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Infinite Stratos Volume 1 Chapter 1: All my Classmates are Female

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Chapter 1: All my Classmates are FemaleEdit

(ED: This is an attempt at a "natural" edit of the more literal translation. As such, some artistic liberties are taken. Special thanks to Teh Ping and Akira for accommodating this project.)

"Everyone's here, right? Then let's start the student homeroom meeting…"

The assistant homeroom teacher, Maya Yamada-sensei, who had already introduced herself, stood in front of the blackboard smiling earnestly at everyone. She’s so petite, she could pass for a student. Add to that clothes which were a tad too large, and big, olive green eyes behind her hazy glasses – all together, the effect made her look much too young to be teaching a class.

What else can I say? She seriously looked like a kid being forced to wear adult clothes, and it seemed like I wasn't the only one thinking that.

"OK everyone, let's all get along with each other over this coming year…"

Nobody reacted. Gee, that's not awkward at all.

"So let’s do self-introductions. Umm… we'll go by seating arrangement."

Even though I thought the assistant homeroom teacher was a kind of cute when she panicked, it wasn’t enough to motivate me to help her out. I had no time for that. You want to know why?

Simple: everyone in the class is a girl. EVERYONE! Except me.

Today is the first day of high school. On the first day of high school, a new world should open up. It’s something I should be happy about.

BUT… it’s kind of a problem that I'm the only boy. (This is a lot harder than I thought...)

I could feel the gazes of all the girls in my class boring into my back. It isn’t just me over-thinking it, I really could feel it!

Besides, what kind of sick joke placed me right in the front middle row of the class? My short hair, broad shoulders, lanky arms – in short, my male upper body – stuck out above my desk like a sore thumb.

I glanced toward the windows.

…and was greeted by a grumpy glare.

Though I sent her a pleading look, my childhood friend, Houki Shinonono, the only person I knew in this classroom, turned away and pretended to look out the window. That's cold! Is this the attitude I deserve from a childhood friend after we haven’t seen each other for 6 years? Does she hate me now?

“…mura-san? Ichika Orimura-san!”

"Ye-yes!?" Suddenly, I heard my name called and mindlessly blurted out a response. Snickering broke out across the classroom. I felt my temper rising.

It's not like I'm bad at handling girls, but you can have too much of a good thing. It's like enjoying ramen – if it was the main course at every meal, I'd get sick of it in less than 3 days. Besides, I never liked ramen that much... Wait – maybe I should be paying attention to the teacher.

Anyway, I'm the only boy in the class with 29 other female students, and the assistant homeroom teacher is a female as well. As for the homeroom teacher...I don't know, but he or she is likely to be a female as well. It seems that she hasn't arrived yet. I wonder what’s keeping her away from her class on the first day of school?

"W-well, I'm sorry for calling you so loudly. Did I startle you? Sorry, sorry! But, the self-introductions... we started from 'あ' (a) , and now we're at 'お (o)' for Orimura-san. So, pl-please, could you introduce yourself? Please?"

The assistant homeroom teacher, Maya Yamada-sensei, bowed politely, which caused her spectacles to slide forward. Her air of “whatever you want” really worried me. Is she really older than me? If somebody told me she’s my age, I’d have no trouble believing it.

"There's no need to apologize. I mean, it's just a self-introduction, right? So please calm down, sensei."

"Re-really? Really? Well, okay, go right ahead then!" Yamada-sensei grabbed my hand and held it really tightly... and here we go with everybody staring again.

A man always keeps his word, so I can't get out of this. Worst is, even if I break the ice here, I’ll still have to face the stares again tomorrow.

I stood up and turned to face the class. “Uh...”

Earlier, I thought I sensed them staring at my back, but now there was no question. Facing them, I could definitely feel their gazes piercing right through me. Even Houki glanced over. Though I consider myself pretty good at handling girls, I'm still nervous. Who wouldn't be? For example, even if I like curry - no! I must stay focused!

"Uhm… Well, I'm Ichika Orimura. It’s a pleasure to meet you all."

I bowed courteously, and - wait a second!? The expressions on my classmates' faces gave me this weird feeling that I should say more - as if they were saying “that can’t be it, right?”

I despise talking about myself. It's not that I'm not interesting, but I don't want to rattle on about it.

Besides, doesn’t spilling everything about yourself the first time you meet someone cause problems? I mean, I'll scare them if I start talking about “proper cultivation of cacti”, right? I'm not actually interested in cultivating cacti, but girls would probably think some of my interests are that weird.

"Ummm..."

I could feel sweat trickling down my back. What should I do? What should I say? WHY AM I HERE, ANYWAY?

--------

"Brrr - so cold…"

It was the middle of February - time for high school entrance exams. Since I was a third-year, off I went to the examination center.

"If I only want to get into the high school nearest my house, why must I go to across town to take the exam... and on such a cold day?"

Due to a serious cheating case last year, the government would only divulge the location of each school's entrance exams two days before the actual examination took place. Way over the top, if you ask me, but what could I say? I was only a third-year student. So, I wallowed in bitterness as I trudged towards the examination center.

Ideally, I wanted to get into the Aoetsu Private School since it was near my house, a school that was above average in the quality of education, and also had an annual school festival. Most important, though, was that the school’s fees are really reasonable - exceptionally inexpensive. That’s because 90% of the graduates are employed by the school's corporation.

Even in good times, when companies are hiring, it's still nice when you can be taken care of right after graduation. The company offers lots of wonderful jobs, and they're all nearby. I wouldn’t have to worry about zipping off to a different, out-of-the-way place every other day. That would be really wonderful.

"And most of all, I don’t want Chifuyu-nee to have to keep taking care of me."

Back home, my parents are no longer around, so my sister, who's a lot older than me, has taken care of me for most of my life. I've always felt inferior for having no parents. It’s been tough, but we do OK since Chifuyu-nee's earnings are good. Still, I feel bad being a burden to her.

At first, I thought of working immediately after graduating from middle school, but due to my big sister's - we could say gentle persuasion - I had my mind made up for me. So here I am, taking high school entrance exams. Getting into Aoetsu Private School was like finding a job. I could reduce the burden I've been on Chifuyu-nee, yes, but the fact was I really wanted to do it. Thanks to a year of cramming, I was a straight-A student. When I took exams, I passed with flying colors, so I wasn't nervous when I walked into the examination building.

Though I knew the name of the exam room, I didn't know exactly where it was. A public facility like this is rented out for all sorts of functions. It’s rare for a private firm to borrow from the public sector, but the regional enterprises are required to follow the regulations about cheating.

"Weird. How do I get to the second floor?"

Not good, I'm lost. Speaking of which, why is this place constructed like a maze? Seems like the architect was some local artiste who was trying too hard (and probably drunk) when he designed the place.

"I mean, what's with this 'I'm too fancy to design with any semblance of order' attitude. Where are the stairs?" Seriously, calling this place a maze is an understatement. Couldn’t they have put one of those directory-map things on the walls? Speaking of the walls, why all the glass tiles? Doesn’t that lower air conditioning efficiency? I wouldn't want to be caught in here if there's an earthquake; I'd be sliced to ribbons. Why are those lights stacked so close to one another? Was he lighting the corridor or building a heater? Doesn’t that use quite a lot of electricity? How does someone squeeze in there to change the bulbs? Why is the roof so ridiculously high?

A third year, and I was completely lost. This is just too embarrassing.

"THAT'S IT! I’m going to open the very next door I see! It'll probably be the right one." Ah, what have we here? Shall I open this door?

"Hey! You are an examinee, correct? All right, head over to the opposite side and change. We're in a rush here. We can only use the room ‘till 4 o'clock. Really, I don't know what the government is thinking..."

The moment I walked in, a 30-something, psychotic-looking female teacher started to rattle on. She looked really busy, or maybe she was just crazy - or both. She gave me step-by-step instructions without even looking at me, and then just up and walked away.

Wait - change clothes? We have to change clothes during an exam now? Ahh, the things they think up to handle cheating.

I changed my clothes and pulled aside the curtain to enter the exam area. Instead of a desk with an exam form, I found something mysterious behind it. How can I describe it? It was like medieval armor, straight out of an old castle. The armor was kneeling down on one leg as if it was swearing fealty to its master. Unlike medieval armor, though, none of a person's vital parts would be well-protected. No sane person would risk wearing such skimpy protection. Wearing something like that would just make everyone point and laugh. It's shaped like a human, though, almost as if it were silently waiting for its user to arrive.

Then it hits me. I know what this is. It's an “IS”.

The actual name is “Infinite Stratos.” It was originally created as a multipurpose power suit for space operations, but its development did not go as the creator had originally intended. It ended up being modified by the other technicians on the project into a war machine. To avoid using such a powerful machine in battle, countries all over the world designated IS combat as a “sport” – a sport wearing a "high-performance, flying, second skin."

The major problem with the IS is that the machine will only react to females. So the thing in front of me was like a doll in a glass display case. It didn't do anything, and never would. It's just a decoration.

While I was thinking all this, I reached out and touched it.

Ting! A sound of metal echoed in my mind. “Huh?!?”

All sorts of information flooded into my consciousness. In just a few seconds, anything and everything I could have wanted to know materialized in front of my eyes: the basic movements of the IS, operation method, capabilities, characteristics, existing equipment, active time limit, movement range, sensitivity, radar search, armor residue, output gauge, and so on... as if I had used it for years and refined my technique to perfection. In those few seconds, I understood everything about it, and mastered it.

The vision was also linked to all sorts of sensors, the numbers and readouts appearing directly in my mind. I could “feel” information about my surroundings through those readouts.

"What… what's going on?" It moved. The IS. I thought and it responded, like my own hands and feet. I felt something expanding over my skin – some kind of mucosal armor reached out, covered me… My body suddenly felt light, and I felt as if I were floating.

Jet operation normal? Confirmed. My right hand felt heavy, and I looked over to see a weapon form out of light. Some kind of close-range combat knife grew and extended out of nothing. This sudden increase in knowledge of the world drifted over me like a cool breeze. I was ultra-aware thanks to the IS components, but I felt comfortable - complete. I understood everything about it. Despite not having known anything a moment ago, despite never having ever learned about it, I understood.

And the world that I saw through the IS data was like…

--------

Back to reality.

Let's review the situation again: Today's my first official day of high school, and I'm currently doing a self-introduction. In front of me are 29 girls, and behind me, it seems like Yamada-sensei is about to cry. Oh yeah, Yamada-sensei's name is easy to remember. From top to bottom, it can be read as 'Ya Ma Da Ma Ya' (ヤマダマヤ) (ED: The anagram doesn’t work if I reverse the name to englsh-standard First-Last here.) Nice name. Easy to remember. Anyway, where was I?

Wait, my self-introduction hasn't ended! The girls are giving me looks of “tell us more about yourself!”

Hey, Houki, aren't you going to give me a hand as my childhood friend? Nope, she's ignoring me again. So heartless. How about a touching reunion scene? Yeah, like that would ever happen.

This is bad. If I don’t say something quick, I'll end up being branded “creepy” or worse. I took a deep breath and held it, fixed a determined look on my face, and said,

"That's all!"

CRASH! Several girls collapsed onto the floor. What were they expecting from me - a gripping tale of my life of adventure? What nonsense.

"That, that’s..." Behind me, Yamada-sensei started crying. What? Not good enough?

PANG! I got knocked on the back of my head.

"OW!?"

It hurt, but something more important flashed through my head. This style of hitting - just the right force, perfect angle, speed - it's extremely familiar…

I gingerly turned around. Black tight fitting skirt, tall, slim, the body line of someone who doesn't look muscular even after lots of training, hands folded in front of her chest, sharp, slim hawk eyes…

“YAAAAH! It’s Guan Yu!”

PANG! There’s another hit. The impact was really hard, and naturally all the girls are staring again.

File:IS v01 023.jpg

"He’s not a hero in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms! Idiot."

Even though a gong’s ringing in my head, I recognize that deep voice. No, wait - hold on hold on hold on! Why is Chifuyu-nee here? That sister of mine whose job I know nothing about? My own sister, who can’t even make it back home once or twice a month? This will be bad. Any second now everyone will know we’re siblings.

"Ah, Orimura-sensei, is the meeting over?"

“Yamada-sensei, I’m sorry you had to start my class without me."

I've never heard her use such a gentle tone before. Where did Guan Yun Chang go? Did he ride the Red Hare Horse away and change into Liu Bei? (ED: Can be inferred as a sweet, timid, little girl.)

"No, it's nothing. As the assistant homeroom teacher, if I can't even do that..."

The tears vanished, and assistant homeroom teacher Yamada-sensei snapped to attention for Chifuyu-nee. I think she's actually embarrassed.

"Everyone, my name is Chifuyu Orimura, and my duty for the next year is to train you in the operation and controls of an IS. Everything I teach, you have to remember and understand. To those who don’t understand, I'll teach them till they can. My job is to thoroughly train you during your first year in the academy, until you turn 16. You don’t have to like me, but you DO have to respect and obey me! Understood?"

Was that a declaration of war? No mistake - this is definitely my older sister, Chifuyu Orimura.

Despite her harsh tone of voice, there weren't any fearful cries. Rather, the room erupted in shrieks of elation.

"EEEEEK!!! It's Chifuyu-sama! It's Chifuyu-sama herself in real life!!"

"I've always been your fan!"

"You inspired me to come to this school all the way from North Kyushu, onee-sama!"

"I came all the way from southern Hokkaido!"

"I'm so happy Chifuyu-sama is my teacher!"

"I'll gladly die for you, Chifuyu-sama!"

Chifuyu-nee stared at the chattering girls, and her face fell. "I’m amazed how many nut-jobs come to this school every year. Do they put all the loonys in my class on purpose?"

Chifuyu-nee isn’t pretending; she really is disappointed. Chifuyu-nee, some people would pay a fortune to be this popular. Could you be a bit gentler?

What was I thinking? Chifuyu-nee, gentle? Chifuyu-nee sweet, like the sweet wine of the Misaka Shrine (ED: that's just sugar water), as sweet as the Gotanda Canteen's pumpkin? Maybe not. But could she at least be as sweet as Tianjin's sweet chestnuts or something like that?

"YEEEEK! ONEE-SAMA! SCOLD US MORE! REALLY TEACH US HOW TO BEHAVE!!"

"BUT BE GENTLE TO US FROM TIME TO TIME!"

"AND BE EXTREMELY ELEGANT AFTERWARDS!"

At least my classmates are good and energetic. I was rather shocked and confused that my homeroom teacher was Chifuyu-nee, but all of the girls' shouting gave me time to calm down. Of course, when someone gets caught in turmoil like this, he can consciously force himself to stay calm. I've had to do that before.

"Oi! Can’t you even get a simple introduction right?"

Extremely sarcastic – that’s my sister. Is that what she thinks “being strict” means? But then, the older sister who raised me is just that kind of person.

"No, Chifuyu-nee, I…"

PANG! For the record, Chifuyu-nee, that's the THIRD time you’ve hit me since class began. I think 5000 brain cells die every time she hits me in the head.

"You call me Orimura-sensei at school, got that?"

"...Yes, Orimura-sensei."

"Huh? Does that mean that Orimura-kun is Chifuyu-sama's younger brother?"

"Maybe that’s why he’s the only guy in the world that can operate an IS!?"

"Oh, drat. I really thought he was cute, too."

Um - I'll ignore that comment for now. Moving on…

I came to the IS Academy because I’m the only male in the world who can pilot an IS. The IS Academy, as its name suggests, is an educational institution meant to develop IS pilots. The Japanese government sees it as a principal duty to fund it and run it. When the results of IS research were revealed to the world, all the nations came together and signed a treaty insisting that Japan has no right to withhold IS technology from any nation or hide any IS research. Whatever happens in this school, it’s the Japanese government’s responsibility. They have to intervene fairly, and must settle any conflicts under the terms of the treaty. Also, the school has to welcome foreign students without any conditions, and the Japanese government is to provide protection for them, all according to the contents of the IS treaty regarding IS pilot training agencies.

Therefore, the school's code of discipline all comes from the treaty.

Basically, it's like “Damned Japan! Creating the IS and causing chaos in the world! The very least you could do is build a school to train individuals to use the thing. And hand over all your research and technology. Oh, and by the way, you have to pay for everything.”

So, WHY am I at this school? Well, because I activated an IS in the examination arena, though I still don’t know how I ended up getting in there.

It could be worse. Aoetsu Private School and the IS Academy seem pretty similar.

Suddenly, penetrating all the commotion, I felt a stare.

Looking over, Houki had stopped pretending to look out the window and was staring at me.

She doesn't look angry. Did I do something right for once? Guess I'll have to ask her later.

Just then, the bell rang, interrupting my thoughts.

"Oh my, the student homeroom meeting is over. Class, over the next six months you’ll be memorizing the basics of IS specs, controls, readouts, and all other fundamentals. After that, it's practical training. You’ll have two weeks to master the basic maneuvers and let them become like instinct. If you understand, answer ‘Yes, ma’am!’ Even if you don’t, I expect a response whenever I make announcement!"

It’s the Demon Trainer from Hell! I swear I could see Chifuyu-nee growing horns from her head and her skin turning reddish. No, I could handle it if she was a demon, because they aren't human. Even though my sister looked human, she seemed to have abandoned about half a normal human’s behavior.

Human or not, Chifuyu Orimura was the first generation IS pilot that represented Japan, and was undefeated in every match. However, one day, she announced her retirement and disappeared. That must have been when she came here to teach. She should have at least told me, as a family member! I feel like an idiot for worrying about her.

"SIT DOWN, YOU FOOL!"

Yup. I'm an idiot.

"Errggh!" I can't bear it! It's too much work. I can't. I'm desperate.

The first IS theory class is finally finished, and now it’s break. The aura in the classroom hadn’t changed much, though. It still felt… weird… and I didn't know how to react.

The IS institute is a technically a profit-earning business, but the focus is on educating IS pilots, and that makes up most of the day-to-day activities. It’s a huge facility, so they have maps dotted around campus, but I've been staring at a map for ten minutes and couldn't make it out one way or another...

Apart from me, everyone here is a girl. I don’t mean only my class - everyone in the entire school.

The news that I'm the only male able to pilot an IS has spread throughout the world like wildfire. Everyone knows about me, from the school’s faculty and staff to the students. Which is why girls from all the other classes, including second and third year sempais, are crowding the corridor. I'm used to interacting with girls at school, but no one has approached me to talk. Based on the expression on their faces, most of the first year girls are thinking “come talk to me!” And when I don’t the air fills with a “Hey, are you running away from your problems?” kind of tension.

Even though the IS Academy is the world's only specialized IS school, a lot of schools have developed IS study programs with the intention of stimulating their students to enter the IS Academy. Naturally, these types of schools are 100% female. However, the girls from such schools have almost no experience with males, and as for the boys in a normal society, there's a dilemma about their status.

The nations’ old weapons are just scrap metal against an IS. That's why the balance of the world's military has been broken, and because the IS was invented by the Japanese, Japan had a monopoly on IS technology. The other countries of the world recognized their weak position and signed an IS Application Protocol - commonly called the “Alaska Treaty” - that required disclosure of IS technology, authorized sharing of information, established a world IS research foundation, and prohibited using an IS in military applications, among other things.

In spite of the treaty, the number of IS pilots in a country has a very close relationship with its military strength. Since only girls can be pilots, all the countries involved created a prioritized female protection program. That's why the ideology that “woman = great” has permeated the world, and over the last decade women have come to be considered superior to men. When suddenly an “equal man” appeared, obviously the first reaction would be curiosity.

…and that brings us to our present predicament.

By chance I looked over at the girl sitting in the next desk, and though she was staring at me before, she immediately looked away in a panic. She was curious about me, but seemed anxious about actually approaching me.

So I’m suddenly an object of admiration for every girl in the entire country. Add to that being the IS champion Chifuyu Orimura’s little brother, and my life has become very complicated.

Can’t anyone lend me a hand in this kind of situation?

Suddenly, I thought about my old friend Dan Gotanda. That guy always said that he envied me, but where is he now? It still isn't too late to switch places with me.

"Excuse me for a moment."

"Eh?"

Someone’s actually talking to me! Was there a winner among the girls who were duking it out over which one would talk to me? No, based on the whispered conversations hissing both inside and outside of the classroom, there's only one girl who would risk approaching me.

"Um, excuse me?"

File:IS v01 031.jpg

Standing before me was none other than the childhood friend I hadn’t seen for six years.

Houki Shinonono. We had studied kendo together in the same dojo. Her hairstyle was still in the ponytail I remembered, but now it was longer than shoulder-length, and was tied together with a single white ribbon.

She’s of average height for girls her age, but she’s firm and slender, an effect of her practicing kendo all these years. By her own admission, she was born with her scowl, though that doesn’t rule out the possibility that she hates me. When she called my name, I don’t think I was just imagining her anger.

Houki gives you the impression of a katana, which has grown ever sharper these past six years.

"Is it OK if we talk in the corridor?"

It's probably too hard to talk in the classroom, and if a chat with my old friend can get me away from the stares and whispering, that’s all I care about. I bet she wants to lend a hand as my childhood friend. I shouldn’t have assumed she was so fickle and hates me now. She probably wants to apologize for what she said before. Yeah.

"Quickly."

"I-I know."

Houki bustled into the corridor, and the girls gathered there stepped back immediately, like Moses parting the Red Sea.

Even though we were in the corridor, Houki and I were surrounded by a ring of girls four meters in diameter. Also, I kinda had the feeling that everyone was eavesdropping. The classroom also went silent.

"By the way..." I just thought about it, so I initiated the conversation. Houki asked me to come into the corridor to talk, but she wasn’t saying anything.

"What?"

"Last year, you won the world kendo championship, right? Congratulations!"

After Houki heard that, her mouth turned down to the shape of a 'へ', and her cheeks turned red. Why is she angry? I was obviously congratulating her.

"How do you know that?!"

"Well, because I saw it in the newspaper..."

"And why were you reading that newspaper??"

Um… obviously I read the newspaper because I like to. What are you getting at, Houki? I don't understand. Even though we haven’t spoken for a long time, you haven't changed a bit - still talking aggressively, like a warrior.

"Oh, also..."

"Wh-what?"

Houki seemed confused: hostile, then becoming uneasy, then inconceivably excited. Unbelievable.

"Even though it's been six years, I recognized you immediately, Houki."

"Huh..."

"See, you have the same hairstyle." I pointed at my own head while saying this, and Houki immediately started playing with her ponytail.

"I can’t believe you still remember that."

"Of course I do. I can't forget you, since we’re childhood friends. "

A fierce gleam flashes in her eye. WHY is she still glaring at me?

Ding-Dong. Ding-Dong.

Bah, our time is already up. The bell announcing second period rings, and the bunch that had encircled Houki and me dispersed, scattering like roaches. I can’t believe how fast they all moved. No wonder they're IS pilots.

"Guess we better go back to the classroom, too."

"I-I know."

Houki’s angry scowl became an unhappy scowl, and she scurried back into class, just like she’d come out. She didn’t even bother waiting for me. Six years has made her like this? No, that's not it. Houki was like this from the very beginning.

Stubborn, unyielding, making up her mind and resolutely following through on her decisions, daily training, steadily improving herself - Houki Shinonono is a girl who is more befitting of these descriptions than any guy. She hasn't changed since elementary school.

She was glaring at me again - fiercely. That's not good. Did she read my mind? Ever since childhood, Houki has always seemed to know when someone has spoken ill of her. No, I'm not speaking ill of her. Those are good things I’m thinking of.

PANG!

"Why aren't you sitting down, Orimura?"

"I'm very grateful to be under your guidance, Orimura-sensei," I muttered through gritted teeth.

It's not even noon, and twenty thousand of my brain cells have already died.

"...thus, any basic IS maneuvers have to be authorized by the sponsoring country. If an IS is operated without permission, we’re required to pursue criminal penalties..."

Yamada-sensei continued with the lesson ever so eloquently, but I didn't understand anything. Nada. Zip. Nothing at all.

Five heavy books were sitting in front of me. Just flipping to the first page in any one of them showed me nothing but columns and columns of meaningless text.

Er, is it only me? Am I the only one who doesn't understand what's going on? Do the rest understand this stuff? This active whatever offsets that wide-area thingamajig… what does it all mean!? Do I actually have to memorize all this??

I took a peek at the girl on the next table, and saw her listening attentively to Yamada-sensei, nodding away and jotting down notes from time to time.

Ack! Don't tell me those rumors about IS students studying before they enter school are true…

IS pilots are directly linked to a nation’s security strength, so in a sense, this school exists to groom the elites. Besides being able to pilot an IS, these students are scholars who managed to ace exams several times tougher than regular entrance exams.

Though I'm not too interested in being an elite, I can't let this continue. I’ve got to study.

Feeling rather inferior, my head sank to my chest and I accidentally peeked over at the girl who was jotting down notes.

"Is- is there something wrong?"

She caught me looking at her, and seemed rather nervous, but she forced a smile that suggested she was expecting something.

"Ah, no, it's nothing. Sorry."

"Oh… well, OK.”

I couldn’t decide if the look on her face was relief or disappointment. Maybe both. She went back to work in her notebook. I don’t understand. Did I do something to upset her?

"Is there something you don't understand, Orimura-kun?"

Yamada-sensei noticed me talking to the girl beside me, and singled me out.

"Ah, well..."

I looked back at the textbooks. I really don't understand anything at all!

"If you have any questions, please ask me. I am your teacher after all!"

Yamada-sensei puffed out her chest and looked so confident. Maybe she really is reliable. All right, I'll give it a go.

I raised my hand. "Yamada-sensei!"

"Yes, Orimura-kun?" she asked enthusiastically. This looks promising. I guess she is a good teacher.

"I don't understand any of it!"

I blurted out my shortcomings honestly. Vulnerable honesty usually buys me some sympathy.

"Um… not any of it… at all?"

Yamada-sensei went stiff and her confident smile drooped into a disquieted frown. Where did the reliable teacher go?

"Th-Then...except for Orimura-san, is there anybody else who doesn't understand the lesson up to this point?" Yamada-sensei raised her hand to prompt the class.

Silence...

Nobody raised a hand? That's just too weird. C’mon, if you only understand half of it, you’ll regret not asking your questions now. Doesn’t anyone else have a question? C’mon… anyone?

"Orimura, did you read the reference manual before school started?" Chifuyu-nee asked from her spot to one side of the classroom.

Um… honesty is the best policy, right?

"I mistook it for the old telephone book and threw it away."

PANG!

"Didn't I write ‘required reading’ on it, you moron?"

Another 5,000 of my brain cells dead. Dammit, I should just have the coroner to give me an autopsy now! It'd be cheaper.

"I'll issue you another copy, but you’d better memorize it within a week, got that?"

"A week? That thick book??”

"WHAT did I say?”

"Ergggh… Yes, ma’am.”

I was wrong about Chifuyu-nee being the Demon Trainer from Hell. She’s gone way beyond that. As she glared at me, I arrived at the only logical conclusion: she’s the devil himself. A devil in human clothing. How could she not understand that no normal human being could possibly do what she was asking?

"Whether it's in terms of mobility, firepower or suppressing ability, the IS far surpasses all earlier weapons in every respect. If you don't understand this weapon thoroughly before operating it, accidents will occur. We teach you everything you need to know and give you practical training to prevent such accidents. Even if you don’t understand them right away, memorize these rules and regulations. Review them over and over again. Live by them!

That I can completely agree with, but I have to point out something: I never wanted to be here.

One day, a group of black-clad men surrounded me, said something about “we'll protect you” and left an official notice regarding enrollment in the IS Academy at my home. Apparently, “protection” consists of tossing a boy into den of she-wolves and abandoning him. Don’t get me wrong - I definitely want protection: Protection from Chifuyu-nee!

"You brat, you're thinking that you didn't come here of your own free will, right?"

My jaw dropped open. When did it become all right to brazenly reveal my thoughts to the whole class?

"It doesn’t matter whether you wished for it or not, you can’t get away from your responsibility to humanity. If you want to abandon your responsibility, abandon your identity as a human first."

Chifuyu-nee’s as sharp as ever, and it's about time for me to face reality. Chifuyu-nee has always been firmly grounded in reality, and I know exactly why. Looks like I have a lot of work to do.

I mean, maybe I won't be able to get to the level where Chifuyu-nee won’t grit her teeth and go red in the face, but at least I don't want to embarrass her in front of her colleagues.

I won't abandon my family members, unlike my parents who I’ve never seen.

"Th-Then, Orimura-kun, I'll teach you everything that you need to know, so you must work hard? All right? All right?"

Yamada-sensei closed in on me, wringing her hands. She's shorter than me, and when she realized how close she’d come, she ended up looking away shyly.

"Yes. Then, I'll leave it to sensei after school." I sat down. Chifuyu-nee also returned to the side of the classroom.

"After- after school? A teacher together with a student? The two of us alone after school? Ah! No, no, Orimura-kun. Your sensei will become weak... and this is my first time with a guy..."

Yamada-sensei was blushing furiously and blabbering. IS pilots really have no idea how to handle males. Speaking of which, all the girls are staring again, making me squirm. If looks could kill, I’d be a pincushion.

"How-However, if it's Orimura-sensei's younger brother, then..."

Chifuyu-nee coughed twice, shocking Yamada-sensei out of her fantasy. "Ack! Yamada-sensei, continue with the lesson!"

"Ye-Yes ma’am!"

Yamada-sensei made a frantic attempt to return to the stage - and failed.

"Owwww! That hurts..."

Is she all right? This teacher...

I was only beginning to realize just how many catastrophes I was in for.

--------

"Excuse me, may I have a moment?"

"Guh?"

During the break after second period, that uneasy feeling crashed down around my ears again. Someone actually talking to me shocked me so that I barely grunted out a response.

A girl who was clearly of Western, white-skinned descent stared at me out of blue eyes framed by blonde locks. She didn’t look happy. Her hair was slightly curled up, giving off a sense of nobility, and she radiated a superior demeanor that was becoming more and more common among women these days.

In today’s society, the IS has given women much higher status. It's not just a question of rights or privileges; even the attitude of “women = great” is sweeping aside the old masculine archetypes. At the same time, men are being relegated to manual labor - little more than slaves. These days it’s not unusual to see women abusing a man they’d never seen before on a street corner.

So in the minds of the women nowadays, men are basically servants. To be honest, we could have worse masters.

On a side note, since the IS Academy is required to accept students from any nation, it's pretty common to see foreign students walking the halls. Even among the top-ranked students, only half the girls are Japanese.

"Are you listening? Hello?"

"Oh, yeah, sorry. I'm listening. Was there something you wanted?"

The girl didn’t seem satisfied with my reaction and deliberately increased her volume, as if I was dull-witted.

"What are you saying? You should feel honored just having the privilege of talking with me! Let’s see you improve that attitude, hmm?"

"..." To be honest, this is the kind of person I'm the worst at dealing with.

Being a skilled IS pilot basically guarantees that person a place in their country's military, so IS pilots are held in high regard. Since only females can be IS pilots, women have become more powerful, but there’s a difference between gaining power through hard work and skill, and flaunting power begotten through violence. Power acquired through violence is just a tool for more violence.

Even though I did pay attention to the self-introductions, I couldn't recall much of what anyone said. In my defense, I was still in shock from discovering that Chifuyu-nee was my homeroom teacher.

"I'm sorry. But I have no idea who you are."

That didn't go over too well with the girl in front of me. (It would be great if she would tell me her name.) She narrowed her eyes to slits her next words dripped contempt for all things masculine.

"You don't know who I am!? You don't recognize Cecilia Alcott? You've never heard of the representative contender for England, and the top scorer on the school's entrance exam?"

OK, so her name's Cecilia. "Well, may I ask you a question, Cecilia Alcott?"

"Humph, it's the job of a noble to answer the requests made by people of the lower class, so you may ask."

"What's a representative contender?"

KA—THUNK! Several girls eavesdropping on our conversation collapsed onto the floor.

"Ah, ah, ahhhhh..."

"Um…" Why is she sputtering like that? What did I say?

"Are.. are you serious?"

She really looked angry now. If this were a manga, she would most likely have a crossed-vein popping out of her forehead.

"Yeah, I’m serious. I really don't know."

If I don't know something, I just admit it honestly. If I lie to save face, it always comes back to haunt me.

Cecilia pressed her thumbs against her temples, grumbling, as if a headache had suddenly come on, but she seemed to be calming down.

"I can't believe this! This is really… unbelievable! Even though this is a land in the far east, it’s not some third-world country. This is common knowledge, common knowledge. Don't tell me you don't have a television..."

How rude! I have a television. I just… don’t watch it very often.

"So what is a representative contender? Or don’t you know, either?"

"Representative contenders are the chosen elites selected by their countries to represent them as IS pilots. Surely you should be able to deduce that from the name alone.”

"Now that you mention it, that does ring a bell." I guess it's easy to forget the simple things.

That perked her up. I wonder if all representative contenders like talking about themselves this much?

She pointed her finger at me, the tip hovering a hair’s breadth from my nose.

"It's a miracle for you get into the same class with a chosen one like me. You should feel blessed. Do you realize how lucky you are?"

"I get it! How fortunate for me."

"...are you making fun of me now?"

“Weren’t you just telling me how lucky I am?”

"You were able to make it into this school even though you know nothing about the IS. When I heard that you were the only male in the world who could pilot an IS, I had high expectations. You’ve been quite a disappointment so far."

"Well, expecting anything of me sounds like a bad idea."

"Humph. Well, since I'm such an elite, I suppose I could find it in my heart to help even someone like you."

Oh, what a friendly attitude. This is the first time I've experienced something like this during my 15 years of life.

"If you don't understand something about the IS, I may be inclined to teach you… if you cry and beg me with tears in your eyes. After all, I'm an elite amongst elites, since I was the only one who defeated an instructor during the entrance exam."

Unless I’m mistaken, she purposely emphasized on the word “only.” Hmm…

"The entrance exam? I managed to beat an instructor as well."

"WHA?!?"

That's really what happened. Maybe “defeated” isn’t quite the right word. An instructor charged me and I evaded, so she accidentally crashed into the wall. Ka-boom. That's all.

Cecilia’s eyes got big as dinner plates and her jaw went slack.

"But… but…" She was sputtering again. "I heard that I was the only one!"

"Maybe they meant you were the only girl?"

-Pacha* -Gack* Ah, that's not a good sound. The sounds coming from Cecilia were like snow boots walking on cracked ice.

"Then… then… I'm not the only one?"

"Well, I don't know."

"You… You said that you beat an instructor, right?"

"Well, yeah, something like that."

"Something like that? What do you 'something like that'?"

"Whoa, whoa, calm down, okay?"

"How can I calm down after hearing that?!"

Ding-Dong. Ding-Dong.

The bell for third period interrupted our conversation. Saved by the bell!

"Don't run away! We’ll continue this conversation later."

Oh, joy. I’d better promise to keep from making her angry.

--------

"For the remaining class time, we'll be reviewing the types of equipment that can be used in actual combat and their characteristics."

Chifuyu-nee replaced Yamada-sensei at the front of the classroom. Apparently this was a particularly important lesson, as even Yamada-sensei took out a notebook.

"But before that, we have to decide on the class representative who'll take part in the inter-class tournament."

Inter-class tournament? Representative? As I thought about it, I realized Chifuyu-nee had mentioned something about that before.

"The class representative, as the name suggests, will not only compete in the tournament, but will also attend student council meetings and committee meetings. You can think of them like your class leader. In addition, the inter-class battles are meant to gauge each class's ability. Though there isn't much difference between your skill levels right now, competition between classes will encourage everyone to improve."

The class started to buzz. I didn’t know what was going on, or if it was even important. All I can deduce is that we're deciding on our class rep now. Seems like that would be more trouble than it’s worth. Whoever ends up as class rep will have a rough time.

"Sensei, I recommend Orimura-kun!"

Huh? There's a third Orimura in this class? What a coincidence. I wonder if we’re related?

"Oh, I completely agree!"

So do I. Anyone will do, as long as it's not me.

"Then Ichika Orimura will be the first candidate... is there anyone else? You can nominate yourself or another person. Either way is fine."

Well, I’m sure not going to nominate myself… WAITAMINUTE! There's only one Ichika Orimura in this class... ACK! This can’t be happening!

"M-Me?"

I jumped out of my seat, and was again turned into a pincushion by piercing stares. Even without looking back, I knew that they were thinking “Him! Him! He can do it!”

"Sit down, Orimura, I’m tired of looking at you. Are there any more nominations? If not, Orimura will be elected without a vote."

"W-Wait a second! I don't want this-!"

"I said it didn’t matter whether you nominated yourself or someone else nominated you. The nominee can’t refuse. The position is meant to stretch you."

"Ev-Even if I'm not willing—"

Just as I was trying to protest, I was interrupted by an agitated voice.

"Hold on a minute! I refuse to accept this!"

SMACK!* Cecilia slammed her hands against the desk as she stood up. Watching her stand was a bit like watching a bear rear up on its hind legs, right before it knocks you senseless. She certainly knows how to exert herself. I really have to get on her good side.

"This outcome is totally unacceptable! The class representative should be chosen on skill, and having a male as our class representative is disgraceful! Do you expect me, Cecilia Alcott, to endure this embarrassment for a whole year?"

That's right, talk, talk, talk. Keep talking... Talk me a way out of this mess.

"In terms of ability, it's obvious that I should be the class representative. I won’t tolerate some far-east monkey being chosen just because he’s a rare breed! I came to this island country to polish up my IS skills; I have no interest in joining a circus!"

Oh, now I'm no longer human? Speaking of which, isn’t Britain an island nation, too? That means that Britain and Japan aren't much different.

"…isn't that right!? Only the most talented should be the class representative, so I'm the most suitable one!"

Cecilia was losing control of herself, and as she did so her choice of words were getting more and more crude and offensive. Though I didn't want to be the class rep, even a “rare far-east monkey” would get upset from being told off like that.

"…furthermore, living in a country with such an underdeveloped level of culture is excruciatingly painful for someone as noble as myself…"

That’s the last straw. “Britain's not "all that", either! How many times have you won the ‘world's worst cuisine’ award?"

…ahh – oops. I just blurted it out. Just like that, it slipped out of my mouth.

"Wha...!?"

Right now, Cecilia could only be described as furious. I could literally see the shade of red on her face deepening. Hoo, boy. I messed up...

"You… you… you…!” Does she always sputter when she’s upset? “ARE YOU INSULTING MY COUNTRY?"

We're past the point of no return. There was no way I could stop this now.

  • SMACK!* Cecilia slammed her hands on the desk. If she’d been wearing gauntlets, I’m sure she would have thrown them down. This was clearly a battle for her pride.

"This calls for a duel!"

"Bring it on!” I said. “I prefer fighting to debating anyway."

"You talk big. Since you deliberately asked for defeat, I'll make you my servant - no, my slave!"

"Don't look down on me. This is a serious showdown, so don't try and do it halfheartedly."

"Is that so? Then this will be the perfect opportunity for me, Britain's representative contender, Cecilia Alcott, to display her ability."

So now I’ve accepted a duel. A boy shouldn't be fighting seriously with a girl, right? What should I do?

"How much of a handicap will there be?"

"Oh my, asking me for a favor so soon?"

"No, I'm asking how much of a handicap I should give you."

The class erupted with laughter.

"O-Orimura-kun, are you serious?"

"Men used to be stronger than women, but that was before the IS!"

"Orimura-kun, maybe you can pilot an IS, but that's just overdoing it!"

Everyone's laughing? I’m thrilled to be such a comedian.

Of course, because of the IS men are overwhelmingly weaker – powerless, really. While only a few can be elite IS pilots, every female has that potential. In contrast, men can't pilot an IS at all. If men and women went to war, the male faction probably wouldn't last 3 days. If it was a winner-take-all battle between champions, we'd be suppressed within 3 hours. The IS is a super weapon that laughs in the face of the fighter planes, tanks and battleships of the past.

"Fine. Then I won't give you a handicap," I said lamely.

"Of course you won’t. In fact, I rather think you should be asking me for a handicap. Japanese males have quite a sense of humor."

The excitement died down, but Cecilia still wore an expression of utter contempt.

"Hey, Orimura-kun, it's not too late, you know? You can still get Cecilia-san to give you a handicap,” the girl sitting behind me advised. However, the smirk and tone of voice that suggested she was doing all she could to hold back laughter made me even angrier.

"A man doesn’t go back on his word. I have no need of a handicap."

"Are you looking down on a representative contender? Or is it that you simply don't know what an IS battle is really like?"

"..."

To be honest, I had never seen a real IS battle before. At most, I had secretly watched videos of Chifuyu-nee while she was doing her military service. (I had to go behind her back because she didn't want me to get involved with the IS.)

Chifuyu-nee clapped her hands to end the conversation.

"Then we have an agreement. The battle will take place next Monday in the 3rd arena. Orimura and Alcott, make sure you are well prepared. Now, let's get back to the lesson." Chifuyu-nee was wearing a smirk I had never seen before.

My stomach felt queasy as I sat down, speechless.

I can master the basics in a week. That shouldn't be too hard. I mean, I did manage to activate one during the entrance exams, and I can improvise once I’m in the arena.

But once I get past that battle, I'll be class representative. Though it'll be a headache, I can't back down now.

All right, time to pay attention to class. I opened my textbook.

"Ugh..."

After school, I slumped on my desk and moaned.

"No, I didn't understand anything at all. Why must it be so complicated?"

I saw my future: I became a soldier specializing in terminology, moving from linguistic foxhole to foxhole. This fancy word led to that technical term, which led to some convoluted acronym which led to more technical terms, and I had to investigate them all. However, it seemed like there wasn't any IS-specific terminology. Most of it was made up of technical terms from other industries I knew nothing about, which meant I hadn't accomplished anything.

Even though it's after school, the situation hadn't changed one bit. Students from different years and other classes were still milling about the classrooms, but weren't approaching me. Instead, they'd glance my direction and whisper things amongst themselves, punctuated by occasional fits of giggling.

Ergh... Spare me the agony.

It was just like this afternoon’s break. I felt like a freak in circus sideshow, on display for all the normal people to gawk at. I went to the cafeteria, and all the girls were following behind me like they're my honor guards. And when I went to the canteen, it was like Moses parting the Red Sea, and I found myself blankly staring at the cashier with no line to wait in. Am I some mystical animal who just arrived in Japan for the first time? Speaking of which, there seemed to be talk of a species of Mexican Salamander called an axolotl. I couldn't even tell what kind of creature it was by the name alone. Am I that strange?

"Ah, Orimura-kun, you're still in the classroom? That's good."

I heard Yamada-sensei’s voice and I lifted my head. She was standing in front of me holding a book.

"Is there something you needed?"

Seeing her when she wasn’t teaching didn’t change my impression of her: she’s short – about the height of a girl my age – and her features don’t look any older. But, she's a teacher no matter how it looks.

"Your dorm's ready!" Yamada-sensei handed over a key and a slip of paper with the dorm number.

The IS Academy is a boarding school, and the school requires all students to live on the campus. Most likely, it’s to protect these budding IS pilots from being poached by nations or organizations that would misuse their potential, since they’re so integral to the future defense of their countries. Ever since the school started, there have been countries that have tried to tempt them. It happens all the time. In fact, it seems like every country tries to lure over the elite pilots.

"I thought they hadn’t decided where they could place me, since there are no male rooms? I heard that it might take a week."

"That's true, but special circumstances require special solutions; it seems we were required to provide you with a room.” Yamada-sense glanced around furtively to see if anyone was watching. “Orimura-kun, have you heard anything from the government?"

She said these last few words softly, so that only I could hear them.

She's obviously referring to the Japanese government. Since I’m the only known male IS pilot, the country has taken special measures to protect and keep watch over me. Ever since news about me as an IS pilot broke out, I’ve been bombarded by requests: the mass media, ambassadors from other countries, even human DNA researchers contacted me, claiming “we have to do a live sample no matter what!” I’d have to be an idiot to go along with that.

"Under the circumstances, the government directed us to provide you a room on campus. Your dorm room should be ready within the month, so until then, please endure living with someone else."

“Yamada-sensei, your breath is making my ear all itchy."

How long is she going to nibble on my ear? Our conversation has finally attracted the attention of some of the girls still milling about, and they really seem to be enjoying this.

"Ah! No, I was just... it wasn't on purpose!"

"There's no need to apologize, I understand... Since there's a room for me, I've got to go back and get my stuff. So can I go back home today?"

"If you’re thinking of your luggage, there’s no need…"

"I've already arranged everything. Be sure that you are grateful for this."

Chifuyu-nee’s voice broke into our conversation, and Darth Vader’s theme from “Star Wars” began to play in my head. After a moment it morphed into the “Terminator” theme.

"I-I'm extremely thankful for it..."

"It's just some daily necessities. Some changes of clothing and a mobile phone charger should be enough to get by for now."

Figures. Honestly, she's right, but I personally feel that everyday conveniences are important as well.

"Then head to the dormitory and get settled in. Dinner is served in the first-year dorm cafeteria from 6 to 7pm. Each room has a shower, and there's a large public bath. The time to use it varies by school year... Wait - Orimura-kun isn't allowed to use the large public bath."

"Huh? Why?"

I really like bathing in a large public bath.

"Are you an idiot? Do you think we’d allow you to bathe together with girls your age?"

"Oh, yeah…”

That’s right. Besides me, everyone here is a girl.

"Orimura-kun, you want to bathe with the girls!? No, we can't allow that." Yamada-sensei looked scandalized.

"No, it's not that. I didn’t mean I wanted to bathe with them."

I don't know if I'm unlucky or just stupid. Sharing a public bath with the opposite sex is prohibited outside school as well. It’s an ethical issue.

"You mean you're not interested in girls!? That - that could become a problem..."

I was concerned about what was going through Yamada-sensei’s mind, but she obviously had no clue what I meant.

As soon as the words left Yamada-sensei's mouth, I could sense rumors spreading, as if through a broken telephone. The girls’ chatter in the corridors started to intensify.

"Don't tell me Orimura-kun's only interested in guys..."

"That may not be bad."

"We'll need to check with his middle school friends! I know who to ask! I can find out in a day or two."

This... could be bad.

"Then, I have a meeting to attend to. Orimura-kun, please head straight to your dorm room, and don't wander about." Chifuyu-nee spun on her heel and marched out of the room.

The dorm is only 50 meters away. Do I really need to head directly there?

They have all sorts of facilities here: rooms for every kind of club, IS arenas, IS maintenance rooms, and IS research and development rooms. But today, I won't be able to see any of them. Oh, well. It's not like I won't be able to visit them another day, so I may as well rest for today. Finally, I’ll be able to get away from the girls' prying eyes.

I sighed and stood up as Yamada-sensei walked out of the classroom after Chifuyu-nee. I could still hear a ruckus coming from outside the classroom, but I won't worry about it anymore. It'll be better to escape to my dorm.

"Hmm… here it is: room 1025."

I double-checked the room number and was about to insert the key, but the door was already unlocked. How strange.

Click*

In the room, I saw 2 huge beds arranged side by side. I dare say even a commercial hotel wouldn’t compare to them. Just looking at them made me feel all light and fluffy. I know IS pilots are super-important, so that must be why everything’s so nice. Long live Japan!

I tossed my luggage on the floor and flopped on the bed. Ohhh, so soft. These are definitely high-end beds and quilts.

"Is someone there?"

Suddenly, a voice came from the bathroom. The voice sounded a bit deep, maybe since the door was blocking it.

"You're my new roommate, right? I’m looking forward to your company this year."

Ack! Girl! An uneasy feeling crept up my legs.

"Sorry for greeting you like this, but I was just taking a shower. My name is Houki…"

The person who came out of the bathroom was none other than my childhood friend, who I had just reunited with earlier that day.

She had just finished showering, and strolled out of the bathroom wearing just a towel, without bothering to check that the other person's a girl. Seems like the bathroom is constructed to be both a shower and a changing room.

The towel didn’t offer much coverage. Her hair was hanging, disheveled, down her back – no characteristic ponytail. Naked, tender thighs with water droplets skirting down her legs hung below the towel. Her healthy white skin was a real eye-opener.

Above that was a slender body that had been rigorously trained, which I could tell even though she had a towel on. It made my heart race. I'm really weak toward women with unique curves.

Pressing a hand in front of her chest, the large breasts behind her towel were lifted up. The last time I saw her body was during swimming lessons in 4th grade, and that didn't leave much of an impression. If Houki wore thin clothing… and that was the end of the thoughts racing through my mind over the last 0.3 seconds.

"…Shinonono?"

Houki was shocked. I was too. The all-Japan Most Shocked Person tournament had begun.

"I-I-Ichika..."

"Ummmmm… uh huh?”

I replied tentatively, and Houki's face flushed bright red. That’s what you’d expect when two people of opposite genders are face to face with each other after a bath, right? I have no idea how to react to a situation like this.

"Don’t… Don’t… DON’T LOOK!"

"SO… SORRY!"

I frantically turned my head aside and looked away. The last image fixed in my mind’s eye was Houki tightly wrapping the towel around herself, as if she was trying to hide her body (or protect it)... the cleavage of her breasts, emphasized by clutching her arms close, made my heart race even faster.

"Wh-Wh-Why… are… you… here...?" Houki asked so stiffly, she sounded like the clatter of gears in an engine badly needing a tune-up.

"Well, this is my room, and… WAITAMINUTE! That mean’s we’re roommates!"

With the speed of a National Kendo Champion, Houki grabbed the bokken beside the wall, whipped it around, and pointed it toward me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her set her body in preparation to charge… I'm about to die!

"Oootsugeh!" (ED: sound effect)

I dove off the bed and bolted towards the door.

SLAM!*

I managed to escape outside and slam the door in the nick of time. I flopped against the closed door.

"Saved…"

CRUNCH!* I heard the door split by my right ear. The bokken broke through beside my head, the tip missing by a millimeter. This is a solid wooden door! When did Houki learn to stab a bokken through solid wood?

grutch* The blade retracted back through the door. So, she's come to her senses?

CRUNCH!* The wooden door exploded again.

"Are you really trying to kill me? I'd be dead if I didn't dodge that!"

A sudden barrage of attacks stabbed through where my head was a few moments ago.

"What? What’s all the noise?"

"Ah, it's Orimura-kun!"

"So Orimura-kun lives in this room? That's a good thing to know!"

Girls started to emerge from their rooms to see what all the commotion was about.

What's troubling is that they're all in sleepwear, completely oblivious to the fact a guy was looking at them. Many were in simple nightgowns, but some were wearing only a shirt, with no pants or skirts, and some of them were wearing unbuttoned blouses, so I could see flesh. Girls, should you really be revealing your underwear so casually? This is wrong in so many ways!

"Houki! Houki-san, please let me in. This is going to turn out badly. I apologize! Please, I'm begging you!"

I clapped my hands together and lifted them above my head in a gesture of humiliation. I had to project my desperation through the door.

"..."

Silence was the only response I got. However, the bokken was pulled back. I sincerely hoped there wouldn't be a third attack.

More silence...

The silence stretched on… an hour, two hours. At least, that’s what it felt like; it was probably only two or three minutes.

Click*

"You can come in."

The door opened, and Houki appeared wearing kendo attire. Looks like that’s what she could get on fastest. She had obviously thrown it on quickly, since she didn't manage to tie her belt properly.

Either way, I was granted permission to enter, so I entered my own room. There's something strange about that, right?

"What now?"

Houki was glaring at me fiercely. Why? I didn't do anything wrong.

She sat down on the bed, preparing to deal with me. This doesn’t look good.

"..."

Houki tied her wet hair back into a ponytail, still looking rather angry. That’s the Houki I know, at least on the outside.

"So, you said that you're my roommate?"

"Oh, yeah, it seems so."

She was glaring again. This girl’s eyes were as sharp as bamboo: alert and piercing.

"Just what are you playing at?"

"Huh?"

"I'm asking what you were thinking? Boys and girls can't share the same bedroom after they turn 7; that's just common sense!"

That sounds like pretty old-fashioned thinking. Still, for a 15-year-old guy girl to be living together might be… problematic.

"You… YOU…"

"What?"

"You asked for them to put us together, didn’t you!”

"What are you talking about? That’s stupid!"

Why would I purposely risk my life by choosing something like this? But it seemed like that answer wasn't good enough for Houki, judging by the bokken flying at me.

"YIIII! That was close!"

That was a really close call. I had caught the bokken between my hands, and judging by the holes in the door it would have been fatal if it had hit. So now it's a hand-to-hand vs. katana situation. Even though it's only a bokken, my palms were hurting. Houki’s assault was inhumanly strong.

"Stupid is it? You think it’s stupid? I’LL SHOW YOU STUPID!”

Ah, her expression was scary. Very scary. She claims she's my childhood friend, but in fact she must be some code-named assassin from a clandestine organization assigned here to the Academy.

Even though I’d blocked the wooden sword, Houki was still throwing all her weight behind the attack. How do I get out of this? It isn't a real sword, so it can't cut me to death, but if it hit me in the head with this much force, I'd be knocked out. After what she’d done to the door, she could probably split my skull in two. No, it can't end like this.

"Errgggghh..."

No, I take it back. The Houki standing before me isn’t just an assassin. She’s the Grim Reaper, so even though it isn't a real sword, it can still split me into two. And since she’s still throwing her entire weight behind the attack, she’s actually forcing me to sink to the ground.

"Wow, Shinonono-san, very bold!"

"She’s so strong!”

"Orimura-kun isn't bad either..."

Hey, what's the meaning of that last comment? Five faces were peeking through the open door, and there were probably five times as many in the corridor watching what was going on inside the room.

"Wh-wh-wha...?

Houki looked up in shock, and immediately withdrew the bokken. I'm saved! My life is preserved.

"Awwww, it’s already over?"

"And just when it was getting good!”

HEY! Do high school girls nowadays say “just when it was getting good” when they see a grisly murder? Just for that I should give all your e-mail addresses to Dan Gotanda.

"…!"

Houki chased the girls out and firmly closed the door. Now that she’s established an alibi, it looks like she can murder me without fear of reprisal. Suddenly I was thinking of all the ways a victim could disappear from this room. What a scary world.

"...Ichika?"

"Yes, what is it?"

Now I am facing death without that messy business of witnesses.

"What's with your face?"

"Huh?" Wasn't it like this when I was born?

"Nothing. Now, about our situation…”

How will I be executed? You know, Houki, the problem with murder isn't what's before; it’s what’s after. The human body is composed of slightly over 50 kilograms of fat and proteins. It also includes more than 10 liters of blood, plus the bones in the skeleton. Actually, discomposure of the upper part of the skeleton is quickest - different from what we think. That is why most people are puzzled by a dead body’s state. For the analysis of the skeleton, you need a considerable amount of experience, and if you do it piecemeal, a lot of time is wasted. That's when a freezer comes in to play. Wait! The freezer...

"Are you listening, Ichika?"

"Huh!? What!? No, I'm not!"

"How could anyone think he isn’t stupid!?”

She sighed, as if she were resigning herself to something. Did I do something wrong? I suddenly felt considerably guilty, but a man doesn’t run away from his problems.

"So-Sorry, can you tell me again?"

When someone acknowledges their own faults, it’s appropriate that they lower their head. It's common sense everywhere in the world. In front of an angry individual, one ought to acknowledge their faults first. That way the world could grow in harmony.

"Well, if we’re going to be sharing the same room, we should probably establish some ground rules.”

Her voice was quiet at first, but grew to a crescendo as she got to the part about “ground rules”. Why is Houki looking so uncomfortable? And her cheeks are red... does she have a fever?

"First, the bathing schedule. I’ll use the shower from seven to eight o'clock, and you can use it from eight to nine."

"I wanted to use it earlier than that!"

"Are you asking me to wait on you, drenched with sweat from my club activities!?"

"Club activities… like kendo?"

"Ye-Yeah."

"Doesn't the club have showers?"

"I don't feel comfortable unless I use the shower in my own room!"

I couldn’t think of anything to say to that.

“Well I’d also prefer to use the washroom at home instead of the ones at school. Oh, wait. There are no toilets in our private rooms, are there?"

"No, there are only two at either end of each floor."

"That means… there aren't any men's bathrooms?"

I had only just thought about this problem. For all anyone knew when the IS Foundation constructed the Academy, only girls could be pilots, so there wasn't any reason to make a men's bathroom.

"Uhhh… what should I do?"

"I don't know! Can't you just ask a teacher?"

"Worst case, I guess I’ll have to use the women's bathroom..."

Houki the Grim Reaper returned, and she jabbed her boken at my face. I think she wants to kill me again!

"We haven't seen each other for a long time. I see you’ve become quite a pervert since we’ve been apart!”

"Hey! Why would you say that, Houki?!"

"Isn't it obvious? You want to go into the women's bathroom! If you're not a pervert then what else could you be!? I SHOULD PUNISH YOU RIGHT NOW!"

"Oh no you don’t!"

I found a shinai stacked by Houki’s suitcase. It’s been a while since I’ve used a shinai, but this is life and death.

If the bokken and the shinai cross, the shinai could break. I'll just hold the shinai until Houki calms down. With that thought I pulled out the shinai.

How odd. There’s something stuck on the end, but with a jerk I finally pulled out the shinai and assumed a kendo stance, confronting Houki while keeping a reasonable distance between us.

"Yeeek!"

Past the shinai, Houki's mouth was opening and closing like a goldfish. She was completely freaking out.

"Huh? What is that?”

I finally noticed what was attached to the shinai. Two parallel triangles attached together, with loops connected to an elastic strap…

"GIVE THAT BACK!”

Houki left the bokken spinning in midair as she snatched at it. In the blink of an eye, Houki grabbed the thing attached to the shinai, retreated, and covered it with both hands.

Weird. Her face is even redder than before? Is her fever getting worse?

…oh.

Suddenly, all the pieces came together. I finally knew what Houki was trying so hard to hide.

"Houki?"

"Wh-what?"

No longer on the offensive, Houki was vigilantly keeping distance between herself and me, as if she were protecting something.

I looked again and clearly saw a light pink and blue fabric. Ah, I'm sure now.

"I see you've started wearing a bra."

GONG! An explosion rang inside my head.


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