Ch 1: How the World was Conquered

[You're aware of the stakes involved, Lieutenant?]

The soothingly lit space that could have passed for any common business room offered by hotels the world over wasn't what most would have assumed a plot to significantly alter the world balance of power would take place in.

"Director, we've been over this a dozen different times. In the past week. Add in all the other times over the past years you've had me beaten over the head with this info and I think I could file compensation for cruel and unusual punishment..."

[The 'compensation' we've offered you during your stay here-as well as the gains you will earn should our plan come to fruition-should cover any sort of collateral you feel we owe you.]

"...That was a joke. Don't you people have a sense of humor?"

The young man seated at the table and lazily spinning in a swivel chair was rather intimidating looking by most standards. Easily 6'4" and tightly muscled, with midnight skin and a shaven scalp he was nonetheless exotic looking, with spotless features and bright emerald eyes, a genetic divergence from most darker skinned people.

His affable attitude would have gone a long way at setting most at ease though, his voice calm and deep with a winning and relaxed smile to compliment it.

It was a practiced expression that Khari Vincent wore well.

[This is a moment of great importance to us, Lieutenant. Jokes have no place here.]

Khari rested his head in his palms, kicking his feet onto the table as he boredly replied, "Which hardly seems healthy, but hey, what do I know? By the way, are you giving me a pep talk or just reiterating what I know by heart at this point?"

[You make light of our purpose.]

"Again, lack of a sense of humor. And my plane leaves in two hours, unless you want me to miss out on orientation day of this grand mission of ours, you should probably let me go, Director."

A moment of silent passed before the phone resting in front of Khari warningly spoke, [Remember, Lieutenant, disobeying or growing a conscience-]

"Hah! Me, grow a conscience? Good one, Director. And remember, I have everything to gain by playing along with your plan and everything to lose by failing, so relax. Contact you again at the regular time?"

[...Yes. We look forward to your success, Lieutenant.]

The phone clicked off and Khari rolled his eyes before pocketing it.

"Honestly, you'd think spending time among the most powerful women in the world that wield the strongest weapons yet created as part of the job would be enough of a sell but nooooo...mission this, mission that. Learn the art of the deal, guys..."

On that ominous note Khari strolled out of the conference room, his Uber just dropping him a message as he did so.

"And what the Hell is with the whole 'Lieutenant' deal? I'm not even a part of the actual military..."

IS Academy was the poster child of the idea 'futurism'.

Towers that stretched hundreds of meters into the sky in curved and contorted directions-in seeming defiance of what contemporary engineering had to say about the feasibility of such a structure-while natural and immaculate greenery sprung up in between the artificial monoliths.

Khari took a moment to appreciate the landscape before he shouldered his two bags and continued on his way to the helipad nearby, internally remarking, "Man, they really went all out in making this place catch the eye."

{Likely a method of intimidation, at least to other countries and organizations. Something along the lines of, 'if you can't build structures like these, don't even think of trying to cross us'.}

"How delightfully informative, Verion. Any updates on the dossier for me?"

{None to report. Although your orientation begins in one hour, seventeen minutes and fourteen seconds. I would recommend hurrying to your initial meeting with Instructor Orimura so as to avoid making a poor first impression.}

"Fair point. Alright, let's kick this plan off."

The pulsating web of veins spreading outwards from Khari's spine-and subsequently hidden from view beneath his clothing-briefly flexed in response to its host's words.

"Ah, so you're that new male student, eh? Funny, I just gave your buddy a lift a few hours ago."

Khari raised an eyebrow at the helicopter pilot-sanctioned aircraft being one of the few methods of physical transport to the academy-before asking, "My buddy?"

"Yeah, that Ichika Orimura kid, only other guy with an IS? Pretty easygoing fella, was nice to talk to. I'm just glad that some guys are finally getting in on the IS action, my wife hasn't stopped teasing me about becoming a glorified chauffeur ever since IS came to stay."

Khari stepped onto the vehicle, pulling on a pair of headphones and mike, noting that the copter pilot was actually fairly old, at least in his fifties or so.

"You weren't flying civilian before this?"

"Nah, I used to pilot an Apache for the United States Army. Course, attack choppers were just one of the military babies that went the way of the dinosaurs once IS hit the scene. And now here I am, a bus driver instead of piloting the closest thing to a god in the sky."

"Can't imagine that was an easy transition."

The pilot shook his head, ruefully replying, "Hell no! I was a right unpleasant bastard for a good few years till I mellowed out. Don't get me wrong, I miss my baby but you either roll with the times or you get left behind. You can make this old vet happy by representing the XY chromosomes."

Khari smirked and replied, "Will do, sir."

The pilot started up the vehicle's rotors and for a few minutes was focused on his task of charting a course to the academy, eventually asking, "So what country are you representing? News has been pretty sparse on details 'bout you and there's half-a-million rumors on the net. Anything you can tell me?"

Khari smiled before responding with, "Sorry, I'm under about a hundred non-disclosure agreements and shit like that...but I can tell you that I work for something along the lines of a private company."

"Oh, so you're into all that PMC shit?"

"Eh, close enough."

The pilot shook his head and brought the craft in for a landing, offering his hand to the younger male.

"Well, here we are. Best of luck, kid. Attending an academy of only strong-willed girls sounds like its going to be a real experience. Stay tough."

Khari shook the man's hand and glibly replied, "Well, that's not going to be the only challenge I'm facing..."

The pilot tilted his head in confusion while Khari merely chuckled and leapt off the craft.

{Speaking of our objective-even tangentially and in the vaguest terms possible-is an unwise course of action, Lieutenant.}

"You worry too much, Verion. It's bad enough having to tell the Humans back at the company to lighten up, I don't want to have to do the same with you."

{I am a computer. I have no emotions. Sniffle.}

"...Ok, now you're just being weird."

The O.A.I. merely gave a noncommittal hum, prompting Khari to sigh as he approached the main doors of IS academy.

Having a computer living inside his brain-despite the years of practice-was never going to be entirely normal.

Walking through the labyrinthine halls of IS academy in hopes of arriving at his destination on time would have been a hopeless endeavor for Khari if it hadn't been for Verion downloading a basic map of the structure and displaying it across his vision, the image staying perfectly contrasted against whatever he happened to be looking at so he didn't end up walking into anything...or, more specifically, anybody.

Because the halls of the academy were just filled to the brim with girls of all nationalities, features and skin tones. Sure, that was what he knew coming to the place...but it was one thing to hear about it and another thing to see it with his own two eyes.

{Focus, Lieutenant.}

"I wasn't even doing anything!"

{You were staring excessively and your chemical balance was leaning towards feelings of lust and attraction, rather than professionalism and calm. That phase has not commenced yet.}

"Yeah yeah, I know. It's hard not to stare, you know. All these beautiful ladies are staring at me like I'm the hottest new item in town~!"

{That is to be expected, Lieutenant. You are what many would consider to be attractive, as far as Human notions of such things extend. Personally I think you could be comprised of more flat surfaces and angular planes.}

"Awkward. And if you zoom in far enough, isn't everything flat?"

{Ahead of you, Lieutenant.}

Khari snapped his eyes forward at the O.A.I.'s warning, a particularly large group of girls quickly approaching him and blocking most of the hallway.

And at the head of the pack was a truly beautiful young lady that had the air of a Queen, her steps regal and sure, light-blonde hair that came down to her thighs and paled towards the tips restrained by a blue headband, deep blue eyes sharp and predatory.

It was a beauty he recognized, one Cecilia Alcott, the representative IS candidate from the United Kingdom.

And her hawk-like gaze had settled on him, seeing as how he wasn't moving to make way for them.

"Change of plans, Verion."

{Lieutenant I would advise against this-}

"Doing it anyway!"

The lovely young woman came to a stop no more than a step or two away from Khari, the male just cheerfully smiling at the girl and making sure his eyes stayed locked on hers the entire time, never straying down to her body or her friend's gazes.

He'd read her profile-courtesy of his superiors-and knew that she had some issues with the opposite sex, helped in no part by her father, who hadn't been much in the way of a positive role model. Throw in a situation where she had been forced into a role of piloting IS to safeguard her family fortune and she certainly had reason to be both proud and confrontational.

He could use that.

"Miss Cecilia Alcott, correct?"

"Yes, that would be me. And how may I be of service, stranger?"

Khari had to bite back on a smile as she haughtily looked up at him, her tone rich and majestic, as well as authoritative.

"My name is Khari Vincent, a new student at this academy. I was told to visit the director's office and speak to her before getting properly settled in, may I ask for directions?"

{You are currently staring at a map for-}

"Quiet, I'm working here."

Cecilia raised an eyebrow at his words, suspiciously asking, "A new student? Wait, are you-"

Her expression underwent a swift change, barely veiled contempt coloring her tone as she said, "Oh. You are the one of the new male IS pilots, aren't you?"

"That I am, Miss Alcott."

Any vestige of politeness vanished, the young lady flipping her hair with a disdainful gesture.

"Hmph! Of course a man would need directions from a woman. Although I suppose the fact that you were not too proud to ask places you a peg or two above the rest of your gender. Honestly, the standard of quality in an an IS pilot will have to decline if more men will be joining our ranks, so as to better accommodate them..."

Khari had to bite back a smile at the obvious provocation.

A few things clued the male in to the fact that Cecilia's statement was mostly meant to deliberately incite him.

Firstly was that before he had revealed himself as an IS pilot she had been perfectly neutral and professional, despite him being a male. She'd only flipped the switch once it had been revealed he shared a similar position to hers.

Second was that Alcott's friends or coworkers were staring at her in open shock, horrified by the blatant insults leveled at him. Clearly, she didn't usually take this tone with anyone on a common basis.

Lastly, she was looking at him not with the air of someone viewing a lesser being or something repugnant...but with curiosity, as if she was purposefully trying to bait a reaction.

He gave her one.

A polite smile that showed pearly white teeth was followed by a friendly utterance of, "Well its a shame you feel that way, Miss Alcott. But hopefully, now that we're going to be working and learning together, I can prove to you that men can stand together as equals with women of your caliber."

Whatever response Cecilia had been expecting it hadn't been that one, one of politeness but confidence.

"O-oh, w-well I hope you don't let me down then, with such b-bold words like those!"

"So easy."

{I believe the phrase is, 'crumbled like a deck of cards'?}

Never losing his easygoing grin as the blonde girl frantically tried to find control of the conversation Khari asked, "Back to my original question, may I have directions to the director's office? If I intend to make good on my words to you I had best start by making a good first impression, now shouldn't I?"

"Y-you already have. No! I mean, g-go down that hallway and turn right and take the elevator to the third highest floor!"

Chuckling to himself as Cecilia's cheeks gained a pink tinge to them Khari amusedly stated, "Thank you very much, Miss Alcott, I appreciate your help. Until next time."

Quickly bowing low and taking the young lady's delicate and smooth hand into his own far larger one Khari brought his lips gently to tender flesh, inwardly laughing at the collection of delighted squeals and gasps that came from Cecilia's companions as he did so...alongside said lady's rather crimson flush, her wonderfully blue eyes widening comically.

Offering a polite nod of his head the young man continued onwards to his destination, hearing distant whispers of, "Ohmigosh, Miss Alcott, did he, did he?!"

"That was so romantic!"

"Do you think he would kiss my hand if I asked him to?!"

The conversation-as well as Cecilia's stammered replies that made little coherent sense-only faded once the elevator doors closed.

{If that is indicative of how all the females at this academy will respond to your words, this mission will be much simpler and easier than anticipated, Lieutenant. Nicely done.}

"Don't get cocky, Verion. If my estimation of Miss Alcott is spot on, the next time we meet she'll come at me like a bat out of hell."

{She would? That is strange, considering how pleased and shy she was at your initial approach.}

"Well she's a strong-willed individual, with a previously held notion that most men are either to be treated with professionalism or not worth her time at all. I upended that notion in less than a minute with just a few words and a light kiss on the hand. She's not going to have a clue what to do the next time we see each other. And what does a powerful, willful Human do when they spot the subject of their confusion and upended worldview? Confront it. Juries out on how she does that though...that'll be a sight to see!"

The O.A.I. gave an electronic burst of static that sounded similar to a snort.

{I will freely admit the vagaries of Human communication escape me. And likely always will.}

"Which is why they sent me and not a bunch of 1's, 0's and nerve synapses. No offense, Verion."

{I am a computer and am incapable of feeling such useless emotions as 'offense'. Sob.}

Khari's face twisted into a wry expression.

"I'm noticing a trend that you play the 'dumb, emotionless computer that actually isn't' card whenever you start to get bored or tired of the conversation."

The O.A.I. remained silent, confirming Khari's guess.

"...So did the nesting 'crobes transfer over correctly?"

{They did, Lieutenant. While oral contact was both limited and brief it was enough to lay the foundation of the organ that will ideally be transferred over through exposed contact with bodily fluid at a later date. The unusual placement will necessitate a few days travel, however. Any attempts to install the Cupid's Arrow beforehand in Cecilia Alcott's brain will be worthless.}

"Noted and understood, Verion."

Khari leaned back into the wall behind him as the elevator continued its ascent, a small smile playing across his lips.

As the saying went, 'well begun is half done'.

One Representative Candidate mostly down, only a few more to go.

A polite knock on the door leading to Chifuyu Orimura's office lead to a muted, "Come in", from the occupant of said office.

Pushing through the door Khari got his first look at the woman who was-with a fair amount of reason-credited for proving the military worth of IS almost single-handed.

Possessing a professional beauty that was accentuated by her business suit and austere demeanor-as well as the elegant ponytail her midnight hair was bundled into-Chifuyu Orimura was both a figure to admire and fear.

Something Khari kept in mind, deciding that for the moment it was best not to poke the hornet's nest, as it was.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Director Orimura."

Dark eyes met Khari's emerald own, the older woman taking only a scant-second to take in his appearance before she gestured for him to sit in one of her chairs, the male complying with her wordless command...even if he barely fit, the furniture clearly designed with a smaller, young adult female's frame in mind.

"So. You're one of two males to finally break through the IS glass ceiling. Khari Vincent, grew up in Philadelphia, parents died in an automobile accident at three years of age. Entered state foster care, was adopted two separate times before being 'returned' due to 'aggressive behavior'. Eventually was aged out and-in keeping with current statistics-dropped out of high school after only a single year of attendance."

Khari merely nodded, some of his affability lost at the clinical recounting of his past.

"Here's the interesting thing though. Both one year before you dropped and three years afterwards, records of you seem...stagnant. One might even say falsified, they're so...perfectly generic."

The young man elected to remain silent as Chifuyu steepled her fingers, pinning him with her gaze as she tonelessly continued, "And then there's the elephant in the room. Your IS and sponsor. Med-Bio Mechanics. A small, twenty person startup company that was mostly hiring people fresh out of college about a decade-and-a-half ago...and is now merely a few thousand person company that was somehow able to independently create one of the most unique and difficult to construct technologies known to Humans, practically from scratch."

Blatant suspicion now colored the woman's tone.

"And then...not only do they somehow avoid most of the bureaucratic red tape and national scrutiny that would arise from fielding their own personal IS, they also aren't investigated for possessing one of the few hundred IS cores in existence, nor did they have to try very hard to get you enrolled in this academy. I received calls from no less than seventeen different governmental agencies that have a say in how this academy is run, stating that I was to treat and instruct you no differently than I would any other potential pilot."

Frustration could be seen dancing in the woman's eyes, even if it was well hidden.

"In light of all this, Khari Vincent...hopefully you can see why I'm feeling inclined to treat you extremely differently from my other students, no matter what the suits say. You are a mystery and blatant security risk that I have been able to find very little about. And let's not forget the nature of your IS and it's stated purpose."

Technical data streamed to life on a selection of monitors scattered around the desk, schematics and other things provided by Med-Bio as part of the admissions process.

"It makes sense to have an 'IS killer' undergo trials here, but creating that type of machine hints that the intentions of its creators are more...militaristic."

"And now we're entering thin ice."

{I suggest being honest with her, Lieutenant. Med-Bio kept most of its sensitive data-aside from a few key necessary components-away from you just for situations like these. Most of what you can tell her, aside from the true nature of our technology and mission, is of little consequence.}

Taking the O.A.I.'s words as gospel Khari politely replied, "Would you prefer a diplomatic reply, Director? Or the short version?"

He saw what might have been a wry grin briefly appear on the woman's lips before she responded, "The short version."

"Med-Bio Mechanics wishes to be the new Tabane Shinonono, except not recluse and jealous of its technologies. In a way my IS is a bit of a publicity stunt, corporate statement as well as proof of concept all rolled into one. A way of showing that Shinonono's IS are not the invincible weapons of unbeatable pedigree that most of the world seems to consider them. That they can be beaten. Once they have the world's attention they plan to roll out a series of new technologies that have been developed over the years geared more towards the civilian side of things, appealing to the public by providing them products more tangible than a highly unique and exclusive weapon."

The room was silent for quite a number of seconds afterwards, Chifuyu stonily staring at Khari, the young man eventually stating, "If you don't mind me saying so,'s known that you have a closer relationship with Tabane Shinonono than almost anyone else in the world. Wouldn't she have already told you this? Considering how adept of a hacker she is I would think my sponsor's stance and plans were common knowledge at this point."

Chifuyu's voice was utterly calm and inflectionless.

"If I parsed through her hysterical message and technical ramblings correctly...Tabane couldn't so much as make it past your company's home webpage. She was...upset."

Khari's eyebrows raised in open shock.

"Really? No offense to our IT department, but doesn't Tabane regularly hack both corporate and national systems as a hobby?"

"Yes. And she couldn't so much as scratch yours."

Suspicion was now evident in the woman's tone once again, her eyes narrowed as Khari could only shrug.

"My apologies then, Director...but that stuff isn't my area of expertise. As far as I knew, our security was no better or worse than anyone else's."

Chifuyu once more fell silent-

-before huffing out a sigh, her tone dry.

"I suppose I'll count myself lucky enough that you told me what your sponsor's ultimate goals are and leave it at that. Allow me to give you one, very important warning however."

Khari braced himself for some sort of subtle threat about how she was going to be watching his every move or waiting for him to slip up...and was left blinking at the words that left the austere woman's lips.

"Do not go around playing with the hearts of the girls of this academy."

"...I beg your pardon?"

Fire burned in Chifuyu's eyes.

"Don't play dumb, I saw the moves you put on Miss Alcott before you made your way up here. Most of the girls in this academy have spent a great deal of time studying to be pilots, forgoing social interaction among a more public setting in exchange. Never mind that they have largely spent said time only with girls of similar age, rather than boys. Someone with a serpent's tongue and looks-like yourself-attending here is like letting a tiger loose in a pen of lambs."

"...I'm flattered?"

Khari wisely shut up once he swore he saw Orimura's eyes flash.

"It's going to be bad enough with my brother here-that damn noble knight persona of his is going to draw eyes no matter what-and I do not need a seducer distracting the students of this academy from their studies, am I clear? Flirt, make friends, go on dates, I don't particularly care...but the moment these 'activities' cause friction I will put my foot down, am I clear?"

Khari didn't doubt for a moment the young woman in front of him wouldn't hesitate to follow through on that threat. Probably with an IS sized bit of 'persuasion'.

"Crystal, Director."

"...Good. You're dismissed. Here's your room key and don't worry about classes for today. Come tomorrow you can join things once you're settled in. I'll send someone to direct you to your first classes."

Khari took the keys with a grateful smile, replying, "Much appreciated, Director. I hope I was able to answer some of your questions satisfactorily."

A morbid snort left Chifuyu.

"More like you answered a few and opened up a dozen more. But I'll have to level those at your company, not you it seems."

The young man slid a plain business card towards the director of the academy, explaining, "On there is a number to the real public relations person of Med-Bio, not some desk jockey. Dunno if they'll tell you more than I what I did, but they'll certainly be able to give you more concrete details."

Swiftly sliding the card next to one of her monitors Chifuyu replied, "I'll do that. Enjoy your stay at IS Academy, Khari Vincent...and remember what I said about distracting the students!"

The male gave an acknowledging nod before he walked out of the office, quietly shutting the door behind him.

"...Well, it seems we have concrete proof that the defenses work, now don't we?"

{Indeed. I will send a report to the CEO explaining the technologies success.}

Khari inwardly chuckled as he walked into the elevator, imagining the look of frustration on Tabane Shinonono's face as she failed again and again to break into Med-Bio's mainframes.

Given the nature of both Med-Bio's ultimate goal and the purpose of his mission, absolute security had been needed for the company or they would have been crushed the moment their plans had been discovered.

And while there were a great deal of talented programmers and coders employed at the one was under the impression that they were better than the creator of the IS herself. And she would absolutely investigate them once their prototype machine took the stage.

So, instead of trying to outsmart the brilliant and eccentric woman...Med-Bio decided to play a different game.

And Tabane Shinonono could hack and invade and slice to her heart's content...if she never figured out exactly how Med-Bio was guarding their deepest secrets, she would never even get close.

Khari breathed out a pleasant sigh, smiling contentedly.

The start to his mission was going great.

Chifuyu would never admit it out loud...but she was privately enjoying her slightly insane friend's mental breakdown.

[Whhhhyyyyyy! It makes no sense, Chi! I'm doing everything right and I'm still not being let in! That does it, I'm taking over a couple nuclear silos and blowing them up!]

Chifuyu didn't even look up from where she was once more poring over the technical data for this 'IS killer', distractedly replying, "You haven't even been able to figure out where they're located, Tabane. You can't nuke them."


The Orimura had sent a message to her friend and allowed her to listen in when she was talking to Vincent, if only to hopefully placate the woman's curiosity and frustration.

Instead, she only seemed to have exacerbated it.

[A-and why are they being so mean to me?! I shared my technology, I didn't jealously guard it! That's lies, slander!]

"You didn't tell anyone how to create IS when you released them to the world, Tabane. You basically told everyone to figure it out themselves and then left. And I know you have dozens-if not hundreds-of other ideas and concepts in that brain of yours that could catapult environmental and life expectancy if you would just sit down and finish them. Don't be mad just because others decided to take advantage of your laziness."

[S-so mean!]

Both women fell silent, no doubt silently reading the exact same files.

[...Do you believe that guy, Chi?]

Ignoring Tabane's annoying nickname for her Chifuyu replied, "It doesn't matter if he's telling the truth or not, I'm going to be keeping a close eye on Khari Vincent. He's the representative of an unknown company that blatantly stated they want to become one of the most powerful forces in the world and created a highly worrying machine in order to simply prove that they could."

[Hmm...ok, I'm going to keep cracking at this! No one makes a fool of Tabane Shinonono! Catch you later, Chi!]

The voice connection to her computer clicked off, Chifuyu letting out an exhausted sigh as she finally closed the file, resigned to seeing the thing in action once practice matches rolled around, technical files only went so far.

...The name of this 'IS killer', now that she knew the ultimate goal of Med-Bio, was both fitting and worrying.

Inchoate Horizon.

Ch 2: First Challenge

"Let's see 306, room 308."

Ceasing his movements Khari stood outside of his home for the foreseeable future, swiping the room key and being admitted inside with an electronic click.

It was actually rather cozy, in the male's opinion.

A moderately sized kitchen and living room leading to a small hallway with equally small-but functionable-bedroom and bathroom. Probably not the place one would want to set down deep roots or anything, but quite nice for what it was.

He was just glad that he'd been given one of the rarer single rooms at the academy, the majority of student housing being co-ed in nature.

...Then again, as a guy it wasn't like he could just share a room with one of the girls...never mind that it would make some of the more 'physical' activities he was planning on indulging in later far more difficult if he had a roommate.

...And he supposed it would be tougher to secretly carry out his mission, but whatever about that.

Throwing his suitcase onto the bed with a careless motion and then moving to the thermostat he pretended to play with it-

-all while a brief tingling in his finger could be felt, Verion latching onto whatever connections it could find in the device.

"Well? What are we looking at?"

{Nothing particularly impressive. Non-audio cameras that view the main room and hallway, not the bedroom or bathroom. I will need to physically make contact with a port of some kind to alter them, however. They are hardwired devices and lack a means of wireless connection. The designers of the this building's security were seemingly quite paranoid.}

"No skin off my back, I'm just happy they aren't audio."

The O.A.I. remained silent as Khari took a few minutes to unpack his things, stretching out his back and generally just spending a few peaceful moments before getting back into the swing of things.

"Let's go see who our neighbors are, shall we?"

{As you say, Lieutenant.}

Pleasantly whistling to himself Khari knocked on room 307, hearing a slight scuffle of activity before the door unlocked-

-and revealing a young man that Khari was pleased to recognize as one Ichika Orimura.

That was a pleasant twist of fate.

"Can I help you?"

The other male's tone was contrite and pleasant, an easy smile on his lips and not displaying any sign of alarm or unease at the taller man's appearance, something he knew was a common reaction.

Holding out a hand Khari cheerily stated, "Pleased to meet you, Ichika Orimura. Name's Khari Vincent, I just moved in next door to you, it seems."

Recognition danced in the other boy's eyes as he politely shook, his reply even as he said, "The other male IS pilot. I recognize you from what my sister told me."

Khari chuckled, remarking, "Now that you mention it I can see the family resemblance. I just came from a meeting with your sister, in fact."

Some of the young man's composure slipped, his expression turning sheepish before saying, "Ah geez...she wasn't rude to you or anything, was she? I know Houki's sister can be pretty eccentric and Chifuyu takes her job pretty seriously, they were both pretty annoyed that nothing could really be found out about you..."

The dark-skinned male raised an eyebrow, asking, "And what about yourself? Are you suspicious?"

Ichika stared into Khari's eyes for a moment, not breaking eye contact...before a lopsided smile graced his lips.

"I'm just glad there's another guy here. Attending an academy with all girls was a little...intimidating?"

Another moment of tense silence passed...before the two shared a fistbump, easy grins appearing on their faces.

"The feeling is mutual, Orimura."

"Ichika is fine, it's always awkward enough being compared to my sister, I don't need to share her name as well."

Khari raised an eyebrow as Ichika motioned him into his room, the space just as sparsely decorated as his own room, the other male no doubt just arriving not long ago.

"Do you not get along with your sister?"

"Oh, nothing like that. It's just that Chifuyu is, well...Chifuyu."

Recalling the director's intimidating presence that didn't give justice to the dossier on her Khari just sympathetically nodded, accepting the soda can Ichika handed to him with a distracted movement.

"Funnily enough, I totally understand what you're trying to say. But hey! Now's your chance to break out and be your own person, so that's something, right?"

Humbly shaking his head Ichika replied, "While being one of the first male IS pilots ever is something...I'm still sorta in Chifuyu's shadow. She's practically a legend, having swept the Mondo Grosso and stuff like that...even becoming an actual pilot hasn't totally freed me from expectations surrounding being an Orimura. Thankfully Chifuyu herself doesn't walk on eggshells around me or carry these crazy ideas about what or who I should be, so its really not all that bad."

Khari took a sip of the drink, wryly remarking, "Guess I should count myself lucky I'm an only child."

"You didn't have any siblings?"

"Your sister didn't show you the file they have on me?"

Ichika shifted uncomfortably, replying, "She was going to...but I decided I didn't want to see it, it felt a bit too much like invasion of privacy."

The taller of the duo good-naturedly rolled his eyes, remarking, "Holy crap, your sister wasn't kidding when she said you have a bit of a noble knight complex."

Ichika scratched the back of his head in embarrassment, asking, "Did Chifuyu actually say that? Ah geez..."

The duo shared a moment of laughter before Khari gestured to the TV.

"I noticed you've got an Xbox 720 hooked up. Got anything good for it?"

Orimura shrugged, wryly replying, "It was my friends, he got the new Xbox 1080 and gave the old one to me as a sort of going away present. I don't even really know what games he has for it, I was in a hurry to pack on short notice."

"Care to find out? We've got a few hours before it's late enough to go to sleep and no homework or anything."

A small smile pulled at Ichika's lips.

"Sure. I've got a few ramen cups in my pantry, feel like living the college life?"

"Do I ever. Its a pleasure to meet you, Ichika Orimura."

"Same to you, Khari Vincent."

The Japanese boy moved to grab the controllers for his console as Verion spoke up with, {Ichika Orimura was not an intended target of our mission. Is there a reason you are forming such a relationship with him, Lieutenant?}

"Of course. Partly because he's related to Chifuyu Orimura and having her younger brother on my side would be a huge step in making sure she doesn't immediately look at me with suspicion, or at least create a conflict of interest. Also because I missed out on years of male activity and bonding and I want to catch up on that. Not to mention..."

{Yes, Lieutenant?}

"Well-and hear me out on this-the director described her brother as a white knight, correct? If I could offer him the power to protect those he cares about...well, who can say?"

The O.A.I.'s synthetic voice was stern.

{Lieutenant, disseminating your body's abilities without corporate approval is NOT an advisable course of action.}

"And yet I was never explicitly told not to do so. The CEO, for all the crap he gives me, believes in my abilities and commitment to the cause. Why else would he provide such vague guidelines for how I go about this, other than I get it done?"

{...If you say so, Lieutenant.}

"Ah, found them! Here you go, Khari."

"Much appreciated, Ichika. Now what buttons do what?"

"...I was hoping you knew?"

The next few hours passed quickly, both young men bonding over their shared inadequacies in figuring out how to both operate and effectively play the video games they had on hand.

A sharp knock on his room's door at exactly 7 AM sharp left Khari raising an eyebrow at the incredible display of punctuality.

It seems whoever had been sent to guide him didn't mess around.

Quickly finishing his morning rituals the young man unlocked his door and slid it open, allowing him to meet the eyes of his guide.

And with a start Khari recognized said guide as one of the people of concern regarding his mission.

Crimson eyes, pale skin, light blue hair and a modified uniform that replaced the usual white, red and black coloration of the skirt with dark burgundy leggings.

Tatenashi Sarashiki, president of the student council, IS representative of Russia and, unknown to the vast majority of people, a key player in the underground conflict with the terrorist organization Phantom Task.

"Well aren't you a handsome fella~?"

Also, if first impressions were anything to go by, something of a flirt.

Khari just took things in stride, offering a polite smile to the young lady while responding, "The student council president is my guide? I didn't know I warranted someone so important showing me around."

The red-eyed girl merely gave a playful giggle, replying, "Well its not just you, I'm here for Mr. Orimura as well. Oh dear, me alone with two young, strapping men...whatever shall I do?"

{Be wary, Lieutenant. She is more than aware of the finer points of subterfuge, having been-}

"Involved in a clandestine war for most of her life, I know."

Chuckling the dark-skinned youth remarked, "If your record of IS matches is any indicator, you'll likely mop the floor with the both of us before we can even blow the rape whistle."

Tatenashi blinked once in surprise before having to stifle a loud giggle, choking out, "I-isn't it usually the other way around?"

"Considering the way current gender roles are swinging? I would advise more guys to start wearing chastity belts."

The red-eyed woman smirked, playfully admonishing the male with, "Now is this any conversation to continue in a lady's presence? Besides..."

She rapped her knuckles against Khari's solid chest.

"Good luck to the girl that tries to force her way into these pants."

"Well if she asked nicely..."

A dramatic gasp left Tatenashi's mouth, a look of mock shock adorning her beautiful features as she said, "O-oh my! I had no idea you were a cicisbeo!"

"Do I look Italian to you? And I would prefer to do far more than merely whisper in my chosen mistresses ear..."

Khari coincided his husky words with a similar action to what he had performed with Cecilia, gently raising and kissing her hand.

He hid a smirk as Tatenashi flipped up a fan to cover the lower half of her face, eyes pleasantly narrowed in a fun manner...but Khari saw the tiniest hints of red adorn her cheeks.

"For all of her confidence and boldness, it seems Miss Sarashiki is still somewhat shy..."

{Her file suggests she has had precious little time to enjoy the more normal social interactions typical of her age, even amongst other girls. Nicely done, Lieutenant, we can expect a similar time frame to Miss Alcott's with your placement of the microbes.}

Taking Verion's words as they were Khari smiled, sparing Tatenashi any awkwardness at having to re-initiate conversation by stating, "As enjoyable as it is to speak with you, Miss Sarashiki, I am on something of a schedule today and we need to collect Ichika as well."

The fan sharply snapped shut, the girl's composure regained as she pouted, "Oh, such a buzzkill! But you're right, I suppose..."

The duo moved to Orimura's room, Khari inwardly smirking at yet another smooth start to things.

"Now I expect you two to be on your best behavior. Many of the students at this academy will no doubt be both intensely curious and incredibly nervous at having two males suddenly joining the program. Not everyone will be as accommodating and easygoing as I am~!"

Tatenashi gave both Khari and Ichika a flippant wink at those words, Ichika politely bowing his head as he replied, "Thank you for showing us the way, Miss Sarashiki."

"Oh none of that now! You can just call me Tatenashi, you little noble knight you~!"

Orimura seemed completely at a loss at what to do as the blue-haired girl pinched his cheek with a cheerful smile on her face.

"It's unfortunate but I have work to attend to, you boys be good now!"

With an airy wave the ruby-eyed girl walked between them-

-and Ichika's eyes widened as Khari gave a small jolt of movement.

"...Did she just-"

"Pinch my ass? Yes. Yes she did."

The shorter of the two boys carefully asked, "Should we tell someone that you're being molested?"

Khari snorted despite himself and amusedly replied, "My first day here and I'm already filing a sexual assault claim? They'll laugh me out the front door. C'mon, let's meet our classmates."

Ichika shrugged before following the other male into the room, only a few other girls in the room since it was still a good fifteen minutes before class officially started...and they all immediately began to stare at the duo with undisguised curiosity.

Khari put on his winning smile and announced, "It's a pleasure to meet you all, I'm-"



Khari blinked at the sudden interruption, confused as Ichika met the eyes of one of the girls before his subdued and humble persona seamlessly changed into one of warmth and affection.

"It is you, Houki...right? I didn't recognize you at first, you looked so different...for the better, I mean!"

Khari immediately recognized the young lady Ichika was staring at, an attractive Japanese woman with brown hair done in a long ponytail and fairly sizable chest, with a stern face that quickly melted into one of surprise as she saw his newest male companion.

Houki Shinonono, the younger sister of Tabane Shinonono and one of his prime targets...but if she was interested in Ichika…

"I smell an opportunity here, Verion."

{If you say so, Lieutenant. I see where you are going with this and would like to remind you that sharing this technology would be highly frowned upon without good reason.}

"Noted, Verion."

"O-oh! W-well thank you, but are you in this class?"

"Yeah, I am. How long has it been? Do you still live in that super austere house?"

The IS pilot flushed and hastily replied, "W-why does everyone say my home is austere?!"

"Well it is fairly spartan..."

Khari chuckled at how his newest friend was effortlessly working up the girl into a blushing mess, his previous politeness and formality lost to a teasing grin and easy smile.

It seemed he was far more at ease with those he was familiar with. Another thing to take consideration of…

"Oh, Houki! Meet Khari Vincent, he's the other male IS pilot and my next-door neighbor. Khari, meet Houki Shinonono, a close friend of mine for a long time now."

The dark-skinned male put a friendly smile on his features, leaning forward slightly so that he didn't quite tower over the smaller woman. She did a good job of hiding her reaction, but Khari noticed she had a brief expression of suspicion and surprise before she masked it behind a facade of neutrality.

"It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Shinonono. You and Ichika seem quite comfortable with each other, you two will make a powerful team for Japan in the future, I'm certain."

Some of her coolness evaporated at his words, no doubt the remark about her and the other Japanese citizen present pleasing her.

"The pleasure is mine, Mr. Vincent. Ichika said you two are living next to each other?"

"Indeed. Something I'm grateful for, I was admittedly worried about attending an academy of only women. While most would no doubt say that learning alongside some of the most beautiful and intelligent females in the world would be a dream come true, I honestly found it rather intimidating. After all, I would be representing my gender and wouldn't want to let either my fellow pilots or watching guys down."

Houki took his words in stride but Khari noticed that the rest of the girls in his class, who had been slowly trickling over the past minutes, giggled or blushed at his comment, a few even offering reassuring smiles or waves.

"Well hopefully your desire to excel will carry over to Ichika, he has a tendancy to take things easy and merely become adequate at whatever he puts his mind to."

The young woman's tone was severe but had a playful undertone, the slightest hints of a smile tugging at her lips as Ichika sighed, grumbling, "And you're just as much of a slave driver as you were when we practiced Kendo..."

"Speak up, Ichika! I can't hear you if you mumble and stoop all the-"

"Houki, stop hogging all the boys!"

"Yeah, introduce us to them as well!"

"Hey, hey, Mr. Vincent! Do you need someone to show you around the academy? I'll do it!"

"Yeah, and bring Mr. Ichika along with you, we'd be happy to show you new boys around!"

"Are you two dating anyone?"

The rest of the class had apparently had enough of Houki monopolizing the two males and jumped into the conversation, aforementioned girl being shoved aside with an indignant squawk and Ichika paling somewhat at the barrage of attention, obviously caught off guard by the feverish curiosity of so many young women at once.

Khari just chuckled and began to field questions one-by-one, privately thinking, "Well, this is a nice change of pace. May as well enjoy it while it lasts."

Cecilia Alcott was what most would describe as 'strong-willed'. If she encountered a new or unfamiliar situation, she strove to understand it with a tenacity and drive that most wouldn't attribute to the occasionally arrogant and snobbish girl.

Right now, her will was being seriously tested. Because after her initial meeting with the boy-no, man-named Khari Vincent she had been feeling...odd. One moment she would be flustered and unsure of herself, the next she would be incandescent with indignation at being so completely embarrassed by what was relatively harmless flirting!

The fact that she considered polite interaction that was completely normal between strangers as 'flirting' spoke volumes as to how confused and thrown off-balance she actually was.

"Of all the could he be so bold as to kiss my hand?! That man should consider himself lucky I consider such an action gentlemanly! No, he should consider himself lucky I so much as allowed a man to breathe the same air as I! Yes, that is more acceptable, I let him perform so forward a greeting...and I am not embarrassed by it at all!"

Despite all of her internal debating and arguing, Cecilia really had no idea how to react to this seemingly new example of male representation. In just under a minute of interaction, he had laid waste to her view of men as either professional acquaintances or worthless opportunists.

Acquaintances and cowards didn't make her stomach warm, mind wander and cheeks heat!

"Did he infect me with a sickness of some sort? He must have, that would explain my symptoms! Because I am most certainly not attracted to him in any way!"

...But she was having an admittedly hard time removing the image of Khari from her mind, of how he had looked only into her eyes with those verdant orbs of his, gaze never traveling to her body like so many others would. Of the sensation of her hand being taken in a far larger one, warm mouth pressed to her skin, over-reactive imagination pondering if it would feel the same if those dark lips caressed her neck-

"No, I am not that easy of a woman! How absurd! I am a Representative Candidate and not some street hussy! That does it, if I ever see that man again I am going to give him a piece of my mind!"

Nodding confidently to herself Cecilia pushed open the door to her class, five minutes early as always-

-and was greeted with a babble of noise completely out of character for the usually quiet room.

"What on Earth? Why is everyone so excited? And what are they looking at-"

Cecilia took a moment to thank the fact that her peers were so distracted, because one of the figures in the middle of the crowd caused her to choke on air and frantically cough for a few seconds.

Extremely tall, dark skin and bright green eyes…

Khari Vincent, the cause of her mood swings and restless thoughts for the past day, was in her class.

So shocked by this revelation, she almost missed the many conversations taking place around them.

"Seriously?! You've never had a girlfriend?!"

"No, I've been quite busy throughout my life and had precious little time to actually pursue a steady relationship. And short flings don't a relationship make."

"So...would you be looking for one right now? A girlfriend I mean?"

A pearly white smile appeared on the young man's face.

"She would have to be a truly special woman...but yes, I quite like the idea of having a significant other to share my life with."

The gathered crowd squealed and one particularly bold young lady asked, "S-so, what would you be looking for in a partner? Hypothetically, of course!"

Cecilia found herself scoffing at the silly questions her peers were asking, now that she had a better grasp of the situation...even as she herself intently listened.

"Well...I don't really have a hair color preference, but I do like it long, at least neck-length. Breast or butt size doesn't particularly interest me-"

Cecilia almost tripped while standing still, dumbfounded by that statement. A male that wasn't obsessed over the size of a woman's more private parts?! It's not like she was vain or anything (and she most certainly didn't self-consciously cross her arms under her plentiful chest) but what sort of statement was that?!

She did notice how some of the more 'flat' girls present looked blatantly pleased at his words.

"-but I do like a partner who is physically fit, like a runner or swimmer's body."

Khari stopped briefly to wink at the gathered crowd.

"But you're all IS pilots and do a wonderful job of staying physically healthy. I would go so far as to say that the modeling world look no further than IS academy for their magazines and tabloids~."

A few girls good-naturedly rolled their eyes at the compliment while most blushed at the statement, Cecilia scowling at the blatant brown-nosing...even as she inwardly nodded in agreement at his words. She was attractive, she could say that much with confidence!

"But, most importantly...she would have to be my equal, or even superior. I like a woman who can match my pace, who can hold a conversation and who would happily match wits. For instance..."

Cecilia suddenly became highly aware of the fact that Khari-and by extension the rest of her classmates-were now staring at her as she stood awkwardly in the doorway.

"Someone like Miss Alcott would make for an ideal girlfriend indeed."

The room fell dead silent, Cecilia's brain grinding to a halt as her mouth hung half open in shock, embarrassment turning her cheeks a healthy shade of pink as she tried-and failed miserably-to come up with some kind of intelligent response.


A chorus of scandalized squeals and gleeful giggles echoed throughout the room as the UK Representative candidate tried to reboot her brain and regain control of her mental faculties-

-and failed miserably as her classmates most unhelpfully pointed out, "Look, she's blushing again!"

"Ohmigosh, do you think she likes likes him?!"


It was only after the room fell dead silent that Cecilia realized the undignified shout had come from her mouth.

Awkwardly clearing her throat and trying to regain control of her quavering voice she coldly announced, "I have absolutely, positively, undoubtedly zero attraction to this, this...playboy!"

The pleasant grin that never left Khari's face only served to incense her more.

"And I most certainly do not approve of rumors or slander spreading about me! And you!"

Zeroing in on her perceived source of distress Cecilia stalked forward like some sort of natural disaster in the making, locking eyes with Khari and harshly poking him in the chest, decorum and politeness forgotten.

"You have been nothing but a disruptive influence since the moment you set foot in this academy! I knew admitting a man would lead to nothing but trouble and I was right! Case in point, you have already disrupted this lecture room with your mere presence!"

The blonde beauty almost blew a fuse as the tall male knowingly smiled, cheekily replying, "Me? I'm not the one scaring away her peers, Miss Alcott..."

A quick glance around the room-

-and Cecilia blanched as she realized most of her friends and allies were warily edging away from her, nervous expressions on their faces from her aggressive shouting.

Completely dismayed and at a loss as to how she so quickly lost her cool the blue-eyed girl began to tremble in anger, Khari politely offering, "If you have something to say, Miss Alcott, I'd be perfectly happy to listen to you at a more normal volume or isolated location where we won't disturb anyone else-"

Cecilia violently shoved the male in what was no doubt meant to be a powerful gesture, a gesture that was ruined as the block of muscle and weight that was Khari Vincent barely rocked back on his heels, Cecilia almost falling on her rear from the force.

Not that it stopped her from pointing directly at him with an upraised arm, boldly stating, "Khari Vincent! I challenge you to a duel! Once I win, you will leave this academy and not return!"

The dark-skinned male merely smirked while the rest of the gathered crowd dramatically gasped.

"Oh? And what's in it for me?"

The rational part of her brain was screaming for her to stop before she dug herself a deeper hole but Cecilia was on a warpath, snidely remarking, "Hmph! Should you somehow be victorious, you may ask of me one favor! It matters not how expensive nor demeaning, I will provide it!"

The previous gasp was nothing compared to this one, the girls now feverishly whispering to one another and it wasn't until she heard a whisper of, "D-does that include her virginity?!" that Alcott realized just what it was that she had offered.

And before she had a chance to amend her offer to not include sexual acts Khari grinned, replying, "Very well, Miss're on. What do you say, Director? Is that acceptable?"

Cecilia whirled around, paling as she came face-to-face with an irate Chifuyu Orimura.

"I thought I told you not to cause a stir on your first day, Vincent."

"Check the tapes, Director. I was behaving myself just fine."

Cecilia found her tongue and stammered out, "D-d-director Orimura?! W-why are you here?!"

The austere woman fixed a penetrating gaze on the blonde, causing her to wilt slightly as she icily explained, "Because I expected something like this to happen. And half the building could hear your voice, Alcott. Personally, I think this is a good opportunity...although I should point out you can't legally make Vincent leave, that's a violation of the rules of the academy. Your offer, on the other hand, is perfectly valid."

A knowing smirk appeared on the older woman's features.

"I think you should uphold it, a convenient lesson to not let your temper rule your head. Although!"

Chifuyu gave Khari a significant stare.

"I expect you to not do anything untoward to Miss Alcott. I would hate to have an actual reason to expel you. If you catch my meaning."

The dark-skinned youth just nodded, turning to an openly stressed Cecilia and stating, "Well, what do you say, Alcott? Care to put all our cards on the table and solve whatever beef it is you have with me?"

The girl thickly swallowed but found her center, narrowing her blue eyes and cooly replying, "Yes. I would like that very much."

The tension in the air was a palpable thing as Ichika sighed, he and Houki quietly having excused themselves to a corner of the room and largely avoiding the drama that had unfolded.

"Are things always this...heated?"

Houki just gave a disapproving shake of her head, replying, "Not quite. I think it's just the fact that you two are now here."

Ichika heaved one final sigh, muttering, "Welcome to Infinite Stratos Academy..."

Ch 3: Inchoate Horizon

[Are both participants prepared?]

Khari merely keyed the IDT (Information Display Tablet) attached to his wrist with a confirmation, his opposite at the edge of the field mimicking the action.

[T-then the match will start in five minutes!]

The male IS pilot gave a curious glance towards the announcers booth of the field the match would take place in, noticing his classes teacher, Maya Yamada, duck slightly at his gaze despite the considerable distance separating them.

He felt a bit guilty at throwing the woman's schedule so off kilter, since what had no doubt been an ordinary day had seen much of the academy cancel classes and instead head to the stadium to watch a highly anticipated match at the director's request.

Considering the fact that she seemed to hold a great deal of social anxiety, it was small wonder that she had stammered and seemed so harried.

{This is a great deal earlier to display our IS's powers than what had been expected, Lieutenant.}

"Is that going to be a problem? We were revealing it one way or another, you know."

{Of course, but the director's hope was that its debut would be during one of the televised IS matches, to retain maximum impact. It is a foregone conclusion that leaked video and recordings of this match will circulate and reduce the excitement of its unveiling.}

"Granted, but we'll make do. Besides, if this match goes how I think it will this will be just as effective of a statement, merely carried out differently. Think of the rumors that will spread when a mysterious IS piloted by one of the two male pilots in the entire world so thoroughly thrashes a 3rd gen IS."

{You seem quite confidant that you will win, Lieutenant. Need of I remind you that pride cometh before the fall?}

Khari rolled his eyes at the O.A.I's warning.

"I've seen the schematics and capabilities of Blue Tears. She hasn't seen Inchoate Horizon's. I'm calm and collected, she looks like she wants to throttle me with a rusty length of barbed wire. This particular match is in the bag, it's future battles that we'll have to treat with caution and a fair level of tactical planning."

{Very well, Lieutenant. Just be prepared for a healthy dose of, I told you so should you fail.}


[Does something amuse you, Khari Vincent?]

The young man looked down at his IDT, smiling at the voice connection that was now shared between him and Cecilia. Gazing back up at his opponent across the field he blithely answered, "Yes, but not something to do with you. We seem to have drawn quite the crowd."

Khari's words were true, the observation balconies filled to the brim with attending students who were excitedly watching the holographic countdown above them.

[Hmph, all the more eyes to see me emerge victorious and you put in your place.]

"What's the phrase? Counting your chickens before they've hatched?"

Khari smirked as her eyes narrowed, voice cool as she responded, [We'll see how glib you act once I have won.]

"If you say so. On a somewhat unrelated note, have you decided what you'll demand of me should you win? You can't call for my expulsion, but I'm sure you can think of something creative."

A smug smile split the young woman's face.

[I think I'll have you serve as my manservant for the rest of the semester. Waiting upon my every word, seeing to my needs...I think that would be a suitable position for you~!]

Khari saw the low hanging fruit and took it.

"Why, Miss Cecilia...I had no idea you were into such a, shall I say, dominant sort of relationship..."

Beautiful blue eyes blinked once in confusion-

-before a bright red blush spread across her cheeks, tone indignant as she replied, [G-get your mind out of the gutter, you buffoon! That is not what I meant at all!]

Khari openly laughed, grinning as the Representative Candidate seethed and fumed, only a deep and shaky breath calming her down somewhat.


"Well what?"

[What is your request? As preposterous a possibility it is, I find myself curious as to what your foolish brain has come up with.]

"Hmm...I think I'll tell you once I win. Sound fair?"

Another look of disgust from the lovely young lady.

[And you accused me of overconfidence.]

"I'll do you one better. If I can't beat you in less than thirty seconds, I'll forfeit and concede the match. Interested?"

Cecilia stared at him with an unblinking look of disbelief...before she gained a measure of competitive haughtiness.

[Hmph! Very well, but allow me to add a condition of my own! If I do not defeat you in under thirty seconds, this bet is off but you will still concede the match. I do not wish for such an unsporting handicap.]

Khari offered a winning smile, stating, "You have a deal, Miss Alcott" before closing the voice connection and taking a moment to relax, the match still two minutes away.

The practice fields of the academy really were impressive. Gargantuan, five kilometer structures that had a variety of IS focused accommodations that could field any sort of battle conditions.

They were certainly bigger than what he had to practice with at Med-Bio

His attention drawn back to his opponent Khari really had to admit she was a young woman of stunning beauty. A fit but generous figure, only accentuated by the dark blue leotard that served as an IS pilot's interface to their machine, her long legs gracefully covered by leggings of a lighter shaded material, long hair kept free of her eyes by a headband that could double as a reflex scope when piloting.

...He hadn't been lying when he said he didn't have any preference for boob or butt size, but what most mistook that for meaning was that had he had no interest at all.

On the contrary, that meant he liked it all. And Cecilia Alcott certainly had an alluring pair of breasts and generous ass…

She must have noticed his staring since she scowled and turned away, pointedly crossing her arms and turning up her nose.

He found that action positively adorable.

[Match begins in twenty seconds. Both pilots prepare for combat!]

Cracking his neck Khari let a more feral grin adorn his lips, positively eager to begin showing off.

Simulations and practice bouts against training dummies could only do so much.

"Ready, Verion?"

{At your command, Liuetenant.}

The young man slapped his chest with an open palm, signaling his embedded IS core to activate as Cecilia did the same, her earnings flaring with light before manifesting the IS around her body.

...Activating an IS was always an unusual experience and a great deal of training for candidates was centered around taking advantage of the greater cognition the machine provided. One never truly understood how limited their five senses were until they had one of the suits amplifying those receptors.

Sounds were more distinct without blurring together, tactile reception increased while pain was reduced, smell could be filtered or improved at a whim and while it was widely agreed that taste was a non-factor...suffice to say more than a few IS pilots would sneak rather tasty snacks into a training flight, to better experience the improved flavor suite.

But, without a singular doubt, vision was the true king. Full, uninterrupted 360 degree perception of the area around the pilot and easily one of the more bewildering aspects to get used to. Humans simply weren't geared to comprehend the deluge of information and warped perspective that was offered, at least not without a great deal of practice.

But practice a pilot would and eventually the enhanced sensor suite would ideally become second nature, becoming an advantage in combat rather than a liability.

...Khari had taken that a step further, Med-Bio's experimentation affording a level of connection between his IS and his form that most other pilots could only dream of.

With the core embedded in his body and connected directly to his synapses-a process that allowed Verion to function-his body was the IS.

Steel alloys coated and mixed with an interlocked web of carbon nanotubes was his skeleton, powerful and unyielding.

Very fine, very small actuators covered that skeleton in webbed formations, creating a facsimile of Human muscle and nerve endings.

Standard, hardened battleplate that could be found on any IS was his skin, with only a few patches left uncovered to allow flexibility.

Maneuvering jets and embedded tesla coils were his fists and feet, his means of moving and fighting alongside other weapons that were at his beck-and-call.

Yeah, piloting Inchoate Horizon was always a treat!

"Ready or not, Miss we go!"

Ichika and Houki had found a relatively secluded part of the arena to station themselves in, almost a good ten seats distance between them and everyone else.

"So you don't know why the Byakushiki responded to you?"

"No, I was just trying to find the examination hall for the tests and got turned around before stumbling onto the machine as it was stored there. I was curious and had dabbled a little bit in IS theory beforehand...but the next thing I knew it had bonded itself to me when all I had done was start up its system check!"

Houki pinched the bridge of her nose, muttering, "Only you, Ichika...only you..."

"It wasn't like I did it on purpose, you know. But since I'm neck deep in this already..."

Houki blinked in surprise as Ichika bowed his head, asking, "Houki? Could you teach me the basics of IS operation and combat? I know a little bit about the machine's operation and functions, but having someone skilled would go a long way in bringing me up to par."

The girl gained a slight blush, stammering out, "O-of course, I would be happy too! But don't expect me to go easy on you!"

Ichika gave a resigned chuckle, asking, "Since when have you ever gone easy on me, Houki?"

She puffed out a cheek in annoyance, unable to refute that statement but was thankfully saved from making a reply as the stadium's speakers announced, [Match begins in twenty seconds. Both pilots prepare for combat!]

The two pilots eagerly turned their attention back to he field, Houki asking, "Do you know anything about Khari Vincent's IS, Ichika?"

"No, we mostly just talked and hung out last night. And we didn't exactly have a whole lot of time this morning..."

Houki huffed, dryly remarking, "How like you to respect someone's privacy to the point of being dense."

Ichika have his friend a wry look, retorting, "I don't think not asking a total stranger I want to be friends with about his super secret weapon of mass destruction counts as being overly nice. More like common courtesy."

The girl blushed at the slight jab about her social difficulties, hastily retorting, "T-there's nothing wrong about requesting information from somebody!"

Before the verbal spar could continue the countdown finished with a loud buzz, drawing everyone's attention as the two pilots engaged their IS-

-and the vast, vast majority of those in attendance got their first look at the brand new IS the brand new male pilot was operating. Cecilia's Blue Tears was a familiar sight with its long range rifle and autonomous guns...but more than a few gaped at the IS-now revealed to called Inchoate Horizon as its data appeared on the holographic display far above their heads-as it was decidedly...efficient.

Most IS had a sort of pleasing aesthetic to them, with vibrant coloration and soothing manipulators and armor plates. Even the mass produced models of 1st and 2nd gen IS were easy on the eyes, with non-threatening appearances and subdued color schemes.

Inchoate Horizon looked like it was built purely for functionality and nothing else.

A uniform black and dark grey-aside from a few openings on the frame that glowed with energy, no doubt thruster systems or energy projectors of some kind-it had a profile that resembled that of an insect combined with a Human. Thin but solid looking arms and legs, the fingers covered in claws that shone with a dull brilliance, obviously some kind of melee weapon built to tear apart solid metal. The feet, if they could even be called that, were powerful talons with odd ejection ports on the heel, almost as if the designers had combined a pile-bunker and bird of prey's anatomy into one.

Other than that there were no obvious weapons aside from a bulky looking backpack on the IS's spine and protruding bulges on the unit's forearms.

"What an odd machine..."

Ichika had to agree with Houki's analysis, a quick glance around the stadium revealing more than a few other students looking at the IS with no shortage of curiosity.

No wings, no visible ranged weapons and an odd design that looked like it favored flexibility over power...never mind its rather bland color and aesthetic presentation.

"Either that machine is poorly made, or it has some kind of advantage gifted by its...unconventional design."

The young man nodded at Houki's observation once more, quietly replying, "Well, I guess we're about to see for certain..."

The countdown once more appeared in red lettering, the final clock that would mark the beginning of the actual battle as opposed to initialization of the IS, a grace period afforded in case mechanical errors ensured.


Blue Tears engaged its thrusters, leaping into the air and deploying its Optical Drones before raising the rifle-

-and Inchoate Horizon was already there, a deafening CRACK of displaced air traveling in its wake as the PIC no doubt worked overtime to keep its pilot from being snapped in two, a powerful burst of momentum from thrusters located in its legs propelling it across the intervening no man's land in the blink of an eye.

Completely caught off guard Cecilia hastily aimed her primary weapon to shoot her opponent at point blank range-

-and with almost contemptuous ease Khari reached out with a serrated claw, a squeal of distressed composites and hissing servos screeching as he crushed the gun into a mangled mess, shocking the UK representative for a crucial second...which cost her dearly.

Inchoate Horizon's right leg pulled back, launched a simple but nasty push kick at the opposing IS...and a thunderous BOOM-not unlike thunder-echoed across the stadium, Blue Tears being launched at incredible velocities across the field until it heavily impacted the far wall, cratering it and rattling Alcott badly.

Most of the onlookers could only gape at the display above.

100% for Inchoate Horizon...73% for Blue Tears.

One kick had dropped a 3rd generation IS's shield strength by more than a quarter.

Khari didn't give Cecila an inch, darting his machine forward and now that they had a moment to collect themselves Houki and Ichika could actually observe how this new IS maneuvered itself.

It was odd, to say the least. It sprinted and darted in loping strides that were almost Human in function, but arcs of electricity that danced outwards from the soles of its feet suggested there was some kind of magnetic propulsion tech at work. Far more impressive was that the pilot was able to withstand and so elegantly pull off the evasive maneuvers. An IS's PIC was an incredible piece of technology, for certain...but it had limits and Khari was definitely pushing them.

But Cecilia was no slouch, quickly shaking off her confusion and her drones began rapidly firing at the opposing IS, unfortunately not being able to land very many shots and those were glancing, at best.

Houki frowned as she noticed something odd on the scoreboard, her eyes flicking upwards ever so briefly.

Inchoate Horizon-91%

Blue Tears-73%

She had seen Alcott's IS in action before and knew such grazing shots from her drones shouldn't be dealing so much damage to even a mass-produced 2nd gen IS...yet Khari's machine seemed to have an unusually weak shield. Was it a trade-off for the speed and power it displayed?

She turned her attention back to the battle as Blue Tears shot into the sky at max thrust, the drones continuing to chip away at the rapidly gaining Inchoate Horizon...but it would be a close thing.

Vincent's IS had a speed advantage on the 3rd gen but its shields were rapidly dropping, it was more a question if Cecilia could stay out of its grasp long enough to wear it down. Especially since it didn't seem to have much in the way of ranged weaponry, oddly.

No sooner did Houki think those thoughts that the odd backpack on the pursuing IS shifted, a grasping hook with a strange emitter on the end coiling outwards, attached by a length of sinuous metal.

What sort of bizarre weapon was-

-the crowd gasped as the appendage shot forward at speeds far greater than that of the IS it was attached to, Blue Tears' shield flaring into existence just in time to intercept the clawed thing...except instead of bouncing off as it should have, the feeler stuck.

Pulsating lines of energy flowed through the attached anchor and no shortage of eyes widened as they realized what was going on.

Blue Tears-72%...71%...70%

Inchoate Horizon-92%...93%...94%

It was draining the shield of Alcott's IS and boosting its own shield in return, at a rapid rate of 1% per what looked like half-a-second.

Recognizing the danger Cecilia had her drones shift focus to the appendage, a volley of weapon's fire striking it-

-and having zero effect other than to briefly heat the patches of metal before said energy was dissipated at an astonishing pace.

Moe than a few observers were left wondering what kind of material was capable of that level of heat diffusion at such a blistering speed.

Cecilia was one of them, at least until her thoughts were interrupted by a yanking sensation as Blue Tears' forward momentum was harshly arrested, the artificial tentacle physically pulling her and winning, despite her IS firing on all cylinders.

Khari didn't give her a chance to think of a new plan, leaping into the air with a hiss of servos and metallic knees drawn upwards-

-and a second BOOM echoed across the stadium, this time even louder as both legs had impacted the IS head on, sending Blue Tears smashing into the dirt floor and rolling a good 100 meters before grinding to a halt amidst a spray of displaced sediment.

Inchoate Horizon-94%

Blue Tears-14%

The audience was left speechless at the sheer, brutal efficiency of this new machine as it once more came charging in, Blue Tears shakily righting itself as its pilot obviously tried to fight off the disorienting blow, PIC or not.

Alcott didn't get a chance to so much as shake her head before Inchoate Horizon was right in its face, crashing down on top of the other IS and draining a few more percent points as it's clawed feet sparked against the other machine's shield-

-and a buzzer rang out, the IS shield readout overhead being replaced by a line of text that read,


The field was silent for a few precious seconds...and a slow building of polite applause began to sound but never rose above that, most of the students still in a state of shock at how swiftly a 3rd gen IS was brought down.

The match hadn't lasted nineteen seconds.

Most of the academy attendees were too busy staring at the field as Khari had his machine offer a taloned hand to Cecilia's, or comparing notes on what they just witnessed to stare at the instructors and a few choice students.

Mostly, they failed to notice the grim air or ominous looks that were being exchanged between them.

Tatenashi Sarashiki wasn't an easily surprised woman. Being raised in a strict upbringing that had focused on preparing her for a potential lifetime of battling insurgents and terrorists left little room for wonder or apprehension.

She would freely admit to being very surprised at the moment.

Chifuyu Orimura had readily shared the schematics of the new IS with her-seeing as how she was the president of the student body and knowing every IS in use was her job-but her schedule had permitted only a few minutes to lightly peruse the basics.

She imagined she wasn't the only one who was skeptical of Med-Bio's claim to have developed an 'IS Killer'. The past few years had that term thrown around at least once every few months, some scientist or researcher claiming their latest invention or IS would be the one to 'change it all'.

The reality was that no weapon or system had reached that lofty standard. True, there had been ingenious technologies developed that were powerful or frighteningly adaptable...but nothing so grand as to make an IS seem like a non-threat.

Inchoate Horizon's performance had her wondering if someone had finally gone ahead and done just that. A 3rd Gen manhandled and disabled in less than half-a-minute, a time that was almost certain to have broken some kind of record.

Tatenashi had to admit that Med-Bio's plan, as it had been described to them by Khari Vincent, suddenly seemed far more feasible.

And the design of the IS was actually quite brilliant...if not highly specialized.

Med-Bio had indeed made an IS killer...and they had done so by focusing only on that specific concept. Something many people tended to forget was that IS, no matter what kind of armaments or unique systems they had, were jack-of-all trade machines.

Even melee-types had long-range armaments or heavier shielding to compensate for the lack of it, or significant stores of conventional weaponry that, if one were to logically think about it, would be just as effective against a standard military as it would be against an IS.

No IS had ever been designed from the ground up only to fight against other IS. They were military deterrents and that showed. Certainly, some IS may have been better equipped to take down other IS than, say, a battleship, but they had always been created with that possibility in mind, the idea that they may have to battle an armada of ships or convoy of tanks affecting final design.

Inchoate Horizon clearly hadn't been constructed with conventional battle in mind.

Unusually weak shields, a distinct lack of ranged particle or kinetic weaponry (if the blueprints were to be believed) and an odd maneuvering system that seemed to favor linear movement instead of the more 3d tactics afforded by current IS, meaning it was predictable.

And those weaknesses were easily outweighed by the evident strengths. Weak shields that could be rapidly recharged by draining its opponents power. The means of draining was an extremely fast and durable appendage that had impressive heat-diffusion abilities, as well as incredible physical strength, able to stop a 3rd Gen IS in its tracks.

Which was no mean feat, considering Blue Tears was a long-ranged IS that relied on keeping its distance, thusly having powerful thrusters.

…This was a far more lethal scenario than one might give it credit for. The IS was fast-almost to the point that its pilot would be overwhelmed, PIC or no-and could outpace its opponent…and once it got close, those weapons on its feet would drop an IS's shields at an insane pace, restoring whatever damage might have accrued over the course of the battle all the while.

Factor in several more unknown systems and weapons that were undoubtedly hidden away in the IS's frame and Tatenashi felt the title 'IS Killer' was going to be a fitting one.

A machine built only to destroy other IS.

She had to wonder what Med-Bio was thinking. Other countries were going to interpret this machine as a declaration of hostility, a blatant threat to their most powerful weapons and an open challenge...never mind what Phantom Task or other like-minded organizations would make of such an obvious obstacle to their goals.

And Khari Vincent was going to find himself in the middle of the approaching mess, as the pilot of such a machine.

She hid her frown beneath a folded fan, hoping that the young man was prepared for the coming storm…because coming it most certainly was. And Mr. Vincent had proven himself to be amicable and charming, she wouldn't wish such a fate on anyone she had taken a liking to.

The walk back to the locker rooms was a chilly one.

Khari was peaceably strolling alongside a deathly quiet Cecilia, the dark-skinned male with a pleasant smile on his face while the blonde hinted at a coming typhoon.

Alcott was not happy with the results of the match. She wasn't upset at her opponent, however…more she was unhappy with herself.

Her showing had been utterly pathetic, a mockery of what an IS representative candidate should be capable of.

Beaten in less than twenty seconds…by a man, no less! After all her boasting and grandstanding, she hadn't even managed to drop his machines shield by a tenth.

And while it was perhaps silly of her to be more worried about it than any potential loss in prestige or notoriety…she couldn't help but be apprehensive about the nature of their agreement, of what Khari would demand of her. The director had said nothing of explicit nature could be demanded of her, yes…but what constituted explicit?

Would she have to, to…to kiss him?! Or even worse, she had said that she would make him act as her manservant the entire semester…would he turn that back on her?! Make her put on a maid outfit, have her cook and clean for him but since she couldn't cook would demand compensation in other ways-

"No, bad Cecilia! That's a silly fantasy and a woman of your stature is above such thoughts!"

The blonde nodded to herself, banishing such ideas from her mind-

-and yelped as a strong and warm hand lightly set itself on her shoulder.

"Are you alright, Miss Alcott? You seem out of it somewhat..."

"I-I-I am perfectly fine! You may remove your hand, thank you very much!"

Khari did so and Cecilia had to fight off the sudden disappointment at lack of physical well as internally freak out as to why she was so disappointed. Shouldn't she be upset and irate at the male, not coveting his touch?!

"Well you certainly still have your spirit, that's for sure. Regardless, I've decided on what I wish from you. Care to hear it now?"

Her stomach doing a little flip at the man's words Cecilia did her best to hide her sudden apprehension, putting on a strong front and tossing her hair over a shoulder with a dismissive flick...and subsequently missing the way Khari's eyes briefly roved over her body, still clad in its flattering IS attire.

"Hmph, of course! Name your price, Vincent."

"There, that was perfect! Bold and unhurried, the perfect display of pride and brilliance!"

Mentally congratulating herself on the perfect response to the man's words Cecilia awaited her fate, nervousness buried deep within-

"Very well, would you be so kind as to show me the rest of the IS academy tomorrow after class? I'm still new here and having an experienced guide will help ease the transition."

-and was left blinking rapidly in abject shock.

"...Eh? That's it?"

"Were you hoping for more?"

"N-no! I mean, well...isn't that rather tame a request?"

Khari leaned forward slightly, allowing his greater height to tower over Cecilia as he playfully asked, "Tame? Goodness, are you secretly a wild thing at heart, Miss Alcott?"

Blushing crimson the blonde furiously poked the dark-skinned male in the chest, stammering, "C-cease your shameful speculation, you brute! Very well, you wish for a guide? Then I shall be the best guide you have ever had!"

"Bold words, Miss Alcott...I look forward to seeing you carry them out."

Once more flipping her hair in a splay of light gold-an action Khari was slowly coming to adore-she stiffly nodded, remarking, "And so I shall! I will see you after class tomorrow, Khari Vincent."

And with that Cecilia strode away towards her side of the changing rooms...and the male IS pilot couldn't help but stare at her swaying derrière, flatteringly hugged by her pilot's suit.

"Now that is a sight I could die happy too."

{You have blood aplenty to run both your brain and genitals, Lieutenant. Please act as if that were the case.}


Cecilia gratefully stepped under the pounding, heated spray of shower water and tried to ignore the excited dancing of her heart, setting her hands against the tiled wall and gritting her teeth in frustration.

"That...that vexing, arrogant, far-too-good-looking-for-his-own-good DOLT! How dare he so suddenly and boldly play with a maiden's heart, treating it as if it were some musical instrument!"

Biting her lower lip before violently shaking her head-sending a wild spray of droplets in every direction-Cecilia fiercely scowled, her competitive nature and sterling pride demanding that she do something to throw her seemingly unaware tormentor off balance.

"We'll see just who comes out the victor in tomorrow's tour, Khari Vincent! I'll see you stammering and speechless by the end of our tour!"

"I gotta say, that IS of yours is pretty impressive, Khari."

"As much as I'd like to take credit for building it, I can't. I'm just the driver on ol' Inchoate...although I'd like to think I do a pretty damn good job of it."

Ichika chuckled as he put the finishing touches on a pot of rice, setting it to cook as he remarked, "Not many pilots can profess to having knocked out a 3rd-gen IS in under thirty seconds. I'd say you're pretty good."

The darker-skinned male shrugged as he set a few last bits of silverware on the table, replying, "The benefits of surprise. Give Alcott another round against me and I'll probably have to work for it."

"But you will win."

A confident grin peeled Khari's lips from his teeth.

"Inchoate was designed specifically to go up against any IS and take home the trophy. If I ever lose a 1v1 mock match I'm not using the machine right. But enough about me, I heard you've got a custom IS of your own, Byakushiki, right?"

Sheepishly rubbing the back of his head Ichika slowly replied, "I do...but I've never actually taken it on a real test run yet, not to mention most of my IS knowledge is fairly basic, only at a graduate level."

"Aren't you a high school student?"

"Yeah, why?"

The taller male rolled his eyes, dryly remarking, "Most high school students don't have enough knowledge about IS that they could earn a degree. You do. I'd say that's a leg up over the competition. Did you do mostly focus on practical or theoretical application of IS tech?"

"Practical, largely."

"Even better. A lot of my training when working with MBM focused on practical IS theory, so that I could make personal adjustments and basic repairs without the need of dedicated staff. Theoretical IS work largely focuses on the physics behind the critical technologies and quite frankly I'd need a lifetime to get a handle on some of those woo-woo mathematical concepts."

Ichika shared a wince with his comrade, wryly remarking, "No kidding. I didn't even know some of those math classes existed."

"Gah, enough of this talk about math and other boring shite, tell me about your childhood friend, Miss Shinonono. You two seemed pretty friendly right off the bat."

Awkwardly chuckling to himself Ichika explained, "We go pretty far back, actually. Seeing as how both of our older siblings were usually off conquering the world or other things like that, we kept each other company. And Houki has always been a little...well, she's bad at making friends. I was usually the middle man whenever we interacted with other kids our age. And her living quarters?"

He shuddered.

"I can get by without too many things, but Houki takes that to a whole new level. Four walls, a bed, a shower and a kitchen...she's crazy."

Khari let loose a low whistle, remarking, "Spartan living, huh?"

"Putting it lightly, but close enough. What about you, any old friends or girlfriends?"

Pensively tapping his chin with a finger the dark skinned male replied, "A fair number of flings over the years-my pay working for MBM let me go a little crazy on the weekends-but friends have been hard to come by, since my work kept me from settling down for too long and my previous accommodations...weren't the best kind of environment to gain any sort of lifelong buddies."

Ichika decided not to pursue that line of inquiry and instead started spooning out the rice into a pair of bowls, Khari grabbing the frozen stir fry from the oven as they carried it to the table.

...They hadn't had time to grab anything too fancy, more or less raiding the cafeteria for what was available.

"Hey, Ichika?"

"What's up?"

"Feel free to turn me down, but I'd be plenty happy to help you out with some of the basics of IS operation whenever we have a free moment."

Rather than be offended or dismissive the Japanese male looked positively relieved, quickly replying, "I'd be happy to have the help, Khari. No offense to Houki, but her training tends to be pretty intense. Not bad if you know what you're doing, but for a rank novice like myself she's probably not the best kind of teacher."

Khari simply grinned, stating, "No worries, pal. Give me a few hours and I'll have you graduated from novice to rookie, then you can spend some quality alone time with your future wife while I give you two some space."

Ichika inhaled his first bite of food, coughing as Khari thumped him on the back, blushing as he stammered, "W-wife!? That's skipping a few steps, don't you think?"

"What's the holdup? She's an incredibly beautiful woman with a killer body. Beyond the merely superficial reasons you're clearly on good terms with her. Seems like the perfect staging ground for a whirlwind romance, wouldn't you say?"

Still flushed slightly Ichika raised an eyebrow, dryly asking, "Yeah? What about you and the UK representative pilot? You seemed pretty easygoing and flirtatious with her."

Inwardly smirking at how he just knew Ichika was going to flip his lid at this Khari nodded, easily responding, "She's certainly a spitfire and attractive to boot. A real force of nature in lovely, Human form. I would absolutely love to turn that noble and haughty girl into a cockslave as I tongue punch her fartbox into orgasmic submission."

Ichika inhaled a far larger portion of food, Khari laughing as he once more tried to dislodge dinner from his newest friend's windpipe.

Chapter 4: British Hospitality

Walking into class was a unique experience for Khari Vincent. Eyes of all colors, size and emotive display met his own, the girls whispering, giggling and gossiping without the slightest shame about his duel with the UK representative candidate.

"Hey, what do you think he demanded from Alcott?"

"I heard he asked for a dinner date!"

"What, no way!"

"That's so gentlemanly, I thought he would ask for her hand in marriage right away!"

"Well I heard, you know..."

A group of four girls cast quick glances in his direction before leaning into each other and fiercely whispering for a few seconds...before they fall apart in squeals of delight and gasps of shock.

...Of course, they hadn't counted on the male IS pilot having better than average hearing.

"I heard he demanded her virginity...and she was going to honor that!"

He shook his head as he took his seat next to Ichika.

"If only it was that simple, right, Verion?"

{You seem to be making ample progress regardless of your peer's rumors and verbal circulations.}

"I wouldn't be so quick to jump to conclusion, Verion."

{What makes you say that?}

A quick glance of his eyes to the classroom's entrance revealed none other than Cecilia Alcott striding inwards, her gaze immediately snapping to Khari's as beautiful eyes of light blue narrowed in clear vexation-

-before abruptly closing in a pleased expression as she offered a disarmingly friendly smile, regally approaching him before coming to a halt in front of his desk.

"A good morning to you, Khari Vincent. I trust you remembered that we are going on a tour of the campus later today and made plans accordingly?"

Coinciding with her words Cecilia leaned in slightly, emphasizing her pleasantly sized bust and suffusing the male's nostrils with a faint but intoxicating perfume.

"Why, Verion, I do believe she is attempting to throw me off balance by being openly friendly and charming."

{She must have deduced that throwing you off balance in this manner has more chance of succeeding than any other form of approach. I deem this another facet of her competitive personality coming to fore.}

"On that, we're in agreement. Watch this."

Smoothly taking Cecilia's hand in a repeat of the action he performed not two days prior Khari brushed his lips against her tender flesh, smoothly replying, "Of course, miss Alcott. I wouldn't miss it for the world."

Right on cue a collection of gasps and squeals echoed across the room, Cecilia's eye dangerously twitching as her attempt at a sneak attack failed miserably.

"Well that's most excellent to hear, then."




Khari arched an eyebrow at where the British girl's hand was still ensconced in his own, the young woman in seemingly no hurry to remove it-

-until she noticed the rest of the class staring with laser intensity at the scene they were making, jerking her hand back as if burned, stammering back, "T-t-then I shall see you then! Do not dare to be late!"

In a whirlwind of movement Alcott took her seat, face a shade of red tomatoes would have been proud of.

Khari just quietly chuckled as Ichika shook his head in bemusement, Houki just looking on in bewilderment.

"You seem to enjoy riling her up."

"Oh Hell yes I do."

Their teacher made her appearance with a stuttery display as always, Khari settling down to wait for the end of class and the beginning of his true entertainment...because he had something of a surprise for the UK representative…

"Hair perfectly combed, makeup not running, lipstick applied...hmph! Perfect as always!"

Cecilia worriedly smoothed out what she believed to be an errant eyelash for the third time in as many minutes as she anxiously awaited for the time when Khari Vincent would meet with her and she would guide him around IS academy.

"And just why am I so nervous about this?! It's merely a simple trip around the academy and nothing else!"

Fruitlessly glaring into her reflection Cecilia resisted the urge to hit something, completely clueless as to why she was so thrown off-balance by the male IS pilot. She had never been one to simply gush and throw herself at someone the second they caught their interest so why was this different?!

Releasing a small sigh as she once more went over her appearance-satisfied with it for the final time-she exited the washroom, approaching the entrance of the academy where they had agreed to meet, nervously shifting from foot-to-foot as the minutes dragged on.

"That fool...doesn't he know that he should never keep a lady waiting? Honestly, if this was a date I would have words for him...wait, does this really seem like a date?!"

Violently shaking her head Cecilia cleared those thoughts from her mind, taking a deep breath and smoothing out the non-existent wrinkles in her uniform-

"Hello, Miss Alcott! Hope we didn't keep you waiting!"

-and gave an undignified squeak of embarrassment as Khari's voice came from directly behind her. Wildly spinning on her heel to greet her newly found tormentor Cecilia instinctively scolded, "Has no one ever told you how impolite it is to sneak up on a...lady..."

Words failed the blonde as she realized it wasn't just one male IS pilot was two of them, alongside that Houki girl.

An altogether too pleasant smile graced her lips.

"Mr. Vincent?"

"Yes, Miss Alcott?"

"Why are there three of you?"

Responding with a smile of his own-either ignorant or purposefully ignoring Cecilia's dangerous good cheer-the towering young man easily responded, "Well Ichika is also new around these parts and I figured it wouldn't hurt to have him follow us around on the tour. Or are you upset that it's not just the two of us?"

"W-what?! Of course I am, that was the agreement! No, wait, what I mean is that it's fine but, but...have you made it your life's sole purpose to be as infuriating as possible?!"

A twinkle in his emerald eyes Khari playfully replied, "Only with those who's company I enjoy...and reactions are hilarious to watch."

A light dusting of pink colored the UK representative's pale skin even as she ground her teeth, Ichika tactfully clearing his throat before asking, "I don't mind leaving the two of you alone, if that's what you would prefer. Houki can show me around on her own, she's familiar with the campus...I think."

Even as the Japanese girl scowled at Ichika's remark Ceclia locked eyes with the boy, Ichika holding fast even though he was clearly unnerved by the intensity of said stare.

Eventually, however, Cecila released an explosive sigh, dryly commenting, "No, it's fine if you wish to accompany us. I will admit I was being rude earlier...although I would place the blame for that squarely at the feet of this brute."

"Calling me names already? I think we need to have another duel, Miss Alcott."

"Hmph! Do not be so cocky just because you won the first time, Khari Vincent! Were we to battle once again your victory would not be so easily obtained!"

A cheshire grin graced the man's face, his tone playfully mocking as he pointed out, "But I would win is what you're saying?"

A squawk of indignation left the blonde and the two descended into an argument, Ichika and Houki awkwardly standing off to the side.

"...Do you think we should say something? I feel like we're intruding..."

Heaving a sigh the Japanese girl muttered, "I don't even know why you wanted to come along, Ichika. What's that term? Third wheel?"

"Yeah, I would say that's accurate."

The two Eastern youths wryly continued to watch the odd duo of tall, dark-skinned male and relatively shorter pale-skinned girl continue to go at each other with equal parts fervor and playfulness...the playfulness mostly being Khari's domain.

"ExCUSE me?! Did you just imply that my Blue Tears is inferior to your machine?!"

"It was less an implication than it was an open statement, Miss Alcott."

"Well I think you're machine looks like a piece of walking pavement!"

The group of four youths had eventually made their way to the training fields, Khari willing to admit that he was impressed by the academies offered amenities. A sprawling cafeteria with dozens of food varieties on display for their culinary pleasure. Extensive gymnastics facilities that offered equipment that could tone any and all muscles in the Human body. A comprehensive entertainment center, complete with two movie theater screens and countless other diversions such as salons, clothing brand stores and sports fields alongside a dozen other distractions or leisure options.

Sure, he'd seen the blueprints...but it was another thing entirely to see it with his own two eyes.

And the training fields were no exception, large enough to accommodate the four of them and a pair of Gen 2s in the distance running through aerial maneuvers. They even had basic loadout racks lining a few dozen meters of reinforced sheds along the walls, enough to perform some simple alterations to an IS's frame or weapon variety.

" much did building this place cost, again?"

Cecilia let loose a quiet chuckle of wry amusement, replying, "It was sponsored by nearly every country on the globe...and still no one wishes to release the receipts, to put it rather simply."

"I can actually believe that wholeheartedly."

God only knew Med-Bio had been stingy with its tax returns, pulling every trick in the book to get away with paying the bare minimum it had to.

{And yet you never complained, seeing as how you earned a substantial paycheck from the company coffers.}

"You say substantial, but I'm pretty sure being a super low-tier millionaire with the rest of his life ahead of him, bills to pay and all, means I'm not exactly wealthy."

{You neglect to mention that a fair portion of that wealth is in company stock, Lieutenant. Should your mission succeed and the corporation's reputation and marketability increase in value, so will your money.}

Khari was still for a moment, eyes wide as the other three began to help Ichika figure out his IS before internally shouting, "WHAT?! I was never told that! I thought I just got a monthly salary and that was it!"

{You were never given a suitable education on the finer points of financial process, a state of affairs the CEO was content to let sit...just in case you needed motivation at any point of your tenure working for the company.}

Khari rolled his eyes, dryly remarking, "Yeah, I can absolutely see that old fossil doing why are you telling me this now?"

{Because I have deemed you willing enough to carry out the directives of the CEO with or without additional compensation. Congratulations, Lieutenant. You are now a mid-tier millionaire. Provided your mission succeeds.}

The young man could only blink.

"Huh. Well then...actually, I'm not even sure what to do with all that money. I was mostly just letting what I did have be invested and that was it."

Growing up with only a few hundred dollars to last a month-IF that-had left Khari with an extremely frugal mindset. Realizing that he had potentially tens of millions of dollars waiting for him was...unreal. Unreal enough that he wasn't sure what he should even do with it all. Sure, there were some luxuries he'd be happy to splurge on and a few places he'd like to visit...but even then his tastes were pretty simple.

"Ichika, you're doing it all wrong! Your feet are too close together and your grip is balanced terribly!"

"Sorry, Houki, but translating forms to an IS at the drop of a hat isn't easy..."

"He's quite correct, Miss Shinonono! And for what reason are you having him handle a blade so soon for?! He should be practicing with a projectile weapon, those are the staple of any IS!"

"Byakushiki doesn't have any projectile weapons, training with a sword is both the natural and logical thing to do!"

Cecilia looked like she was about to faint as she practically screamed, "NO ranged weaponry?! What use is an IS without a means to engage at long distances?!"

Sighing to himself as the two girls continued to debate the finer points of where to start-and basic IS combat doctrine-Khari approached the clearly overwhelmed looking Ichika, asking, "So how does your IS feel?"

Obviously grateful for the comment that wasn't an order or observation the Japanese youth replied, "It feels...good. Like a set of well fit clothes. But..."

"Yeah, it's still pretty different. Even if it feels like an extension of one's body the shape and proportions are unnatural, something that takes getting used to. Forget running before you can walk, trying to teach you the finer points of swordsmanship while you're still getting a handle on your IS's dimensions is like asking a toddler for a dead sprint across the country."

A wry grin pulled at Ichika's lips.

"It certainly feels that way. Got any suggestions?"

"Sure do. Go for a walk."


"You heard me. Try doing some simple things like running, jumping or manipulating small objects with your IS for a bit. That's how I learned and it worked like a charm in getting acclimated to Inchoate. It ain't flashy and can get pretty monotonous but damn if it doesn't work. The repair and refit bays over there would be a good place to start, lots of docking berths and various weaponry to play around with."

Nodding to himself Ichika did as he suggested and strode towards the far walls, small bursts of thrust from the IS's wings helping to even out the machines gait.

"Huh. Either he's instinctively doing that or the machine has a pretty impressive onboard assist program."

{Perhaps a combination of both. He is related to the premier IS pilot of the past years and Byakushiki's core is rumored to have never undergone any formatting or resets. It likely has an extensive wealth of user-friendly programs and directives that formed over the years, perhaps even a level of self-awareness.}

"Well, guess we can always ask him about it later as he gets used to the thing."

Turning his attention back to the pair of girls that had concluded their debate-which was to say that neither of them looked particularly happy-Khari asked, "Finished? You two seemed to get along swimmingly."

A pair of scoffs were his only answer, Khair's lips quirking into a grin as the girls unintentionally reciprocated the other's action.

"Where did Ichika go? Did he already go back to the changing rooms?!"

Ignoring Houki's scandalized tone Khair motioned with his head, replying, "I had him visit the repair and refit bays in order to get a better handle on some of the finer motor control skills an IS pilot needs to work with. Seeing as how he's never had a real opportunity to pilot his machine before I figured the basics were a good place to start."

Houki had the grace to look mildly chastised as she no doubt realized she had been pushing Ichika to perform advanced motions when he was essentially a rank beginner, the girl clearing her throat and stating, "Then I shall go an assist him. Er, properly this time."

Cecilia rolled her eyes and haughtily stated, "Such a glaring oversight. I would have expected better from one of my peers!"

"You were doing the same thing I was!"

The UK representative's eye twitched but she held her tongue, merely turning her head away with an upturned chin, Houki grumbling to herself as she stomped off towards the bays, offering Khari a professional nod as she passed that he returned and leaving the two on their own once more.

"Hmph, why you invited those two is beyond me."

"And here we are again, with you seemingly annoyed at the fact that the two of us didn't get to spend some quality time alone, exploring the academy with no others to distract us."

Even as her eye twitched in annoyance Cecilia smoothly shot back, "Don't flatter yourself into assuming I was doing anything more than basic courtesy and upholding a deal as was required of me."

My attempt at an IS story that revolved around MED-BIO being locked in a corporate battle with another company, both using different means to achieve their ultimate goal of making the other a non-entity.

Vincent uses biologically engineered microbes and technology (what Verion is made of) to ensure that the IS Representative Candidates carry compulsions to fight against MED-BIO's enemies without worries of national allegiance. Khari takes steps to ensure fallout from such decisions (the deal he made with the CEO0 impacts them as little as possible.

Ichika isn't neutron-star density levels of clueless, and I don't like bashing characters. So he's actually competent and likable.