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Infinite Stratos Volume 1 Chapter 3: The Transfer Student is the Second Childhood Friend

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Chapter 3: The Transfer Student is the Second Childhood Friend Edit

"Well then, let's start practicing some basic IS maneuvers. Orimura, Alcott, try flying with your ISs."

It was near the end of April, the time when the late-blooming Sakura petals were falling. Today, the Demon Trainer from Hell is teaching, a.k.a. Chifuyu-nee.

"Hurry up, Orimura-kun! A properly trained pilot doesn't need more than a second to deploy the IS."

Byakushiki wasn’t deploying, so I concentrated harder.

Once the IS is optimized, it will remain with the pilot in the form of an accessory, like jewelry. Cecilia's is an earring in her left ear, and mine is like a large wristband or arm guard. Wait, if they’re usually decorative, why does mine look so much like a piece of armor?

"Concentrate, Orimura!"

Damn it, if Chifuyu-nee has to tell me again, I’ll get another brain-cell-killing blow to the head.

I stretched my right arm out, and used my left hand to grab it. After experimenting some, I found that this pose allows me to concentrate best - or rather, it allows me to imagine deploying my IS best.

Come on! Byakushiki!

This time, I felt a thin layer extend from my right wrist over my entire body. Balls of light scattered out from my body before combining to form the IS. The time it took to deploy was about 0.7 seconds.

My body instantly felt lighter, and all sorts of sensors started linking to my consciousness, which improved my vision. In the blink of an eye, Byakushiki had equipped for me and I was floating about 10cm above the ground.

Cecilia was also floating with her own IS, Blue Tears. The BTs that I had destroyed during our battle had been repaired.

"Now, fly!"

Cecilia responded to Chifuyu-nee immediately. She shot into the air and stopped high above the ground.

Though I also managed to pull it off, I ascended more slowly than Cecilia.

"What are you doing, Orimura? According to the specs, Byakushiki has higher power output than Blue Tears!"

Chifuyu-nee was lecturing me over the comm. The thing is, I've only just learned how to do emergency ascent and descent. This method of piloting by “imagine pushing in a direction” just doesn’t make sense to me.

"Ichika-san, an image is just an image. You should find a method that works best for you!" I had joined Cecilia in the sky.

"Even if I try to make up my own image, it still doesn’t quite work for me. Just the sensation of flying through the air is still strange to me. I don’t even understand what makes this thing fly."

Though Byakushiki does have two pairs of wings, it can't possibly fly like a plane does. Its flight path is completely unrelated to the direction the wings spread. Since it can fly in any direction, with my body in any position, I can’t figure out what is going on.

"I wouldn't mind explaining it to you, but there's a lot to it. It requires understanding the anti-gravity wings and the theory of flow interference."

"I know, you don't need to explain it to me right now."

I had to refuse. Trying to fly and understand all that theory at once would definitely make my brain explode.

"Is that so? What a pity. Hoho."

Cecilia smiled delightedly, but it was neither ridiculing nor courteous. It was just a normal, happy smile.

Ever since our match, she always seems to find a reason to train with me, which I really appreciate. She's outstanding, too, which you’d expect from a representative contender.

However, how has her attitude changed so much? Her original attitude toward me was like some elaborate act or something.

"Ichika-san, if you’d like, I can teach you after school. And it’ll be a chance for us to be alone togeth…”

"ICHIKA! HOW LONG ARE YOU GOING TO KEEP FLYING AROUND UP THERE!? HURRY UP AND GET DOWN HERE!"

An angry shout burst through the comm. On the ground far below me, Houki had snatched the comm link from Yamada-sensei, and looked completely flustered as she yelled at me. My vision zoomed in on her like a telescope, thanks to IS’s high-grade sensors. I could see everything clearly from 200 meters above the ground. If this sort of ability fell into the wrong hands, it would be really dangerous!

"Well, let me explain a little something right now. While the sensors aren’t perfect, since the IS was originally intended for space activity, it has to be able to interact with objects tens of thousands kilometers away, so it's to be expected that we can see small things clearly at this distance."

It figures a model student would be so knowledgeable on this stuff. Houki's explanation was like:

"It gives that 'mm' feeling, then you have to ‘whoosh’ and then just ‘clang’, y’know?”

Houki’s explanation was completely useless. How much does she even know about the IS? I haven't really started practicing with her, so I didn't ask how much experience she actually has.

Cecilia always contradicts Houki's explanations, and then both of them would start to squabble. She’s so nice to me, yet antagonistic to Houki. Why is that?

"Orimura, Alcott, execute a power dive and then come to a complete halt, hovering 10 centimeters above the ground."

"Roger that! Well… ladies first."

Cecilia shot toward the ground. Watching her, I couldn’t help but be impressed.

"Wow, you're good.”

Just like that, she came to a perfect stop, hovering just above the ground. Okay, my turn.

I concentrated and formed an image of a rocket firing from my wings in my mind; the IS responded instantly and I dived toward the ground.

*FWOOSH…*

“WAAAAAHHH!”

*CRASH!!!*

I did land. However, to the casual observer, it looked more like a… crash. My body didn't hit the ground too hard, thanks to the anti-gravity function, but my heart was nearly crushed by my classmates' laughter. Could they upgrade the IS with an embarrassment shield as well?

"You idiot! Do you have any idea how much it costs to fix this big a hole in the ground?" Chifuyu-nee is all heart.

"...sorry."

Anyway, I pulled myself together and managed to drag myself to my feet. Thanks to the IS shields, Byakushiki didn't even get dirty.

"You should be ashamed, Ichika! Have you forgotten everything I taught you yesterday?"

Houki folded her arms in front of her chest and gave me a cold stare as she waited on the edge of the crater I’d created. What exactly did she “teach me yesterday”? Don't tell me she’s talking about those weird “Swoosh! Clang!” noises? Did Houki actually tell a joke!

"You're definitely thinking something rude right now, aren't you?"

Why is it that others can read my mind?

"Basically Ichika, ever since I’ve known you, you've been -"

Houki was just winding up to tear into me, but someone appeared in front of me and interrupted her.

"Ichika-san, are you all right? Are you hurt?"

"Um… Yeah, I'm all right."

"Is that so? Oh, I’m so relieved. Heehee"

Cecilia laughed happily again. Ugh - a girl's emotions just change whenever they want to, don't they? Who it was that said “a girl's heart is like the autumn sky?” If you ask me, a girl’s heart is way more unpredictable than the weather.

"How could he possibly be injured while piloting an IS?"

"Ah, Shinonono-san, isn't it normal for me to be concerned about others? Even if he's equipped with an IS, it’s just common sense, right?"

"You're one to talk, you wolf in sheep’s clothing!"

"Well, that’s better than scowling like a troll!"

*SHRAAKT!* They were glaring at each so fiercely, I could swear I saw sparks flying from their eyes. Maybe the IS sensors let me see that? If that's true, even though it's fascinating, it seems pretty useless. That aside, when did these two start hating each other this much?

"Hey you, idiots, get out of the way. If you want to quarrel, go somewhere else!"

Chifuyu-nee just shoved Houki’s and Cecilia’s heads apart to come stand in front of me.

"Orimura, deploy your weapon. You do understand that you can deploy your weapon alone, right?"

"Yeah."

"Answer 'yes' to your instructor!"

"Ye-Yes, ma’am!"

"Okay, let's begin."

I looked around to be sure that no one was too close to me, and then, once again, grabbed my right wrist with my left hand.

…it can cut through objects… has the shape of a sword. It's a sharp, solid object, and an effective weapon…

Come out!

My left hand held onto my right tightly, and when my focus was at its peak, my palm began to glow. The glow shaped itself into an object.

Once the glow vanished, my hand was holding the “Yukihira Nigata”.

Great, now I can summon it whenever I want!

It's hard to imagine a sword with this level of detail and focus, but what do you expect? It’s not like I walk down the street thinking “sword” all the time.

"Too slow! Practice until you can summon it within half a second."

Ack, there she goes again... not only did she not praise me, she even scolded me. No matter what she says, this is the best I could do in just a week!

"Cecilia, deploy your weapons."

"Yes, ma’am!"

She raised her hand to where her shoulder was, and then stretched her arm to the side. She didn't glow steadily like I did; rather a sudden burst of light jumped to her hand, and with just that, she was holding the “Starlight MkIII”.

Compared to me, she was a whole lot faster, and her gun was already loaded. Cecilia just had to look at it to remove the safety. Within one second, she had deployed her weapon and was ready to shoot.

"That’s what I’d expect from a representative contender, but you've got to change your pose. Who're you aiming at when you point your gun to the side like that? Try and point it at the front immediately when you deploy."

"But, I need to stand like this for my image…"

"CHANGE IT! DO YOU HEAR ME?"

"...yes, ma'am."

Cecilia looked like she wanted to argue, but she shut up immediately after Chifuyu-nee glared at her. Looks like we just trained one good soldier!

"Cecilia, deploy your close-range weapon."

"Wha? Ah, yes, yes!"

Cecilia seemed to be grumbling about something.

Yes, she’s definitely grumbling.

So, she was startled when Chifuyu-nee called her. Her answer came more slowly this time.

The gun in her hand dissolved into light particles – apparently the term for changing your weapon like this is “keeping” - and then, she “deployed” a new close-ranged weapon.

However, the glow in her hand couldn't shape itself and just floated around in the air.

"Huh?"

"Isn't it ready yet?"

"It, it'll be ready soon… ahh, damn it! 'Interceptor'!"

She reluctantly shouted out her weapon's name. That seemed to help her focus, and the glow finally shaped itself into a weapon.

The preface of the textbook mentioned that shouting your weapon’s name is a “beginner's method”. For a representative contender like Cecilia to deploy her weapon this way must be really humiliating.

"How long did that take? Do you want the enemy to wait for you in a real battle?"

"In, in a real battle, I wouldn't allow the enemy to enter my range! So, so there would be no problem!"

"Oh, really? If I remember your match against Orimura, it sure seemed easy for beginner to get close to you."

"Th-That, that's because..."

Cecilia was starting to sputter again. She didn’t know how to respond to Chifuyu-nee, and completely lost her ability to speak clearly.

I was just watching all this happen, when suddenly she glared at me, and a signal came through on a private frequency.

"This is all your fault!"

Why?

"Because you came rushing at me!"

My IS only has a close-range weapon. Of course I rushed her!

"You, you better take responsibility!"

What do you want me to take responsibility for?

I couldn’t answer her. The private frequency was set to send-only. Supposedly, I could set it to send/receive, but I have no idea how to imagine a private frequency. I read something about “imagine the rear right side of your head to communicate.” What “rear right side of the head” are you talking about?

"Time's up, that's it for today's lesson. Orimura, clean up the field."

You mean you want me to fill in that crater? Where's the soil?

I glanced at Houki, only to see her quickly turning away. Sure seems like she doesn't want to help out.

And Cecilia… was long gone.

I got it! You people want me to handle this by myself, right? Fine, this is a man's job - one that requires strength. Guys who need girls to do their manual labor for them are just trash.

Yeah, yeah, I had it coming...

I guess I've still got a long way to go before I can really pilot an IS.

"So this is it – the IS Academy…"

That night, a petite girl with an enormous Boston bag disproportionate to her size stood in front of the IS Academy Entrance.

Her pretty brown hair was tied with yellow ribbon into two long ponytails on either side of her head, and she wore a matching yellow hair band. The two ponytails flowed around her in the warm April breeze.

"Now, where's the reception counter?"

She pulled a crumpled slip of paper from her shirt pocket. She wasn’t bothered in the least by the paper’s disheveled appearance - evidence of her lively, straightforward character.

"‘Proceed to the 1st level General Assistance Counter in the Main Building...’ BUT WHERE IS IT?!"

No matter how much she grumbled, the paper simply wouldn’t answer her. The girl stuffed the paper back into her shirt pocket so forcefully – crumpling it even worse, though she didn’t care - it was as if she was trying to stuff her frustration in with it.

"I'll just have to find it, right? So be it!"

She kept moving as she muttered to herself. She was the type of girl to “act first, think later”. To put it nicely, she followed the “practical doctrine”; to put it bluntly, she never thinks things through.

Really! They told me that no one would come to pick me up, but there isn’t even anyone to meet me? Aren’t these government people even a little worried about dumping a 15-year-old girl alone in a foreign country?

At first glance, the girl could be mistaken for Japanese, but on closer inspection it was clear she wasn’t. Those sharp, beautiful eyes of hers were unquestionably Chinese.

Even so, Japan was like her second homeland: a familiar, comfortable place full of fond memories.

Isn’t anyone around? A student or teacher or someone? Can’t anyone guide me?

She continued to walk through these unfamiliar surroundings, looking around for someone to help her, but it was already past 8pm. The campus lights were already out, the teachers had gone home, and the students were already in their dorms.

Bah - that's enough! I might as well fly above the sky to look around…

She felt a rush of satisfaction at the idea of flying her IS around the school, but then she remembered the school rule book, which was as thick as three city telephone directories. She immediately dismissed the idea.

"It would be bad to activate my IS before I’ve even been formally transferred to this school! Worst case, it would become a diplomatic incident. Spare me the agony!" To help herself feel better, she imagined the high-ranking officials pleading with her not to destroy anything with helpless expressions on their faces.

Haha, that's right! I'm an important person, too! Oh well, I’d better have some self-discipline.

The thought of adults several times her age kneeling down and begging for her help elated her.

She had always hated adults who “flaunt their seniority”, so she was quite comfortable with her position in society now that she had an IS.

"Men pushing people around just because they have muscles is just childish. A lady's IS is real power.” She had also always hated boys who were full of themselves and treated girls like dirt.

But there’s one boy who’s different.

That one boy was the biggest reason for her return to Japan.

I wonder how he's doing right now?

He must still be lively and energetic. She couldn’t imagine him being gloomy.

She heard something, and looked to see what it was. Some girls were coming out of an IS training facility. She recognized it because IS facilities in every country look similar.

Great, finally someone I can ask for help!

The girl strolled toward the arena entrance to talk to them.

"Anyway, I'm not thinking like that!"

The shout stopped the girl in her tracks.

It's a guy's voice – one that sounds very familiar. Surely it couldn’t be his voice!

The possibility of an unexpected reunion started the girl's heart racing.

Will he recognize me? He should! It’s only been a year.

She became preoccupied with the possibility that he wouldn’t recognize her.

No, it's all right. It's all right! If he doesn't recognize me, that just means I've gotten prettier! Yeah!

She pushed herself to think ultra-optimistically, and started walking toward the pair again.

"Ich…"

Ah, too loud! Am I really this self-conscious? How embarrassing!

"Ichika, when are you going to understand that feeling? You've been stuck on this since last week!"

"That's because your explanation makes no sense. What's an ‘mm’ feeling, anyway?"

"Obviously, it feels like ‘mmmmm’."

"Didn't I just say I don't know what that is? Hey, wait for me, Houki!"

The girl stormed away, and the boy chased after her.

Who's that girl? Why do they seem so familiar with each other? They’re even calling each other by their first names!

Her racing heartbeat vanished as if it had never been, and was replaced by a cold fury, as if an avalanche had flooded her veins with frustration.

After that, she found the General Assistance Counter almost immediately, since it turned out to be behind the arena and was still well-lit.

"Your papers look good, and the enrollment procedures are complete. Welcome to IS Academy, Lingyin Huang-san."

Lingyin heard the friendly receptionist as if from a distance, and it went in one ear and out the other. She wasn’t happy at all.

"Which class is Ichika Orimura in?" She was pouting.

"Oh, the famous kid? He's in class 1-1. Huang-san is in class 1-2, so you're in the class next-door. Oh yeah, he’s also class 1-1’s representative. But then, what else would you expect from Orimura-sensei's younger brother!"

Predictably, the receptionist was only too happy to gossip. Lingyin stared at her coldly. The lady seemed to notice, as her trail of gossip petered out.

"Has class 1-2’s representative been decided?"

"Yes!"

"What's her name?"

"Her name? Um... why are you asking this?"

The receptionist finally clued in on Lingyin’s strange demeanor, and became rather guarded.

"I was just wondering if she’d consider relinquishing the position of class representative to me…"

Veins were pulsing in Lingyin’s smiling face.

"Orimura-kun, congratulations on becoming the class representative!"

"Congratulations!" the class shouted.

*POP!* *POP!* *POP!* Noisemakers popped from all directions, and the colored ribbons that landed on me weighed on my heart much more than where they landed on my body.

The whole class had gathered in the first year’s canteen, and they’re throwing a party for me after dinner. Everyone had some kind of drink or snack, and the atmosphere's rather animated.

"..."

I don't want to celebrate! I don't want to celebrate at all! What's with this party?

I glanced at the wall. There's an “Ichika Orimura, Class Representative Celebration” banner. Oh, so it’s my “inaguration” party... *sigh*

"The class representative tournament will be so much more exciting now!"

"That's right, that's right!"

"We're really lucky to be in the same class as him."

"That's right, that's right!"

Is it just me, or are some of these girls from class 2? There are definitely more than 30 people here. Why is it when “our class” gets together, there are always more people than are actually in our class?

"Ichika Orimura. Mr. Popularity."

"You really think so?"

"Humph."

Houki glared at me and took a sip of her drink. Why is she in a bad mood again?

"Excuse me! Look over here! I'm from the Newspaper Club. I'm here to get a scoop on the hot new freshman: a special interview with Ichika Orimura-kun himself!"

“Oooh…” “What?” “Oh!” Everyone seemed thrilled. Except me.

"I'm Kaoruko Mayuzumi, nice to meet you. I'm the vice president of the Newspaper Club. My card."

She handed me a business card and looked at her name. It sure has a lot of strokes in the kanji. She must hate having to write her own name.

"Then, then, Orimura-kun! Please tell us your thoughts on becoming the class representative.”

She stuck a voice recorder in my face, her eyes shining like a little kid waiting for cotton candy.

"Ummmm..."

What should I say? I don’t want to go along with this, but I can't let everyone down, either. *sigh* I'm so weak! I’m just a weak Japanese boy.

"Wellll… I'll do my best."

"Huh? Oh, c’mon! Give us something awesome - like, like 'don't get too close to me, or you'll get hurt' or something like that!"

What the heck?! That's sounds like a line from last year’s action movies!

"I don't really talk a lot."

"Wow, that saying is so yesterday!"

What? Are you mocking the Japanese actor that we're so proud of? (TN: He's hinting at the famous actor Takakura Ken. "I don't really talk a lot." is a phrase he's famous for, and he's known for being rather quiet.)

"How about you make up some stuff?"

This isn't good at all! Do all news shows broadcast whatever they feel like? That's scary!

"What about having Cecilia say a few words?"

"I don't really like giving interviews, but I suppose I must."

Though she's grumbling, she doesn't look bothered... and she's already standing over there, ready to go! And is it just me, or does her hair look like a magazine model’s? Was she planning to do a photo shoot?

"Ahem. First, I, Cecilia Alcott, the former class representative, will make a statement. It was…”

"Ahh, if this is going to take a while, just forget it. How about I just take a photo."

"You…you… What will you print if you don’t hear my eloquent statement?"

"It’s no problem; I'll just make up some content. For instance, let's assume that you like Orimura-kun."

"Wha, wha, what...?"

Cecilia’s face went from normal to blushing bright red in about .001 seconds. Now she’s definitely angry. I better find some cover before Mount Cecilia erupts.

"What’s this nonsense you’re spouting?"

“Seriously! Your secret love for Orimura-kun? That would be a great scoop!”

“Well, what’s wrong with just taking my statement?”

Um... what did I do wrong? Cecilia why are you glaring at me? Stop that! It’s scary.

"Ba-Basically, you…"

"Okay okay, forget it. Both of you, please stand together! I'm going to take your picture."

"What?"

Cecilia sounded rather surprised, but she also seemed delighted.

"Yeah! Everyone’s interested in your personal ISs! So, let me take a photo of both of you. Um… maybe you should shake hands or something, too!"

"Oh, is that… that so...?”

For some reason, Cecilia’s starting to fidget and keeps peeking at me. I'm getting this “now's my chance” vibe, but I’ve gotta keep it casual.

"Excuse me, but you'll give me a copy of the photo, right?" Cecilia asked.

"Oh, sure, I can do that."

"Then let me go change my clothes first…"

"No way, that'll take too much time! C’mon, hurry up and stand together."

Mayuzumi–sempai grabbed Cecilia's hand and pulled her next to me, and then made us hold hands. What a hard-nosed sempai.

"uhhhh…"

"What is it?" I asked.

"Not-Nothing, nothing at all."

She was staring at me, and I thought something was wrong. I guess I was mistaken. I really can't understand her.

"..."

"What now, Houki?"

"Nothing."

There’s a whole wall of girls staring at me as well… Um, forget that. Please read on.

"Okay, ready? What's 35 times 51 divided by 24…?"

"What? Let me think... 2?"

"Wrong! It's 74.375!"

What the heck!?

*Pacha!* She snapped the picture with her digital camera. Hey! I wasn’t ready! Hold on!

File:IS v01 157.jpg

"Why is everyone squeezing into MY picture!?"

A camera shutter fires in about 1/60th of a second, right? In that amount of time, everyone in class had gathered around Cecilia and me. Even Houki! What is this group of idiots trying to do?

"You, you people…" Cecilia’s sputtering again.

"Calm down! Just calm down."

"We can’t let you have a head start on us, can we, Cecilia?”

"This will make a great class memory!"

"That's right!"

Everyone was talking to Cecilia at once, trying to console her about something. Why is that?

"Erm, uhh..."

My classmates were all staring cheekily at Cecilia, who was speechless. What is going on here!?

Anyway, the “Ichika Orimura Class Representative Celebration” lasted until past 10pm.

I underestimated the girls' energy. Before I realized it, it was already late at night, and my strength had vanished. I got back to my room and immediately collapsed onto the bed.

"Well, you sure had a lot of fun today, didn’t you?”

Houki’s mocking me. What's she planning to do? I’m too tired to quarrel.

"Fun? I’m exhausted! If you were in my position, would you be happy?"

"Well, if I were in your position, I think I WOULD be happy!"

She definitely doesn't feel that way, but I know her. She’ll never go back on her words, and it always gets her in trouble. She's just that sort of person. I’d better end this conversation quickly before she makes me feel as weird as she’s acting.

"Whatever. I'm going to sleep now."

"Wha-What? It's only 10:30!"

"I said I’m exhausted! I’ve gotta get some rest."

I snuggled into my bed. Suddenly a pillow came flying over at me.

"Hey! What's with you?"

"That’s what I should be asking you! I'm going to change into my pajamas, now, so I need you to look away!"

Though we've been living together for more than a week, Houki still insists on waiting to change into her sleepwear until I'm around! Couldn't she have done it when I'm brushing my teeth? Really, I wonder about her.

"Hey, Houki. Didn’t I tell you before that you should change clothes when I'm out of the room…”

She glared at me.

"I get it, I get it. I'm turning over now."

Haven’t I said girls are hard to understand? Anyway, I rolled over to face away from her.

"..."

"..."

I hate this silence. It feels like it goes on forever, and the sound of girls’ clothing shuffling really bothers me. I'm a healthy 15-year-old guy! What am I supposed to think about this?

The sound of her clothes being put on reminded me of the time she walked out of the shower with just her towel on, which got me a little more excited than I like.

After that, there was no way I could sleep.

"OK, I’m done."

I rolled back over on my back. Though I didn’t feel like it was necessary to deliberately switch around like that, I didn’t want to risk Houki getting angry again.

"Oh? Is that a new sash?"

Houki had changed into a bedtime yukata. She's so traditional. However, I have to admit it looks good on her.

Anyway, since her sash was different from yesterday, I mentioned it without thinking much about it.

"You, you sure are perceptive."

Is it my imagination, or is that the sharp attitude of hers is gone now? How did her mood improve just like that? I really can't understand her.

"Well, the color and pattern are different, so of course I noticed. I look at you every day after all."

"Is, is that so? You were looking at... me? Sure, I get it."

Why is she nodding so happily?

"Okay! Time to sleep!"

Why is she so enthusiastic about going to sleep? She's really strange.

Anyway, Houki snuggled into her bed and turned off the lights. The room was filled with silence.

Ugh... I missed the opportunity to sleep.

Sleepiness is something that only occurs at certain moments for me. If I miss the moment, I end up tossing and turning for a while before it occurs again. Maybe it’s just me, though.

"...Ichika?"

"Hm?"

"A-about what happened just now... I'm sorry."

What is she talking about? Since I had no idea, I simply replied, "It's fine, don't worry about it."

"Is, is that so? Oh, good. Goodnight, then."

"Ah, goodnight."

I guess I really am exhausted, because that sleepy feeling was still there, and I gradually slipped into dreamland.

For some reason, I started to recall the past in my dreams.

"Good morning, Orimura-kun. Have you heard the rumor about the new transfer student?"

The next morning, just as I was about to sit down, a number of classmates started talking to me. I’ve been in the academy for several weeks, so I can finally talk with the girls normally. It’s a big improvement, and I’m not so lonely anymore.

"A transfer student? At this time of the year?"

It's just April. Why is it a transfer instead of an enrollment? Besides, it isn’t that easy to get in the IS Academy. An exam's always required, and so is a a country's recommendation. Which means…

"That's right. I heard she’s the representative contender from China!"

"Woah, really?"

"Oh my, perhaps she decided to transfer so she could study my technique!"

Cecilia Alcott, Class 1-1’s representative from England, was striking her usual pose, hand on her hip and weight on one leg. It really fits her this morning. I sure hope all English folks don’t strike that pose.

"She can't possibly transfer into this class, right? There's nothing to get worked up over."

Where did Houki come from? Just a second ago she was walking to her seat, in the front row by the window. Somehow she just appeared beside me. I guess Houki’s interested in this rumor, too. She is a girl, after all.

"What sort of girl is she?"

Since she's a representative contender, she’s got to be good, like Cecilia. I wonder if she’s arrogant like Cecilia? Really, I'm getting sick of it. Oh well, at least she'll be in another class, so it shouldn’t affect me much.

"Um... are you concerned about that?" Houki asked.

"Hm? Yeah, a little."

"Humph..."

I answered honestly, but for some reason, Houki's mood worsened. These days it seems like her mood will swing from good to bad without notice; it drives me crazy. Is her mind unstable? Or maybe it’s teenage rebellion.

"You don't have time to think about other girls. The class representative tournament is coming up next month."

"That's right, it’ll be here before you know it, Ichika-san! You should get more practical experience in order to prepare. Allow me, Cecilia Alcott, to be your sparring partner. After all, we’re the only ones with a personal machine in this class."

She really emphasized the “only”, but I have to admit she’s right. Any of my other classmates would have to request a training suit, get authorization and optimize it, which would take a full day. If I want a quick mock battle, asking Cecilia would be the fastest way.

The class representative tournament is just what the name implies: a battle between class representatives, and a chance to give everyone some practical experience before they really start learning how to pilot an IS. It also helps the classes unite and work together.

As an added bonus, the class that gets first prize will earn half a year's worth of free dessert coupons. No wonder the girls are so excited – unlimited chocolate.

"Well, I'll do what I can."

"Doing what you can isn't enough! Ichika-san, you have to win!"

"That's right! You’re a guy! Aren’t you supposed to be strong and self-confident!?"

"If Orimura-kun wins, the entire class will be happy!"

Cecilia, Houki and all my classmates were saying such encouraging things, but considering the obstacles I've faced so far in my basic IS training, I can’t share their optimism.

When I first touched it, it did feel strangely familiar…

Activating Byakushiki the first time was like experiencing a rebirth, but now the feeling is completely gone. Even so, I'm steadily getting used to piloting an IS, probably because Byakushiki is optimizing itself to my characteristics... or something like that.

Everyone started to gather, and soon I was surrounded by girls. I've gotten used to it by now. However, the one thing I really can't get used to is how much girls like to gossip.

"Do your best, Orimura-kun!"

"Remember, this is for free dessert!"

"At this point, only the representatives from class 1-1 and 1-4 have personal ISs, so it should be easy to win this!"

I didn't want to ruin my classmates' exuberant mood, so I just said, “yeah”.

"That information is outdated!"

A voice came from the door. Why does that voice sound so familiar...

"The representative of class 1-2 now has a personal IS, too, so it won’t be so easy for you to win anymore."

A girl was leaning in the doorway to our classroom, arms and legs crossed. I recognized her immediately.

"Rin!? Is that really you, Rin?"

"That's right! I'm China’s representative contender, Lingyin Huang, and I’ve come here today to declare war!"

She gave a little smirk shook her head, setting her trademark twin ponytails swaying on either side.

"Good one! Coming here and acting like a show off! That’s so unlike you."

"Wha...? Why would you say something like that?"

Ok, that sounds more like Rin. What was all that “declare war” stuff just now? Really, I don’t get that.

*PANG!* Rin was hit on the head viciously by the attendance book - the Demon Trainer from Hell had arrived.

"WHAT WAS THAT FOR…eep"

"It's time for SHR. Head back to your own class."

"Chi-Chifuyu-san..."

"You’ll call me Orimura-sensei! You’re blocking the door here, so get back to class. You're bothering me."

"So-Sorry..."

Rin trembled and retreated from the door; looks like she’s still afraid of Chifuyu-nee. She's always been afraid of Chifuyu-nee, but I don't know why.

"I'll come back later. Don't run away, Ichika!"

Why would I run away? This is my class.

"Hurry up! Back to your own class!"

"Ye-Yes, ma’am!"

She dashed towards class 2. Still the same old Rin. Why did she go out of her way to come to our class and act all cool? Is she trying to change her image now that she’s in high school? It really doesn't suit her at all.

"So, she's an IS pilot, too? This is the first time I’ve heard of it..."

I was just talking to myself... this is bad.

"Ichika, who was that? Is she someone you know? You two seem rather familiar with each other."

"Ichika-san? What sort of relationship do you have with that girl?"

Everyone started to fire questions at me. *sigh* I was so stupid...

*PANG!* *PANG!* *PANG!* *PANG!*

"HURRY UP AND GET TO YOUR SEATS, YOU IDIOTS!"

Chifuyu-nee's attendance book rampages through the classroom like it’s on fire. Is it my fault all these girls got smacked on the head? Yes, yes I guess it is.

Why am I reuniting with all these people from my past? This thing they call life is really inexplicable.

Next up, a full day of IS training.

Who was that girl just now? She seems much too familiar with Ichika!

Houki became so concerned about the girl that had appeared that morning, she couldn’t concentrate during class.

Besides, Ichika seems like he…

It seems like they're childhood friends!

She became infuriated.

I should be his ONLY childhood friend!

She continued to glance at Ichika, which really didn’t help her get control of her anger. He seemed to be studying very seriously, so maybe he really was upset by his match with Cecilia yesterday.

I can't even concentrate on the lesson, and you...!

She kept getting angrier, and started to develop a “notice me!” feeling.

"..."

However, if she calmed down and thought about it, she realized it’s really nothing.

She's living in the same room as Ichika, so they can have time alone.

Really, he’s so pathetic with the IS, and I'll be the one to teach him more stuff!

She folded her arms in front of her and smiled heartily. She still had the advantage. This new girl that just appeared didn’t change that. The same goes for Cecilia and her other classmates.

Looks like we’ll need more “special training” from today onwards.

Houki nodded, unable to keep herself from smiling.

"Shinonono, I’m waiting for an answer…"

"Yes! What?"

Houki accidentally spoke too loudly because she was startled when Orimura-sensei called her. She was teaching instead of Yamada-sensei at the moment.

"Well?"

"I... I didn’t hear the question..."

*PANG!* The sound of the attendance book smacking Houki’s head confirmed that it remains as hard as ever!

"..."

At the back of the classroom, Cecilia was doodling in her notebook with a mechanical pencil. She couldn’t think clearly enough to take any actual notes.

Who was that? Who was that new girl just now!?

She was really bothered by a new girl who was obviously close to Ichika. She already had a strong opponent in Houki, so she couldn't let the number of competitors rise.

In addition, the new girl was obviously closer to Ichika. She felt like a marathon runner in sight of the finish line, only to have a new runner overtake her from behind.

That's too despicable! She should be fighting with me fairly!

If she were honest with herself, she’d admit that she might not fight fairly when it came to a relationship, but she had the thought nonetheless.

Cecilia was self-confident enough to believe that, if they were to fight under identical conditions, she wouldn't lose, but since this was the first time she'd fought over a guy things weren’t developing as she hoped. It made her nervous.

And that girl's actually a representative contender!

In the IS Academy there were fewer than twenty representative candidates, meaning that each grade should only have about four of them. And minus Ichika, only one or two people per grade should have a personal IS. Cecilia should have had the advantage, but now...

But she said she has a personal IS as well! This is bad. This is really bad!

It was like she the medal in her hand had been forfeited, and she was forced to return it.

This… this is cheating!

That didn’t matter. She had to fight for the driver's seat, and that meant dealing a deathblow to Houki and Ling.

A mock IS battle won't be enough. I have to find something more definitive…

"…Alcott?"

How about if I ask him out on a date? No, if I want an effective...

*PANG!* Her blonde curls were flattened by the attendance book.

"This is all your fault!"

"It's all thanks to you!"

When the lunch period started, we hadn’t even gotten out the door when Houki and Cecilia started to scold me.

"What did I do now!?"

This morning alone, they were warned by Yamada-sensei 5 times and smacked by Chifuyu-nee 3 times. Don't they want to learn?

Blanking out in front of Chifuyu-nee is like spreading barbecue sauce on their bodies in front of a ferocious tiger. It’s as if they were begging it “Come on! Come eat me!”

"If you have anything to say, you can say it at lunch. Let's go to the canteen."

“Okaaaay... Let’s go, then.”

"That… that's right! We’ll just have to go together."

Okay, okay… thanks girls.

Our entire clique, including most of the other girls from our class, moved off to the canteen.

Like usual, I bought one of the Japanese selections with my lunch voucher. The canteen still provides a reasonable variety of food, which I am truly grateful for.

Houki got a beancurd skin udon, and Cecilia got a Western-style lunch – fish and chips or something. Eating that again? You should try some variety. But I guess I don't really have the right to say that since I always eat Japanese.

"Took you long enough, Ichika! I’ve been waiting for you."

*DONG!* There was a noise and suddenly someone was in my way – none other than the famous transfer student, Lingyin Huang. I usually just called her “Rin”. It’s kind of her nickname.

She hasn’t changed one bit. Her hairstyle's still the same twin pigtails (more accurately, they could be called high-side ponytails now.) Oh, I can tell that she’s the same person I used to know, just like Houki! Deep down, I see a lot of similarities between these two childhood friends of mine.

"Okay, but can you stand aside? I can't hand in my voucher with you standing right in the way. You’re blocking the whole line."

"Duh! I know that! You don’t have to go on about it."

I noticed that she was holding onto a bowl of ramen.

"Your noodles will get soggy and lose their spring."

"I know that! Seriously, it's your fault for making me wait so long! What took you so long to come to the canteen?"

How should I know? I'm not an esper.

Oh well, it's not like this is the first time she’s extra talkative. She finally stepped back so I could hand the voucher to the lunch lady.

"We haven't seen each other for a year, right? How are you doing, anyway?"

"I’m just fine! Maybe you should be the one to get sick or injured for a change."

"What kind of wish is that?"

People of the opposite gender around me... I better quit that thought while I’m ahead. Why am I surrounded by so many people who are so easy to offend? Maybe I'm the one who’s inconsiderate? I'm really sorry about that. I’m not trying to be offensive.

“Ahem.”

"Ahem! Ichika-san, your lunch is ready, you know?"

Houki and Cecilia coughed loudly and interrupted my conversation with Rin. Ohh! So today's lunch is salt-grilled mackerel. Seeing that charred fish really whets my appetite.

"The table over there is empty. Let's go over there."

I invited everyone to join Rin and me. A group of almost 10 people crowded with us, so it'll take a bit to get settled.

We managed to get the table in spite of the size of our group. Lucky.

"How long have you been in Japan, Rin? How's your aunty? When did you become a representative contender?"

"Sheesh! Let me get a word in edgewise! I’ve been dying to ask you: how could you use an IS? I was shocked when I saw you on the news."

Since we haven’t seen each other for a year, I guess I tossed out too many questions that I wouldn't normally ask. She’s my childhood friend, so I was really interested how she’d been for the past year. It was the same when I met Houki again.

"Ichika, it's about time you give us an explanation."

"That's right, Ichika-san! Don’t tell me you’re actually dating this transfer student?"

Maybe it was just me, but both Houki’s and Cecilia’s voices sounded rather shrill. My other classmates were nodding their heads eagerly.

"N-no… not really. We aren't dating."

"Yeah, it’s not like that at all!” I said. “We're only childhood friends."

"..."

"Why are you glaring at me? What’s wrong?"

"Nothing’s wrong! I’m just fine!"

Rin seems angry all of a sudden. That’s really strange.

"Childhood friend...?"

Houki sounded surprised.

"Oh, that’s right. Your family moved away after 4th grade, right, Houki? Rin transferred to our school in 5th grade. She went back to China after 6th grade, so it's been about a year since I last saw her."

I hadn’t thought about it, but Houki and Rin have never met before. They just missed each other when they moved.

"Rin, this is Houki Shinonono. I’ve told you about her. She's a childhood friend I've known since grade school. We trained at the same kendo dojo. Her father was the owner.”

"Oh, I see."

Rin looked Houki up and down carefully, and Houki, not willing to back down, did the same.

"It’s nice to meet one of Ichika’s old friends."

"Yeah, nice to meet you."

Their words are polite enough, so why do I seem to see sparks flying between them? Am I hallucinating from lack of sleep? If so, I need a rest. Some French bigwig said that a major Japanese weakness is that they don't know how to rest. If I'm already like this in High School, I'll definitely die once I enter society.

"Since you seem to have forgotten about me, miss Representative Contender from China…”

"Who are you?"

"Who am I!? I'm Cecilia Alcott, the representative contender from England! Don't tell me you haven’t heard of me?"

"Sorry, I'm just not interested."

"Wha! You! Wha-What!?"

Cecilia got so angry that she started sputtering again and couldn't say anything. Her face flushed red like a cooked cuttlefish. Naturally, I’d never say that to her.

"Why you… I won't lose to someone like you!" Cecilia finally found her voice.

"Really? Don’t underestimate me. I didn’t get to be China’s representative contender by being weak."

Rin said that proudly. She hasn't changed a bit. She always had a weird self-confidence, and could just speak casually in tense situations without ever raising her voice. This is the real her.

…but even if she doesn't bear any ill will, it’s bound to offend some people.

"..."

"You… are you actually challenging me?"

Cecilia clenched her fist so hard she started trembling. Houki wordlessly put down her chopsticks. In contrast, Rin kept eating her ramen as if nothing was amiss.

"Ichika?"

GYAHH! Do they know what I was thinking? I was just thinking some random thoughts, so they don’t need to scold me, right? Right??

"I heard that you're class 1's representative."

"Oh, that! Yeah, well, things just turned out like that."

"Huh, how interesting..."

Rin picked her bowl up and started to drink the soup in large gulps. She refuses to use a spoon – some equality thing, like “If guys can, why can’t I?” You do remember you're a girl, right?

"Y'know, if you want I can help you with your IS practice drills. Wouldn't that be fun?"

Rin gave me a fleeting glance and then looked away. It's rare to see her stutter like this.

"Yeah, that would be gre—"

*SMACK!SMACK!* Two pairs of hands slapped the table at the same time. Houki and Cecilia smacked it hard as they stood up and leaned into Rin and me.

"It's my job to teach Ichika! He specifically asked me to do it!"

"You're in class 2, right? We don’t need any help from the enemy!"

Wah! Both of them look absolutely terrifying! I guess they're really into these inter-class battles. I should look up to them a bit more.

"Look, I'm having a nice chat with Ichika right now, so would you people who aren’t involved leave. Please.”

"Who says I'm not involved? Ichika begged me desperately to train him!"

Well, I didn't exactly “beg”… not that desperately, anyway. Didn’t we have this discussion before? Houki really emphasized the word “desperately” again. She just won’t let me forget asking her, will she?

"Since he's class 1’s representative, he should be taught by someone from class 1. What are you on about, popping out of nowhere and then asking to train with him? I'm guessing that you're plotting something!"

"I didn't just pop out of nowhere. I've known Ichika longer than you have!"

"Don’t even go there, because I've known Ichika longer than YOU have! In fact we’re so close, Ichika’s come over to my house to eat lots of times!"

"Really? Mine, too! Now isn’t that a coincidence?"

Rin's house was also a Chinese restaurant. Though I would cook when Chifuyu-nee was at home, back then she was an active IS pilot, so she rarely returned home. If I was going to eat by myself, I figured it was pointless for me to cook. I guess I got a little extreme, though, because for a while I just ate instant noodles.

Instant noodles are completely tasteless, and more importantly, they aren't that healthy. So from time to time I would go to a nearby restaurant. Rin's family served cheap food that was delicious and they offered generous portions, so I would go there 4 or 5 times a week.

Because of all the chaos that was my grade school career, I hung out with Rin pretty often. At first our relationship was pretty rocky – I think that’s because of Rin's personality - but after experiencing a lot of things together, we got to know each other well enough that we’d call each other by our first names.

Come to think of it, my relationship with Houki was the same way: we started off pretty rough. Is it because of my misdeeds? Hey! Even my relationship with Cecilia's like that!

"I-Ichika, what's she talking about!? Why haven’t I heard about this??"

"You never mentioned it to me, either!” Cecilia was shouting now. “Ichika-san, I demand a proper explanation!"

"What do you mean? We're just childhood friends and I ate at the Chinese restaurant Rin's family owns."

After I explained that, Rin went from looking rather pleased with herself to being disgruntled. In contrast, Houki and Cecilia heaved a sigh of relief.

"Oh, so it's just a restaurant?"

"Oh my, I see. If it's just a restaurant, there's nothing strange about it."

In fact, the girls from my class all looked tense, but once I said that they all relaxed. What’s that all about? Has Chifuyu-nee arrived?

"Oh, Rin – How’s your dad doing? Did he get over that thing he had?”

"Huh? Oh, I guess he's okay."

Rin suddenly looked rather depressed. Something's wrong here.

"You're free after school, right? We haven't seen each other for a long time, so let's find a place to talk! Maybe the restaurant in front of the train station?"

"Ah—it closed down last year."

"Wha? How, how about a restaurant on campus? You should have a lot of things to tell me, right?"

Uhh… Not really. I mean, I was really busy during my 3rd year in middle school, but it was just schoolwork and stuff – not much worth talking about.

"Sorry, but Ichika's having intensive IS training with me, so he’s NOT free after school!"

Hold on! Houki, why are you deciding things for me? Don't I have the right to decide what I want to do after school? How unreasonable can you be?

"That's right! Ichika-san requires extra training for the inter-class tournament. Since I have a personal IS, I have to be to lend him my support.”

It seems like Houki and Cecilia aren’t on the defensive any more. They’re like two generals who seized a chance to attack the way they’re talking about my after-school training. Hey, don’t I have a say in what I do after school? Maybe I don’t want to train EVERY day! Are you girls devils?

Wait a second – I shouldn’t be thinking that; they're helping me out a lot here. Still, you gals could have asked me first. Honestly, a little common courtesy would go a long way – and not just with me. Other people appreciate it, too.

"Well then, I'll come by after you’re done training with them. Remember to leave some time for me, okay? Bye bye, Ichika!"

Rin gulped down the last of her soup, grabbed her things and walked away before I could reply. Same old Rin. She couldn’t be bothered with niceties like saying good bye to everyone before leaving the canteen.

So now I have to wait for her before I can even ask to reschedule??

"Ichika, you asked me to train you. That has to come first!"

"Ichika-san, don’t forget I’ll be training you to fly like a representative contender!”

…and I can't turn them down, either. I'm really suffering here! *sigh*

"Wha?"

I was expecting to meet Cecilia for training in the 3rd arena after school, so I couldn't help but be a bit surprised at who was waiting there for me.

"What's with that look? Is meeting me here really that strange?"

"Well, no, I wouldn’t call it strange, but…”

"Shinonono-san, what are you doing here?"

Cecilia said what I was thinking. That's right, it was Houki waiting for me. She was standing there in a fully deployed “Uchigane” IS.

The Uchigane is a highly-rated 2nd generation frame produced right here in Japan. It’s a defensive model that focuses on stability, so it's easy for beginners to use. Thus many countries use it as a training model, just like the IS Academy does. They're very common as ISs go, at least, according to the textbook.

File:IS v01 181.jpg

"Why so surprised? Ichika asked me to train him."

I did? Oh, right! I did!

"And besides, you still need practice in close-range combat, which is why I'm your ideal opponent."

I couldn’t argue with her there. The Uchigane is designed like an armored samurai. Its only weapon is a “close range sword”. For that reason alone, it really fits Houki – gives her a “space-age samurai” look.

Um… why is Cecilia glaring at me?

"Huh. I never imagined that you could get permission to use it so easily..."

Why was Cecilia looking so unhappy?

"Well then, Ichika, let's begin. Draw your sword!"

"Oh, okay."

Hoo, boy. Houki seems a little too enthusiastic. She drew her sword smoothly, its gunmetal black blade glinting menacingly to emphasize its keen edge. Is that a warning? My nerves ran cold all the way to my toes.

"Here we go!"

At that moment, a voice interrupted us.

"Hold on a minute! I, Cecilia Alcott, should be conducting Ichika-san's training!"

Before I could even finish my first attack, Cecilia was in the way, facing off against Houki.

"Hey, stay out of the way, or I’ll cut you down as well!"

"You don’t honestly believe I could lose to a training suit!"

Houki opened with a kesagiri, only to be blocked by Cecilia’s “Interceptor” knife. Cecilia used the moments Houki disengaged to distance herself, then fired several supersonic rounds from her “Starlight Mk III”.

Wow! This battle is intense! Wait a minute… what about my training?

"YAAAHH!!"

"YOU'RE SO NAÏVE!"

I'll just wait for them to finish. The chill creeping down my spine tells me it would be disastrous for me to interfere.

"Ichika!"

"Why are you standing there, watching?"

"Huh? Well, one of you will get angry no matter who I help, right?"

"Of course!"

"That's right!"

See?! What did I tell you? Why does it take a situation like this to make Houki and Cecilia work well together?

I guess I can’t get away with standing on the sidelines. Just like that I was thrust into a 2 on 1 battle. Now, this is true hell... are you girls trying to kill me!?

"Well, that's it for today."

"Uhhh… okay..."

Cecilia was standing over me, perfectly calm. I was on the ground gasping for breath, and she looked like she hadn’t even broken a sweat. Does being a representative contender make that big of a difference?

"Humph! You feel like that because you haven’t kept up your training."

Houki at least has the decency to look a little tired, but she’s still on her feet. But then, it was me alone against two devil girls whacking away at me! On the other hand… how do I put this? Houki, with sweat glistening on her skin… there’s something elegant about her that slightly raising my pulse. Hey, I said just “slightly!” Please, let’s leave it at “slightly.”

"Why are you still lying down there? Hurry up and get back to the control zone!"

"Oh? Um… Houki? Why are coming at me?"

"I'm going back to the control zone."

“But Cecilia's over there…"

"I’m going to the other control zone!"

Oh, right. But can't you just join Cecilia?

I wanted to say that, but I could foresee a meaningless argument, so I just returned to the control zone.

"Guh..."

I recall my IS. As it vanishes so does its support, and the fatigue hits me full force.

After removing her IS, Houki retied her sweat-drenched hair. "You wear yourself out making too many unnecessary movements. You've got to find a way to control your IS naturally and efficiently!"

She kept scolding me as we walked back to the locker room. My childhood friend is so kind and thoughtful it almost made me cry. Houki, if you keep this up how about you give me a handkerchief?!

With Cecilia in the opposite control zone, Houki and I were alone together before I realized it.

Not that it matters – all I could think about was getting a shower as soon as possible.

The closest facility with showers is the social club tower, but it's in the complete opposite direction from the dorms, so it would be pointless for me to go there. Plus, since there are no men bathrooms, I would have to use it together with the girls. Even though I don't mind being seen in just my underwear, I doubt the girls would feel that way. Besides, that’s just asking from trouble, and honestly, that’s trouble I don’t need.

Maybe “trouble” isn’t quite the right word. Chifuyu-nee would quite literally kill me before I could explain, and if she didn’t move fast enough, Houki would. Oh, yeah, and there’s the new entry on the “Kill Ichika” list: Cecilia Alcott signed her and her IS’s names there with a flourish.

"Houki, I've got something to ask you..."

"What is it?"

"Please let me use the shower first. Besides, didn't you join the kendo club? If you're training with me every day, it’s bound to bug the other girls in the club."

"You, you don't have to worry about that. There’s only a problem when I'm being chased..."

"Huh? Chased? By who? Where?"

"No, no, it’s nothing!"

I have no idea what's going on, but nothing seems amiss. Guess I don't have to worry.

"So, about the shower…"

"Ichika!"

The sliding door opened, and there stood Rin.

"Good workout, Ichika! Here's a towel! You’re OK with a sports drink, right?"

Um, what's going on? Does this childhood friend of mine have a gentle side after all? I’m sure glad at a time like this.

"Thanks! Ah - I'm alive!"

It's annoying to have my face drenched in sweat, but here’s Rin with a towel to wipe it off and a drink to rehydrate myself. I don’t generally like sports drinks because they have too much glucose, but that can help after a workout. Glucose is an important source of energy.

She brought a drink that's not cold, too, which was the right choice. Drinking a cold liquid after exercise is harmful when the body’s overheated. Lukewarm drinks are best at a time like this. A cold drink might make people feel good, but it’s not worth it.

"You haven't changed Ichika. You’re so concerned with your health even though you’re still young."

"I told you, it's best to start early. If I form the habit now, it’ll spare my family from worrying about me later!"

"You sound like a crotchety old man."

"Shut up!"

For some reason, Rin's staring happily at me, as if she can see right through me. It makes me nervous. That “I understand you so well” expression on her face is really getting on my nerves at the moment.

But she looks so cute with that look on her face. Has she always looked that cute?

Last time I saw her was the winter of our second year in middle school, and it's been only a year since then. But something has changed. Her brash attitude and something else – maybe that “girl's scent” of pheromones or something – is affecting me. Back then, I treated her as just a friend, but right now, the “male” in me is reacting to her.

"Ichika, did you miss me when I moved away?"

"Well, losing a friend did make me feel a bit lonelier."

"That’s not what I meant!"

Rin had a delighted smile on her face. Uhh… it’s exactly the same expression she’d have when she got a ticket to one of those weird movies she likes!

AH HA, now I see! She wants to sell me something. That was close! I almost fell into her trap.

"Rin?"

"Hm? What is it?"

"I won't buy anything."

Rin wore a “what-are-you-talking-about” look on her face. Oops. Did I guess wrong?

"I'm a childhood friend you haven’t seen in a long time, and I know you have something to say to me, right?"

Something I should say... Huh. Nothing’s coming to mind.

"For example…"

"Ahem!!" Houki coughed deliberately to interrupt Rin. She’s wearing that “I don't care what you people do” attitude again.

“I'm going back to the room, Ichika, but you can use the shower first."

"Oh, thanks."

"See you later."

It seems like she put too much emphasis on that “see you later.” Am I thinking too much? It seems like I'm thinking too much.

...no, I’m not thinking too much. She really did.

"Ichika, what did she mean by that!?"

Rin’s mood darkened as she watched Houki walk out of the control room. She tried to force a smile to hide it, but her voice had dropped by two keys.

"Nothing – it’s just that Houki usually showers first, but since I'm all sweaty, I asked her if I could use the shower first this time.”

"Sho-Show-Shower? 'Usually'? Ich-Ichika, what sort of relationship do you have with that girl?"

"What sort of... didn't I mention it before? We're childhood friends."

"Wh-wh-what does being childhood friends have to do with taking a shower?"

Oh, yeah. I haven't told her yet.

"Houki and I are sharing a room."

“WHAAAAT?!?"

"It's not like that. Having a male enter the academy was completely unexpected, so they couldn't get a room ready for me in time. For now I’m living in normal two-person room with…"

"Do-Does that mean that you're living in the same room as that girl?"

"Well, sort of? But thank goodness it's Houki. If I had to live in the same room with someone I didn’t know, I would be too nervous to sleep."

"..."

"Hm? What's with you?"

"...if it's a childhood friend, I guess it’s..."

"??"

Rin lowered her head, so I couldn't hear her clearly. I leaned closer. With her face down like that, I couldn’t see her expression.

"I'M JUST SAYING IT’S OKAY BECAUSE SHE’S A CHILDHOOD FRIEND!!”

"WAH!!"

Her head snapped up and she shouted. I stumbled backward a couple of steps, my ears ringing. Had I been an inch closer, she would have head butted me!

"I got it, I got it! I see! Yes, I understand clearly and completely."

Rin was nodding vigorously to herself. What now? What did she understand?

"Ichika!"

"Ye-yes?"

"Don't forget that you have two childhood friends."

"I would never forget that."

"Then, I’ll see you later!" Rin dashed out of the control zone.

I guess “see you later” is the word of the day. Um… weren’t we going to train or talk or something? Rin, you do know that not doing what you promised kinda creates trust issues, right?

"Ugh..."

Girls' thoughts - even childhood-friend girls’ thoughts – are really a mystery to me.

"…and that is why we need to change rooms!"

"What kind of a joke is this? Why should I listen to you?"

Houki, Rin and I were standing just outside my room. It was past 8pm. Right after I finished dinner I went back to my room and was pouring some tea, when Rin suddenly barged into our room.

Now these two were completely at loggerheads.

"Shinonono-san, you must hate living with a guy. Since you’re so considerate of other people's feelings, you probably can't relax. Things like that don’t bother me, so that’s why we should switch rooms."

"I never said that I hated living with him! Besides, this is between Ichika and me!"

"Relax! It’s not a problem because I'm his childhood friend, too!"

"What kind of reason is that?"

So far, they’ve made absolutely no progress. Probably a better way to say it is neither one of them is willing to compromise. Rin has always had a “do what I want” mentality, and Houki's a lot more stubborn than most people. I can't see them settling this peacefully. Even though it's the 21st century, humans are still humans; old habits die hard.

Am I seeing things? Did Rin really bring her luggage over?

"Rin?"

"Yes?"

"Is that your luggage?"

"Yup. All I need is a Boston bag and I'm ready to go."

She's as quick as ever. As girls go, Houki doesn’t require much luggage, but Rin has less luggage than me! I once joked that she’d be capable of moving out any time, but that made her really mad so I never mentioned it again.

Speaking of girls and luggage, when Cecilia invited me to see her room, I thought I had entered a high-class hotel. The bed, dressing table, desk, even the chairs - all the furniture and decorations had been specially ordered - even the wallpaper and lights! I wouldn’t dare mention it to her, but that was a little scary.

That was the first time I had ever seen a bed with a canopy over it. Cecilia’s roommate was forced to cram all her stuff into the corner by her bed; Cecilia had taken almost all the space! Hey, Miss Representative Contender for England, you could probably stand to live a bit more modestly.

"Anyway, I'll be living in this room from now on."

"Wha-what kind of a joke is that? Get out! This is my room!"

"It's also Ichika's room, right? So there's no problem!"

Rin looked at me as if she wanted me to agree with her. Houki also looked like she wanted my support - getting Rin out. Well, it wasn’t so much a look Houki gave me as it was a glare.

File:IS v01 193.jpg

"Please, don't get me involved..."

Ah, this is making my head hurt. I need a light painkiller pill here!

"I won't switch rooms with you! Go back to your own room!"

"Oh yeah, do you remember our promise, Ichika?"

"Don-don't you dare ignore me! Okay, THAT DOES IT..."

Houki was completely agitated, and grabbed the shinai she keeps beside her bed, ready to use at a moment’s notice.

"NOT HERE…!”

I couldn't stop her in time. Houki totally lost her cool and swung the blade at a completely defenseless Rin.

*CLACK!*

That didn’t sound right. A shinai hitting someone makes a squishier sound than “clack”. No, wait, now's not the time to sit back and watch the show!

"Are you all right, Rin?"

"Of course I am. I am a representative contender, after all."

When I looked at her again, the attack aimed at her head had been blocked by part of her IS deployed on her right arm.

"...!"

Houki was more shocked than I was. Even though as IS deploys in under a second, it’s still only as fast as the pilot - a flesh and blood human. In other words, no one can deploy an IS faster than a human reflex.

Most typical humans couldn’t have reacted to Houki’s attack. This clearly proves a simple fact: Rin is strong.

"Y’know, an ordinary person would have been seriously injured by that."

"eep..."

Houki looked terribly guilty, and looked away. Maybe Rin pointing out how she had lost control of her anger was more effective than any other reprimand.

"Oh, well, nevermind!"

Rin recalled her IS. Her right arm flashed and reverted back to its original state.

Now what? Houki’s standing there, silent and awkward, embarrassed by her out-of-control behavior. Rin, on the other hand, looks positively excited waiting for my reply.

What was I supposed to be replying to again? She said something about a promise, right?

"Rin, about that promise…"

"Mmmm… you do remember it, right?"

She lowered her head and just peeked up at me. Is it just me, or is she looking rather embarrassed?

"Let me see… you mean the one about… if your cooking improves, I’d eat your sweet-and-sour pork every day?"

"Yes, that's it! That's the one!"

“…and it would be your treat, right?"

I remember now. We made that promise when we were in elementary school. I must have a better memory than I thought to remember that! Still, it feels like my brain had to work extra hard for that memory; I'll have to reward it.

"...what?"

"That’s right! You promised to treat me to a meal every day! Wasn’t that it?"

Free meals! It doesn’t get better than that.

"Wow, I'm so impressed that I actually remembered…”

*SMACK!*

"Wha?!?"

Somebody slapped me.

I had no idea what just happened. As I blinked tears out of my eyes, my gaze met Houki's. Her face was unreadable.

"Wha? What was that?"

Slowly, very slowly, I turned to face Rin. It wasn’t a happy sight.

Her shoulders were trembling with anger, and her glare could shatter glass. Eyes watery, lips pursed, she looked she was about to burst into tears.

"Oh, hey, Rin..."

"YOU CAN'T EVEN REMEMBER A PROMISE YOU MADE TO A GIRL?! YOU'RE THE MOST DESPICABLE GUY EVER! I HOPE A DOG BITES YOU TO DEATH!!!"

*BAM!!* I didn’t realize what had happened until the door slammed. Rin had snatched her luggage off the floor, kicked open the door, and charged out of the room.

I finally managed to pull myself together after hearing door slam.

“Wow. I really blew it. I’ve never seen her that angry."

It was completely my fault... I guess? I’m not quite sure what happened. Even so, it infuriates me that she called me the “most despicable guy ever.” I barely remembered making a promise to her, and for that I was verbally sucker-punched?

No, wait, it’s more than that. She was crying. That's right… she was definitely crying.

"Ichika."

"Yeah? What is it, Houki?"

"I HOPE A HORSE KICKS YOU TO DEATH!”

GACK, WHY IS HOUKI ANGRY NOW!? To top it off, my face is starting to hurt where Rin slapped me. I hope the swelling goes down by morning. If it doesn't, I can already hear the interrogation squad. No matter how many times I have experienced girls bombarding me with questions, I can't get used to it. Speaking of which, why do girls always talk about other people and looks and stuff? To be honest, I can't keep up.

"Sigh..."

Anyway, I’d better sleep. Though it's not even 9, I there’s nothing I have to do before tomorrow. Besides, Houki's angry as well. Staying up with her like this is just asking for trouble.

The situation should improve tomorrow morning, right? Probably not. As the saying goes, girls' feelings last 3 times longer than guys'.

Why are the people of the opposite gender around me so... I better stop here. Quit while I’m ahead.

The next morning, there was a large poster pasted on the students’ corridor: Class Representative Tournament Schedule

And the opponent in my very first match is… Rin from class 2.


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