict, or to take down terrorist cells around the world. And based on the random locations, one would assume that the creator of these units must have some form of intelligence network to monitor the situations around the world."

"Enough about that. How about the one that blew up our base in Norway?" One of the women present asked with a notable irritation in her voice. She was dressed in a decidedly military attire that gave off a strict exterior, which combined with her look of annoyance was something to make others decidedly weary of. "I want to know more details about that one, since it blew up MY entire installation, and make us lose one of our bases!" She stamped her foot a little harder than normal to illustrate how angry she felt about it.

"I must admit, I too am a little interested in this unit." The male 3 seats away from her leaned forward with his hand clasped together and his elbows on the table. "It's weird that it could find that base in the first place, given that we had fitted the entire area with enough technology to make countries like Singapore or Japan disappear from the map completely."

"Well, as to that, we may have a reason for that." The coordinator manipulated the controls slightly to zoom in on the white particles emitting from the vents of the units. "One of the scientists have theorised that the particles being emitted from these machines actually interfere with radio waves, and also disrupt any form of signals that can be used to track it or any form of communication for that matter. With that in mind, he checked the stealth equipment salvaged from the base and found that the effects of the particles were present enough to disrupt even the room's equipment."

"I see, that does explain the part of it disrupting our equipment, but how does it relate to it crushing our installation?" The man asked while pondering the latest information.

"Well, as for that…" The coordinator used his finger to swipe the images to one side of the projection and brought up a video file. "This is something you should decide yourself." He said before playing the file.

The first thing they saw was the everyday activities being conducted at the military base: the military tanks and aircraft being serviced and the IS frames Phantom Task were able to reverse-engineer from the ones they stole from the corporations around the world being moved into the containers to be shipped to their other bases. Then all hell broke loose within the next 20 seconds of the footage: a grey blur appeared in the sky and started firing off shots at various key areas of the base such as the power generators and the weapons hold, with the personnel on the ground scrambling for cover. The missiles shot by the fighter jets already in flight were easily shot down, with them following shortly.

Then the IS pilots under their command came into view, and here after engaged in a lengthy dogfight with the grey unit. The unit easily dodged the attacks made by the pilots, at one point grabbing the plasma sword and using it on its owner. After making short work of the pilots and removing them from their units, the unit blasted them with its rifle, before resuming destruction of the base, ending the video with a shot straight at the camera.

The video fizzled out at the end, fitting for the silence that descended in the room.

"As you could very well see, the units possess high combat capabilities that exceed most IS frames by a large margin. Furthermore, based on our intelligence reports and our own observations, it can be concluded that for this particular unit, it would be considered the strongest of all the units that had appeared so far." The coordinator raised a hand towards the members. "So, your thoughts?"

It was a few seconds later, did someone started to open their mouth.

"I don't suppose this could be the work of Shinonono Tabane by any chance?" The second youngest member asked while looking through the documents again on his side to check for any details to focus on.

"That is the general consensus everyone is working on." The coordinator replied back while thinking about the professor. Based on what they had learned about the woman, it may not be too much of a stretch as to say that she could possibly have done it just for the fun of seeing how everyone reacted to them. "But then again, there is the smallest of possibilities that someone else did this. We just don't know who or why."

"Hmm" One of the older males who hasn't spoken for the entire meeting folded his arms and let out a soft sigh. "Something on your mind, old man?" The young man asked with a respectful tone despite the title.

"This is way beyond what we had anticipated in terms of combat capabilities." The old man replied back with a light contemplating tone. "And you say that these units are not IS?"

"Yes, that's right." The coordinator replied back.

"Then this presents both an opportunity and a problem for our group." The man leaned back with his finger lightly temping his chin. "Oh, how so?" The woman in the dress asked.

"It is an opportunity for us, as this answers some of our current issues with getting the latest technology." The old man turned to the lady with a twinkle in his eye. "As we are all aware, we have been going around procuring the best technology the world has to offer, and the latest in military warfare. And of course we have the crown jewel of both: the Infinite Stratos."

"That said, it does not help us much since the cores inside them are totally unlike anything the world has seen. We can replicate the weapons, we can create new frames, but all that is useless without the core which we can't replicate even with the best working under our payroll."

"Yeah, we all get that. But how is it related to this?" The first man who spoke earlier remarked with slight impatience.

The old man responded by pointing to the images on the holographic screen. "Think about this. Ten years ago, when people thought nuclear weapons were considered the best deterrent around, the IS came along and trashed that idea completely. It then solidified that position by taking on every military weapon ever invented and crushing them. Now the same thing is happening again, only this time these units are going against the greatest weapon ever made! Everyone thought that the IS could only be fought with another IS, yet this unit was able to best them. Not to mention the reports about this and a few others going against other pilots with their respective units."

"Disregarding the fact that said unit still has some IS infrastructure built into it, pretty much everything you said is true." The young man remarked while absentmindedly rubbing his chin. "So said opportunity is about getting a technology that could go against the strongest weapon around, with the added bonus that it could be reverse-engineered completely for mass production?"

"At least, that's what I think." The old man nodded at the young man's comment.

"Okay, that's the opportunity, so what's the problem?" The bad-tempered lady asked. The old man responded by motioning to the coordinator to display the images again to illustrate his next point.

"As we have been told, there is no known purpose for sending out these units, so we cannot simply assume based on what we had seen so far. I doubt that the creator of these units meant for them to just fly around the world and stop all those petty incidents. We need to know what they are really built for."

"Another problem comes from the identity of the creator. If it's Tabane, that's one thing, but if it is not her, then who and why that person did it?" The old man paused as he viewed the video of the plane hijack incident. "And lastly, the amount of power that one unit possesses alone is enough to rival IS, and considering there are different versions of it that are customized for the type of battlefields deployed, it is clear that the person holds a huge advantage over any of us. We would need to be careful that we don't cross that person once we attained enough information to capture one of them."

"It would not be easy, that's for sure." The other person who had not said a word now frowned as he viewed the video about the Fishing Grounds Dispute through the small screen at his side. "From what I can see, it seems they have yet to showcase their real strength. Makes you wonder what it would take to make them do so, and at what costs."

The coordinator could almost see the clogs moving in their heads as the members pondered about the prospect of gaining such a technology. He too understood the difficulty of stealing IS units from some of the most armed nations around. Even with Squall's team, there was little they could deal with the armed forces. Of course, the satisfaction of seeing the countries blatantly lying that they still possessed the IS cores was somewhat comforting for them. Even with that, they made very little headway with their research in the cores.

So the idea that there was another alternative to one equivalent, if not even better, than the strongest weapon around, was a tempting offer that they could not refuse. It would come with its share of complications, but they did not endure all those years without overcoming challenges.

"So are we in favour to attempt capturing one?" The coordinator asked the members solemnly. One by one, all raised their hand to give their approval.

"Very well then. We will continue to monitor their movements and understand their behaviour, then given the opportunity, we will try to catch one of them."

"Until then, we would need whatever we can get our hands on." The man in the Hawaiian suit commented as he put on a thoughtful expression. "How is it going with Squall's current mission?"

"She is currently heading to the scheduled spot to meet with Shinonono Tabane as we speak." The coordinator said, noting the predatory expressions of the members who reacted to that name. "As a precaution, she is bringing along 'Autumn' and M to ensure her safety and to collect a bargaining chip."

"A bargaining chip?" The Hawaiian raised an eyebrow at that odd choice of words. "Of what sort?"

"Apparently, one she believes will make Tabane see our way." The coordinator shrugged his shoulders. "Whatever works in our favour, I guess." The others nodded as the holographic screen flickered off, leaving the room in near darkness while they stood up and leave the room.

And so, as one secret meeting came to a close at one side of the world…

Part 2

... Another meeting was still underway at the other side of the world.

"This is unacceptable!" An old man dressed in a grey business suit pounded his hand on the desk hard enough to make the glasses of beverages shake slightly. "We can't just sit here while those machines go around and take down whatever military installations they seek and make us look like fools!"

"Calm down, Alex." His blond companion next to him sighed as he took a sip from his glass. "Your blood pressure is already high enough as it is, and I really don't want to explain to your wife how you end up in the hospital again from losing your temper."

All that earned him was a glare from Alex.

They and a few other people were currently in a big conference room in one of the most well-known buildings set in the bustling area of Seoul. It was also one of the most secure buildings you could find in all of South Korea; one would need to go through multiple security checks just to access the first three floors, let alone their conference room which was right at the top, granting visitors a full view of Seoul's skyline.

Alex, his companion, and a few others were sitting around a table that had stacks of files and documents covering nearly every inch of it. Each of it contained details regarding the appearance of the units and the circumstances that came about with them. Needless to say, they were having about as much luck as many of the IS Corporations and the IS Council in figuring out the origins and purpose of those units.

"We should be taking measures to stop them." One of the older members declared as he threw down the documents regarding the green unit attacking the Mexican cartel in the Amazon.

"I don't see why we should be stopping them for now." One of the younger men with black hair seated opposite shrugged as he leaned back in his chair. "They have been going around stopping the terrorists and all the smuggling groups all over the world. I say we should just let them go about for us."

"We should stop them, because it is supposed to be our duty to that." The man growled out his answer. "The fact that someone else saw fit to just build this machines and sent them out to take care of the bad guys makes us look bad. Not to mention that their strength is enough to take on some of the strongest IS pilots around, is a very big problem! Please use your head, Saji."

"Even so, you can't deny that their actions have helped us out in these matters." The person who tried to calm Alex replied back as he placed on the desk documents regarding the first sightings of the units. "There have been a few incidences where we could not interfere with the nations' state of matters, and these machines pretty solved our problems. Moreover, there is the problem with the people of those areas being resistant to our presence."

"But it does not help with OUR situation, Carter." Alex let out an exasperated sigh as he run his hand through his greying hair. "As you said, we can't do anything regarding some of the situations that deal with international laws, not to mention the stakes we have on the different companies involved. With the appearance of these units, many are clamouring that we are not doing our jobs, or that someone took the initiative to do the duties we were supposed to do."

Carter could only shrug in resignation while the others sigh in frustration. Each of them held top positions in both IS-related and unrelated matters of the world and thus, had to handle a lot of situations 'off the books'. But the manner which the machines handled their work was particularly troublesome, since some of it was to be done by them, and worst, considering how open they were with their attacks, many of the citizens and governments were starting to figure out about the dark side of government affairs.

"We can't deal with them as much as we hope, so we will have to make do with what we have and what we can do." The other older member said as he leaned back in his seat. "If only we could get in into IS Academy and gain every bit of information on all the different models. We would not have to worry so much about it."

"Oh sure, like that would solve our problems anytime soon." Another youth, this time with brown hair and traces of silver at the sides, replied in a deadpan manner.

"Actually, there's a bit of good news, if you wish to listen." One of the youngest raised his hand to get their attention. "Oh, what would that be?" The old man asked.

"It would seem that the defences around IS Academy are down due to some outside attack." The young man replied as he forwarded the information to their PDAs for their viewing. "Even as we speak, the team is already preparing to go in."

"Seriously?!" Alex asked in shock before breaking out his first smile of the day. "This is the best news I have so far!"

The men around him nodded while smiling at this bit of news.

It was no secret to anyone working under the shadows of governments that IS Academy was always under strict surveillance by many black ops groups from many nations in the hope of getting inside to steal information. Heck, their team met with other teams at least three times per week during their period. Needless to say, the strict security and the watchful eyes of Chifuyu Orimura made it absolutely impossible to conduct espionage undetected.

Until now at least.

It was no small bit of news when word got out that IS Academy got attacked by unknown assailants a few weeks ago. Despite the staff's attempts to stifle the information, they could not prevent the surveillance equipment on the student's IS units from recording and directing the battle to their respective corporations and thus, they could not stop the onslaught of concerned parents from contacting their children to ensure their safety. One of their spies posed as one, and distracted the recipient while the others attempted to hack the system. It was not successful, but what they found out made their troubles worth it: an undeleted footage of Unmanned IS units.

To the Americans who found out about this, it was perhaps the biggest thing that came about. It was a bit of a sore point for them that a Japanese woman created a weapon that surpassed any of their greatest arsenal around, thus tipping the power scale considerably in Japan's favour. One could imagine their excitement when they found out that at least one unit remained relatively unmolested after the attacks, meaning the core was still intact.

Now with the defenses down, they should be able to get inside quickly and get the core, and if time and opportunity provided, go and steal information on some of the experimental 3rd generation models.

"Tell the team to get inside quickly. It won't take the others to know that the defenses are down and we need that window to get the core before it closes." Alex told the young man who quickly dialed the number to call the shadow team. "How goes the plan for the mass production of the next generation model?" Alex turned to ask the assistant who has been with them all this time.

"Kagaribi Hikarunois is currently heading to the Kuromochi Research Center as we speak." The assistant came forward and spoke. "Ideally she should be talking with Orimura Ichika and getting the data on Byakushiki Setsura within the next couple of hours."

"Good, we are going to need that." Alex nodded his approval. It was some time after the Silver Gospel Incident when they found out about the Fourth-Generation IS hand-crafted and delivered personally by Tabane to her sister. To say the least, everyone was ecstatic at the prospect of studying that unit, but Houki being an IS student meant that she was currently protected by the laws of IS Academy and under the protection of the Brunhilde, reputedly the friend of the scientist. Also, since she was technically just a representative candidate with no affiliation with any of the known corporations, they cannot pulled their authority on her.

But their disappointment got stifled when they found out about Tabane indirectly assisting in the construction of Byakushiki, mainly in the weapons department. So they decided to get Kagaribi to bring him back to the research center under the excuse of maintenance, something that was not too hard to believe since the pilot seemed to have gained a fair amount of damage on his unit since coming to IS Acdemy. With the data, they hoped to initiate the mass production of a whole new line of IS units, each equipped with Tabane's latest technology called the "Fold-Out Armour".

In an odd sense of looking at the situation, this was some serious luck on their part. IS Academy was defenceless, leaving their Special Ops team a chance to infiltrate and attain the unregistered cores, possibly gaining knowledge on creating unmanned IS weapons. Kagaribi with the aid of the Kuromochi Research team would retrieve the information on Tabane's experimental armour and bring up to speed their plan to create the next generation models. Even if by some dumb luck, Ichika did not leave the academy, he would still be targeted by their team and would be brought back alongside Byakushiki to retrieve the information anyway. Either way, they would get whatever they needed for their plans to advance faster.

"Good, if we can time this right, we should be able to get both of them at the end of the day." Alex stretched his arms while yawning. "Okay then, with that out of the way, I think we can call this meeting…"

"Clash!" The door swung violently from the hinges, alerting everyone to the presence of a relatively young man who was panting heavily while clutching his chest tightly. His ruffled red hair and sweat going down his panicked face was all they need to know that he was bringing them some very bad news.

"Slow down Max, what's the problem?" Alex got up to calm the man, who took a few deep breaths to calm himself down.

"It's.. it's!" Max took a few more deep breaths before dropping the bombshell on them. "We just got confirmation that three more units had appeared at different parts of the world. We are getting visuals as we speak."

Some of those carrying documents let their arms slack and dropped papers all over the floor as they gaped at his words. It was barely a few days since the reappearance of the grey unit that took on the IS Representatives at South Dakota and the handling of the hostage incident, and now the units were at it again.

"Are they the ones we have seen before?" Alex recovered from his stupor and asked him quickly.

"No sir." Max hastily went to the desk to grab the remote on the desk. "These are completely different from the ones that had appeared before. Right now, all three units are at different locations, in Egypt, Moscow and Pakistan. Like last time, it seems that they are there either for some sort of dispute or some sort of terrorist attack." With a bit of fiddling, the main television screen flickered to life, displaying three different screens of the locations he was talking about.

The first screen clearly showed the smouldering remains of a military installation in Egypt, the signature peaks of pyramids prominent in the background. The second screen showed a burned patch of land in the middle of the deserts of Pakistan, with the remnants of a make-shift camp and prison set up by a group of insurgents they recognized based on the symbols of a partially burning flag. The last screen showed a bomb-blasted factory in the snowy plains of Moscow.

"That's the rebels from the Sali insurgent group!" One of the guys pointed at the second screen.

"That's the IS Aerial combat division!" Another remarked at the footage from the first screen.

"That's one of the manufacturing plants from Moscow." The older man spoke with a grave tone as he watched the third screen.

"Are these footages from a few hours ago?" Alex turned to ask Max only to find him paling considerably from the sight of the scenes in front of him. He looked almost ready to pass out in shock.

"Whoa, Max! Are you okay?" Alex and the others were alarmed to see such a reaction coming from the young man. Max's response was to grab a bottle of brandy from the counter and chug it down his throat for a while, before putting it back down on the desk with a loud thud.

"This is real time footage. I only got the news 5 minutes ago that they started their attacks on these places." Max turned to the others with an ashen face. "5 freaking minutes, and they totally wasted those areas."

A stunned silence filled the room as the men tried to process the information given. A sound uttered by one of the others brought their attention back to the main screen in time to see something unsettling.

On the first screen, an unearthly shape appeared in the flames, its visage getting sharper as it came closer, until finally with a sudden raising of flames, a figure emerged from the burning wreckage and stood just outside of the scene. Its exact details could not be shown due to the quality of the signal, but what little they could see was more than enough to tell them it was definitely the work of the one who sent out those units.

The unit shown on the screen had the same lanky built as the ones before him, but the main difference was that its armour consisted primarily of black platings with grey joints, with small blade like attachments at its shoulders and elbows. At the hips were two long blades with jet-black edges, and what looked to be the handles of daggers just around the back region. Currently being held in its right hand was perhaps one of the biggest blades they have seen to date, aside from 'Blue', and it too had a black edge on one side, with unusual markings on the other. And finally on its chest was the familiar circular glow, with green metallic strips surrounding it.

"So that's the unit that took out the Egypt's Aerial Assault group." Carter scrutinized the unit on the screen while frowning, noting the design was almost the same as the blue unit apart from the black paint-job and choice of weaponry. "Well, we can definitely say that there are now 8 of them."

"Err, Carter?" One of the younger members pointed to the other two screens with a green face. "You might want to bring the tally up to 10 units."

"What." Carter said that flatly as he turned his attention to the other two screens, before his jaw dropped in shock at what he saw.

Coming out of the smoldering ashes of the encampment was a unit that could only be described as "humongous". There was no other way to describe it: it stood at a rough height of 10 feet, taller than its known counterparts, and certainly well above any known IS frames out there. It was completely covered in thick green armor and had what looked to be extra thrusters to aid in its movements. On its chest, the suspected power source deviated from its counterparts by being rectangular in shape, rather than the familiar circle all the units were famous for. Even the head was covered in the same thick plating, with a rectangular crystal embedded between the antennas on its forehead.

But the most eye-catching items on it were the type of arsenals it was carrying on itself: missile containers on its legs and back, a large bazooka being held in its right hand, a railgun attached to its left shoulder, beam turrets present on its arms, and a bloody mini-gun being held in its left! How many weapons was this unit equipped with?!

From the third screen, standing under the falling snow of Moscow, was perhaps the opposite of the second unit. It was muscular than some of the earlier models, but still lean enough to be regarded regular-sized. It had white limbs and a red torso, a few lines running down its broad shoulders and arms. This was perhaps the least armed unit of all, carrying only what looked to be a 5 foot long katana in its right hand, the sheath in its left, and a rifle docked on its waist.

"Hoo boy, we are so in trouble." Saji remarked as he looked at the biggest unit on the screen.

"Gee, you think?" The old man sarcastically replied back. "Hey, don't need to take that tone old man!" Another member from the younger fraction frowned at him.

"What do you think this is going to turn into?" The old man pointed at the third screen, where the red machine swung his sword once before sheathing it in a manner reminiscent of the samurai way. "This is precisely why we should be getting them. Considering the amount of damage done in the open, we are screwed!"

"Yeah, but that does not mean that we should be trying to…" The guy tried to talk him down only to get blown over by the old man's tirade.

"What part of this do you not get? We don't have time for to procrastinate!" The old man bellowed. "Those units have been disrupting everything, and we are also losing our jobs if we don't find a way to capture them or destroy them!"

Everyone started to argue with each other, not noticing how the assistant who was still looking at the screen started to pale considerably.

"Err, guys?" The assistant tried to get their attention but they ignored him in favour of pressing their case.

"Guys?" The assistant tried to press the urgency of the matter, but they still ignored him.

"Oi, old people!" The assistant threw all formalities out the window and just yelled at them.

"WHAT!" Everyone turned to yell at him, whose only reply was to point at the main screen. As one they all turned to the screen to see what made him so desperate, only to pale at the sight.

At first, it did not look like there was a change in the footage: they were still standing just outside of the area they attacked while keeping their weapons away. But the part that got them uncomfortable was the fact that all three units were staring right back at them as they did so, as if they knew that they were being watched.

"Max…" Alex gulped while keeping an eye on the screen. "The people manning the satellites are making sure not to get tracked, right?"

"Yes sir." Max replied while wiping his brow. "And even if they managed to detect them, it's not like they can hack us. The satellites are encrypted with the multi-layered firewalls and the security system is straight from the Pentagon's design. After that, our systems have several layers of security systems to get through and even 10 mirror drives to deter any harden hackers. So there's no way they could just…"

He faltered towards the end as he and the others watched the units start to raise their free hands and as one, started to wag their fingers at the camera. Everyone's reaction from that were understandable: Alex looked like he was one step away from suffering a stroke while the others were just about ready to faint on the spot they stood on.

It did not help their nerves when the telephone started ringing loudly, making everyone jump in fright. Going red from the embarrassment, Max went to the desk and answered the call.

"What's the matter?" He asked while the others listened in. Evidently it was not good news, as his eyes went wide and he yelled "WHAT!" into the phone. After that, it seemed the details were even more disturbing, as he started getting more agitated by the minute.

"Tell them to do whatever it takes, even if it means cutting the power! We can't afford to lose the information to them!" Max yelled that order through the mouthpiece before slamming the phone on the table.

"What's wrong?" Alex asked Max cautiously.

"I'm not sure how it happened, but it seemed that our servers are getting hacked, and it is not just the ones in our make-shift base. The hacker is going after every single server from all branches, even the main HQ back home!" Max let out an exasperated sound while massaging his temples. "Call me crazy, but I think those machines have something to do with that. The timing is way too close for coincidence!"

Alex could only turn his head to the screen gulping loudly while the others either grabbed the nearest chair for support or the nearest bottle to calm their nerves with. This was a really bad situation for them; they had plenty of information that came from spying on other corporations and much of which were linked to their background activities in the IS World. If such information were to get out, theu would be ruined!

"I already told them to cut the power if necessary, but we would have to presume that the hackers got the information." Max continued in a resigned tone. "Worst part is, it seemed that they are also trying to infect the system with some virus, so it would take a while to clean it out and to see what information has been taken."

"I guess they got what they needed." Carter pointed to the screen, where the three units started to hover in the air before flying off in their separate directions.

"Gentlemen." Alex turned to the others with a serious face. "I think we can agree on the fact we can't let these machines run unsupervised anymore. It's bad enough that they go around taking down these installations or rebel groups, though welcomed, without anyone claiming responsibility for their actions. Now that they had downloaded the information from our servers, it is imperative that we get them quickly before they release the information to the public."

"Oh sure, just one problem." Saji replied in a deadpan tone. "Not once have we got word of their attacks ahead of time, and when we do catch up to them, they have already finished the job and ran off somewhere. So how are we going to find them in the first place?" The others muttered their agreements, but to their surprise, Alex smiled after taking a glimpse outside the window.

"With this." He simply answered while holding up his PDA.

"Okay, maybe you have gone senile, allow me to repeat." Saji said while shaking his head. "What the heck can a small PDA do to track down these units, if we with all our surveillance technology and satellites can't do?"

"We don't, they will do it for us." Alex pointed out of the window towards the roadside, where a few teenagers could be seen with their mobile devices. "We already have the best method of monitoring them and keeping track of their activities."

"Teenagers with their devices?" The old man asked with a quizzical look.

"The Internet." Alex gave that simple reply. "Since the units were already shown to the world from the hijacking incident, everyone has been trying to find out more about them. This gives us an opportunity to use them as our countermeasures, since they will always be on the lookout, among other things. Even more so for the students of IS Academy, since many of the corporations they are contracted to would want them to find out more."

"I see." Carter pondered the idea as the others discussed the idea among themselves. It was ingenious, with its own share of risks; using the general population to keep their eyes out for the units would make it a little easier, since everyone would be on the lookout for them and even the person backing the units might have trouble concealing their movements against a world-scaled vigilance made up of civilians. It would be problematic though, since they were essentially doing this illegally, and the reactions of the general population, if ever they found out, would be extremely disastrous for them.

They would need to iron out some bits, but this could be the best way to find them fast without having to use up too much of their resources.

"So, all in favour of using them to find and capture, otherwise destroy, those units?" Alex asked again.

"Aye!" Everyone gave their approval with a loud cheer.

And so, the other meeting came to a close.

Part 3

"Weee!" Tabane swirled about as she entered her laboratory with her arms out. "Tonight has been such a fun night, ne Kuu-Chan?" Tabae turned to the door, where a pale girl with long silver hair could barely be seen in the darkness behind the door. One might be forgiven in thinking there was a ghost haunting the lab, considering how her pale complexion seemingly blends with the dark surroundings.

"…" Chloe Chronicle remained silent while standing out just outside the door, as if she were hesitating to come through the door. "Hmm, what's the matter, Kuu-Chan?" Tabane waltzed her way back to her while smiling.

"Tabane-sama, I nearly jeopardized your life because of my mistakes." Chloe spoke with a hint of angst in her tone. "If I was not caught, you would not have to make the extra IS units for them! I have…"

Her words got cut off by Tabane's simple gesture of placing a finger gently on her lips. "Don't worry, Kuu-chan." Tabane smiled while patting Chloe's head. "It's not your fault that this happened. So don't go beating your head on it okay?" She brought her arms around Chloe and hugged her tightly. Chloe could only bite her lip tightly while letting Tabane hug her closer.

"And besides, I get to meet Mado-chi today!" Tabane jumped back and let out a laugh as she made her way to the monitor in front of her, leaving a confused Chloe who wondered at her expression.

"Tabane-sama, do you know who she is exactly?" She asked with a fair amount of curiosity present in her tone. Granted she did not read up too much about the Orimura family, but she did remembered reading that there were only Ichika and Chifuyu listed as the only children, their parents supposedly disappeared from their lives with a bit of bad blood left behind, given Tabane's and Chifuyu's reactions when asked about them. So the fact that there was another Orimura, one that even looked like the younger version of Chifuyu, was understandably worrying in its own way.

"Hmm, maybe?" Tabane gave that enigmatic reply while placing a finger on her smiling face. Before Chloe could ask further, an unusual ringtone started to echo in the lab.

*Tralala~ * *Tralala~ * 'you people better get ready~ BAM BAM!


"Ah! This ringtone!" Tabane jumped over her working table in a diving manner, not minding the papers scattering all over the floor in her action. Chloe could only sigh as she started to pick them up and placed them in neat stacks. Having worked with Tabane for a while, she more or less got the idea of the person calling based on the ringtones and her reactions. In this case, it would be her younger sister.

On a totally unrelated note, her choice of ringtones was particularly unusual; only she would use a line from a questionable movie as a ringtone for her sister.

"Hi, Hi! Are you high?! This is everyone's favourite Tabane!" Tabane gave that reply while doing a victory sign with her fingers. In a way, Chloe thought privately that she looked a little ridiculous acting in that manner, and apparently so did Houki, as Tabane immediately dropped her act and said: "Wait, wait Houki-chan! Don't cut me off just yet!"

It would appear that whatever was the matter had to be extremely important for Houki to actually listen to her, as Tabane happily danced around as she listened to whatever she had to say. The occasional "Hmm?" and "Maybe?" were the few words that Chloe could make out before Tabane ended the call with a loud "Bye-Bye!"

"Tabane-sama, what was the call about?" Chloe asked after placing the last stack on the table.

"Hmm, Houki-chan wanted to ask about the units that had appeared over the past few weeks." Tabane replied as she sat down on her chair and crossing her legs. "Houki-chan wanted to know if I had anything to do with them, like I may have created them and sent them out."

'Ah, so that's why she called out to her.' Chloe thought while nodding.

She and Tabane had caught word of them during their tapping of the satellite feeds to get themselves updated on the everyday situations, since they were secluded in the private lab that Tabane built as her portable base. After that, they decided to monitor the feeds to try and catch a glimpse of them, which they finally did with the appearance of the grey unit dubbed 'Raptor' during the South Dakota incident.

Naturally, Chloe asked immediately if Tabane had something to do with it, thinking that she may have built them secretly before she got adopted. But one look at Tabane's face was all the indication needed that she did not do so. If anything, that may have been the first time Chloe had ever seen Tabane had such a serious look on her face. She may not care about too many things apart from Chloe, her sister, and her two friends, but she did have some pride for making the IS, so seeing her units getting bested by some unknown machines probably hurt her pride a little.

Since then, they had been keeping an eye out for their reappearance, and after a few days, they got their wish in the form of the grey unit and two new units dealing with the hijacking incident. Chloe had to admit that the machines were really efficient in their work, what with taking down the terrorists without any of the hostages harmed severely and preventing the plane from crashing.

"Hmm, it's a little unfair!" Tabane puted while swinging her limbs childishly. "Why does everyone think I'm the one who did it? I understand if they think along the lines that I'm the only one able to make the cores, but those are definitely not my designs, so why does everyone think that way?!"

'Maybe it has less to do with your expertise and more to do with your behavior.' Chloe though privately in her head.

"You just thought of something rude, didn't you?" Tabane raised any eyebrow at Chloe. "I have no such thoughts, Tabane-sama." Chloe replied a little too quickly to be normal.

"You are thinking something rude!" Tabane got off her chair and slowly walked to Chloe with her hands stretched out in front of her. "I think Chloe needs another punishment session!" Tabane gave a teasing smile while wriggling her fingers actively.

"Please don't." Chloe said while trying not to sound too nervous. The first time she experienced the tickling punishment, she was unable to stand straight for a few hours due to her aching sides.

"Here I go!" Tabane cheered as she jumped at her enthusiastically. Chloe could only sigh in resignation as she prepared herself for the session.

This was going to hurt a lot.

"But you know something?" Tabane spoke 1 hour later as she looked at the screen. "These machines are a little unusual to me. For some reason, they remind me of something, but I'm not sure of what."

"Why do you say that?" Chloe asked weakly as she settled herself onto her padded seat. The session was particularly tiresome for her this time round, due to Tabane's ability to somehow find weak-spots in her defense. She got the feeling Tabane purposely tickled her more than usual to make her forget about the earlier incident.

"Hmm, well the designs are derived from mine, but they are radically different." Tabane pressed a few buttons to bring out schematics of some of her old designs and pictures of the units to compare. "From the body frame alone, you can see how the style deviates from mine. The person designing them must have thought about creating body armor to compensate for the lack of AIC or any protection barrier found on my designs."

"Also, it would seemed that the person had them planned to be more combat-oriented than my previous designs. Each unit was tailored specifically to particular styles of combat and for selected battlefields to bring out their true potential. At the same time, it's as if this person wants to do what I can't do: going into space. This person is weird." She ended that with a pondering smile.

"But still, why would this person sent out all these units in the first place?" Chloe asked as she reached out to press another button to get a better look at the green unit from the Amazon incident.

"Hmm, maybe he wants to prove that my children can be taken down by someone else. Perhaps he wanted to rid the world of all the bad guys in the world. Or maybe he wants to take over the world hostage and demand all the pretty women!" Tabane started listing possibilities, the next few getting more ridiculous.

"Tabane-sama…" Chloe sighed while shaking her head. There were times she had to wonder if the woman's head was working right.

"Okay, maybe not those reasons, but there is one more I can think of." Tabane paused for a moment before saying one word. "Experience."

"Experience?" Chloe echoed that word while tilting her head.

Tabane pointed to the screen showing all the different units. "Each time something turns up, it tends to be a different unit all together, each being one suited for the tasks at hand. The only one that has been sighted more than once is the grey one called 'Raptor'" She motioned with her finger to bring up the 3 video footages of the grey unit. "My thinking is that this person wants to gather enough experience of utilizing the units in order to handle any other situations in the future. Also, based on the designs of the other units, it could be that the person will improve on what he has to create the ultimate unit of all."

"That might prove problematic for a lot of people." Chloe frowned at the footage which showcased 'Raptor' destroying the base in Norway. If what she said was true, that would mean that all the units that had appeared so far were undergoing test-runs before the main event, whatever that might be.

"That may be closer than we think. Apparently, there is a consensus among the IS corporations that 'Raptor' is considered the strongest and fastest unit of them all so far, but from what I gather, it has yet to be perfected properly." Tabane mentioned as she leaned back on her chair. "From my understanding, the person in question is sending it out a few more times to gather enough knowledge before it can be fully operational."

Chloe could only frown even more as she brought up the footages relating to the grey unit. 'Collecting experience to make it stronger?' She thought while seeing its movements during the hijacking incident. In an odd manner, what Tabane said made perfect sense. The first time it appeared, it fought with hit-and-run tactics that allowed it to tackle the two IS pilots with ease, while taking down the F-22s at the same time. The second time it appeared, its fighting style was more methodical, more 'machine-like' if she had to describe the somewhat brutal efficiency it showcased during its destruction of the base and its takedown of the IS pilots. And in its most recent appearance, it displayed a more 'human' approach to the matter, able to create strategies on the spot and work with the IS representative cadets easily.

"So what will you do about it, Tabane-sama?" Chloe asked after reviewing the information.

"Hmm…" Tabane put a finger on her chin as she stood up and made her way to a dark part of the room. "Well, I have to make an IS for Mado-chi, and I do need to get more data for Houki-chan." Heading to the panel located on the wall, she pressed a few buttons that unlocked the reinforced doors next to her. The doors slide open slowly with a loud 'hiss', with wisps of condensing air forming from the doorway due to the extreme cold interacting with the warm air outside. The lights blinked to life after the doors slide open completely, revealing giant cylinders lined up in neat rows, each row marked with several numbers and colours to differentiate them from the others. Each cylinder was filled with pale white liquid that swirled inside slowly in random directions. In the dim lighting of the room, it was hard to tell if the cylinder was really filled with liquid or white smoke.

"But I will admit, these units have me interested. And also, if I were to guess this feeling, a little insulted by them." She laid a hand on the lever located on the wall. "I guess this is the feeling of a mother who does not like her daughters getting bullied by some mischievous brats."

Tabane pulled the lever down hard, turning on the circuits inside the room. In a manner that would probably be reminiscent of the famous old horror flicks, electricity started arching inside one of the nearest cylinders, causing the liquid inside to get agitated. The bubbles that came about soon dissipated, revealing its contents in all its galore: a black IS frame that was at least twice the size of a standard IS frame, curled up in a fetal position. Its black wings that extended from its shoulders were wrapped around its body, leaving only the top of its head visible. A tail with a spiked end was coiled underneath it, the end lightly bobbing in the liquid.

"So this person would only send these units out if there is a crisis going on huh?" Tabane walked to the cylinder and placed her hand gently on it, smiling at the machine inside. "Well then, I guess I better find such a situation soon. And he's not the only one who wants to get experience for the children now. I need to make mine stronger, and help Houki-chan be prepared for what's to come."

"So, will you help me?"

At that question, the machine inside the cylinder twitched, before slowly raising its head to stare back at Tabane. Its face, if you could call it one, was basically a smooth black faceplate with a small beak-like attachment at the bottom of its mouth region. As if to respond to Tabane's wishes, red eyes glowed menacingly behind the black faceplate.

"Ah, I'm so tired!" Maya groaned as she collapsed into the chair after placing a huge stack of documents and devices on the table.

"Be thankful this is the last stack of paperwork we had to deal with." Chifuyu replied as she put down an even bigger stack on her end of the table. "We are already running low on coffee as it is, and no one has gone out to get extra for a while." That only served to make Maya groan even more.

The two women were currently at a small room that was situated near the stadium arena. Despite the size, the room was furnished to give it a homely feeling for any who want to get any job done. It was lined with green carpeting, which went well with the potted plants inside the room. It had a few small desks at one side of the room, with small computers for anyone to use. It had a mini-fridge filled with beverages, and a small flat-screen television mounted to the wall. But perhaps the best feature of the room was the view it gave for anyone using it: a nice view of the academy's buildings on one side, the ocean at the other side, and the Tokyo skyline that could be seen at the far end. It was magnificent in the daytime, with the sunlight shining off the windows of the academy, and it was magical at night, what with the stars shining, and the Tokyo city buildings with their night lights on.

Now, anyone could use the room, but Chifuyu and Maya liked that particular room so much, they pretty much took over the entire room for themselves. The other teachers did not mind it too much, after all there were similar rooms around that gave great views as well.

That, and the fact that no one wanted to go against the Brunhilde in that decision.

"So are the systems operational now?" Chifuyu asked as she quickly grabbed the first few files and started to sign and stamp them with machine-like efficiency.

"Yes, Miss Orimura. The firewalls have been re-installed and have been enforced with more mirror traps." Maya replied as she sluggishly took the files on her side and started doing the same. "Thankfully with Kanzashi-chan's help, we were to get it up and running within the hour. But honestly, who's the one that did in the first place?! Because of that person, I missed my 'Happy Beer Hour'! Ah my free beer!" Maya complained at her misfortune of missing her free flow of beverages.

Chifuyu continued to stamp and sign documents while keeping an ear to Maya's complaints. She of course knew who the person that took down the network was, but she decided to hang on to that information. That much she owed Tabane.

"So what happened to the invaders?" Maya asked while pushing one pile away and getting the next stack.

"The leader is still knocked out in the holding cell at Block C." Chifuyu answered while going through the last few files. "I already locked her IS system, and her buddies are currently awaiting extradition and trial."

"Hmm, seems they got off easy." Maya frowned as she got through her third stack. "Still, I guess this is the best we can get. Now we don't have to worry about the system being down when the council members come. When is the date again?"

"In less than a week's time, if I recall." Chifuyu got up from her seat and made her way to the nearest computer. Turning it on, she quickly entered her password and credentials before bringing up the schedule. "Because of that fiasco from the hijacking incident and the media finding out about the units, the whole damn thing is out in the open, so everyone from the different corporations to the Parliament is wanting some answers. This is going to be such a pain."

Maya sighed together with her as she thought about the upcoming conference and the visit to IS Academy. Due to the incident, the representatives that were injured or traumatized had to be admitted to the hospital for safety, thus pushing the visit to the academy back by a few days. Not to mention the fact that every important figure in the world wanted to know about the situation, the secret meeting ended up becoming a worldwide affair that would take place in one of the most secured places in Japan. That pushed back the schedule even further back than needed.

Chifuyu, being one of the key figures in the IS world and the person who helped out during the missions to track the units, was asked to come to the conference to make her statements. Some of the top pilots involved with the other incidents were also going to be there such as Ellen Mira Meiz.

"Orimura-kun is also going to the conference, if I heard correctly?" Maya asked, her response given in the form of another sigh by Chifuyu. "Yeah, all because he had the most interaction with the units, and with 'Raptor' in particular." Chifuyu gave a grimace to show how she felt about the grey unit.

"Tough luck on Orimura-kun." Maya commented as she started on the final pile of documents. "But still, at least you are there to ensure that none of those representatives try to get him to their side."

"That's one way of putting it." Chifuyu muttered as she entered a few commands in the system to confirm the details for the conference. Since Ichika was one of the few who had directly interacted with the units in question, he was summoned to debrief the representatives on what he had seen, heard and talked with the units.

That was the official word, but Chifuyu managed to pick up some bits of information that some of the corporations and representatives from the governments were considering of discussing his matter of becoming an official IS Representative Cadet during the conference. She may be one, if not the, strongest person around, but even she had limited pull over the IS Council's ability to make decisions that could end her protection over Ichika. The last thing she wanted was a repeat of the 2nd Mondo Grosso incident.

"There, all done!" Maya's voice interrupted her thoughts and brought her back to reality. "Is there anything else left to do? If not, I will be hitting the sack if you don't mind." Maya asked while taking off her glasses and lightly rubbed her tired eyes.

"Mind you go and sleep in Orimura's room?" Chifuyu asked after turning off the power to the computer. Seeing Maya's raised eyebrow, she continued explaining: "I get the feeling those girls are going to try something tonight, and considering what just happened, it is best that we don't need more craziness again. I will get him to come to my room later so you can occupy it."

"Haha, you say that, but you are just worried that Orimura-kun would end up alone with a few girls trying to get his attention. You really are a caring older sister." Maya teased Chifuyu with those words.

Big mistake.

"Maya, I find that 10 rounds in CQC helps to improve a person's sleeping hours. Shall we help you with that?" Chifuyu raised her left hand and cracked her fingers.

"I'm going!" Maya dashed out of the room in almost comedic fashion, with a panicked look on her face.

"Good grief, that woman." Chifuyu sighed as she made her way to the door. She had to go and check up on the American pilot to make sure she did not try to pull something during her absence. Not to mention prepare for the conference coming up.

It was a pity that Chifuyu left the room at that moment, because if she stayed a little longer, she would have noticed something unusual happening in the room.

The monitor she used only a few minutes ago blinked to life, and after a few seconds started to stream codes and programs quickly, randomly bringing up small windows and video footages. The screen blanked out for a second, then more text started showing up, this time in proper sentences.

[Infiltration complete.]

[Input Password and ID Tags confirmed to belong to Orimura Chifuyu. Replicating and storing in offside server for future usage.]

[Beginning Data Collection.]

[Confirmed two invasions of unusual black IS frames. Codenamed 'Black Golems'. Footage and data logs suggest possibility of cores surviving the attacks of IS pilots. Data not logged in system, suggesting cover-up of information.]

[Confirmed external parties present during system downtime. High probability of external parties trying to steal unregistered cores, IS technology, and high priority subject Orimura Ichika. Based on available information, mission unsuccessful.]

[Location of Orimura Chifuyu's IS unit confirmed at IS Academy Underground Special Zone. 'Kurazakura' confirmed to be in hibernation mode and inoperable.]

[Information collection complete. Soundwave continuing observation of the Academy Systems.]

After that, all the open windows and files were cleared off the screen, and with a final "Beep!" the monitor went dark.

===== Author's Notes=====

And that's the end of this chapter.

As I said, it took me a while to get this chapter done, so I hoped I captured the seriousness of the units appearance. For those who wondering about the punishment of Chifuyu's observation of 'Raptor', there's your answer: a virus monitoring and potentially downloading/deleting information.

Oh, and in case you guys were wondering, the black unit is a stealth type model that would appear again, thanks to 'Blackops' idea. Also the big green unit? Prototype of the big armor we all love. That's right, you heard me. Prototype of a very big and familiar armor we all love! XD

Hope you enjoy this chapter, and I will try to upload another soon!