HEAVY OBJECT:Volume1 Chapter 1
- 1 Chapter 1: The Rank and File Soldiers that Tie Up Gulliver >> Battle on the Freezing Alaskan Snow
Chapter 1: The Rank and File Soldiers that Tie Up Gulliver >> Battle on the Freezing Alaskan Snow
In the end, war was nothing more than battles between Objects.
A flesh and blood human carrying around a carefully-maintained rifle could do nothing.
Even if tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of soldiers gathered or even if tons of tanks and fighters were prepared, that 50 meter monster would casually wipe them all out. Some of them could move around even after a direct hit from a nuke or two, so it seemed insane to seriously try to fight them.
That was why everyone just left the main role to an Object.
By shoving the pain-in-the-ass main role onto the monster, they could leisurely watch from the sidelines.
That may have been why the 800 soldiers filling the base zone, a base that specialized in maintenance, were so relaxed despite being on the front line of a battlefield.
The area was called a base, but all they had to do was efficiently maintain the Object and see that it was dispatched.
The flesh and blood soldiers only had to guard the giant weapon as it was being maintained during the short time it was there and they would be rewarded as heroes who protected their country with no thought to their own lives.
With the Object there, they were perfectly safe.
The Object that protected them was like a tree that grew gold. Just by watching it, it would defeat enemy after enemy after enemy. The soldiers insisted that all that was the result of the entire base zone’s work so they should all be rewarded, and so their bank accounts became overflowing with money paid from the people’s taxes.
In reality, the war was carried out by the Object alone.
As long as it was there, their lives and futures were basically guaranteed.
It was because they felt that way that a panic fell over all the soldiers watching from the base zone in the instant their Object burst into flames and blew up.
In the current age, war was nothing more than battles between Objects.
That meant that the defeat of one’s own Object was always a possibility when the enemy also had an Object.
The white Alaskan snow storm obstructed their view, but they could still clearly see the red flames and black smoke.
The ejection device shot the pilot girl known as an Elite out into the sky, but no one was going to save a now-useless loser.
More important things were on their minds.
To reiterate, in the current age, war was nothing more than battles between Objects. Lining up tanks, fighters, and the other types of weapons used before would only be easily blown away by the 50 meter monsters that were Objects.
Now that their own Object had been destroyed, the enemy’s Object could move about freely.
What that meant was simple.
They would be massacred.
The overwhelming stream of weapons fire would send their flesh, bones, and organs flying into the air in the hopeless and definite massacre.
Nothing was left for them but to flee. Yet even if they unhesitatingly chose to flee, it would be a miracle if even a tenth of the soldiers within the base zone survived. Not a single one of them recalled the most basic of orders within the military – to stand their ground and hold the line.
A hellish game of tag began.
It was a ridiculous game of tag between a monster over 50 meters long and tiny humans.
One day prior, a boy named Quenser stood in a snowy area of Alaska. He was within the maintenance base zone for the giant Object. Quenser’s build was different than what one would expect of a soldier. Simply put, he did not have the muscles a soldier needed. He looked more like someone who would be attending a school in a safe country. In fact, he could likely change what sex he appeared to be depending on if he was wearing pants or a skirt.
In reality, that overall impression was not incorrect.
The arms he was using to dig into the snow with a shovel were trembling due to exhaustion and myalgia.
“Dammit!! What’s the point of this work!?”
The person who made that announcement and gave up was the actual soldier who stood next to Quenser. Quenser looked surprised and the soldier boy he had met in the base zone threw his shovel down.
“There are all sorts of different types of soldiers. I'm normally a radar analyst that checked the specs of the enemy’s Object to find a weakness. I didn’t join the army to shovel snow!!”
That intellectual soldier was named Heivia. As Quenser did not fit in well with the athletic-minded spirit of the army, he got along with the boy better than the others.
(…Well, we are similar types.)
With that arbitrary thought, Quenser spoke.
“It’s not like there’s any other option. All of the fighting is left to the Object, but the people living in peace back home wouldn’t want to give up their tax money if they didn’t see anyone working at all. I was watching the CS news channel and I saw Councilor Flide shouting about lowering taxes in order to get votes in the upcoming election.”
“That’s exactly the thing though,” said Heivia. “Even the folks back home can tell that digging up the snow like this to maintain a runway is useless. Knowing it’s just for show makes me want to do it even less.”
“Yeah, a fighter isn’t going to do anything against an Object. In the mock battle, it took out 1500 of them and I’m pretty sure that in reality they just called it there because they were tired of counting.” Quenser stabbed the tip of his shovel into the ground and leaned on it with both hands. “After all, Objects use anti-air lasers that are powered by a high-output reactor. Fighters may be able to fly at Mach 2 or 3, but they’re no match for the speed of light. The instant the Object gets a lock, they’re already shot down. I’ve heard that the armored units they mention in history classes were saved by dust and dirt and other stuff near the surface refracting the lasers, but the high altitude that fighters excel in is so clear that there’s nothing to obstruct the laser.”
“Those things are 50 meter monsters that can still move around after you nuke them. A fighter’s nothing more than a small bird or gnat to them. Maintaining a runway is a waste of effort.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that the aces from the aviation unit only stay on standby in their cockpits so they can listen to the radio. But I doubt the tanks from those armored units would be of much use either. …And about leveling off this runway. Couldn’t they just put a giant shovel on the front of an armored vehicle and plow it all out of the way in one go?”
“…What the hell are we doing…?”
“Well, I still prefer this to having to fight.”
“That’s not a very soldierly thing to say, but I’ve gotta agree with you,” said the delinquent soldier Heivia in agreement with the boy of civilian origin. “We can just leave the fighting to the Objects. Losing your life on the battlefield just isn’t done anymore. We just have to watch from afar and wait for the Object to bring back its success as a souvenir. People like us fighting is just out of the question.”
“You’re a noble, right, Heivia?”
“Yeah, so I have to go out here and ‘become an honored soldier’ in order to prove my worthiness to become the next head of my family. Basically, if I put up with life in a base for 3 years, I can spend the rest of my life in a giant mansion flirting with my many maids.”
Contrary to his words, Heivia did not look pleased.
He seemed to not be entirely satisfied with that peaceful life.
“It sounds like you have it tough in your own way.”
“Yes. Unlike you, Heivia, I’m a commoner. I have to make sure I can get a job. That’s why I came here as a battlefield student.”
“Are you hoping to be an Object designer?”
“Learning at the actual site is said to be the quickest course to wealth. If I stay here for 3 years, I’ll have gained the best education you can get. Then I can gain money and the privileges of being a ‘saint that helps the heroes’ by manufacturing and selling Objects for those heroes to pilot.”
“Successful battlefield students are so highly praised because of all the barriers in their way. Since they don’t undergo the training of a soldier, I hear they start dropping like flies due to battlefield sicknesses and overwork. Hearing that does manage to remind me that this is indeed a battlefield.”
“Speaking of that, did you undergo training, Heivia?”
“Yeah, I went through the old style of training when I enlisted. It seems they wanted to build up a foundation of muscles and a spirit of camaraderie over a 5 month period, but I ended up like this regardless. Since I haven’t been in a single real battle since being assigned here, even my hand-to-hand combat skills have probably grown pretty rusty.”
“I’m perfectly happy living the kind of life that leads to forgetting how to fight.”
“That’s not a very soldierly thing to say, but once again, I’ve gotta agree with you.” Growing tired of that subject, Heivia moved on to another. “These nutritionally balanced military rations are just plain disgusting. What were the people who developed them thinking? …It’s more expensive than normal meat but tastes a whole lot worse. I just can’t stand it.”
“Aren’t they purposefully making it something with no flavor so the soldiers’ spirits don’t change based on whether they like the food for that day or not? People have different tastes when it comes to food, so they can’t make something absolutely everyone will like.”
“So they feed us something absolutely everyone will hate? Fuck that!”
“The food is paid for by the other people’s tax money, so you really shouldn’t complain. I will admit that capturing a deer and grilling it with some salt would be better though.”
Quenser had made the comment offhand, but it made Heivia freeze in place for some reason.
He turned eyes of pure admiration toward Quenser.
“…That’s a battlefield student for you. You really are a genius.”
“You’re right. If we don’t have any good food, we just need to go catch it ourselves.”
And so Heivia threw aside his shovel, grabbed his military rifle, and headed outside the base zone. A conifer forest that seemed to jut out of the white snow surrounded the area. It was an area of nature that seemed like it would have more wild animals than they could ever want.
Quenser had been dragged along, but he put down the rifle Heivia had shoved into his arms.
“Let’s go back. The superiors will come after us if they find out. I can already hear them going on about lacking a love for animals or something.”
“C’mon, I know you’d rather have some juicy meat over those rations that taste like petroleum jelly. And I don’t understand why they praise you if you shoot an enemy soldier, but they get mad if you shoot an animal.”
“That’s because bullets aren’t free. They used the tax money to buy them in order to kill enemy soldiers, so I’m betting they just don’t want us wasting them,” explained Quenser, but Heivia was not listening.
He was heading deeper and deeper into the thick forest, following deer tracks in the snow.
(…I’m not going along with this.)
Quenser picked back up his rifle and sat on a nearby stone.
He looked back toward the maintenance base zone.
However, he was not looking at a line of thick reinforced concrete buildings. The base zone Quenser belonged to was a mobile base, so it was made up of a large collection of vehicles. These base vehicles were much larger than even large trailer trucks. The soldiers’ quarters, the radar control tower, and everything else were located onboard those large vehicles. Even the Object maintenance area was put together by lining up several giant trucks that were dozens of meters long.
That was yet another aspect of the rules of war that Objects had changed.
Rather than fortifying a single defensive position, it was more militarily important to be able to swiftly get the Object to any place it needed to be.
Quenser thought as he stared at that base of the new age.
(My superiors with their military decorations are sitting in a warm room sipping coffee as they wait for the Object to return.)
However, holding a grudge was not going to lessen the Alaskan chill and Heivia was right about Quenser being tired of the bland and tasteless rations.
Quenser dug through the pocket of his military uniform that he was still not used to wearing. He pulled out the survival kit he had been issued along with the knife he did not know how to use. The kit had everything needed to treat wounds as well as tools to start a fire or catch a fish.
(In an age where Objects deal with everything, even this is a waste of taxes.)
When stored, the fishing pole was only about as long as a ballpoint pen, but when extended, it was around 50 centimeters and looked like the kind of pole that would be used to catch wakasagi. However, it was made of a military carbon something-or-other so its strength and flexibility were exceptional. Instead of bait, the kit had a few different types of lures. It seemed they had tried to find a way to allow one to fish without wasting any bait.
Quenser walked around for a bit and found a meandering stream. He broke the ice covering the surface and let the fishing line hang down into the water.
“Ahh, today sure is a peaceful day,” he muttered despite being on the front line of a battlefield.
However, an amateur student could not properly use a survival kit so easily. It was unclear if Quenser would even have been able to catch a fish with a proper fishing pole, so it was no surprise when he did not catch anything no matter how long he waited.
He heard intermittent gunfire in the distance.
Of course, it was not enemy soldiers drawing near; it was Heivia chasing deer in hopes of getting one for dinner that night. In that day and age, the idea of flesh-and-blood soldiers attacking a maintenance base zone that held a giant Object was unthinkable. It was like trying to destroy the wall of a nuclear shelter by tackling it.
Just as Quenser was thinking that, he heard crunching footsteps in the snow.
“What is going on?”
He spun around and saw a girl with a puzzled look on her face. The girl looked to be around 14 and looked even less suited for the army than a battlefield student like Quenser.
She had fluffy blonde hair that reached her shoulders and white skin. Rather than a pure blue, her eyes were a light sky blue and she seemed to be staring off into the distance so it was difficult to get a grasp on her emotions.
The delicate lines of her body went beyond merely slender.
Her question seemed to have been in regards to the distant gunshots rather than to Quenser himself.
Quenser gave a blunt response.
“We’re going to have a barbecue tonight. I’m in charge of the salmon and Heivia’s in charge of the deer. I may have been the one to bring it up, but I don’t even know if deer meat is any good. I’ve never had it before, so I’m a little unsure. I just hope it doesn’t taste too strange.”
“…You’ll come to an early death if you have a barbecue with no vegetables.”
The girl gave a sigh with the expression of someone who had opened a box and found something uninteresting inside.
Quenser looked away from the fishing pole that showed no sign of a bite no matter how long he waited.
“Where are you headed, princess?”
“Are you trying to provoke me?”
The girl’s expression usually remained relatively unchanged, but she looked slightly offended there.
However, Quenser and the girl were barely acquainted and he was unsure what to say. She had likely only spoken up on a whim. He doubted any situation would come up where he would need to communicate with that girl.
After all, she was an Elite, a pilot of the giant weapons known as Objects.
While he had helped out at the Alaskan maintenance area, he had exchanged simple greetings with her, but he doubted that was enough to create any kind of friendship. Their positions were simply too far apart. He was a dime a dozen student and she held a position that very few had even within a single nation.
Unlike Quenser and the others, she wore an outfit exclusive to Elite pilots. The suit was rather difficult to describe. It was clearly different from a normal military uniform. It was a mainly indigo blue skintight suit that started at her neck and covered even her hands and feet. The boots and gloves seemed to be detachable and they were connected on with fasteners.
Over that, she wore a black armored vest to protect her torso and a type of pocket that spread out like a miniskirt. Apparently, the bottom of the vest and the top of the pocket attached when she was piloting the Object. In what may have been a military tradition, the neck of her suit had a sailor uniform collar attached that somehow looked like part of a school uniform from a safe country.
The suit was highly water resistant so it could be worn while working underwater and it would even stop blood from flowing to her lower body to preserve the functionality of her brain just like air force suits did. The special suit was very Object-like in the fact that it outdid each of the previously existing branches of the military.
Quenser recalled being surprised when he had first seen her light sky blue eyes in the maintenance area. At first he had thought they were truly glowing, but he had been wrong. When piloting the Object, weak infrared rays were used to allow even the movements of her eyes to act as an input device. Long exposure to that laser had lightened the original blue color of her eyes.
That lightening was not an unwanted destruction of the functionality of her pupils’ lenses by the laser. Instead, it was an advancement allowing the laser to be even more effective, so her eyes would not grow any lighter once they reached a certain point.
The girl turned those light-colored eyes that were the sign of an Elite toward Quenser and spoke.
“The Object is being serviced. I had nothing to do, so I was wandering around outside. That was when I heard what sounded like gunfire.”
“…Oh, crap. You could hear that back at the base? We probably have a lecture waiting for us then.”
“And the old lady chief was yelling something about ‘that stupid kid’ running off and wasting a perfect chance to learn something since the Object was undergoing maintenance.”
“Oh, crap! This is worse than I thought!!”
He started running back toward the base zone, but then…
“…No, wait. Even if I run back now, I’m still going to get that lecture, so my options here are really to get yelled at empty handed or to get yelled at after catching some salmon. …I see, I see. I’m not going back until I catch at least one even if I die first.”
“If you acted more maturely and did not do things like that, they would not get mad at you so often.”
Quenser returned to the fishing pole mostly out of escapism and the girl looked at him with a shocked look in her eyes. Either she truly had nothing better to do or she was not used to someone who was not a proper soldier (to the soldiers, piloting the Object was a matter of life or death, so they tried to keep their distance from the Elite girl to make sure nothing unexpected happened) because she continued to hang around. This was unlike when he helped out with the maintenance because then they would only exchange a few businesslike words.
(…Could it be that this princess is also tired of the rations, so she’s interested in the salmon?)
Quenser did not dare speak that thought aloud because he was sure it would make her most displeased.
He continued trying to come up with something to talk about, but the girl continued speaking before he could come up with anything.
“You came here to study the Object, correct?”
“Yes. If I can survive helping out with the maintenance here at the base for 3 years, nothing but success awaits me when I return home.”
“Why this base?” asked the girl curiously. “You know what kind of Object I pilot at this base, don’t you?”
“It’s a Composite Multi-Role Object. …In other words, it can be freely used in any environment on the earth and in any weather conditions. It’s the most standard type of the giant weapons. It’s fine on land or in the sea.”
“Standard is another way of saying old-fashioned.” The girl sighed. “The second generation Objects are not so greedy as to claim to work anywhere. An Object developed to fight in the desert without any thought to fighting anywhere else will outdo a normal Object in a desert battle.”
That was a theory that had started to gradually spread throughout the Object manufacturing industry.
When the first Objects had started appearing on the battlefield, a composite Object that could fight the same in any battlefield in the world was a king of beasts with no natural enemy. However, when multiple Objects started popping up in the various battlefields across the globe, the situation had changed.
A composite model that could be freely used anywhere had no real weaknesses. However, this also meant that it had no real strengths. When the situation had changed from an Object crushing normal weapons to an Object fighting an Object, the question of how to make one’s own Object stand above the rest came to the forefront.
One suggested answer to that question was to create an Object that had definite strengths even if that would destroy the even balance of its functionality. Afterwards, that Object would have its activities kept to the environment it excelled in, giving it an advantage over other Objects when it fought.
“Here in Alaska is the same. We have a normal Object with no disadvantages and they have an optimized Object with definite strengths. In this snowy area, my Object may not be able to win.”
“But you’ve continued to use that Object, right, princess?”
“…I have no choice,” the girl known as an Elite said with some hesitation.
All the previous giant 50 meter weapons had become “old generation models” due to the latest weapons, but not just anyone could become an Elite that piloted those Objects.
They were the people who met every desired condition under a search carried out using the army’s flowchart of conditions.
Also, a human only became a terminal that controlled an Object after they had abilities developed that easily overcame those of your standard genius by having their nature artificially honed, refined, and improved by chemical and electrical means to match an individual Object.
Once an Elite was developed so utterly, their fate was linked with that of their Object.
Elites could not pilot just any Object. They could only pilot the Object they had been fine-tuned for. In fact, it might not be wrong to think of an Elite as someone who had their brain fine-tuned for a specific Object.
Elites could only pilot the Object developed for them or an Object further developed from the one that used the same tree diagram.
In that case, what would it mean if the type of Object you used was becoming obsolete?
“I might not be able to win,” the Elite girl who piloted the invincible Object said suddenly. “I might not be able to keep up.”
That girl had had her brain fine-tuned for the sole purpose of piloting that Object.
“As someone who has actually worked on the maintenance of the Object rather than just believing in it, you should know. So why did you come here?”
“Because I value things differently,” responded Quenser after thinking for a bit. “Only the soldiers get so obsessed over what is strong and what is weak. I’m a student. If I don’t stay with an Object with academic value, I won’t gain the knowledge and skills I need.”
“If I learn about a standard, basic model, I can use that knowledge anywhere. On the other hand, if I study a model that has already been optimized in one direction, I can’t use that knowledge anywhere else. For a battlefield student, your Object is the best option.”
His opinion did not take any of the serious issues like winning the war into account, but he could say that kind of thing because he was not a soldier.
“If you try for too much on the battlefield, you will not live long.”
“True, and that’s why battlefield students have such a low survival rate. But I’m butting in here on the battlefield in the hopes of getting rich quick, so I won’t complain.”
Hearing Quenser say that, the girl who was a veteran of many battles tilted her head in puzzlement like a normal girl.
“So you’re prepared.”
“Yes, well, I hate working slowly through normal schoolwork, so I’m desperate for this chance to skip ahead. I need to be prepared for whatever it takes.”
“Hmm,” said the Elite in a reaction that gave the impression that she was a little slow.
This time Quenser was left staring at her in puzzlement. However, it seemed the girl had no intention of continuing the conversation. She turned around and left that forested area of Alaska, leaving the boy with his rifle and fishing pole.
In real life, people often did not think back on strange things that happened.
In just such an example, the reason that Elite girl had spoken to him like that was something Quenser probably should have thought back on a little more.
After all, Objects were synonymous with war and flesh-and-blood soldiers had no value.
However, that also meant that just thinking about it may have been pointless.
As expected, they received a lecture.
The two idiots named Quenser and Heivia were dragged to the barracks for the distinguished commissioned officers. Just like everything else, those barracks were inside the large vehicles making up the base. Three vehicles were bolted together alongside each other, creating a rectangular building about the size of a four-story building. Of course, the vehicles could be separated at any time in order to fit on a narrow path.
Quenser and Heivia were within the topmost fourth floor area of the officer barracks.
(Damn Japan-obsessed bourgeois.)
It was not simply due to the splendid interior decoration of the room that the two of them had that same thought in unison. It had a lot more to do with the fact that they were being forced to sit in the Japanese seiza style on the hard floor.
Meanwhile, their superior officer, Froleytia, was not sitting on the hard floor. The inner half of the room was raised up higher than the rest and had tatami mats laid out on it. She was sitting in front of a short-legged desk in the middle of the tatami mats. She was seated upon a zabuton cushion so soft a cat would likely never get up again once it lay down on it.
She was a beautiful woman with long silver hair.
Her hair may have been slightly dyed because the silver was tinged slightly blue.
She was tall, she was slender, and she had large breasts that greatly pushed out her uniform. The legs wrapped in black stockings that stretched down from the tight skirt of a female officer were not simply slender. They were overflowing with a streamlined beauty that somehow drew the eye. Her palely colored lips held a pipe. It was not the short, thick type of pipe loved by European detectives. Instead, it was a long, narrow Japanese kiseru that was just under 30 cm long.
Quenser did not know if it was from the type of tobacco she was smoking or if it was a scent mixed in with her hair, but he could faintly smell sweet aroma.
“…You know why you were called here, correct?”
Her words were colder than the snowy plains outside the window when they stabbed into Quenser and Heivia’s ears.
They of course knew perfectly well why they had been called there.
They had left their snow shoveling duties to search for food outside the maintenance base zone. Since Heivia had also been firing his military rifle all over the place, it would have been odd if she had not been mad at them. It was on a level where they could easily be thrown in the detention barracks or possibly even court martialed.
“(…What are we going to do, Heivia!? This is why I told you to stop!! This was all about the rations, but I’d rather eat nothing but snow for the next three days than this!!)”
“(…Shut up, dammit!! God damn, is she really only 18? I know normal soldiers aren’t needed on the battlefield in this day and age, but I bet she could take on an Object with nothing but a clenched fist!)”
Just by having their names called, the two straightened up in shock. Froleytia was not even looking in their direction. She was playing with a long, narrow hairpin about 20 cm long that was modeled after a Japanese kanzashi while running a pen-like object across a board on top of her desk.
The board was known as a tablet.
Quenser had thought the devices were normally used to draw using a computer, but…
“Does this interest you, Quenser?”
“It may not be on the same level as you two who spend all your time searching for food, but I am quite busy. It may seem like nothing compared to you desperately burying the meat and fish you caught in the snow so it would keep, but I have to remotely command an operation on a small island in the Pacific while remaining here in this Alaskan base zone.”
Quenser moved only his eyes to look at the wall to the side. The entire wall was a giant LCD monitor and it was displaying a large map of the ocean and some islands. V-like red checkmarks continued appearing in relation to how Froleytia manipulated the tablet.
“Yes, it’s actually quite simple. I make marks on this board and the giant Object on standby there fires a long distance bombardment that blows away the bases of the guerrillas. It really is simple, isn’t it? Please tell me you think so,” Froleytia said nonchalantly as she continued adding more checkmarks. “Tablets really are nice. For one thing, it seems it can read the intensity of my guts from how hard I press down it as I write. I get the feeling that the long distance operation today is going especially smoothly.”
She must have actually been quite angry as she gave her commands because a creaking noise was coming from the plastic pen-shaped tool she held.
When they imagined the bits of flesh flying through the air somewhere in the world each time she made a checkmark, Quenser and Heivia started trembling.
“As I was saying, I am quite busy commanding multiple base zones and units at once, but then some idiots decided to give me even more to deal with. …By the way, can you imagine what is going on within my heart right now?”
“Yes, ma’am!! I would very much rather not envision it though! I can tell that you are quite pissed, Froleytia!!”
“Good. I am glad I have such excellent subordinates. I do, don’t I? Nod if you agree,” Froleytia said, finally looking in their direction with a sadistic smile.
After she had finished giving her orders to the units in the Pacific and had checked that the operation was complete, her expression suddenly changed to a carefree one.
“So what did you manage to get? I’ve had just about enough of those giant edible erasers they call rations.”
Ultimately, the issue ended such that dinner that night sounded like it would be quite nice (Quenser and Heivia still had to run 20 km in the snow later as punishment though), but there was still some time before mealtime.
“You mean that hellish run is starting now!?” said Quenser as he braced himself for the announcement, but Froleytia shook her head.
“You are a battlefield student. If I don’t send you over to the maintenance area to study the Object, I think the old lady in charge there would end up yelling at me.”
“Uuh!? I forgot I’d skipped out on that, too!! That means I’m also going to get a lecture from the old lady who can outdo even you!!”
“Oh, and Heivia, you can continue shoveling snow on your own. Make sure that runway is useable by sunset. The air unit has been complaining.”
“Noo!! That sounds worse than the 20 kilometer dash!! And why doesn’t the air unit get off their asses and help!?”
And so Quenser parted ways with Heivia and headed for the Object maintenance area.
It was a giant building that completely enveloped the giant weapon that was over 50 meters long. Just like the officer barracks, it too was created from several vehicles linked together.
Vehicles with flat beds 15 meters long and 10 meters across were lined up on both sides and two quickly constructed walls had been set up with a roof connecting them. Overall, it looked something like a cross section of a warehouse. The large maintenance area was constructed of a few of those linked together.
In addition to the standard shutters, the maintenance area also had an emergency means of letting the Object out. The base vehicles making up the maintenance area were linked together surrounding the Object, so they would instead break apart and move away from the Object when it needed to leave. Since that method destroyed the floor of the area, it was not normally used.
Quenser entered the giant building through a small back entrance for maintenance soldiers.
The giant 50 meter Object that was a symbol of military might was an overwhelming sight.
Surrounding the reactor at its center was a thick wall like one for a nuclear shelter. The wall created a sphere-like form. Its undercarriage was in a reverse Y-shape and it did not walk or roll on wheels like a normal vehicle. Instead, it used static electricity to float just a bit off the ground. The theory behind it was completely different, but its movements made it look a bit like the ground beneath it was moving to slide it along.
Of course, merely covering the ground with static electricity was not enough to make such a large construction float. A spray that acted as a repellent to the electrified Object was sprayed on the ground as it advanced.
It used a laser as a means of propulsion.
The power of static electricity created a small gap between the Object and the ground and the air in that gap was heated up by repeatedly firing a laser that was reflected and concentrated. This heating caused the air to explosively expand which provided propulsion. It was the same theory used in the laser launch pads for shuttles.
Its main pieces of military equipment were the 7 arms stretching from the back of the sphere.
The 7 giant guns attached to them could pierce through even Objects of the same rank.
It also had about 100 other gun batteries covering the surface of the sphere. It looked less like an optimized weapon and more like a strange weapon that had every piece of weaponry its creator could think of stuck on.
In modern times, it was the cornerstone of the military.
It was the cutting edge in the history of war.
It was an Object.
Over 200 thick wires similar to the ones used on cranes were connected to the walls and ceiling, anchoring its giant form in place. Countless walkways ran through the air and many maintenance soldiers wearing work clothes were immersed in various types of work.
Suddenly, the high-pitched sound of a wrench striking a metal railing echoed throughout the area.
Quenser looked up in surprise and saw an old lady yelling at him from a third-floor passageway.
“So you’re here, boy! You should thank me! I’m willing to take any help I can get, so I’ll even use an unrefined boy like you! Grab some tools and get on up here!!”
“Sorry I’m late!! About my punishment…!!”
“I don’t mind, I don’t mind. A maintenance soldier shows his worth with his results!!”
Hearing that, Quenser headed for the third floor using a simple stairway that could detach at the press of a button.
“(...Ohh. Thank goodness she’s an understanding old lady. And here I thought I needed to be afraid of her.)”
“(…Well, if he ends up not being of any use I can stuff him inside an empty drum and hit it with a metal bat from the outside.)”
As they muttered their respective comments such that the other could not hear, the two of them started their work on the third-floor passageway.
The old lady was working on something related to the system.
The Object’s cockpit (and emergency escape hatch) was located on the upper back part of the main spherical body. No one wanted to think about it, but the piloting Elite would be ejected in an upwards diagonal trajectory from the back in case of an emergency.
Currently, dozens of barriers were opened to create a route to the center of the sphere and the light from the cockpit’s monitors could be seen shining deep within like it was the opening to a tunnel. The tunnel was not simply a path to the cockpit. It also branched off to connect to various other places such as the maintenance room for the reactor, the thick double-layer door where additional fuel was added, or the room to exchange the attached box in which exhaust gases were compressed and sealed. It was reminiscent of a subway tunnel made of barriers and switching rails.
Meanwhile, the old lady was leaning back against a railing near that tunnel and looking at a handheld device.
“That connects directly with the Object’s system wirelessly, right? If you don’t need a long cable to connect it, is there really any need to open all the barriers down to the cockpit…?”
“You idiot. The Object’s barrier walls cut off electromagnetic signals. If they didn’t, an enemy Object could mess with the system mid-battle.”
Suddenly, a bluish-white flash of light surged up in the corner of their vision, so they both fell silent. A welder was working on the Object’s armor.
The main body of the Object alone was over 50 meters, but it was not made by pouring melted steel into a ridiculously huge mold. Steel sheets about the size of a curved tatami mat were prepared and dozens, hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands of them were put together to create the giant sphere.
The point of the many thin sheets was to disperse and distribute an impact rather than provide the defensive power of a thick wall. The theory was similar to that of a simple bulletproof vest, but it used so many steel sheets that it could even hold back the shockwave of a nuclear strike.
“It’s called onion armor, right? Not only is it tough, but pieces can be easily switched out when an enemy Object damages it. Whoever came up with the idea deserves a Nobel Prize.”
“It may sound simple, but each individual sheet of armor is custom made and tempered by a skilled artisan like a Japanese sword.”
“The heated steel has a few milligrams of a powdered fireproofing agent added in, right? From what I’ve heard, that makes it stronger, but makes the metal difficult to reuse.”
“It’s all thanks to the skilled hands of the artisans. A machine just can’t get the distribution right, so it ends up actually being more brittle.”
Quenser and the old lady looked down from the passageway just as a forklift carrying spare curved steel sheets passed by below. The forklift had “A beautiful victory for Princess Milinda!!” written on the side in large English letters.
(That’s the princess from before.)
As Quenser had that thought, the old lady continued to speak beside him.
“Personally, I was more surprised by the mechanism with which electricity is supplied from the reactor in the center out even to the laser cannons on the outer surface without using a single cable.”
“It uses a printed circuit board-style of power supply, right? By setting insulating material and conductive material in place and burning them onto the steel plates, power can be supplied without having to lower its defenses by opening holes in the armor for cables. The person that came up with that deserves a Nobel Prize, too.”
“Really, boy. You make it sound like everything is so easily made.”
The old lady slowly shook her head. At the same time, she carried out maintenance on the Object’s software with quick motions of her wrinkled fingers over the handheld device.
As she continued to work, she asked Quenser a question.
“So you’re hoping to be a weapon engineer?”
“Eh? Oh, about me wanting to be an Object designer. Well, for a commoner like me, I was thinking that would be the best position to get a wealthy life out of. As far as money and social status go, it easily outdoes some of the lower classes of nobles.”
“You aren’t gonna get a proper life out of being a wealthy merchant. …Well, it’s your life, boy, so I won’t stop you. So what are you thinking of making your field of expertise as a weapon engineer?”
“I was hoping to go with the total frame.”
“You idiot. No newcomer in the making is going to get a job putting together an entire Object. That’s like saying your dream for the future is to become a billionaire. It’s just too vague. Don’t students like you usually start by studying the something convenient like the replicant field in order get a job with a defense contractor and then learn the more complex things there?”
“Yeah, well, I’m not too fond of the whole replicant thing.” The idea must have brought something to mind, because Quenser made an unpleasant expression. “That’s the field that comes up with new ways for machines to move based on the movements of insects and other animals, and I don’t like spiders and roaches and things like that. Although you basically just observe bugs, so I’ll admit the research for that field is pretty cheap.”
“You coward. You’re the one that’ll be crying later because you failed to build up the basics.”
“I wanted to study an Object with standard features like the princess’s as a battlefield student in order to quickly learn those basics without having to go through all that other crap.”
“Why do you think the leaders of the home country built zoos and insect museums in all the major cities? They’ve spent the people’s taxes in order to supply inspiration to the promising youths who are trying to design Objects.”
The old lady sighed.
Quenser then looked over toward the entrance to the tunnel-like route leading to the cockpit.
“Speaking of promising youths, isn’t it about time for the pilot…or rather, the Elite selection scouting? When I was at school in the safe country, government officials dressed all in black would come loiter around the school.”
“They have to do it four times a year, but they probably won’t find anyone qualified this time either.”
“Elites have to conform to something called Element, right? What is that?”
“…It’s a general term for the conditions an Object pilot must meet.” The old lady’s fingers stopped moving along the handheld device and her tone grew a bit colder. “That said, it isn’t some kind of esper power that allows them to operate the special equipment. Well, it’s true there is an aspect to it that they are naturally born with, but the Elites are a military project to thoroughly refine natural talent using even things like electric stimuli and suggestions. With that method of creating them, the biggest impediment comes from human rights issues rather than a lack of money or equipment.”
“Those who qualify have their human rights completely ignored, but no one complains and even the Elites themselves truly wish to fight for their country even after having been developed like that. People that meet those conditions are not exactly common. …The Elites being raised will be piloting the ultimate weapons and it would be a problem if they turned their weapons on their home country.”
They heard a mechanical noise and the old lady added in a whisper, “Don’t speak with her.”
A seat exited from the tunnel-like route using the cockpit elevator. The Elite princess was sitting in the seat with her upper body strapped in with an H-shaped belt.
“So you’re finally here, sleepyhead.”
“I apologize. I have no excuse.”
“Here, boy, I have a job for you. Service the emergency ejection device. No one else’ll do it because they say it’s a bad omen.”
In any age, that was the kind of job left to an amateur. The amateur would take care of the ill-omened, useless jobs while watching how the pros did their work out of the corner of his eye.
Quenser circled around to the back of the chair the girl was sitting in and started working.
“Speaking of superstitions, is that why the Object is completely white? Or is it just camouflage for the snow?”
“At first, it was properly camouflaged to match its environment,” said the girl.
“But the king of beasts that has no natural enemies does not need to hide and paying for the paint got expensive, so now it’s just white. …Not to mention that something 50 meters long can’t be hidden so easily,” added the old lady.
“Hehh. It’s not the same as the replicant stuff we were talking about, but I heard rumors that there was a project to intimidate the enemy with patterns based on ferocious beasts or insects.”
“There was also a plan to create a terrible mode where it would continually make a horrible scraping noise from changing gears. Neither plan ever got anywhere.”
“The enemy is not the only one that sees the Object. It would be pointless if it wore away at your allies’ morale as well and they can’t exactly show some horrible looking Object off to the citizens in a parade in a safe country.”
“I see,” responded Quenser. “Then what about that rapier hanging down from the ceiling on a rope?”
“That’s a traditional good luck charm.”
“It ensures victory,” chimed in the girl.
As he listened, Quenser continued moving his wrench.
He heard a slight clicking noise and then the girl’s head shook just as she was about to say more about the good luck charm. Quenser looked questioningly over from the back of the seat at the back of the girl’s head.
“I can’t breathe.”
“Oh, shit! You idiot!! Don’t mess with the setting of the belt!! You’re constricting the princess!!”
“What!? Did I just do something really bad!?”
“I can’t breathe,” the girl repeated.
Quenser frantically grabbed the tool again, but he did not know what he had done to affect the belt.
The old lady ran to the small work elevator.
“I’ll go find a knife!! Boy, you take care of the physical work! Pull on the belt to make a gap so the princess doesn’t suffocate before I get back!!”
As Quenser was still panicking, the old lady left.
He quickly circled around to the front of the seat.
“I don’t mind… Just do something.”
Quenser decided to do as the old lady had instructed and pull on the belt to keep the girl from suffocating.
…But the H-shaped belt was digging into her chest in such a way that it emphasized her breasts.
Quenser’s fingers stiffened somewhat.
To grab the belt, he would have to make a hook shape with his fingers and dig down under the belt, but that would require him to touch the bulges on the girl’s chest.
(Despite her childlike proportions, she has quite a bit there…)
As useless thoughts like that raced through Quenser’s mind, he heard the girl’s quiet voice.
“…I’m going to die.”
That was right. He could not hesitate in a situation like that.
(I’m saving someone’s life here. This is serious. I screwed up. I need to make up for that. But those are her tits. No, no, that’s not the issue here. I need to stay serious. If I don’t hurry, her life is in danger. I need to save her. I need to do what I can for this princess. Tits!!)
Having finally prepared himself, Quenser reached out for the girl’s chest with everything he had before his jumbled thoughts could weaken his resolve.
The princess gave a small shriek like that of a small animal and he stopped.
(Not good. I just locked onto her tits rather than the belt, didn’t I? I can’t be grabbing her tits with an aroused look on my face that would make her feel her chastity was in danger. But what am I supposed to do? How can I save her without defiling her!?)
“E-emergency…measures…” said the princess as her face was growing paler and paler.
“What? Do you have some way out of this!?”
As she spoke, the girl pressed a button hidden under the seat.
Immediately afterwards, the seat she was sitting in exploded.
The H-shaped belt binding her was automatically severed and her small frame flew high into the air. However, Quenser was not able to just watch that. A mass of compressed air struck his body sending him flying a few meters away.
He landed rolling on the walkway and he saw a large white flower out of the corner of his eye.
It was the emergency escape parachute.
Normally, the high speed elevator would take her from the cockpit to the outer surface, the entire seat would be launched into the air, and finally the compressed air emitter in the suit would activate as the third stage. However, she had only activated that final stage which had sent her flying up almost to the ceiling.
(That ejection device really is a bad omen.)
As he muttered that in his heart, Quenser heard a voice.
“That’s the first time I’ve had to use that.”
Once the sun had set, it was time for dinner.
Instead of heading for the mess hall, Quenser headed out into the falling snow. He was having a barbecue that night. As he had caught the deer, Heivia was of course joining him, but it seemed their superior, Froleytia, would be there too because she claimed to just care about her subordinates that much.
Everyone was bored since they left everything about the war to the Object. If they had offered, it seemed likely all 800 soldiers would have come along, but Froleytia decided it should remain a confidential matter between the three of them. After all, they only had a limited amount of meat.
And so the three of them had their barbecue.
They held their barbecue within the grounds of the maintenance base zone.
The base zone was nothing more than a collection of large base vehicles and they had secretly gathered in a space surrounded by facilities on all sides so the winter wind would not blow on them too much. There, they built a fire and placed a metal sheet above it.
Froleytia, the superior officer, had gotten there first and was warming her hands on the fire she had started. She may have been the one looking forward to the dinner the most.
“Even if I warm myself, the cold still permeates my body. I need to eat some fatty meat to warm myself from the inside.”
Quenser glanced at Froleytia’s legs.
“Aren’t stockings warmer than bare legs?”
“Do you want me to shove them over your head so you can find out, Quenser? These are just for my appearance. They give nothing but peace of mind. Do you choose your socks based on what will keep out the cold best? I’m jealous of you guys that get to wear pants year-round,” said the woman in the tight skirt before turning to Heivia. “Good work, Heivia. Thanks to you, the runway can be used to take off from at any time. I’m sure that the STOL group from the air unit will thank you as well.”
“Heh heh. It was nothing.”
“But really the air unit is completely unnecessary. Those cowards removed all the weapons from their own planes, claiming it was to improve agility and stealth functionality. Really, they’re just afraid of having the enemy decide to shoot them down because they see them as a threat. They brazenly claim to specialize in reconnaissance, but almost all of the information on enemy Objects is brought back from the princess’s actual battles.”
“Dammit!! I had a vague idea that what I was doing was useless, but it really pisses me off to have someone else say it!! And given the condition out here, the snow’ll probably all be back by morning!!”
“Well, the age of fighters started going on the decline as far back as when chemical oxygen iodine lasers started being put on bombers. …The units were simply too big to fit on a small fighter. Once light came into play, being able to fly at the speed of sound didn’t matter so much. And then Objects came along. They have all sorts of different kinds of lasers. They can shoot repeatedly and in any direction. It’s impossible to fight against that in a fighter. All air units can do these days is bring in pizza from the safe country before it gets cold.”
“…That was 700 meters. I cleared snow from all 700 meters of that short takeoff runway all on my own!!”
As Heivia trembled in anger, Froleytia stuck her tongue out where he could not see her. She then spoke to Quenser much more familiarly than how she gave orders to her many subordinates.
“By the way, I hear you spoke with the princess outside the base zone,” asked his beautiful superior officer who even had carefully-maintained manicured nails despite being a soldier on the front lines.
Her tone made it sound like that was more important than the fact that he had disobeyed his orders.
“Umm, is that a problem? I talk with her occasionally in the maintenance area, so I just interacted with her in the same way. Should I have thought more about our positions?”
“I don’t see a problem with it. Apparently, the medical group feeds her rations even worse than ours to make absolutely sure her health does not suffer, but I say that will lead to the stress doing her in before poor nutrition ever would.”
“Doesn’t the Elite princess have an exclusive recreation building? From what I hear, it is supposed to be filled with devices that have digitalized healing effects,” said Heivia more politely than he was wont to do.
Froleytia grabbed a juicy piece of cooked venison with the chopsticks she used as part of her Japan obsession.
“That thing costs us all sorts of money, but does no real good. Do you think you could actually have fun playing with teaching materials your teachers at school handed out? Apparently, the princess dropped by once and has never gone there again.”
“So that’s how it is,” replied Quenser as he was reminded of the conversation with her from earlier that day.
He could not imagine anything making that girl smile.
That was the girl who had ominously said she might not be able to win in the next battle.
As those words of hers floated up in his mind, Quenser asked, “Have you ever lost, Froleytia?”
“Yes,” she readily affirmed while looking like she wished she had some beer to go with the meat. “I’ve lost three times when commanding remotely and once with the unit I was stationed with. It was terrible. The criticism when I returned home was worse than the flight itself. But that isn’t too surprising. I had lost a weapon used for strategies on a national scale after all.”
“Eh? Objects are synonymous with war, right? What do you do once the other side destroys your Object? I doubt you could manage with a tank or a fighter,” asked Heivia, brimming with curiosity.
“It’s simple. You raise the white flag,” responded Froleytia nonchalantly.
“Wars these days are not all-out wars. Once one side’s Object has been destroyed, the victor has been decided. And this victor doesn’t have the time to spare needed to pursue all of the powerless infantry units. No treaty has been formally made in that regard, but it’s one of the basic facts of war that no one even feels the need to bring up. If the unit quickly retreats and surrenders the territory, there is no need to make things more complicated and hunt them down.”
Seeing the gaping mouths of the two novices, Froleytia put on a carefree smile.
“Ha ha. I understand why you’re so surprised by that. When they train you, they don’t want to lower the tension, so they don’t tell you about conventions like that. But just look at me. I joined the military as a child soldier at 13 and have been on various campaigns ever since, but I do not have a single scar. In order to prevent any unnecessary deaths, we use clean weapons like Objects that gather all the military might in one place rather than spreading it out. My lovely skin shows that this is truly a ‘safe battlefield’.” Froleytia spun her chopsticks around a little. “Did you know that the #1 reason for soldiers to be sent home from this unit is not being shot by the enemy or carelessly stepping on a landmine? It’s actually due to fights between men and women within the base zone. On the modern battlefield, you need to be more afraid of love affairs than bullets. Do you see just how peaceful this place is?”
Quenser started to agree, but then a question popped into his mind.
“Wait. But Froleytia, weren’t you sending bombardments directly on enemy bases using a friendly Object in the Pacific earlier today?”
“You have a good eye, Quenser. That was not a war against another proper army. Attacks against guerillas or terrorists are nothing but suppression operations, so the previous conventions do not apply. …Listen up and remember this. That is the most efficient plan for using an Object. Large nations need some kind of mechanism for skillfully pushing back opposing forces.”
As the unpleasant turn of the conversation was ruining the taste of his food, Quenser decided to change the subject. The only subject other than the Objects he could come up with was the food.
Quenser looked at the venison that was acting as the main part of their dinner and then looked over at Heivia who had hunted it down.
“So are soldiers trained in how to hunt for food? I’m only at the level where I might be able to catch a single salmon after 3 hours.”
“Modern rifles have more than just optical scopes. They also have infrared cameras and microphones for searching for the enemy. It’s made so you can trace your target in multiple different ways. I wouldn’t end up with anything either if I headed into the great outdoors with just a fishing pole. Although the rifles are a complete waste of taxes since all the fighting is left to the Object.”
Froleytia then spoke up while skillfully using her chopsticks.
“Unless the supply line to the base zone is cut off, we can get as much food as we want from the home country. And the base will never be taken out as long as we have the Object. Even when I was a new soldier, they didn’t always train us in how to hunt animals. At the very least, it certainly isn’t a skill combat engineers like you need.”
“A combat engineer…hm? I just can’t get used to how that sounds.”
“The management of the base zone revolves around taxes. If we didn’t give a job to the students that hang around, it could affect the number of votes the politicians get. The climax of the council election is coming up back in the home country and Councilor Flide is getting worried.”
There were many different kinds of combat engineers, but the ones Quenser and the others were talking about were soldiers that dealt with explosives. However, they were not professionals that used them to kill enemy soldiers. Instead, they destroyed bridges to cut off the enemy’s path or blew stones out of the way of their own path.
For a student who was full of strange knowledge and did not have the guts to actually shoot someone, that role was perfect. There was also the course of being a medic, but Quenser’s specialty was machines and he did not know much about living things.
“But then our base is made up of the base vehicles, so we can set up camp just by driving those vehicles around, and we also have the Object. There really isn’t much for combat engineers to do.”
“That isn’t just the combat engineers. It’s pretty much the same for everyone in the base zone,” said Froleytia as she reached her chopsticks for one of the few pieces of salmon. “God damn this is a peaceful world. It feels like my gun could rust over and I could get zits from over-nutrition.”
“I know. As long as we have the Object, we’re safe. After three years in a base, I have the path of a noble waiting for me and Quenser here can go back to the safe country and become one of those distinguished scholars,” said Heivia with a smile as he patted Quenser familiarly on the shoulder.
“You kids are making me jealous,” spat out Froleytia, but there was not the slightest hint of jealousy on her face. Most likely, she preferred staying on the safe battlefield to being promoted from the military to a strict political post.
“Yeah,” Quenser said. “As long as we have the Object, even those dulled by peace like us can fight a war.”
Quenser’s words there addressed one truth of the world.
It was true as long as they had the Object.
A day later they would know.
They would know what kind of hell awaited soldiers utterly dulled by peace once their Object was destroyed by an enemy Object.
Froleytia had said that they merely had to raise the white flag if they lost.
However, she had also said something else.
No treaty has been formally made in that regard.
An explosion tore through snowy Alaska.
The giant invincible Object that had been fighting 10 kilometers away through the snowstorm started emitting black smoke and stopped moving. Through binoculars, the pilot’s seat could be seen being ejected and slowly floating down to the snowy ground with its parachute.
An unpleasant noise that echoed in his gut reached Quenser’s ears over the wind. The symbol of their safety, the Object, had been blown away by the enemy Object.
Its main body was a giant sphere covered in thick armor. In four directions, long insect-like legs stretched out to the ground. Its main weapons were sets of two low-stability plasma cannons, each measuring 50 meters. After a special gas was loaded into the cannon, a massive amount of energy from the reactor artificially created superhot plasma which was then fired. The sets of two were located on the front, back, left, and right creating a horizontal cross of cannons that allowed it to fire in any direction. It had a total of 8 of those cannons. Its spherical main body and four legs had countless laser beams, railguns, and coilguns, giving it over 100 guns in total.
The main body alone was 50 meters and the cannons stretching in each direction gave it a size of over 140 meters. The mountain-sized mass was slowly pointing its mid-range steel bridge-sized cannons their way. The set of two low-stability plasma cannons could melt a nuclear shelter buried deep in the earth in a single shot.
“…Hey,” said Heivia suddenly as he stood dumbfounded next to Quenser. “Why is it aiming in our direction? If the Object loses, we just have to raise the white flag and it’s over, right? That’s what Froleytia said, right!? So why!? This isn’t something to be slow about. Hurry and raise the fucking white flaaaaaaaagggggggggg!!”
Quenser looked at the radio he had been issued.
He could hear an intermittent signal coming from it.
That was most likely the modern digitalized white flag.
Froleytia must have followed the convention she had spoken of in order to bring the battle to an end. She may have made up her mind quickly in order to keep the number of sacrificed subordinates as low as possible.
However, the enemy Object had not stopped.
The sound of the cannons making slight adjustments to their aim seemed to be implicitly saying it did not care about the convention.
“Run…” someone said.
It was possible it was Quenser himself who had said it.
Had the 800 soldiers in the area been able to react?
A great roar and flash of light pounded Quenser’s senses.
Something seemed to be trying to smash his skull, much less his eardrums. The Object was not firing metal shells. It was using brutal low-stability plasma cannons that made use of the excess energy it produced.
What temperature did it reach?
Before he could think that, his consciousness was sent flying.
A beam from one of the low-stability plasma cannons had struck some of the base vehicles a short distance from Quenser. The vehicles used to construct the Object maintenance area were the largest of the greater than 100 large base vehicles that made up the maintenance base zone and one of those became distorted like a sugar sculpture before exploding like an erupting volcano.
The blast blew Quenser onto the thick snow.
Even while buried in snow that had to be below zero degrees, Quenser’s body was wrapped in an unpleasant sweat.
He could not even hear his own voice.
He frantically tried to check on the situation despite having lost over half of his ability to see and somehow managed to determine that he was in one piece. The low-stability plasma cannon must have moved along a straight path as it fired because he noticed an empty trench cutting through the deep snow.
(Was the heat so great…it melted the snow…and then caused a phreatic explosion…?)
It was possible even the steel had evaporated and then stuck to the ground.
As Quenser lay dazed on the ground, someone grabbed his arm.
It was Heivia who had bloodshot eyes and was breathing erratically.
“Hey, we need to get out of here.”
“We need to get the hell out of here!! Our Object was taken out and their Object is perfectly fine!! We wouldn’t be able to do a thing even if we had 100 tanks. If we don’t get out of here, we’ll be slaughtered like a line of ants!!”
What that meant finally hit home with Quenser.
When he looked around, he saw the other soldiers beginning to take action. The base zone was made up of over 100 large base vehicles. The soldiers were climbing or jumping aboard the nearest base vehicle and the vehicles were breaking their normal formation and scattering in a panic.
Shouts could be heard from all directions.
None of the soldiers were saying a single thing about fighting.
“Dammit!! Send out all the UAVs! Draw the Object’s attention away from us!!”
“Do we have a set escape route!? Is there any narrow mountain path that 50 meter monster can’t get through!?”
“Do we have a proper stock of chaff and flares!? Even if we can’t fight, we might be able to make it lose its lock on-…!!”
Because they were real soldiers, they knew just how hopeless it was to attack the Object head on.
As he watched it all, Quenser blankly spoke to Heivia.
“Run away…but where to?”
Heivia’s expression grew distorted out of fear rather than anger.
It was as if hearing how hopeless the situation was from someone else had brought the full brunt of the shock back all over again.
Immediately afterwards, they heard an odd noise.
Looking over, they saw the Object that was over 10 kilometers away approaching as if it were sliding. It was not moving using tires like a car. By using repeated small accelerations like a water strider, it moved smoothly around on both level ground and the steep slopes of mountain surfaces. It seemed to completely ignore the terrain just like a spotlight moving along the ground.
A low sound like an approaching thundercloud remained in Quenser’s ears.
(Oh, shit. So it uses static electricity just like our princess’s one…!)
Even as the frantically fleeing base vehicles started leaving him behind, Quenser merely stood in a daze amid the snow.
That Object was floating just slightly above the ground using static electricity. It weighed over 20 tons, but the reactor within it was both clean and more powerful than a nuclear reactor. It used that ability to create enough electric energy to make itself float.
A faint but distinctive smell reached Quenser’s nose. Most likely, the Object was spraying out the material that repelled its giant electrified form. Generally, the repellant would break down naturally in a few days and it was made to be harmless to plants and animals, but it smelled even more repulsive than blood to Quenser.
Something that huge moving as if the surface below it were sliding was a very strange sight indeed.
The base vehicles were trying to escape through a valley between two mountains.
With a sound like a thundercloud, the Object moved as if to circle around the vehicles and passed right up the diagonal side of one of the mountains. It then moved down into the path inside the valley to block their escape.
Their escape route had been cut off in only 20 seconds.
What awaited them now was clear.
“Shit!! Get off of there!!” shouted Froleytia.
Immediately afterwards, the 50 meter Object opened fire with its cannons.
No, it was more than that.
The Object had more than just the low-stability plasma cannons. After all, the huge 50 meter mass had a reactor that was both clean and more powerful than a nuclear reactor. With its low-stability plasma cannons, laser beams, railguns, and coilguns, it had over 100 different weapons.
It opened fire with all of those.
Each of the high output weapons was so large that it would likely cause a normal battleship to tilt just by being installed and yet it had over 100 of them.
There was no point in trying to count how many times one heard a weapon fire.
Thousands and tens of thousands of roars piled atop each other and combined together creating a single giant explosive din.
As the base vehicles broke formation in an attempt to find anywhere they could flee to, countless shells and beams of light mercilessly assaulted them.
The block-shaped facility walls could withstand a direct hit from a normal shell, but they were blown away along with the beds of the vehicles like they were made of paper. Repeated explosions were heard as gasoline caught fire and soldiers’ bodies were thrown high into the air.
Heivia immediately grabbed Quenser’s head and dove down into the deep snow to hide. Even so, it was nothing short of a miracle that the Object’s bombardment did not tear their bodies in half.
Quenser’s head alone remained clear while the rest of him was in a state where he could not even tell what temperature the cold snow was.
(There aren’t any miracles or coincidences when it comes to Objects. An Object doesn’t leave enough of an opening for that kind of thing!! There has to be a reason. There has to be a logical reason we weren’t killed…!!)
Quenser looked over at a base vehicle being blown away by a railgun being used as crudely as a peashooter (even though it was powerful enough to be installed on a bomber). It had soldiers in its sights that were trying to flee, but the Object adjusted its aim toward a different base vehicle.
Seeing that, Quenser’s expression grew even more twisted.
“Dammit!! The maintenance facilities!!” Quenser shouted so loud he thought it would tear apart his throat in order to keep the explosions from drowning him out. “Get away from the vehicles used to service the Object!! They’re aiming for anything related to the Object! If you don’t get away from them, you’ll be hit dead on!!”
Just as the soldiers jumped from the large base vehicle in shock, the Object’s low-stability plasma cannon mercilessly blew the maintenance facility away.
Objects were synonymous with war.
No matter how many tanks or fighters were gathered, you could not stand up to an Object.
That was why the enemy Object was giving priority to destroying the spare parts storage and other facilities that could be used to repair the Object it had destroyed. In the off chance the Object could be reassembled, a true Object vs. Object battle where the winner was unknown would once more unfold.
That Object was not sparing the soldiers’ lives.
It was first utterly crushing all possibility of a counterattack. After that, it would use its greater than 50 meter form to chase after and slaughter each and every one of the flesh-and-blood humans who looked like ants compared to it.
The base vehicles were destroyed one by one.
Even though they knew it was not targeting them, Quenser and the other soldiers desperately hid. Just a slight misreading of the situation could get them crushed by one of the tatami-sized wall fragments that were flying from all directions.
“We need to get out of here while we can,” said Heivia as he grabbed Quenser’s arm with trembling hands.
Quenser ignored the tugging on his arm and simply remained motionless and listened.
“It doesn’t matter where to!! We just need to get as far away as possible from that monster! Just run!!”
He was not suggesting a strategic withdrawal; he was suggesting fleeing from something scary.
The Object that had blown up most of the major base vehicles had stopped moving amid the rubble and wreckage. Only the many giant gun turrets moved around slowly as if it were contemplating something.
Quenser thought his heart would stop.
Now that it was done destroying the Object-related facilities, was it going to start slaughtering the soldiers?
That horrible thought came to Quenser’s mind, but he still could not make his body move. The same thing seemed to have happened to Heivia next to him. They knew that their enemy was human with a mind of his own and was in fact a soldier just like them, but the presence was just so overwhelming that it felt like a giant dragon was staring down at them. It felt like the slightest provocation would get them torn to pieces by its vast maw.
They knew the Object was only moving based on systematic military orders, but Quenser and Heivia felt like herbivores that had run across the king of beasts and could only pray that it would spare them on a whim.
The giant object that measured over 140 meters if its main cannons stretching out in four directions were included started to move. It changed directions with a motion similar to someone turning around because they were tapped on the shoulder from behind. With the sound like a dark thundercloud approaching, it headed in the direction it had originally come from. The soldiers on the path did everything they could to get out of the way, but the Object paid them no heed.
Quenser finally picked himself up off the ground and looked in the direction the Object had left in.
“Why are we alive…?”
What had been different between him and the human forms scattered about that lay unmoving on the ground? Quenser could come up with no answer to that question. Heivia spoke from nearby.
“I don’t know, but let’s go. I don’t know what’s going on, but we managed to survive. If we run as far away as we can now, it might make all the difference!!”
Heivia’s body was trembling terribly.
Quenser thought Heivia was right, but then he stopped.
He had noticed something at his feet.
It had likely been blown from one of the base vehicles used for their base zone. It was an LCD display. It was about the size an A4 piece of copy paper and it seemed to have wireless capability. It was emitting an electronic beeping noise.
The display showed a map of the area.
On a single point of that map, a red point was blinking.
(…A rescue signal…?)
All of a sudden it hit Quenser what it meant.
“The Elite princess!!”
The enemy Object was giving priority to eliminating all possibility of the destroyed Object being repaired. To do so, it had blown up the maintenance facilities and left the soldiers alone.
Didn’t that meant it would be only natural for the enemy to give top priority to killing the pilot girl who could possibly pilot a different Object?
“Hey, you noble and student over there!!” shouted Froleytia from a slight distance.
They looked over and saw the beautiful woman with her steel-like bluish-silver hair making large gestures toward the slope of a mountain.
“We need to use this chance to escape!! I’ll prepare an official reason for the withdrawal to report to the higher ups!! If we get over the mountain, there’s a large valley. A single suspension bridge is the only way across!! Once we get across, we can get away from that giant Object!! It might try to bombard us from this side of the valley, but we might make it if we scatter once we’re hidden within the conifer forest on the other side!!”
Quenser’s gaze moved between Froleytia and the display at his feet.
In all honesty, he was overcome with so much relief he thought he would pass out upon having a clear goal he could escape to.
What would happen to the Elite girl who was still alive…?
That thought stopped Quenser.
Froleytia then noticed the display at Quenser’s feet.
“You idiot! Why do you think she’s sending out the rescue signal!?”
“It isn’t for us to see! The princess is transmitting the rescue signal so the enemy will intercept it and have their attention drawn toward her!! She’s making sure we won’t be slaughtered!! Do you want waste all the effort she’s going to!?”
Quenser’s eyes opened wide.
Froleytia’s words had stabbed deeply into his heart.
(Is that true…?)
Quenser looked around the area at the soldiers who were supposed to have tough muscular bodies from constant training but had neglected their training due to the benefits of the Object. They all averted their gaze whenever Quenser looked at them.
They looked awkward.
They looked as if they did not want to let go of their chance to escape.
(Whatever you say, she’s our ally and a girl of about 14 to boot. She’s the kind of person who is using herself as a decoy to save us. Can you seriously think of abandoning her…?)
“We’re leaving,” muttered Heivia. “We have no other choice!! Whatever we do, that princess will be killed, so we need to escape before that Object returns!!”
“Fuck that! Do you really understand what you’re saying!? Have you thought about what will happen to an Elite girl if she’s captured by the enemy army that has clearly said to hell with morals!?”
“What!? Are you saying you’re going to fight that Object!?”
Having those words shouted straight back at him silenced Quenser.
Heivia’s expression was filled with fear and disgrace.
“Anyone can just sit back and do nothing while they say what they think is wrong or right!! And if you can face that giant Object on your own and save the princess, that’s great!! But in reality, you can’t do shit!! The instant that thing catches you on its radar, it’ll blow you away so utterly not even dust is left!!”
Quenser thought as Heivia grabbed his shoulders.
The gradual tightening in his chest was the natural response as a human.
He was feeling overwhelming fear.
(Of course I’m afraid. No matter what anyone says or how much wishful thinking they bring up, I can’t work up any courage. An Object is a monster. Trying to take on something like that is just wrong. I want to be as far away from it as possible. Heivia is right. No matter what I say, this sickening feeling isn’t going to go away…)
However, Quenser’s feet did not begin taking him to safety.
He merely stood in place and looked at Heivia once more.
“…But wasn’t that princess fighting that monster?”
“That monster makes grown men tremble in fear and makes us feel like we’ll die of shock every time it slightly adjusts its aim!! And yet she was piloting an Object all on her own to protect us from it!!”
Even if she was piloting a ridiculous weapon like an Object, she had to have been afraid. There was no way she wasn’t when facing a monster like that.
The day before, she had said she did not know if she could win.
She had not seemed especially serious, so Quenser had not read any deep meaning into it. However, he had been wrong. What if she had been holding so much unease below the surface that it had spewed forth even while she had such an unconcerned expression on her face? What if she had just wanted to say something about it to someone – anyone – to try to get rid of even a small piece of that unease?
Quenser thought about what he should do.
“…Give me that.”
Quenser held his hand out toward Heivia.
Heivia merely looked puzzled, so he repeated himself.
“Give me that rifle!!”
Quenser snatched the military rifle from Heivia. The high-tech weapon had an infrared camera, a microphone for searching for enemies, and other gadgets in addition to its optical scope.
However, Heivia’s face stiffened upon seeing that.
“…Are you really going?” Heivia shook his head back and forth like a small child. “What good will that thing do!? Didn’t you see that Object!? That monster is basically a giant reactor with the thick walls of a nuclear shelter around it!! It can still move after a direct hit or two from nuclear missiles!! Surely a future scholar like you can understand that!!”
“I know,” replied Quenser.
Heivia’s primary job was as an analyst who searched for the characteristics and weaknesses of Objects, but Quenser was learning about Objects from a design point of view. From his knowledge, he knew quite well that there was no way he could win.
“I have no choice…”
“Do you really believe that the Object won’t catch up to us if we cross the mountain and the valley on the other side?”
“If they truly want to kill the princess, it’ll just need a single shot. And if they want to capture her and take her back to their base, the Object is free to come after us once the normal soldiers restrain her. It’ll be turning back before long to slaughter us as we climb the mountain. …You saw how maneuverable it was, right?”
Quenser could feel his body tremble at the weight of the rifle because he had never seriously used one. He suppressed the trembling and continued on.
“It seems the princess is trying to buy some time, but she probably can’t buy enough on her own.”
The words he spoke did not seem real to him.
He wanted to get moving before he was too overcome by fear.
“Someone has to do something. Not out of responsibility, but in order to survive.”
The slicing blizzard sent a sharp pain across the skin of his face.
The white filling his vision needlessly increased his unease.
The deep snow seemed to grab hold of his feet like a bottomless bog as Quenser desperately continued to run while holding the rifle in both hands.
He had been on the front lines for 6 months, but this felt to him like the first time he had actually been running on a battlefield.
His objective was to save the princess.
There was no reason he had to fight the Object. In fact, if he did run into it, he would be killed as a piece of trash rather than an enemy. He wished he had some way to approach through a blind spot of the Object and save the princess, but….
The rifle felt as cold as a hunk of ice.
Quenser gritted his teeth and looked around while putting up with the pain in his fingertips.
(Dammit! Where is she!?)
He could have sworn the display had indicated that area, but the Elite girl was nowhere to be found. Had enemy soldiers already taken her away? Or had he misread the map and gone to the wrong spot?
(God dammit! How could I have survived 6 months out here without knowing how to find my position on a map? …How much have I just been relying on others?)
Quenser stuck a cable into the scope area of the rifle. The other end of the cable had a small earphone for one ear. He put it in his right ear and operated the unfamiliar rifle with shaking fingers.
According to Heivia, it had a microphone for finding enemies.
While focusing on the microphone sticking out near the barrel like a bayonet, Quenser slowly rotated in one spot. While in the process of turning the microphone in every direction, he heard a slight noise through the earphone.
He had not been properly trained, so he held the rifle as he had seen others do as he headed off in the direction of the noise.
As he approached, the slight noise grew gradually louder.
Eventually, it started to sound like human voices and Quenser frantically hid behind some nearby rocks.
He then stuck only his face out.
He could see human forms on the other side of the white curtain of blowing snow.
He guessed they were about 100 meters away. From that distance, he could not tell what they looked like, but he could see three or four muscular figures surrounding a single short figure. The short figure was on her knees unnaturally with both her hands behind her head.
(The princess! Shit, so she was caught after all…!!)
Quenser brought his head back behind the rocks and then looked around the area.
He could not see the giant form of the Object anywhere.
It may have headed back to hunt down the survivors now that the Elite girl had been captured.
For an instant, Quenser thought it might all be some absurdly huge trap and he would be shot by the low-stability plasma cannons from long distance the instant he made a move. However, he realized that was unlikely. He doubted they would use the Object to set up a trap for him alone and the giant Object would not need to set up a trap to deal with a mere human anyway. It would just slaughter him outright.
He may have been so afraid that his mind’s danger sensor was not working properly.
The Object was simply so frightening that he was taking completely unrealistic possibilities into account.
At any rate, if he calmed down and thought about it…
(The Object isn’t here.)
Quenser noticed the weight of the rifle once more.
He stuck his head out from behind the rocks to check on the situation.
(If I can do something about those four, I can save the princess!!)
A different unpleasant feeling than the fear of the Object now started tightening around his heart.
He had to “do something about” those four.
With that rifle in his hands, “doing something” meant shooting and killing those four humans. Quenser was not skillful enough to suppress them without hitting their vitals and the bullets in that military rifle were powerful enough to rip off a limb if he hit them there. They would die of shock whether he hit their vitals or not.
Could he really kill them?
Could he kill four people to save a single comrade?
He wrapped the other hand around his uncontrollably shaking fingers.
He could not keep his teeth from chattering.
(This is the battlefield. Killing is the norm here! By leaving all the fighting to the invincible Object…is this what we’ve been pushing onto her!?)
In a desperate attempt to work up some courage, Quenser pounded on his own thigh with his fist and then forced himself to hold up the rifle. However, he started feeling dizzy when he looked through the scope. He held back the urge to vomit and somehow managed to aim.
He was aiming for the male soldier closest to the Elite girl.
He put the sights right in the middle of the unsuspecting man’s head.
Now he just had to pull the trigger.
However, as if it had frozen solid, his finger on the trigger would not move.
(…This is a human.)
As he forced down the urge to vomit, the image through the sight shook.
(This isn’t one of the human-shaped targets from the training grounds. It’s a real human. This is a soldier just like us who has become dulled by peace after being protected by his Object and only wants to return safely to his country…)
He could not shoot.
Just as he realized that fact, he heard an odd noise through the earphone in his ear.
It was a sound being picked up by the rifle’s microphone.
It was the words coming from the mouth of the soldier he was aiming at.
“Hey, let’s test out the durability of the Elite’s special suit. Once the Object returns, we can tie her hands to it with a rope and have it drag her behind it. The test will be whether she’s naked or not by the time we get back to base.”
Quenser’s movements stopped when he heard that.
He then heard a laugh and the words of another soldier.
“No matter how easy it is to slide on snow, wouldn’t that still turn her to mincemeat?”
“Yeah, and what’ll we do if she’s still alive once we get back to our base zone? Are you gonna do a test on the wonderful Elite’s body? I hear the guys from the torture room were complaining because their tools are rusting over from lack of use.”
No, it was not his movements that had stopped.
It was his trembling that had stopped.
As well as the urge to vomit that had produced the trembling.
His heart had cleared.
He switched off the microphone as if shutting out what the soldiers had to say.
Quenser had a new thought.
He had not been able to pull the trigger because he had thought of them as human.
They weren’t, were they?
A great noise exploded out and the rifle bullet had blown one of the laughing soldiers’ heads to pieces before Quenser even realized the noise was due to his finger pulling the trigger. Ignoring the collapsing headless corpse, Quenser shouted out.
Had the Elite girl understood what those words meant first or had it been the enemy soldiers around her?
Just as the girl threw her body down into the deep snow, Quenser used quick movements of his finger to fire bullet after bullet in semi-auto mode. With as little training as he had, he doubted he could deal with the recoil of firing on full auto. However, the enemy soldiers did not just stand there and let him shoot them. Almost reflexively, they turned their rifle barrels in the direction of the voice and fired.
Quenser had been only slightly faster.
Quenser only wanted to mow down everything there, so he just moved the barrel from right to left as he fired rather than carefully aiming. By repeatedly pulling the trigger, he sent bullets flying at even intervals which created a hurdle of death at about waist height. Fortunately, he had caught them by surprise. Red blood sprayed into the air and soldiers were mowed down onto the snow.
(…I might actually pull this off…!!)
However, two of the enemy soldiers had immediately gotten down and escaped the spray of bullets. As Quenser stood fully upright due to the recoil of the rifle, he could see one of the surviving soldiers aiming his own rifle while kneeling down. While keeping low to the ground, the princess tackled him. In a close-quarters struggle, the soldier could not fire his rifle. Quenser panicked, but his worry was unwarranted. The princess held a metal skewer for cooking that had been in the same standard-issue survival kit that held bandages and a small fishing pole. She used it to stab the enemy soldier in the side.
The one remaining soldier immediately tried to move away from the princess, but he carelessly raised his body too high. Immediately afterwards, he was struck by one of the bullets from Quenser’s rifle and collapsed onto the snow.
It was over.
Or so Quenser thought.
The soldier who was bleeding from the metal skewer the princess had stabbed in his side pulled his rifle’s trigger as he collapsed to the snow. Most likely, he had not intended to do so, but he happened to hit the trigger for the grenade launcher on the bottom of the rifle. The barrel was pointed in a random direction…which just so happened to be in Quenser’s direction.
The heavy explosive flew through the air in an arc rather than a straight line.
Quenser was unable to decide what to do in the instant he had.
Immediately afterwards, Quenser was sent flying by the blast and an odd pain ran through most of his upper body. The color white filled his vision. At first, he thought it was the sky, but it was actually the snow-covered ground. It took him a while to even realize he was lying on his side.
(…What…happened to me…?)
Just as that question entered his mind, all strength left his body.
He somehow managed to move his hand that had frozen up as if from rigor mortis, but the rifle grip slipped from his fingers. His arm then fell back into the snow.
He finally started feeling a throbbing pain in his gut and chest.
(Shit, what happened? Are they all dead? I didn’t miss any of them, did I? None of them are going to get back up, are they?)
No more shooting occurred.
Had he killed all of them, had they fled, or had they stopped because they considered finishing him off a waste of bullets? Buried in the snow as he was, Quenser could not tell.
He tried to look at his wounds, but his body would not move as he wished it to.
Meanwhile, even his mind seemed to be ceasing to function properly.
(What about the princess…?)
He had come all that way to rescue the Elite girl and yet he no longer had the energy left over to see if she was even alive.
His consciousness sank down into darkness.
Even the pain that had risen up seemed to vanish rather than exploding out within him.
He thought he heard someone calling his name.
All he could see was strange scenery that was neither black nor richly colored. It seemed like he was seeing the images coming from his two eyeballs in mosaic without his brain processing them. While Quenser had lost his sense of balance, feeling like he was going to vomit, and stared blankly at that scenery, he heard someone call his name for sure.
“…Hey, wake up, Quenser!! Don’t go to sleep! Wake up!!”
“Heivia…?” Quenser muttered in a scratchy voice.
His body had to have sunk into the snow, but he could not feel it at all.
“Why? Didn’t you run away…?”
“Shut up. I had no choice.”
Heivia had a portable anti-tank missile hanging from a strap. He had to have known it would be of no help, but he must have wanted to bring as much firepower with him as he could. Quenser could tell Heivia’s body was still trembling.
Fear of that Object was not something that could be so easily wiped away.
Even so, Heivia had followed after Quenser.
“…Was I hit…?”
“You amateur. The grenade wasn’t directly aimed for you and it only blew some fragments off of a nearby rock. Your upper body was hit by the fragments of scattered stone. If you had been hit by shrapnel from the grenade, it would have ripped your flesh apart. They’re made so they’ll do that.”
“I see. Damn I’m pathetic… Did I pass out from fear after just a few scratches?”
Quenser tried to get up, but he groaned after feeling a powerful pressure on his chest. It seemed the mental shock had been great enough to make his heart contract too much. He coughed and finally managed to pull himself out from the snow.
“Oh, crap! Where’s the Elite princess…? Was she taken away while I was passed out?”
“What are you saying? You won. You took out all those bastards, so don’t worry. Look, hero. The princess you saved is right over there.”
Quenser looked in the direction Heivia pointed and saw the Elite girl standing about 2 meters away. She was standing stock still while staring at Quenser’s face as if she were looking at something she could not believe.
Her expression was rather difficult to describe.
Extraordinary fear was certainly present. As was incomparable shock. She also looked as if she could not yet tell if she should feel relieved. Overall, her expression was not one easily described using any standard emotion.
“Why…?” she said with a wavering voice that she could not hold still due to the waves of emotion roiling within her. “Why did you come to save me…?”
After that, her true thoughts spilled forth as if from a hole in her heart.
Or perhaps she had felt something that made her not want to lie any longer.
“You are not the one who is meant to fight. You are not an Elite. You were not protected by thick nuclear-shelter like armor, so why did you come here?”
Quenser pondered her words silently.
Something deeper than what she normally showed on the surface was present in her words.
“And I would mock you in my heart.”
Her words continued to spill forth.
That may have been inappropriate for the Elite pilot of the Object that was the cornerstone of their military force and, in a way, the representative of their nation.
“I mocked you because you always needed me to protect you and because you would all be killed without the Object!”
However, that unseemly inappropriateness was what made it seem truly human.
Quenser realized that her too-pure image was not something like natural water; it was more like tap water that smells of chlorine.
“I wanted to deny it and I wanted to have a more proper opinion, but I would always have those horrible thoughts about you!! So why did you come here to save me!?”
Quenser and Heivia exchanged glances.
They then looked back at the Elite girl.
They looked back at that girl who had lost her role with the loss of the Object.
“What do you mean ‘horrible thoughts’? That’s the truth.”
“I’ve tried to study as much as I can about Objects, but I only just now understood something upon actually fighting one today. Those things are monsters. Really, truly monsters. And who was it that has been fighting all alone this whole time to make sure those monsters did not come destroy our base zone?”
The girl looked at Quenser with a surprised look.
The long time spent buried in the snow and the mental shock he did not seem able to shake off had stiffened his face, but Quenser moved the stiff muscles to force a smile.
“But no longer,” Quenser said as he picked up the rifle that had fallen to the ground nearby.
He pulled out the empty magazine and replaced it with a new one Heivia gave him.
Compared to an Object, it was a puny weapon.
With it in hand, Quenser faced the girl and gave a truly horrible expression.
“You no longer need to fight alone. Is there any real reason you have to?”
The girl did not seem to know how to react to that.
She was an Elite, the pilot of one of the giant weapons known as Objects.
It might have been that no one had ever said anything like that to her before. She had been given the burden of many lives, winning had been expected of her, and she had even been implicitly threatened that she would lose everything if she lost. She had been desperately fighting under those conditions. That was why she had never raised a voice of protest against that solitary fight no matter how damaged she became or how much unease she held.
The girl did not seem able to fully accept Quenser’s words.
She turned her troubled gaze toward Heivia, but he only shrugged.
“I’m nothing special. Quenser just said that you alone wouldn’t be enough of a decoy and that brought me to my senses. I realized he was absolutely right, so I had to prepare something that would function as a proper decoy or else we would all be killed. And then…well…as I said before, I had no choice.” With that casual response, Heivia glanced around. “Now then, my princess and her knight. It looks like we can’t stick around here much longer.”
Quenser frowned, but he realized what Heivia meant shortly thereafter.
Heivia’s false courage was hiding his fear of the distantly approaching thundercloud-like noise that the Object made as it moved.
“Let’s go! You made quite a racket when you shot and killed those soldiers. Their Object must have noticed and is heading this way!!”
Heivia’s cry ended the heart-warming scene.
They had returned to hell.
The life-and-death game of tag with the over 50 meter Object had begun anew.
“Shit!! Where are we supposed to go!?”
The deep snow grabbed at his feet as he moved, but Quenser desperately kept moving. In response, Heivia shouted out as loudly as he could as if to rid himself of his fear.
“You need to memorize the map of the area you’re gonna be fighting in!! There’s a cave about 50 meters ahead. If we can get in there, we can escape from that giant Object!!”
That was a distance they could manage in 10 seconds even when fully equipped if they were on a paved surface.
However, the deep snow robbed them of their speed and the enemy Object used static electricity to smoothly approach around the slopes of the mountain. Its movements made it look like the surface below it was sliding it along.
It was about 3 kilometers away, but that was nothing to that giant weapon.
“It’s aiming the plasma cannons this way!!” shouted the Elite girl.
(With that Object’s aiming devices, there’s no way it can’t shoot us at that distance. Are they still not sure whether they want to capture the princess alive or not?)
The distance to the cave felt strangely long.
(It’s true that they might be able to get some classified information related to our Object out of her if they tortured her, but this response is inconsistent with the soldiers from before!!)
He thought his legs were going to cramp up due to fear, but he had no choice but to continue running.
“Hey, Quenser. You’re a combat engineer, right!? Do you have any explosives!?”
“I have about 5 kilograms of normal C4!”
“What!? Isn’t 10 kilos the standard equipment!?”
“I felt silly carrying around useless explosives around the clock! And what I have is meant for civil engineering uses! It won’t work against an Object!!”
“Give it to me! Just hurry up and hand it over!! And a fuse too!!”
As they approached the entrance to the cave, Quenser tossed over a clay-like mass about the size of a can of hairspray. The bomb was inside a package of clear film and Heivia set the receiver for the detonation signal through the film before stabbing the electric fuse into it. He then tossed it right next to the cave.
The main weapons of the approaching Object, the low-stability plasma cannons, slowly aimed toward them.
However, Heivia leapt into the cave before they could spew flames and Quenser followed. The Elite girl’s foot got caught in the snow and she started to trip, but she managed to turn it into a roll that brought her into the cave.
Quenser frantically caught the Elite girl before shouting at Heivia.
“Hey, what are we gonna do!? If it fires its plasma cannons into the cave, we’ll be cooked to death!! No matter how much this cave branches apart, all the air inside will be heated up to the point that the entire cave will be an oven!!”
“That’s what the C4’s for! Now, outta the way!! Get deeper inside!!”
Heivia urged them on and Quenser headed further inside the cave while half-dragging the Elite girl. After heading about 10 meters in, Quenser had a thought.
What was Heivia planning to do with the C4?
He may have been planning to detonate it when the Object was right up against the entrance to the cave, but Quenser doubted that would do any damage to it. After all, the Object’s armor could withstand a direct hit from a nuclear missile or two with no real issues.
“Sorry, I decided to test our luck from the beginning.”
Immediately afterwards, Heivia hit the switch for the wireless detonation device.
With a tremendous roar, the roof of the cave collapsed, sealing off the entrance.
It was true that he was testing their luck.
First of all, he had just buried them alive if there was no other exit.
Second of all, the compressed explosive blast flowed into the cave.
Thanks to that, Quenser felt as if his eardrums were going to burst.
They came across a branch in the cave after travelling down it a bit and found a different exit shortly after that. After exiting the cave, the three of them buried the exit in snow. They actually wanted to blow it up with C4, but the blast could have easily drawn the Object to them.
The giant Object could not enter the cave, so flesh-and-blood soldiers would likely be sent to search for them. They wanted the enemy to think they were still hiding in the cave.
Quenser and the others hid in a conifer forest outside the cave. Quenser had thought there was no way hiding behind the trees would do anything to keep out the cold in that freezing land, but merely being protected from the winter wind did wonders for his body temperature.
While munching on a ration that tasted like an uncooked rice cake made of an eraser, Quenser looked over toward the cave entrance.
“Well, it doesn’t look like they’ve been able to figure out where we went.”
“I can still hear that low, thunder-like roar, so the Object must still be near,” said the Elite girl as she strained her ears and brought a small ration to her mouth with both hands.
Hearing that, Quenser focused on the distant noise as well.
“Most likely, dealing with the Elite that can pilot an Object takes top priority for them. It probably won’t leave until the search is over.”
That also meant their fleeing comrades would not be slaughtered until Quenser and the others were found or the enemy gave up the search.
Heivia still had the heavy-looking but useless portable anti-tank missile hanging from his shoulder.
“Hey, since the enemy’s lost sight of us, can’t we survive if we take this chance to disappear?”
“Maybe, but that would just lead to our side being slaughtered as they climb the mountain,” Quenser said.
“Shit!” Heivia cursed.
The Elite girl nibbled on the corner of the square ration and said, “But do you really think we can safely continue to act as a decoy until they get away?”
“We’d definitely die if we did that. If an enemy soldier so much as catches a glimpse of us, they’ll call the Object and have it send some concentrated fire our way from its plasma cannons! Even just darting out to act as a decoy is out of the question!!”
“Then are you saying we just leave!?”
“Yes!! I just said we should do just that!! Not even the princess’s Object could stand up to that monster! How the hell are we supposed to do anything!?”
The princess hung her head down at the mention of her defeat.
“…That was because the device suddenly started to activate. It took a bit of time to cancel that mode and that Object attacked while I was trying to do so.”
“The device? Oh, the security device.”
Basically, it was a self-destruct device. The Object was a giant mass of military secrets, so there had to be a means of ensuring it did not fall into enemy hands. If its sensors detected that it could no longer function even if it had not taken serious damage, the princess’s Object would seal the special gas for its low-stability plasma cannons in the space between the armor and the reactor and then detonate it.
“That doesn’t matter. Don’t try to escape the problem before your eyes with idle chatter! We need to come up with a way of dealing with that damn water strider!!”
“Are you still thinking of running away? You may survive, but you’ll be traumatized for the rest of your life! You’re a noble, right? Being the sole survivor here will be seen as a disgrace for you. You won’t get to be the next head of your family and your life will head into a downward spiral faster than you can imagine!”
“…!? Then what the fuck am I supposed to do!?”
“At this rate, you’ll either die here on the battlefield or back in the home country! If you don’t want that, then we need to do something about that thing!!”
The three of them fell silent now that they were faced with the obvious question of “How?”
Quenser tossed the last piece of his flavorless ration into his mouth.
He looked at the other two’s faces and had a sudden thought.
“I’m a student who’s studying to be an Object designer, you’re an analyst who searches for things that could lead to a winning strategy against Objects, and you’re an Elite who pilots an Object. With the three of us…”
“Hey, you’re kidding right. I have a feeling I know what you’re thinking, but please tell me you’re kidding.”
“…We have no choice but to try to find one, right?” said Quenser with the stiff expression characteristic of someone who was truly cornered. “We need to find some kind of weakness in that supposedly unbeatable Object.”
And so, Quenser and the other two circled around the slope of the mountain on foot, heading back to the cave entrance they had blown up with C4.
He hid among the deep snow and held his rifle out through gaps between the trees.
He was not preparing to shoot an enemy.
He was using the scope in place of binoculars.
Quenser was looking at the Object, so the rifle would not be much use anyway.
“(…Hey, don’t hit the infrared switch. If it notices the exposure, it’ll blow us away with those plasma cannons.)”
Heivia was lying down next to him and giving him unnecessary warnings. That was just how nervous he was.
Not that that was surprising.
They were about 300 meters from the Object, but if it noticed them, there would be no escaping. They would merely be mercilessly slaughtered. Just hearing the thundercloud-like roar spreading through the ground was enough to make them tense up with fear.
“(…What is that Object doing?)”
“(…Searching with its radar? …No. It might be able to find a tank or fighter with that, but I doubt it can locate people with it.)”
“(…It appears to be trying to access a satellite. However, it is not going well because the signal cannot get through,)” added the Elite girl.
“(…Oh, that’s right. A chaff missile was fired as a meteorological weapon. It scattered signal-blocking particles in the clouds which turned the natural clouds into giant anti-satellite shields.)”
If the Object could use the satellite, they could be found in an instant. Quenser was now immensely thankful for that waste of tax money.
“Okay, let’s review what we know,” he said while staring through the rifle scope.
Heivia stared at the Object through the sight of the anti-tank missile and forced his tone to remain light.
“The enemy’s Object is codenamed Water Strider. Oh, and that’s just our codename for it. We have no idea what name they developed it under.”
“The name comes from those legs,” said the Elite girl crouching next to Quenser while she stared at the Water Strider with her naked eyes.
Quenser moved the rifle to look at the Object’s legs.
The main body of the Water Strider was a giant sphere. Four insect-like legs extended from there and to the ground.
It moved by gliding rather than walking. It slid along the ground just as a water strider moved across water, and thus it received that codename.
“It seems to slide along the ground using static electricity. It’s basically the same as yours, princess, but with those four legs, it can regulate itself to move smoothly across much rougher surfaces,” said Quenser while especially focusing on the very bottom of its legs.
The princess continued for him.
“The static electricity is only used to make the heavy Object float. It uses a different means to propel itself forward. For mine, it uses lasers to detonate the air, but the Water Strider uses its legs to directly kick off of the ground.”
In that aspect, the Water Strider truly moved like a real water strider. However, high-level calculations and minute adjustments must have been made instantaneously to ensure the Object’s weight did not become focused on a single leg which would crush it. It actually had to use a method where the legs only just barely touched the ground as they kicked off of it.
After thinking through all that, Quenser continued his explanation.
“Basically, the static electricity method is a relative of hovercrafts that blow air down to float on the surface of the water. Instead of destroying the Object, can’t we dig up the earth beneath its legs? If there’s enough of a difference in ground level, the power keeping it afloat will cease to be equally distributed and it might not be able to slide along anymore.”
“It can still walk using its four legs if it has to. If one leg is stuck, it can just pull it out. That may stop it for about 10 seconds, but it wouldn’t be enough to stop it from functioning,” explained Heivia. “Also, its plasma cannons and all its other firepower will still be active even if we do stop its legs. We’ll only have turned a mobile gun battery into a stationary one. Once it realizes we’re approaching to destroy its legs, it’ll blow us to pieces in no time at all. It might work if we were willing to die in order save Froleytia and the others, but I’d honestly rather not die like that.”
“In that case…” The Elite girl moved her gaze from the Water Strider’s legs to the main weapons attached at the top. “Can we make the enemy misfire? If only an Object can destroy an Object, then if we used the Object’s own power…”
“Maybe if we had our own Object, but this tiny missile can’t even scratch its cannons.”
Heivia lightly struck his portable missile as if it were trash.
They could not destroy the legs or cannons.
That only left…
“So we’ll have to deal with the main body.” Quenser looked at the giant sphere through the scope. “But isn’t that the toughest target of them all? A nuclear shelter-like wall surrounds the giant reactor. How are we supposed to get through that?”
“Hey, we had spare parts for our Object, right? Were there any spares of the main weapons for the princess’s Object in there? Only the firepower of an Object can destroy an Object, so this could work if we have one of its cannons, right?”
“Do you know how much of an output an Object’s reactor has?” Quenser shook his head with a bitter expression on his face. “It produces enough energy to have energy to spare while firing over 100 weapons that would not receive sufficient energy from a standard nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Those reactors are crystallizations of human technology. They are handmade by about 300 technicians with skills that not even precision machinery can match. Where are you planning to get an energy source to replace that reactor?” Quenser continued giving flaws in Heivia’s suggestion. “And even if we did have a reactor to use, those weapons are meant to be fired while attached to a 50 meters, 20 ton Object. The shockwave from firing the railguns or coilguns might be enough to kill us if we fired them and the radiant heat from the laser or plasma weapons could turn us into human torches. …Actually, a low-stability plasma cannon would probably shoot off like a rocket if we fired one.”
“I was just thinking out loud, dammit. And that damn Water Strider made sure to destroy all the maintenance facilities from our base to crush even the slimmest possibility of something like that.”
However, the two of them both stopped speaking there.
“Wait a second.”
The Elite girl looked confused as the two guys took their eyes from the scopes and exchanged glances.
“Even if we can’t destroy the Object itself, their base zone is still run by soldiers.”
“That monster is still a weapon, so it’ll stop moving if it doesn’t receive regular maintenance, won’t it?”
Quenser and the other two moved far away from the Water Strider and headed down the mountain slope. The three of them came up behind the Water Strider’s maintenance base zone.
They were inside a rusted metal tower.
It had likely been set up as a watchtower while the base zone was being constructed and the radars had yet to be set up. It seemed to have been abandoned since the base zone had been completed, so Quenser and the others made use of it.
While hiding behind the bulletproof metal panels attached to the watchtower, they looked out into the distance where the enemy maintenance base zone spread out before them. The base appeared to be about 500 meters square.
“…Hey, did you notice it?” whispered Heivia as they looked out at the base zone.
“Yeah, it has a lot of radar facilities. In fact, the base is mostly made up of radars.”
Most of the buildings made of thick concrete were either maintenance areas for the Water Strider or radar facilities for supporting the Object. It had almost no normal military force outside of the Object. The base had been constructed based on the theory that Objects were synonymous with war and therefore everything should be focused on it.
“Not only are there no tanks or fighters, but there aren’t even any armored vehicles or soldier transport vehicles. The few vehicles scattered about all look like tractors for plowing the snow.”
“I guess they made everything either for Object maintenance or radar in order to cut down on unneeded maintenance costs for the inspecting of the other vehicles.”
“It’s true that spending taxes on maintaining outdated tanks seems pretty ridiculous…”
Most likely, the only military force outside of the Object at the enemy base zone was infantry. And speaking of the infantry…
“I guess this isn’t too surprising,” muttered Quenser. “A student who had never actually held a gun before couldn’t take out four real soldiers. Those were probably just maintenance workers. They didn’t expect to have to capture an Elite like that, so they had to hurriedly throw together a team of noncombat maintenance soldiers to go after her.”
“Whether they were trained or not, those were still horrible bastards you killed. This doesn’t change the fact that you’re the knight that saved the princess,” said Heivia lightly.
Their moods had improved quite a bit just by getting some distance away from the object even if it was only temporarily.
“However, if they had to send maintenance soldiers to the front lines, it’s probably safe to assume they don’t have many normal soldiers. If we could just get rid of that gigantic Object, Froleytia and the others fleeing might be enough to take them out.”
“The problem is what to do about that Object,” said the Elite girl.
Quenser looked at the largest facility in the base zone that was likely the maintenance facility.
“? …It looks like the roof and walls can open.”
“Well, their only means of fighting is the Object. It’d be a major problem if they were attacked while it was being serviced. I’m betting they made sure some of the cannons can still function while it’s undergoing maintenance so they can intercept any attack.”
“But if the Object is still running, how can they service it?”
“The Water Strider has over 100 weapons, so they’ll still have 50 left over even if they stop half of them for maintenance. That way, they have a minimum number active at all times.”
Quenser looked back at the base zone as a whole while listening to Heivia.
“…So what should we blow up?” Quenser asked his comrades in arms while thinking about the structure of the various buildings. “What would cause them the most problems if it was destroyed?”
“You already know, don’t you? The legs. There has to be a storage area or something that holds the spare parts for the Water Strider’s legs.”
The Elite girl looked confused, but Quenser nodded in agreement.
“Even with that giant form floating, quite a bit of stress has to be put on the legs. It’s bad enough with a giant flat surface like with a hovercraft and its using just the ends of those four legs.”
“According to our battle records, that damn water strider always goes back to its base for maintenance once every 12 hours. Most likely, it’s getting an overhaul for those ‘glass slippers’ on its feet. Constantly producing enough energy to make that giant thing float must melt the metal parts.”
“My Object uses static electricity too, but it can go half a year without replacing the parts. I remember because it is generally replaced with the attached box that holds the compressed exhaust gases from the JPlevelMHD reactor.”
“That’s due to the effective area, don’t you think? The flat floating surface at the bottom of the upside down Y-shape undercarriage is a few dozen meters across, so the burden on any one point isn’t too great. However, that Water Strider floats from only the ends of the four legs, so it gets worn down much faster. That’s what makes the vast difference between having to replace the parts every half day or every half year.”
“…Since it’s a half day, does that mean the Water Strider would chase after us for another 12 hours even if we destroy the facility?”
“Sure, if it had just replaced its ‘glass slippers’ with new ones. It’s been a while since it last replaced them and it had to have been putting more stress on its legs than usual while fighting the princess’s Object. I’d say its undercarriage must be pretty burnt out by now. In fact, it’s surprising it hasn’t headed back to the base yet.”
“So if we blow up those spare parts…” muttered the girl.
“It won’t be able to replace them. The Object will burn out its legs and no longer be able to move. Even if it does force itself to continue moving like that, the tough barrier walls will melt its system from within.”
“We can’t destroy the Object itself, but we’ll be able to run away from the threat.”
“That means we need to think of a way to sneak into the base,” said the Elite girl.
Quenser and Heivia looked over at the short princess and she continued speaking.
“As an Elite that pilots an Object, I have an idea how we can sneak through their radar net.”
The only explosives they had on hand were the C4 for destroying bridges or rock and the portable anti-tank missile.
Quenser and Heivia headed down from the watchtower and headed for the enemy’s Object maintenance base zone.
“…Should we really have left the princess behind?”
“All three of us going wouldn’t have helped any. If the Water Strider returns while we’re working, we need to escape from the base, so leaving a lookout behind like this is best.”
“Hah. Give me a break, Sir Knight. Even if rank and file soldiers like us are captured, there’s a chance they’ll keep the treaty and treat us as prisoners of war. However, an Elite would clearly be different. She’ll either be brutally tortured to get classified information on our Object or shot on the spot to destroy our army’s ability to fight at the root. You were just making sure she could still flee if we fucked this up.”
“Like I said: this is best.”
As Quenser trudged through the snow, a smile appeared on his lips.
Due to the cold, it was a stiff, awkward smile, but it was a natural smile all the same.
“You certainly have cheered up,” he said to Heivia.
“Of course I have. Charging into an enemy base with some scrawny bastard is so much better than being chased around by that monstrous Object.”
They had recovered mentally enough that jokes and sarcasm now came to them naturally once more.
They eventually reached the barricade at the back of the base. The enemy base zone was surrounded by a long net made of synthetic fiber, but it did not appear to have any sensors attached.
“What do you think? Should we climb over?”
“No, you idiot. The guards will definitely notice us if we climb two meters up. We need to cut a hole in the barricade,” Heivia whispered as he pulled a knife from his waist.
He used the large blade to cut through the synthetic fibers weaved into the barricade one at a time.
It took a while and they were worried a patrolling soldier would notice them, but one never did. It seemed they truly did leave everything to the Object.
“Hey, where do you think the spare parts for the legs are stored?” asked Quenser as he slipped through the hole in the barricade.
It seemed like thick concrete buildings were placed here and there throughout the wide area of the base zone. A lot of them were large antenna facilities for assisting the Object. The area between buildings was unusually large either so an intruder could be spotted from the watchtowers or so the giant Object could pass through without obstruction.
Heivia answered while hiding behind the nearest building.
“I don’t know, but the Object has to be overhauled every half day. It’s probably the place the most people go to and from.”
“By the way, how long has it been since the Water Strider last started moving?”
“It should be coming back soon, so we need to blow up those spare parts before it does.”
If they could keep the Water Strider from being serviced on, it would be stuck at the base zone. However, if it was successfully overhauled, it could move around freely for another 12 hours. If that happened, their fleeing superiors and fellow soldiers would be slaughtered for sure.
Quenser used the scope of his rifle to look at the surrounding facilities and found one building that had a lot more footprints in the snow leading to its entrance than any other. The snowstorms made footprints disappear, but the white snow was a dirty mud color in that area alone. He could see footprints from 100 to 200 people as well as tire and tread tracks from a few heavy vehicles.
“That building isn’t big enough to fit the Object inside.”
“So are those footprints and tracks from taking the spare parts from there to the maintenance facility?”
“It might just be a popular strip club on the base. If so, we’re gonna end up in a firefight with 100 idiots pitching tents in their pants.”
Quenser used his rifle’s scope to look at the watchtowers at the four corners of the base zone, but the parabolic antennae of the many large radar facilities that had been built later blocked the view of any guards who might be in them. Once again, the Object took priority. At any rate, it looked like they were not going to be caught that way if they ran through the base zone.
Quenser and Heivia charged out from behind the building and ran across a wide open area of snow.
It only took 10 seconds to cross, but they thought their hearts were going to stop.
No gunshots from a sniper in the watchtowers were heard.
They pressed up against the wall of the storehouse.
“Let’s go in the back way. Do you know how to open an electronic lock?”
“If we have to, we can use the C4 to blow open the door.”
“That’s a great idea. If only it wouldn’t bring every soldier in the base to us.”
As Quenser and Heivia spoke back and forth, they circled around to the back entrance and found it unlocked.
“…I guess they decided there was no chance they would have human intruders.”
“And I thought having guards was a waste of money back at our base…”
They opened the small door and entered the storehouse.
The building was 50 meters wide, 100 meters long, and 15 meters tall. It was simply a large open area with no inner walls. Metal beams ran vertically and horizontally through the area. The metal framework was highly regular and created something that looked like giant bookshelves from a library.
And those bookshelves were lined with cylindrical parts.
The cylinders had a diameter of about a meter and a length of about 5 meters, making them look something like a fighter aircraft’s engine. From Quenser’s knowledge of Objects, he guessed they were the devices that created the massive amounts of static electricity by spinning the turbines.
“My guess is this is part of the undercarriage, but…”
“Yeah, at my station, we were analyzing the battle records and trying to come up with an expected design of the enemy Object. I’m pretty sure a part similar to this was drawn in the predicted diagram,” agreed Heivia.
Quenser looked at the side of the cylindrical turbines where a number was written. It was most likely a simple spec for the electrical power it used, but…
“…What the hell? Is this decimal point in the wrong place? If this is accurate, then it’s more than twice what I’m guessing the value is for the plasma cannons.”
“To keep such a large body afloat and moving at such high speeds, they have to go all out like that. The electrical simulation group estimates that each leg uses around 10 of these turbines.”
“Twenty times the power of a plasma cannon? And for just one leg?”
“Look,” said Heivia as he opened the maintenance cover of the turbine and peered inside. “The thing is jammed full of sensors. It almost looks like those horrible time bombs you see in movies. These are all for extremely sensitive security. They have to make sure they can predict ahead of time if control of one of these high output turbines is going to be lost so they can shut it down ahead of time.”
“…Come to think of it, I think I heard something about the turbines melting if they continually created energy.”
“It’s too late by the time they melt,” said Heivia. “Just because the turbine stops functioning does not mean the energy produced by the reactor is going to just disappear. The reactor and the legs have a few emergency transformers and discharge devices installed, but the amount of power they would have to get rid of would be orders of magnitude greater than what those can deal with. If all the turbines packed into a single leg went out, that would be 20 times the output of one of its plasma cannons. I’m betting the transformers and discharge devices wouldn’t even be able to function if the turbines actually melted and ceased to function. The devices would be blown to pieces.”
That was why the turbines had so many sensors installed. If they could predict a failure early, they could actually deal with the excess energy by discharging it in stages.
“Its functionality may be optimized…but the Water Strider’s design just forces a lot of things through, doesn’t it?”
“That’s just one aspect to creating an Object specialized for this snowy region. One like our princess’s that was designed to be almighty in any situation and the Water Strider that only works in Alaska may both be Objects, but they were developed with completely different ideas in mind,” said Heivia. “Deep snow can slow you down, so an Object that can move around quickly is a major advantage. …And that was what did our princess in.”
However, if the turbines could not be replaced, Quenser and the others would be victorious.
If the static electricity producer in the Water Strider’s undercarriage was destroyed, it could not be overhauled and then the enemy Object would be stuck.
And they had C4 they could use to carry that out.
Within the watchtower a short distance from the maintenance base zone, the Elite girl waited for Quenser and Heivia’s return.
Suddenly, her ears twitched and she frantically turned around.
She had heard the dark thundercloud-like noise the Water Strider made when it moved using massive amounts of static electricity. It had likely started back toward its base zone because its time limit was drawing near.
If it ran across the other two in the base zone, they would surely be killed.
The girl had been handed a radio for just such a situation. If it came to it, she was to contact Quenser and Heivia so they could get away. Their plan would fail, but they would keep their lives. If the plan to destroy the Object’s undercarriage had to be ended, they would just have to come up with some other way.
The Elite girl reached for the radio’s switch, but suddenly stopped.
She audibly gulped.
The enemy base zone was made up of maintenance facilities for the Object and large radio facilities to support the Object. They were likely used to more efficiently locate the enemy in a snowstorm, but if she used a radio so near a base with that many precision radars…
(They would definitely notice. Not only would they locate me, but they might even realize the signal was being sent toward the base…)
The radio was supposed to let her warn them of danger, but the transmission itself would bring danger on them.
However, she could not tell them the Object was approaching without the radio.
The Water Strider continued to approach the base zone.
(What do I do?)
The Elite girl looked down at the radio.
She did not want those two to die. This was not an issue of being duty bound to protect the other soldiers as the Elite of an Object. Beyond such sworn duty, she simply did not want those who had stood up to protect her to die in vain.
Comrades in arms.
When that term appeared in her mind, the Elite girl nodded.
(The enemy’s top priority is the Elite that pilots the Object…)
She took a deep breath and then stared intently at the giant weapon.
That was her only chance to act as a decoy.
With C4 in hand, Quenser’s expression turned bitter.
“…What are we supposed to do?” he muttered in a trembling voice.
The maintenance parts for the Object were just the precision equipment with no outer shell, so C4 was more than enough to destroy them.
“There’s just too many of them. The amount of C4 I have isn’t enough!!”
The vast space within the building was packed almost completely full of the cylindrical parts. Quenser gritted his teeth at the overly cautious amount they had prepared.
Objects were synonymous with war.
Everyone on that base would be slaughtered if the Object ceased to function.
The massive amount of parts showed how afraid they were of that happening. The enemies were cowardly enough to leave all the killing to the Object, but they were well aware of its weaknesses.
Heivia was taken aback in the same way and he tapped Quenser’s shoulder.
“Hey, let’s just blow up the entire building. Even if we can’t blow up each individual part, we can crush it all under the rubble if we destroy one of the building’s main support pillars!!”
“Do you have any way of being sure that every single one of these thousands of parts will be unusable afterwards? And even if each individual part is unusable, they might be able to scavenge enough working components to put together a usable one!”
“But that’s-…! No, you’re right. The continued operation of the Object is a matter of life or death for them. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were that persistent. But what else are we supposed to do!?”
“Shit!!” Quenser swore and ran through the storehouse.
He looked at each of the shelves made of the metal framework to see if he could find any useful information. As he read the displays, his impatience increased, preventing him from actually comprehending any of it.
At the same time, Heivia glanced toward the exit.
“Hey, this is dangerous. We should really finish up in here! If we can’t take out the Object’s undercarriage, there’s no point in staying any longer!! We need to get out of here!!”
“Wait just a bit longer!! There has to be something!!” replied Quenser as he flipped through a turbine maintenance manual he had found.
When he then heard a low sound like thunderclouds spreading across the sky, he thought his heart would stop.
It was the sound of the Water Strider moving.
“Oh, shit!! Why didn’t the princess warn us over the radio!?” Heivia yelled, but Quenser paid him no heed.
After coming that far, they would die a vain death if they did not retaliate in some way.
(Wait a second. This combination of a four level sensor and automatic switch…)
Quenser looked back and forth between the maintenance manual and the shelves.
(What’s the number!? If I know the leading number…!!)
“Time’s up, hero!! If we don’t get out of here in 30 seconds, we’ll be trapped!!”
“Give me one more minute!!”
“What are you messing around with!? Didn’t you conclude we couldn’t blow them up!?”
“45 more seconds!!”
Heivia heard a great number of footsteps approaching. Quenser had likely lost his ability to make rational decision due to the hope he thought he saw before him. Just as Heivia was thinking of kicking Quenser’s ass to make him leave, Quenser finally returned to Heivia.
“Let’s go. Can we still make it!?”
“Because of some idiot wasting time it’s gonna be pretty thrilling, but hopefully! This way!!” Heivia said as he ran toward the back entrance.
He opened the door a crack and peered outside just in time to see the giant Object cut across nearby. It was likely headed for the maintenance area. The maintenance soldiers were following behind it.
“Can we make it?”
“It’ll be like cutting across a bee hive, but we won’t get another chance. The radar facilities will be on highest alert when the Object is undergoing maintenance. We need to get out of the base before they switch over the mode.”
They then heard a clanking noise.
It was not coming from the back entrance. The personnel door next to the giant shutter on the front was opening.
“Dammit, let’s go!”
Quenser and Heivia were almost pushing each other as they charged out of the storehouse.
It seemed the enemy army had lowered its guard quite a bit since the Object they felt was the sole threat had been destroyed. A great number people were gathered around the returning Water Strider as if it were a triumphant parade.
“Hey, you aren’t going to be using that C4, right? Stick fuses in it and throw it all over the area.”
“Are you going to use it as a diversion?”
“Once that damn Water Strider’s maintenance is done, we’re going to need some kind of plan to buy us enough time to escape. If they get a report of explosions all over their base, they might assume it’s being bombarded and turn the Object back to deal with it!!”
Quenser went along with Heivia’s idea and tossed the small pieces of C4 around as he ran. It was true that they were not going to need the C4.
After ridding themselves of all the C4, they headed back for the hole they had cut in the barricade.
That was when Quenser noticed something.
He suddenly stopped.
“What’s wrong, hero!? Did you leave something behind!?”
“Yeah! The princess has been captured!!”
Heivia’s expression turned to one of shock upon seeing the serious look on Quenser’s face.
They headed behind a nearby building rather than for the hole in the barricade and then peered around the side so they could see the center of the base zone.
In the distance, they could see the Elite girl in handcuffs being forced to walk near the Water Strider. Their triumphant mood had not simply been due to the return of the Object. They were in high spirits because they now had a chance to lynch the person who had been threatening their lives.
Quenser looked back and forth between the hole in the barricade and the Elite girl in the center of the base zone.
“God dammit. What are we supposed to do!?” he asked.
“What are we supposed to do…? Oh, no. While I admit you’re a knight, you can’t possibly be thinking of trying to save her in this situation!”
“So we should just abandon her!? I’m not saying we have to take on the Object. We just scattered that C4 around, remember!? If we can confuse the enemy with that, there might be enough of an opening to save her!!”
“With just the two of us!? They have their Object. And even if they didn’t, how many soldiers do you see out there!? Do you know just how many reinforcements we would need to break through all of them!?”
“But without the Object, things would be different, right?”
“If we can take out the Water Strider, we could manage with normal reinforcements like tanks or fighters, right!?”
Quenser gritted his teeth and operated the radio in his hand.
He was not detonating the C4.
He was trying to contact Froleytia and the other fleeing soldiers, but Heivia frantically grabbed his hand upon realizing that.
“You idiot!! Their base is mainly radar facilities! If you send out a radio signal, they’ll find us in no time at all!!”
“There’s nothing we can do. Even if we could contact Froleytia and the others, do you really think they’d come!?”
“So we should just abandon the princess!? Do you remember why we split up with the main force and came here in the first place!? It was because we couldn’t abandon her!”
“Dammit,” Heivia said and quietly clicked his tongue.
He seemed to hesitate over something, but finally made up his mind and spoke.
“My military instructor taught me a secret trick back when I was trained.”
“If you raise the output of the infrared seeker on an 8th generation portable anti-tank missile as far as it will go, make a few special modifications to the aiming computer, and then connect it to the radio’s port, the high power military satellite will pick up the infrared signal, completing the transmission.”
“Wait, you mean…!!”
“But there’s no guarantee those in control of the radio facilities here won’t notice a trick like this and the chaff missile shot in to the clouds is obstructing any transmissions or signals. The instructor who taught me this said it should only be used as a last resort to get an SOS out. It’ll be a miracle if the transmission lasts even for a whole minute.”
As he practically spat out that explanation, Heivia put down the missile and started making the necessary preparations. Quenser removed the cover to the missile’s aiming computer.
“Do you know where and when the satellite is going to pass by overhead?”
“Look at the timetable in File 399 on your handheld device. If it’s on its standard orbit, you should be able to check it there without having to check online.”
Heivia connected the radio and portable anti-tank missile with a cable and slowly moved the barrel through the sky based on the data on Quenser’s handheld device. As he did, a bit of static ran through the radio’s speakers.
“There, Heivia. …Okay, it looks like we’ve got the satellite.”
“Hurry up and secure the transmission line and then connect to Froleytia’s laser satellite communication device! I have no idea how long this manual method will last!!”
Despite the jury rigged method, they were using the proper military code, so the satellite actually relayed their signal. After getting the signal indicating the access had been a success, Quenser spoke into the radio.
“This is Quenser. Can you hear me, Froleytia? We are currently near the enemy base zone!!”
They heard the sound of someone’s breath catching in their throat come from the radio.
Due to forcing the signal through with the portable anti-tank missile, the signal had a lot of noise mixed in. The static was louder than the voices, but they could barely manage to get their words across to each other.
“The princess was captured by the soldiers at the base. We are about to go save her. Could you lend us a hand? The base is mostly made up of Object maintenance facilities and radar facilities, so they basically have no tanks or fighters. If we can do something about the Object, we can easily defeat them!!”
“Do you know how dangerous that Object is? Give up on the princess. There is no need for you to die and, Quenser, you aren’t even an actual soldier. No one will blame you if you run away!!”
“We will deal with the Object,” said Quenser plainly. No one thought his words could be anything but a bluff. “Froleytia, you can wait until you see the large flash of the Object blowing up, but the instant you think we could win at least send a single tank our way! That alone could completely change this situation. Please consider it!!”
“Okay, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up if I was you.”
“I’m free to get my hopes up over whatever I want,” Quenser said before switching off the radio.
He then turned toward Heivia.
He forced down the trembling of his body and said, “Now we’ve done everything we can.”
“Yeah, but I don’t think there’s really any chance of Froleytia coming back. For one thing, your request was not based on military regulations. She isn’t going to put her subordinates and units in danger for that.”
“Now we just need to resolve everything by praying for a miracle and destroying the Object on our own.”
“Don’t say that like it’s easy. And I never said a single word about helping you save the princess.”
Quenser did not speak ill of Heivia for wanting to flee. He had forcibly gotten him involved before, but there was no guarantee they would survive the next time. Also, what Quenser was going to do next was not a proper military action. In fact, he was thankful that Heivia had stuck around as long as he had.
“…Sorry for making you tag along for all this. You leave through the hole in the barricade and escape into the forest over there. I’ll do everything I can to draw their attention while you do.”
“Wait, damn you. Don’t leave me with some horrible trauma! You’re not going to give me any choice are you!?”
Heivia was still stubbornly glancing back toward the hole in the barricade, but when Quenser dashed out from behind the building and headed for his next piece of cover, Heivia chased after him.
Quenser and Heivia headed out alone on a mission that had almost no chance of succeeding.
And of course, no miracle occurred.
After only 10 minutes, they were spotted, warning shots were fired at the ground near their feet by a sniper, and they ended up surrendering with their hands raised above their heads.
Quenser, Heivia, and the Elite girl were brought to the center of the maintenance base zone. They were ordered to kneel down and put their hands behind their heads.
A soldier was placed behind each of them, holding a gun to their heads. A ring of people from the base zone had appeared to watch their public execution.
“Such a sad story, isn’t it? This is such a good example of a knight returning to save the princess.”
“Are you mocking me?”
“Oh, shit. The Object is entering the maintenance area.”
As Heivia and the Elite girl spoke back and forth, Quenser remained silent and watched the Water Strider slowly move along.
“(…If I create some confusion, do you think we can get away?)”
“(…Ahhn? You mean the C4 we scattered about? If that somehow blew up the Object, we might make it somehow.)”
“(…I’m serious here.)”
“(…So am I.)”
Meanwhile, one of the enemy soldiers stepped forward and stood before Quenser and the others. While chewing on some gum, he spat some yellow saliva at Quenser’s head.
“We’re gonna roast you with the Object’s main weapons.” He then turned toward the Elite girl. “For you, we’re gonna use suggestion and electrodes to pull out everything in your head. Your personality will never recover, but it’ll all be over in about 30 minutes. Afterwards, we’ll strip you naked and hang you from the main weapons until you freeze to death. Maybe the savages running through the woods and mountains will give up once they see that.”
“…So you don’t care about the war treaties relating to prisoners of war. I think I know who the real savages are here, you fucker.”
Heivia let that comment slip and immediately afterwards he had a thick leather military boot fly at his cheek. It struck him and he sank down into the snow. As he coughed, he glared at the enemy soldier with a powerful light in his eyes.
“The maintenance is complete, so it’s time for the execution,” the enemy soldier said mockingly.
With a great noise like a church bell, the walls and ceiling of the Object maintenance facility opened wide. Appearing from it was the giant weapon with a 50 meter main body and main cannons stretching in each direction, giving it a total length of over 140 meters. The Water Strider ruled over the winter Alaskan land with over 100 weapons and thick armor. As it had just replaced the parts for its undercarriage, the dark thundercloud-like noise created by the massive static electricity it created seemed to have a sharper tone to it.
It was about 300 meters away, but it had such great power that it could ignore such distances. The scene seriously made them feel like it would crush them under its legs if they gave the slightest movement.
Seeing that Object, Quenser whispered to Heivia.
“(…Get down when I charge out. Use that snowplow tractor over there for cover.)”
Heivia did not have time to stop him.
Quenser charged out toward the enemy soldier approaching them. The surrounding soldiers held up their rifles, but they could not bring themselves to pull the trigger because of the struggle. That may have been thanks to the fact that they were all maintenance soldiers that had not been properly trained.
The enemy soldier must have thought Quenser was trying to grab his rifle because he pulled the rifle away.
However, Quenser was not grabbing for the rifle.
He was grabbing the rectangular radio strapped on the soldier’s shoulder like a knife.
“Get down!!” Quenser yelled just as the soldier pushed him away.
Quenser operated the radio with his thumb while rolling on the ground despite the fact that many rifle barrels were targeting him. Heivia assumed he was using the radio to detonate the C4 they had spread around the area, so he immediately jumped behind the snowplow tractor such that he covered up the Elite pilot.
However, that was not what happened.
Quenser was not detonating the C4 he had scattered as dummies.
He was detonating the leg of the Water Strider.
With an explosive noise, one of the four legs over 300 meters away exploded from the inside. It was not an external explosion. The explosion had clearly come from within the armor.
When Quenser had seen all the spare parts in the storehouse, he had determined it would be impossible to blow them all up. That was why he had searched out which spare parts would be put into the Object during its next maintenance and put C4 inside those parts. He still had plenty to learn, but his studies of the construction of Objects may have been what had allowed him to determine which parts were important and where he could stick the C4 inside them so it would not be noticed.
With its thick armor, the Object could not be destroyed even with a nuclear weapon. However, an explosive within the armor could destroy the equipment within the Object.
Also, he had blown away the turbines that consumed massive amounts of energy to create the static electricity that helped move the Object. Even one of them used twice the energy of a low-stability plasma cannon which meant each leg used 20 times that energy during normal use. This made it quite a delicate point.
So what would happen if that point was destroyed?
Tons of sensors were installed in the turbines to predict failures and shut them down in stages to minimize the damage. How much of a burden would be put on the emergency transformers and discharge devices – as well as the reactor itself – if one was blown up causing a chain reaction that blew up the rest of them?
The soldier who Quenser had stolen the radio from and who was now pointing his rifle at the boy looked over toward the sudden explosion.
“…Did you think you could destroy the Object by causing an explosion within it?” he said triumphantly.
The initial blast had caused a few secondary explosions, but it had remained isolated to a single leg. It had not been enough to destroy the entirety of the Water Strider.
“Did you know that 5% of our Object’s weight is due to safety devices? A few rank and file soldiers sneaking into a maintenance facility and pulling a few tricks isn’t going to cut it.”
After causing the large explosion, Quenser had jumped behind the snowplow tractor and the enemy soldier was standing in the middle of the open snow aiming his rifle at him.
“The superiority of Objects will never be overturned. That is the battlefield we fight on.”
“Is that so?”
However, Quenser continued to smile even in that hopeless situation.
“Did you know that our princess’s Object and your Water Strider have similar devices installed? I saw it mentioned in your maintenance manual. Some Objects have security devices installed to ensure they will not fall into enemy hands. If it has not been destroyed but can no longer function, the enemy could retrieve it and analyze the technology. To prevent that, the special gas for the plasma cannons is used to blow the Object up.”
Something appeared in Quenser’s hand like he was a stage magician.
It was small enough to fit in his palm and looked like a rectangular circuit board.
“The device is controlled by precision sensors, so it almost never activates unnecessarily.”
The enemy soldier immediately realized what the rectangular circuit board was.
However, it was too late to do anything about it.
“But if that sensor is removed from a turbine that blows up, do you think it can make an accurate decision?”
After all, the C4 explosion had caused a malfunction in the Water Strider’s security device, causing it to activate. The special gas for the low-stability plasma cannons filled a special space within the giant machine…and caused a tremendous explosion shortly thereafter.
The great explosion caused by plasma within the Object enveloped the reactor in no time at all. However, it was an intentional explosion meant to destroy all classified information. It was set to only produce the destructive force needed to prevent any of the technology from being analyzed, so it was many times less powerful than a critical explosion of the reactor itself.
Nevertheless, all sound disappeared.
The giant sphere that was the Object’s main body explosively expanded and a pure white flash of light and an intense shockwave were emitted in all directions. The enemy soldier standing out in the open were struck by the shockwave. He doubled over and was tossed a few dozen meters before landing. Similar things happened to the other enemy soldiers.
The giant Object had been blown up at the hands of a flesh-and-blood combat engineer.
That was an unheard-of event that completely overturned the theory of war itself. That accomplishment had been carried out by the combination of the skills of Quenser, Heivia, and the Elite girl. A combat engineer who normally worked behind the scenes to blow up stones or bridges to create or obstruct paths had been raised to the level of a hero that could influence the outcome of an entire war.
However, he did not have time to enjoy that fact.
Quenser had immediately taken cover, but he did not escape unscathed.
Even though he was over 300 meters from the Object and hiding behind a snowplow tractor, the explosive flash of light seemed to pierce into his retinas. The surface of the steel tractor became scorched and it slid to the side.
Intense pain ran through his head and his sense of hearing was almost completely gone. A burning pain covered his entire back. He frantically rubbed his eyes as his vision was filled with pure white and tried to find Heivia and the Elite girl who must have been in a similar state collapsed nearby.
He then heard a clanking noise from somewhere.
A few of the soldiers must have miraculously managed to survive just like Quenser and the other two. His vision finally returned and he saw a few soldiers desperately trying to aim their rifles at him while staggering due to the shock of the blast.
Quenser once more felt the radio in his hand.
He set the frequency and sent the detonation code for the C4.
The explosives he had scattered about exploded and the enemy soldiers holding their rifles nearby were thrown humorously into the air.
Quenser shouted at Heivia who was lying collapsed nearby.
“Can you run!? Grab one of the rifles from the ground and return fire!!”
“God damn you! That’s what you call ‘creating some confusion’? Something that big is going to make me panic, too!!” Heivia shouted as he picked up a rifle lying on the ground.
Even if they had managed to destroy the Water Strider due to countless coincidences, their goal was not the destruction of the maintenance base zone.
They just had to escape safely.
As Quenser and the others ran toward the exit of the base zone, a single enemy soldier blocked their way. He was already holding his rifle up and had it aimed squarely at Quenser’s chest. The two stared at each other in that hopeless situation. Quenser clearly saw a smile appear on the soldier’s face.
And then he heard a gunshot.
However, it had not come from the soldier’s rifle.
A sniper bullet flew from much farther away and pierced straight through the side of the enemy soldier’s head.
The rest of the enemy soldiers turned in shock in the direction the gunshot had come from just in time to see countless missiles and shells fly in from outside the base zone. The enemy soldiers were not the only ones surprised by this. Quenser and the other two had been saved by the unknown covering fire, but they just stood staring in disbelief.
“They actually came… That’s Froleytia’s unit, isn’t it!?”
“What the hell? It looks like that Japan obsessed pair of giant tits can actually be a decent commander!!”
The enemy base zone was filled with maintenance and radar facilities to support the Object. The rest of its forces were nothing but infantry units. They did not have any tanks or even armored vehicles.
On the other hand, Quenser and the others’ army had the full complement of tanks and fighters they had always complained were nothing but a waste of taxes. It had seemed almost certain that those outdated weapons would never actually be used, but they were finally able to show their true worth.
Several explosions were scattered about and enemy soldiers flew through the air. Amid it all, Quenser grabbed the Elite girl’s hand and ran for the exit. It seemed the sentry had been taken out by a howitzer.
Heivia ran alongside him while intermittently firing his rifle.
“Heh heh. Hey, Quenser! We’d have to be pretty stupid to die after coming this far, wouldn’t we!?”
“Yeah, Froleytia came all the way here because she believed in us. We need to at least live up to her expectations!!”
Had their superiors who had been fleeing come back because they had seen the clear sign of victory that was the Object exploding? Or had they felt some kind of responsibility after running off and abandoning the Elite girl?
As Quenser ran out through the base zone’s exit, he turned back to look at the base that had black smoke rising from it.
The battle was essentially over.
Both sides had lost their Object. All that was left was for the normal soldiers to fight it out. Once it came to that, there was a great difference between an army made up of maintenance soldiers and personnel for the radars meant for an Object battle and an army that had plenty of old-fashioned tanks and fighters.
(Flesh-and-blood soldiers blew up that Object…)
The boy who had carried out an act that had overturned the basic knowledge of war stared blankly at the enemy base zone where explosions and gunfire continued.
The Elite girl must have been thinking something similar because she opened her mouth to speak.
“…Those people may see us as monsters on the same level as an Object.”
“Not my problem,” Heivia said defensively as he stared at the base zone with his soot-covered face. “This is war. They’re the ones that taught us that when they ignored our white flag. We had all forgotten the weight of the word ‘war’ due to the Object.”
War was taking place all over the world, but at the very least, the intense fighting that had been spreading through Alaska had come to a close. Both armies’ Objects had been destroyed and (rare for that era) a fight between flesh-and-blood soldiers had broken out. In the end, Quenser and the others’ unit had been victorious.
Quenser, Heivia, and the Elite girl had returned from Alaska to the home country.
They were from different places, so they parted ways upon leaving the maintenance base zone.
However, they had one last chance to meet.
A special awards ceremony was being held.
The one who had saved their army from a hopeless situation after their Object had been destroyed had not been a professional soldier. It had been a mere student who had been with the unit to study Objects. The news that flesh-and-blood people had destroyed an invincible Object had spread around the world and they were being honored with medals.
Quenser was within the waiting room of the party hall of a giant hotel the likes of which he had never set foot in before. (He had actually planned on visiting them quite often once he got rich as an Object designer.) The feeling of the unfamiliar dress clothes bothered him and he was continually adjusting the position of the high-quality necktie. However, the sight of Heivia after so long made him forget that feeling altogether.
“I thought you were supposed to be a noble? I’ve never seen someone who looked worse in dress clothes than me.”
“Shut up. I lost the feel for this kind of thing while chasing deer in Alaska. And they don’t look too bad on you.”
However, he was from a noble family, so he was not overpowered by the atmosphere of the party hall even if the dress clothes did not seem to suit him. His body was not unnecessarily tensed up like Quenser’s was.
“So what battlefield are you headed to next, Heivia?”
“Are you stupid? I was only killing time at a military base in order to have enough achievements to be my family’s successor. Now that I’m publicly known as one of the people who blew up an Object, I have no need to stick with the military. Now I can live the rest of my life richly and comfortably. …Although that sounds like it has its own annoyances.”
“I see. So you’re heading straight for the ‘successful career’ path.”
“You’re doing pretty much the same thing, right? I heard the military took an interest in you and gave you the special right to look through the country’s database. Now you can see as many Object blueprints as you want without having to head out to the battlefield. With so many samples to study, your learning speed should be overwhelmingly faster than those around you.”
Hearing that, Quenser pinched his cheek.
It had yet to seem real to him, but it seemed he had succeeded in getting a head start on his own successful career.
“What’s the princess doing?”
“Well, the Elite that pilots an Object obviously can’t leave the front lines so easily. For us, destroying an Object was enough of a miracle to get public recognition, but for our Elite princess, it’s the norm,” said Heivia, casually showing just how different a world the Elite girl lived in.
Quenser thought once more on the burden those who piloted and fought with Objects had to bear.
Meanwhile, Heivia continued to speak.
“She’s waiting for her next orders inside an improved Object developed from the same line as her Object that was destroyed in Alaska. I hear a giant Object like that would take three or four years to develop from scratch, so it seems there had already been a plan underway to switch over to this new one. …Well, don’t you think that princess must like the battlefield if she willingly chose a place like that to wait?”
“After everything we went through, I can’t understand how she could possibly want to go back.”
“Maybe it’s because of everything we went through. She may have been given a chance to seriously think about the value of the lives of soldiers like us.”
Suddenly, a knock came at the waiting room’s door.
A beautiful secretary who worked for a high military official poked her head into the room and asked them to head to the party hall because the preparations for the ceremony were complete.
As they left the waiting room and headed down the passageway to the party hall, Quenser had a sudden thought.
“Oh, hey. Did you get an email from the princess?”
“You idiot. That’s another special right you alone have. After all, you’re the one that first grabbed a rifle and went running after her back then.”
“…I was hoping to meet her while we were here.”
“Well, we’re parting ways once more after the awards ceremony, but let’s make this more about celebrating our departure than mourning our parting.”
They opened the double doors to the party hall and were greeted by applause and the flash of cameras. Guided by the voice of the master of ceremonies, Quenser and Heivia slowly headed up onto the stage where they were greeted by distinguished members of the military and had medals on ribbons that were probably more valuable than an Olympic gold medal placed around their necks.
At the end of the ceremony, the master of ceremonies gave one last remark.
“Now, a round of applause for these two who defeated an Object without the assistance of an Object of their own. Let us see them off to their next battlefield while praying that their special and excellent strategies can continue to benefit the world in the future.”
(…Eh? What did that idiot just say?)
While standing on the stage, Quenser frantically looked over at the various high military officials, but they were simply applauding with clearly false smiles on their faces.
Their eyes alone were serious.
Objects were synonymous with war. A silent pressure beat down on Quenser telling him that the officials were not about to let go of the kind of soldiers that could destroy an Object and turn around a war.
“(…Hey. Listen up, hero. It looks like this is no joke. I just heard that fat one over there talking. I know where we’re being assigned next!)”
“(…Where we’re being assigned? That’s already been decided!?)”
“(…Apparently, we’ll be working along with the princess’s Object! It seems they’re thinking that, since we managed to destroy an Object on our own, we might be able to damage an enemy army even more efficiently if we have an Object working with us!!)”
“(…Are you serious? So we’re going to be facing those monstrous Objects again!?)”
As the unexpected strength of his relationships with certain people made him dizzy, Quenser looked down at the medal hanging from his neck.
(Please tell me this isn’t going to end up being no different from a posthumous promotion.)