Chrome Shelled Regios:Volume20 Mortal Technica
Spring was near.
"The weather is really nice."
Harley leisurely drank tea while looking at the scenery outside from the window of the research lab.
Recently, there had been some new students looking to enter the school next semester who had taken the roaming buses to come here, so things could become noisy easily.
However, in the end that kind of situation would only happen in the area with residences for foreigners, so the location of Harley's research lab - also the area of the Alchemy Department - was still very quiet.
More importantly, though it hadn't been long, when the deeply cold winter finished, the warm air that came with spring was washing away any tension in the atmosphere.
Just opening the closed window let fresh air flow in, making one feel fantastic.
"Close the window, dust will get in."
"Guah, my files! My files are flying away! Hurry up and close the window!"
The voices coming from behind his back made Harley frown. After closing the window, he turned his head and looked behind him.
"Uh...... I think I should still say it."
The two companions who used the research lab along with him were here - Kirik and Taurus. The three of them all specialized in Dites, so they would research together, but they didn't deliberately collaborate, so the reports and research results that were submitted to the Alchemy Department were done individually.
There was the dark-personality Kirik who always wore a displeased look, Taurus who always had a bright exterior, and Harley.
"The dust in this room is definitely more than outside, and if you put your files away properly they wouldn't be blown everywhere by the wind."
"Shut up, you're not allowed to lecture me!"
Taurus yelled angrily, but Kirik just narrowed his eyes in dissatisfaction.
But, this room was actually that dirty.
Though there were tables here for three people to do their work individually, research books, magazines, and paper was piled everywhere around the tables, and tools and small parts along with some wires were strewn between them with almost no gaps. When the three of them focused on research, there were quite a few instances when they would work while eating things, so there were some food scraps and some sauce that seemed to have leaked out dropped on the floor, still there even now.
In Harley's eyes was reflected a piece of vegetable that could have dropped out from a sandwich, which looked miserable after being constantly squashed and trampled by their feet.
......Why would this kind of scene make a painful feeling emerge in his heart?
"I put my files away so they don't get blown away, and I also know what files are in what place."
"Shut up! I also do that kind of thing!"
Taurus seemed very impatient. But he was normally always very impatient, so Harley wasn't concerned about his response. Though his exterior was bright and lively, his inner feelings were this explosive, just like how Kirik always had an unpleasant expression on his face. In other words, this was their normal state of mind. Harley wondered how he was able to survive in this kind of environment.
The reason everyone said alchemists were all weird people was related to this kind of situation.
After drinking the remaining tea, Harley drew out a paper from the tools and files that had been blown around by the wind.
"But, the budget increase is really great."
Today, unexpected good news had come to this research lab. Other than Military Artists, all of the underclassmen up to the third-years all belonged to the general education subject, and they could only change to a specialized department after rising to their fourth year, but the Alchemy students weren't the same. As long as they passed a special test that was held after they reached their second year, they could enter the Alchemy Department earlier. Studying Dites required proficiency in various areas, and the goal of this was to get them started earlier and cultivate the people with these comprehensive technical skills, but most people felt that they did this to 'quickly send the weirdos to where they should be'.
It was sorrowful that the Alchemy students had no way of negating that.
The three people staying in this research lab were currently in the third year, and they were all geniuses or scholars that had passed the special exam.
Moreover, the results of the Alchemy Student budget committee meeting had been released today, and they had decided to raise the budget of the research lab of Harley and the others.
"Hmph, not so much as our research findings were affirmed, but rather because we were lucky enough to have the Student Council request us to make that thing."
Kirik harrumphed and sounded displeased.
"The Adamantium Dite."
Taurus also seemed to feel displeased.
"The multiple form function I had so much trouble making didn't even get used!"
The idea of the Adamantium Dite, which could change the Dite mixing ratio during battle, had been proposed by Kirik, but Taurus had been the one who had the skills to implement this idea. So, Taurus felt very displeased that Layfon almost hadn't used the Adamantium Dite's biggest selling point - the multi-form function - in actual battle.
Though Kirik had felt satisfied at Layfon's results when he had begun using blades, the weapons that they made were slightly different from what he imagined in his heart, so he was probably also displeased.
However, Harley was different.
"Really? But I think it should be that way."
Harley believed that what Layfon wanted most wasn't actually improvements in the weapon's shape or performance. Layfon possessed a Kei strong enough to amaze others, so what Layfon needed should be a Dite that allowed him to use as much of that strength as possible. Because of this, Harley was working with other things as well as the Adamantium Dite in order to improve their Kei capacities as much as possible.
However, until now, Harley still hadn't been able to make anything surpassing the Adamantium Dite.
Though this made Harley feel dissatisfied, he didn't hate the feeling of continuing to move forward. After all, this would be the fourth spring to welcome in after he had come to Zuellni with the goal of becoming a Dite mechanic. He still needed two years to graduate, and after graduation he could still work with his parents as a Dite mechanic and learn many things from those seniors. Even if he could easily reach his goal, it would only make the things behind him uninteresting.
It was good for people to have something to challenge them, Harley thought.
In this regard, the other two people with bad moods and impatient attitudes were also because they hadn't reached the goals they had set. The reason they were able to keep themselves motivated was related to those attitudes. The research results of the two of them had never been affected by their bad moods or impatient attitudes, so that was probably how things were.
"Ah, whatever! In any case, we should decide what to do next!"
Taurus spoke loudly as if to change the mood.
"What? You want to make something together again?"
Kirik frowned in annoyance.
"I want to research the golden ratio of durability and cutting power, along with new materials that are able to realize that ratio."
"Rather than that, the multi-form function is better! This time I'll definitely research something useful! Let's complete the Karen Kei specialized Dite that I've been testing recently!"
"Didn't we already reach the conclusion that Karen Kei doesn't need multi-form functionality?"
"Conclusions of that level won't douse my passion!"
"There's nothing more troublesome than a researcher who doesn't think about the user."
"You're the only one with no right to say that!"
It was already a custom for the two of them to bicker, so Harley quickly stopped listening to their conversation, and turned his eyes to the window.
Many things had happened this year.
More than a year had passed since Nina had added him to the Seventeenth platoon, but if he used the opening ceremony as a starting point, it was about to be one year. Seeing the fresh new students who would enter next year, Harley felt that even more clearly.
It has almost been a year since he - Layfon Alsief - had come here. On the scale of a human's life, one year wasn't that long of a time. But, it definitely wasn't an exaggeration to say that many things had happened in a year.
He had entered the platoon competition with the seventeenth platoon that had problems even competing, had obtained continuous victories like never before, and even proved his power because filth monsters had attacked. Because of his power, the Adamantium Dite that had been rejected in the planning phase had been born. And because he was here, the Shim Adamantium Dite had been thought up especially from his fighting methods.
Moreover, though it didn't have anything to do with him, Harley had also seen progress in protective gear meant for fighting filth monsters and Kei cannons.
This was a fight for survival. Though Harley didn't want to agree with that kind of thought, it was because he was in this kind of battle that his techniques had developed this quickly. The Alchemy students had responded to the Military Arts students' requests and created new things. Harley believed that process was extremely natural.
It was because of Layfon that he had been able to spend such a substantial year.
It was because...... of Layfon............
Looking a year back, a certain scene suddenly flashed through his mind.
Harley normally wouldn't care about that kind of thing. Especially when he was focusing on research, he could even be said to be totally immersed in his thoughts.
But Harley Sutton was a person, a living being, and also a man. He had instinctive desires. Fatigue and hunger were also like that. Though he could ignore those needs when his mind was focused on researching, there were limits to what he could endure. And that was applicable to the situation, as expected.
Any healthy boy would naturally be like that.
So even if he couldn't help from murmuring that kind of thing, he was helpless about it.
"I really want a girlfriend."
What emerged in his mind was the situation surrounding Layfon. He got bentos of love, and there were people who made food for him when he was at home and in training...... Not only that, even Felli who had been reluctant to join had even become more active after he entered. Not only that, his childhood friend from his hometown had come to find him, like a girl who admired him following him to this Academy City. Would the day come when there weren't any girls around him...... Harley couldn't help but doubt that.
Layfon originally hadn't seemed like he had been trying to become sweethearts with any of the girls, but Harley couldn't know how that situation would turn out later. Particularly, in the business concerning Grendan recently, some sort of situation seemed to have occurred with his childhood friend, and maybe that made him realize his own feelings slightly. Sharnid always jokingly said that he had a congenital slowness, but maybe there would be a day when he would have to take back that teasing.
Harley thought that this was essentially a good thing for Layfon.
He definitely didn't feel........................ unhappy.
After all, in the Academy City Zuellni, platoon members were like celebrities. Though the scales differed in size, every platoon had their own fan club, and it wasn't a strange thing for some people to send gifts over during training. Never mind Sharnid and Felli along with the Dalshena who was originally from the tenth platoon, Harley had even seen the new platoon member Naruki receive gifts.
It wasn't only Layfon who could encounter this kind of good situation particularly easily. Harley had also seen people other than the list he had just mentioned receiving gifts from their fans.
However, what should he say- it was definitely a problem of distance. Though Sharnid was frivolous, he would maintain a suitable distance when he was dealing with his female fans. Though Layfon also didn't agree to his fans' solicitations easily, from another point of view, there were many girls who were very close to him, and that was definitely the reason Harley cared about this matter.
Feeling someone's gaze, Harley suddenly returned to his senses.
"............What is it?"
At some time, Kirik and Taurus had stopped their bickering, and the two of them silently looked at Harley.
"D......don't be like that, don't look at me like that!"
The pitying gazes from the two of them sent Harley into disarray.
"Don't think about it, it will only make you feel empty."
"What? You're already that backed up? How sad."
"Shut up! Think about why that is!"
Though Harley had that thought, he hadn't thought he would unexpectedly give it words, and he realized that the temperature of his face had jumped.
"There aren't any good women in the real world. Don't we also have research! Since you have those kinds of thoughts, why don't you do this?"
Harley thought that Taurus was going to grab his own arm tightly, but Taurus offered the magazine in his hands for him to see.
On it was a two-dimensional girl.
Her body was very petite, and she was very cute. Her creator had put an extreme emphasis on cuteness into her drawing, so if she appeared in the three dimensional world, her entire body might be filled with unnatural feelings from top to bottom, but she was indeed cute when shown in a magazine.
"This is the superb maiden Lantica!"
For some reason, Taurus said the name of the two-dimensional girl with a very proud tone.
"If you make something yourself, it will have a loving feeling that something mass-produced won't, and I think that after your possessive desires are satisfied, incredible things can happen. Ah, though the basic structure is the same, models like skeletons or similar things obviously have their own differences. After all, making something that's exactly the same doesn't have any significance."
"No thanks, reality is better!"
"Bastard! This is also reality!"
"I'll enjoy that kind of thing after I've looked at reality!"
"Don't think that only reality can make you happy!"
Harley already wasn't very clear on the situation. Right now he was being lured in by Taurus into that territory that he could never come back from while being immersed in Kirik's extremely contemptuous gaze. In the end, Harley left the research lab without making any progress at all.
Just sighing was meaningless.
Though no one was criticizing him, Harley who was walking along on the road back home sighed while thinking that.
Anyone single, regardless of whom, should...... yes, they would feel the sudden loneliness that he felt to be unbearable.
Of course, even if he just spoke about it unconsciously, Harley understood that it was a very empty action. Thinking from Kirik and Taurus's point of view, it would be unbearable to be forced to listen to such words. After all, the two of them were people who were even worse than Harley at communicating with others, and Harley also knew that they didn't have girlfriends.
Normally, even Harley wouldn't think of such matters. But as he was now, with his body heavy and the sounds of the city's legs reverberating through the spring air, he suddenly had that urgent thought.
Maybe the feeling of spring created the feeling in him that he would have a new encounter.
That kind of feeling would often be a mistake, and Harley had long since understood that fact, but he still couldn't stop that feeling from emerging. Even if it couldn't be confirmed, even if it were just a kind of mood, Harley still had to suddenly face this kind of loneliness and this kind of feeling.
He couldn't stop sighing.
Once he left the school building, he could only return home - the current Harley had trouble bearing that current feeling. If there was a good opportunity, maybe he might be able to easily get rid of that feeling, but he couldn't control that himself, which was the unfortunate and troublesome part of critical situations. So the only thing Harley could do right now was count the constant sighs that came out of his mouth.
But, as said before - for good opportunities and encounters, since he couldn't control them, the people involved had no way to knowing when they would occur.
So, Harley didn't know at all that there was a person blocking his road. Harley had no way of knowing that this person was a girl, or that that girl would open her mouth to speak to him, or what her words would be.
In other words, all of this suddenly happened.
Recently, she hadn't had many opportunities to meet Harley. If they weren't during the refurbishment of the Military Arts hall. Though the two of them were childhood friends from the same hometown, if they lost the opportunity to see each other, they obviously wouldn't meet.
But, even if there was no platoon training, she had a character that wouldn't neglect her individual training - that was the reason Nina was Nina.
With no other choice, Nina went to Harley's research lab to ask Harley to fix her training Dite.
However, Harley wasn't inside the research lab.
"He hasn't come at all recently."
So, the person burdened with the repairs turned into Kirik who was wearing the same discontent face as usual, and the Dite was connected through a special machine to his terminal.
"Is he sick?"
It was really strange for Harley to not come to the research lab, a situation as strange as Nina skipping training without a reason.
Several wrinkles were added to his unhappy expression as he murmured quietly. The movements of his hands didn't stop as he did that.
"No...... In some sense, it counts as a sickness."
"Nn? What does that mean?"
Nina didn't understand what Kirik had said, so she tilted her head and showed a confused expression.
Kirik replied very vaguely. But, maybe his mind and hands could function independently, as the repairs of the Dite had already progressed to the next stage.
"It's a material deterioration. Recently, the lifetimes of Dites have become shorter."
Kirik spoke while reaching into the box next to the console...... from Nina's perspective, she really couldn't make out what difference there was between the contents of that box and the trashcan beside it, but he still took out a new Dite material from inside it and commenced replacement work.
"Ah...... It's because......"
Just as the words were about to leave her mouth, Nina retracted them.
Previously when Zuellni had been caught in a crisis, Nina's ability had increased in a short period of time, even making it so that she couldn't use her own power completely with a normal Dite - a similar plight as Layfon.
Because of this, Nina had gotten in trouble, but resolved this problem by obtaining the Electronic Fairy's help. 
However, she couldn't use those in routine training, so she could only use a normal Dite. But, maybe Nina hadn't achieved Layfon's level of power control, and normal Dites would become scrapped in her hands.
"Uh...... maybe I've grown?"
"It's hard to say."
Nina had originally planned on fudging it with a joke, but she got a thorny reply from Kirik.
"Actually, it's more accurate to say that you're being manipulated by a new toy."
He had said that if he observed the condition of the Dite, he could understand almost everything about the Military Artist who was its wielder.
The worlds he spoke stung her chest.
"If it were that guy, he could use the Dite while understanding its limits."
'That guy' obviously meant Layfon. Even now, there were several unrestored Dites arranged on the table. Their forms were all blades, so they were definitely weapons made for Layfon. Kirik also had things he was responsible for, and judging by how he talked, Layfon perfectly fit the part.
Just as Nina was thinking about that, Kirik finished repairing the Dite.
"If there's something you're not satisfied with, go find that guy."
Nina received the Dite. Kirik gazed at the data in the image reflected on the terminal, like his interest had already moved to a different place. After thanking him again, Nina left the research lab.
Just then, the other resident of the research lab walked in, but he seemed very angry, so he passed by Nina without even noticing she was there.
The angry slam of a door made Nina tilt her head, but she didn't do anything other than feel confused.
"Damn, that bastard!"
Taurus let out an angry voice as soon as he entered the research lab, but Kirik just frowned, not moving his gaze from the image on the terminal.
"Shitty guy, to think he would show those colors!"
It seemed that he was shouting abuse while forcefully kicking the things scattered on the floor, and his feet had kicked something large and hurt a lot. Even with that, he was still angry as he sat down on the chair in front of his working desk.
"Hey, you couldn't have missed it, right?"
Kirik still kept his ignoring attitude, so Taurus spoke to him with an impatient tone. Kirik expressed the displeasure in his heart with a frown, and then put the hand that had been on his chin to the wheels of his wheelchair. But, he still didn't look at Taurus.
"It just means he's also a man."
"Is that it?"
"Could it be that you have some way of resolving it? Do you want to go convince him to wake him up?"
"Yeah, of course I'll go convince him, I'll tell him to hurry up and wake up. Something like a three-dimensional girl will only bring unhappiness."
It was hard to imagine that the man who had proposed taking two-dimensional girls into three dimensions not long ago would say that kind of line.
No, maybe something taken from two dimensions to three wasn't the same as something that had been three-dimensional from the beginning. But, Kirik had no interest at all in the difference between the two.
"You're the one who should be convinced."
"What did you say!"
"Though it's insignificant, you should wait for that kind of thing to calm down by itself. Right now, nothing we say will be effective."
In order to end the topic of two and three dimensions, Kirik quickly butted in.
Taurus clicked and shut his mouth, and Kirik once again focused his mind on the terminal image.
"............Could it be that you're jealous?"
Kirik's simple question made Taurus's face go red.
Her name was Nene Mia Monsouf.
"It's fine to call me Nene or Mia, but don't call me by both names. Since no one would do that in my hometown."
Harley recognized her from when he had just entered the Alchemy department.
She was a senpai one year higher than Harley, and moreover had looked after him quite a bit when he had just entered the Alchemy department. She was quite tall, with a head of short silver hair, and small glasses perched on her nose. He had heard that it was just a measuring instrument she had made herself, so she wasn't actually nearsighted.
Her Alchemy research was autonomous machinery. Like the cleaning machines that could be seen moving back and forth in rooms or buildings, or the trash-picking machines that were occasionally wandering the streets, or the paper book organizing machines in libraries, or the artificial intelligence machines that could be seen everywhere on the roads - any citizen would be able to see those machines.
Battle machines that Military Artists would see during training were also included.
And her focus was being responsible for inventing battle machines used in training.
She seemed a bit neurotic if observed from afar, but if one came close, he could feel that she had a gentle temperament. Was it because she possessed an upright posture like a Military Artist along with friendly eyes? Harley thought so.
"Um, does it trouble you that I suddenly confessed to you?"
"It doesn't, no way."
The intellectual atmosphere she had that Harley did not possess, along with the slight loving atmosphere she gave off, made his face grow hot.
Right now, Harley was in her research lab. This place didn't have to be shared by three people like Harley and the others', but was a personal-use research lab.
There was an object covered by sheets in the room. Though he didn't know what it was, the interior of the room was surprisingly tidy other than it, and a tea set had even been placed. It was a level of tidiness worlds apart from the research lab of Harley and the others, even making him have the thought 'Is this place really a research lab?'.
However, the smell of oil that couldn't be completely removed still told him a fact - this place was the same as the research lab that Harley and the other used, a space that existed to be used for research.
Harley felt a bit light-headed from the sharp aroma from the tea while he tensely sat on the chair.
In the night before, while Harley had been blankly walking on the road, Nene had been the one who appeared in front of him.
What was surprising was that she had confessed to Harley.
This incredibly surprising fact made Harley gape wordlessly in doubt, and he even looked in all directions to see whether there was someone else in the darkness sneakily laughing at his incredulous appearance.
However, he hadn't noticed anyone else there.
"Um, am I no good?"
"Th......That's not the case at all! Of course that's not true!"
Her words easily captured Harley.
Even now, he still had some doubt about this matter in his heart.
After all, she was a beautiful girl, and excelled to the point of having her personal research lab. Including coming up with the Adamantium Dite, this year Harley and the others had assisted the seventeenth platoon and Layfon, and helped out with the requests of other platoons as well, and showed their activity in many other areas. Though those results had been recognized by their increase in budget, they still hadn't been permitted to have their own personal research labs for the next year.
Right now, only Layfon could use the Adamantium Dite, so its usage wasn't very widespread. In that regard, the Adamantium Dite couldn't be said to be a breakthrough invention. Though the Shim Adamantium Dite had received a high evaluation, its cost control was poor due to a usage of large amounts of Dite material, and because of this the Student Council hadn't ordered it to be used in actual battle. Without the Student Council's subsidies, the Shim Adamantium Dite could only become an option for a Military Artist looking for the best weapon efficiency. In that regard, this conclusion was quite reasonable.
On the other hand, Nene hadn't only invented training machines for Military Artist use, but she had also tried deriving techniques to be used in other areas, so the scope of her activity was very broad. Moreover, Harley had also heard that she had gotten many actual results, and because of this it could be said that it was a natural outcome for her to possess her personal research lab.
Yes, she was very outstanding.
Why had she, who was like that, chosen himself?
Harley still thought about this.
"Because you're very cute."
"You showed a look of doubt, so I said the reason. Is that not enough?"
"Th......that's not what I meant."
An embarrassed feeling of being seen through made Harley lower his head.
"Of course, if you were too poor of an Alchemy student, I wouldn't like you even if you were very cute."
The word 'like' made his face become even hotter.
Th......The stimulation was too intense.
To a novice in love like Harley, just that word made his entire body unable to move.
Ahh, but, if he didn't think of a topic to talk about......
It had already been three days ago since her confession to him. After that, when the two of them met around school, Harley would always become shy like this and unable to properly speak to her.
Ahh, but, topic topic...... What should I talk about?
Harley didn't have anything in his mind that could serve as a topic. Up through now, he had always single-mindedly focused on Dite research, and until now he hadn't even felt interested in other things, like fashion, music, or movies.
On the other hand, Nene wore pretty clothes under her white Alchemy lab coat, and even Harley could see instantly that she was very fashionable. Even in this aspect, Nene still didn't have any faults.
Uuu...... nothing. He no longer had a choice.
"S......senpai, what research are you conducting now?"
She was also an Alchemy student, so she couldn't hate that kind of topic. Harley thought this as he spoke.
"Right now? I'm making new battle machines for training. Do you want to see?'
Nene wasn't unhappy. Though Harley relaxed a bit, after he saw Nene walking to the covered object, he still went along with her curiously. Since the moment he had entered this room, he had been very interested in the object underneath the sheets.
Nene grabbed the sheets tightly, and pulled them off all at once.
What was there was a three-dimensional creature model with a height reaching about up to Harley's chest. Of course, it wasn't just a three-dimensional model.
It was probably a test work, because its outer layer was made quite roughly. Maybe it was made to move by extension, as there were many parts on its head area with such functions. It didn't even have an exoskeleton, and just directly showed the sensory machines inside, with wires hanging down lightly and vertically.
Harley had seen this creature before.
"Right, used for actual battle training. After all, a mature phase is way too big, and it can fly in the air, so I think it's better to use a simulator to carry out that training. But that would become a large-scale group battle, and also leads to some problem in price of equipment, so because of this we can't use such a method as an answer to Military Artist group training. But, if it were a larva, we only need to make a certain number to let two or three platoons carry out cooperative battle training on the practice field? Moreover, it was also raised once in Military Artist reports that using a simulator doesn't let the Military Artists get used to pain as early as possible."
Nina would be ecstatic once she heard this, Harley thought.
"I plan to make the size of the finished produce even closer to the real creature. But with that, there will be problem with the materials. Though we can manage to make material for the shell from synthetic compression plates made from sand, we definitely need to choose softer materials for the moving systems. Considering how many we'll have to cobble together, how far we can reduce the cost is also a problem."
The eloquent remarks felt quite fresh to Harley. What to strengthen, and what to cut down - when creating a product, those questions were bound to spin around in one's head. However, Harley didn't often think about cost control. Even if he considered it, at it would just be research fees paid as a commission.
Even in Dite research, Harley preferred to adjust Dites made for personal use, so it could be said that he didn't need to go think about cost control. Even if only Layfon could use the Adamantium Dite, Harley thought that its specifications were just that way, so he couldn't do anything about it. Though the Shim Adamantium Dite was almost reaching perfection, Harley didn't change his way of thinking because of it. He thought that in the end he was a researcher, so it was fine to pass the problems of actually using those things to other people to resolve. In the end, applicability wasn't very important when chasing personal bests.
Maybe this was the correct thinking of a researcher.
But, if he really wanted to let his creations become reality, thinking about those parts of the product would definitely make it easier for them to be accepted. Not giving the question 'how can this thing be used?' to the user when things were completed, but giving the other party a direction to some extent, that would make it more comfortable for the other party.
This person couldn't only research.
Harley had originally respected this senpai greatly, and after learning of her ways of thinking, that thought became even more deeply rooted.
"Senpai's really amazing."
"That's not true. Also, your Dite adjustment techniques have won very high praise among the Military Artists."
"That couldn't be."
"......Hm, I want to let you see something."
"Actually, I'm mostly already chosen the materials. But considering the cost, I can't use very good materials, so I've encountered a small bottleneck in calculated strength."
"Ahh, I see."
An actual larva...... Harley had never seen the actual moving creature with his own eyes, but he had participated in after-battle cleanup, and had actually touched their exoskeletons and felt their toughness. Moreover, after performing anatomies of many larvae and researching, he had obtained various data. It would definitely be very difficult to make such a thing move, even to just let it advance forward. No, it was enough to just make it move. But, if its movements easily stopped after a single blow from a Military Artist student, then it would be a waste. In that case, it needed some degree of strength. Though a compromise had to be made with the premise of mass production, if even its performance was compromised, then it would have no reason for existing.
"Can I ask for a bit of your opinion?"
"Of course that's no problem, leave it to me!"
Harley thumped his chest.
Compared to not knowing what to say, this was much better.
At the time, that was what Harley thought.
"Can I bother you for a moment?"
After hearing those words, Kirik moved the hands placed on his wheelchair's wheels. After class, he prepared to go to the research lab where he normally stayed, and this was something that happened in the meantime. So, his wheelchair stopped. At first glance, it was just a normal hand-powered wheelchair without any special functions, but actually just by placing one's hands on the cover of the wheels and controlling it with subtle force, it could move by itself.
But changing directions was still really annoying - just as Kirik thought this, the other party moved in front of him.
Kirik remembered that he was in a high position and a second-year Alchemy student, but he didn't remember the other person's name. Had he heard it before? Kirik tried remembering, but even that action felt troublesome to him.
"What do you want?"
"......Hey you, I'm the Head."
"So what do you want?"
After Kirik asked again, the other person showed an expression as if his momentum had been stopped and swallowed the words in his mouth.
"......Are you in the same research lab as Harley Sutton?"
Kirik quietly gave off an impatient air. I'm the Head so you obviously have to show respect...... it wasn't that attitude that made Kirik impatient, but from the words in the beginning, he had faintly felt the dislike the other person had towards him.
That man showed a timid expression again. However, this time his face clearly showed the dislike he held for Kirik.
"He's being used."
Maybe he needed some time to be able to restore his mind's vigor, as his face constantly twitched. Kirik sat on his wheelchair, so the man's gaze was above him. Maybe the height of his vision made the man have a mistaken feeling of strength over the other person, and his face finally showed an atmosphere of complete contempt for Kirik.
"He's really pitiful. There are a lot of innocent guys in the Alchemy Department, and she's also a beautiful girl, so he was easily tricked, and doesn't know that he's just being used for the next assessment test."
The man already completely despised Kirik, and his words became more plentiful. Kirik quietly observed from the side.
"Because this year's research results were poor, her current position is very precarious. If the next battle assessment fails, she might be evicted from her research lab. She's using him for that purpose......"
"Have you spoken enough?"
Kirik interrupted the man's words. Because the man had gotten carried away, he had unknowingly moved his gaze from Kirik's body at some point. After seeing Kirik's expression, his voice choked.
"Then please get out."
Kirik looked at the man with a face even more displeased than normal, and the man was completely cowed by that gaze. He hastily moved back from in front of the wheelchair.
"Since you're also a researcher, why don't you spend the time you use gossiping about other people on the things you want to create?"
"Ah, uwah, ah......"
Kirik looked at the man's shameful face without interest, and moved his wheelchair.
After a while, a familiar voice caught up.
It was Taurus.
"Hey, was that talk for real just now? What should we do?"
Taurus who had been hiding somewhere eavesdropping said this anxiously, but Kirik just frowned, muttering with his usual expression.
"Though that guy is stupid, he's not an idiot."
This day had finally come.
The day of the battle assessment.
There wasn't anyone on the battlefield during the holiday. The morning air was clear and fresh, and the smell of oil gradually seeped into it.
Harley listened to the growl of the motor next to his ears while connecting the terminal to the battle training-usage mock filth monster - named 'A-1' - to check its condition.
Though there had been other workers helping when it had been moved here, it was only Harley and Nene who were responsible for inspecting A-1.
"How is it?"
The voice coming from behind him was filled with worry. The sound of footsteps came from the restless Nene, continuously passing through Harley's back.
"Don't worry, the movement systems are secure, and it operates very efficiently. The data seems completely the same compared to the tests that we performed earlier."
Harley ignored Nene's impatient mood, continuing to begin the inspection of the artificial intelligence. This part should have been done by Nene, but for some reason, she had given the inspection work to Harley after the frame had been assembled, doing other work herself.
It felt strange.
Harley liked doing things that weren't routine, because it could put him in a good mood and various ideas would spill forth from points of view that he had never thought about. The inspiration he had obtained by working together with Nene on A-1 was even more than his normal repair work on abandoned products. He had even written down some ideas, and planned on immediately starting them after this business ended.
Even so, this was still very strange.
"Nene-senpai, please do the final check."
From Harley's point of view, there were no problems with the artificial intelligence. The artificial intelligence that this machine used didn't have much of a difference with the ones used by cleaning machines. The different part was in acknowledging whether objects were enemies or trash, and the responses made were to attack or to pick up, those were the only dissimilarities.
"Nn, if Harley thinks there are no problems after seeing it, then that's enough."
Nene said this without even looking at the image on the terminal.
It really was very strange.
Though Harley thought this, right now he didn't have time to ask about it.
The minute hand of the clock indicated that the assessment would soon begin.
The communication machine in the preparation room gave off an electronic noise, and Nene pressed the button.
After she ended her response, Harley anxiously took off the machine attached on top of the A-1, checking whether the outer shell was indeed connected, and readying it to a state where it could activate at any time.
Harley nodded his head, and gave the start button of the A-1 to her. She quietly gazed at the button for a bit, and then pressed it.
A-1 quietly moved, and then began advancing towards the practice field. In order to follow it, Harley and the others rode a small motorcycle.
A-1's sensory machines accurately locked on the specified standby location. It advanced towards there, and after checking the location, it stopped.
When the motorcycle stopped slightly behind it, the two of them began observing the situation.
Though Harley and Nene couldn't see, the battle training-usage mock filth monsters invented by other students should be positioned on the other side of the practice field.
This was a fight between battle training-usage mock filth monsters. Harley and the others had to win this fight, and they had to do more than just win against their opponent. They had to obtain victory comprehensively - like durability, lifetime, ease of repairs, cost efficiency for mass production - outside of battle as well.
This was very difficult.
If it were just for winning a fight, certain parts wouldn't require any expenditure of effort. However, if the important parts weren't improved because of other portions that had to be worked on, the creator would feel anxious, and that anxiety was related to the anxiety they felt after coming here.
Nene, who had been the creator, obviously had a solemn expression on her face.
"Don't worry, we'll win."
Harley blurted that out.
Nene showed a surprised expression and turned around, and then a wry smile emerged on her face.
"How can the researcher say that kind of wishful, cheap prediction."
The beep announcing the start of the competition sounded.
A-1 whose motor was quietly running began to move at this moment. A real larva would use countless legs to support and move its giant body. But replicating that kind of movement method would make the machinery become complex and errors would emerge, so the two of them had decided to use the treads that heavy-duty construction vehicles used as a movement system.
The tread movement system accurately dug into the damp soil of the practice field, and then began advancing. A-1 still wasn't at full speed, because it was using its sensing machines to locate the enemy's position.
Not long after, and maybe because its sensing machines had locked on to the enemy position, A-1 suddenly explosively raised its speed.
"Let's go back."
Even if they chased it they couldn't do anything. In order to return to the preparation room and observe the data from A-1, the two of them moved the motorcycle.
The enemy's position was very clear, and the distance continued to shorten. The speed at which the two drew closer was even faster than the speed of A-1, indicating that the opponent had also noticed A-1's location. But it didn't change any fighting strategies according to this fact, just single-mindedly charging forward.
According to testimony of the Military Artists, this was exactly the same as the usual attack of larvae. If there wasn't any abnormality, the larva's movements would probably be derived from its survival instinct, but A-1's situation was because its designer had only allowed it to take the actions 'charge at the enemy and then destroy it'.
A-1 was a giant attacking weapon. It could be said that it single-mindedly charged it target, used its outer shell to collide, smashing the enemy, and that this was its only reason for existence.
A-1 advanced. It knocked over the manmade vegetation in the center of the practice field, trampling them while it advanced.
The locked target was at a distance that could be confirmed with the eyes.
A battle training-usage mock filth monster that had been given the same reason for existence charged at A-1. A-1 boldly rushed the enemy.
The outer shells of the two collided, but one side was knocked back, things that could be called sparks if not for their overly strong luminosity burst out, and a boom shook the ground.
The sudden sound even reached Harley and Nene.
"How's the damage?"
After Nene asked with a stiff voice, Harley began reading the information displayed on the screen.
"Some damage and cracking has appeared on the outer shell, and the internal machinery...... is alright!"
Harley cried out very happily. But, Nene didn't respond. Turning around, he could only see her arms tightly wrapped around her chest, and she seemed a bit dazed.
"We did it......"
"We did it!"
Nene's stiff body began to slowly soften. However, the test hadn't yet ended. Harley quickly moved his gaze back to the image on the terminal.
"The machinery is still suffering a massive load in several areas. The two sides are pushing each other right now. But there's no problem with movement power, and the increase in temperature is also in the predicted range."
By the displayed data, he could understand that the two sides were currently pushing each other at a slow speed, and the collision that had occurred just now hadn't sent any side flying, and they had entered a tug-of-war with the manner of pushing each other directly. When they had a Military Artist as an opponent, this kind of situation couldn't have much significance. However, since the moment Harley had heard of this assessment, he had constantly thought about this possibility. So Harley had put in quite a bit of work on the various load capacities of the machinery.
Harley was confident in its endurance.
Next was power, and that would be good if they could win in this battle of strength.
A tension that made his stomach clench assaulted Harley, and he also felt from behind his back that Nene who had temporarily gotten out of her rigid state was tensing up again. The tension of the two of them was even sent into the terminal, and maybe because of this, the many words on the image changed to make them feel abnormally anxious.
Harley gazed at the changing words. The load amounts on the machinery that sent power to the treads had begun quickly decreasing. That meant that the treads were digging into the ground normally and moving forward. That definitely wasn't because the fight with the opponent had already been resolved, and the evidence was that it was still enduring a load higher than during normal movement.
"We're pushing it back...... Yes, we're pushing it back!"
Harley clapped his hands.
"Yes! Go! Do it!"
Harley wasn't concerned about Nene's silence, but continued to jump with the data on the terminal image. The power going into the tread system continued to increase, and the tread system responded, pushing forward while biting into the ground. The load being endured by the front of the outer shell had changed. Though there had been damage accumulated at the surface and cracks that continued to spread, the interior was still unharmed.
A-1 smoothly pushed the opponent.
Just then, a communication machine suddenly beeped.
The test hadn't ended. According to the schedule, a communication shouldn't have come at this critical point.
Nene anxiously grabbed the communication machine.
That voice showed her anxiety to Harley. The data continued showing their side’s advantage, but Nene's face showed that some unfortunate situation had happened.
"I understand, I'll quickly take countermeasures...... as insurance, please prepare the shelters."
The voice filled with a sense of crisis made Harley stand up.
"Senpai, what's happened?"
"......The opponents seem to have already given out the stop signal."
The surprised Harley quickly checked the terminal image. However, the data listed out from the sensing machines didn't indicate such a situation.
This was a training-usage machine, so its goal wasn't to give the opponent deadly wounds. Because of this, during training, the fighting outfits of Military Artists would be affixed with machines monitoring their vital signals. Once their livelihood was down to a certain value, that machine would broadcast the stop signal. The machine was installed with safety measures, and once it received that stop signal it would stop its attack, but......
"Are the safety measures not operating normally? Or is it the sensing machines? It couldn't be......"
Was it the collision at the beginning that had made the sensing machines go faulty? But no such signals had appeared. In that case, was the data shown on the terminal wrong?
Regardless of how he operated the terminal, Harley couldn't find out the reason.
"Senpai, I'm counting on you."
Harley was helpless. In this situation, he could really only rely on the creator to resolve things. After Harley left his position, the green-faced Nene quickly began operating the terminal. Her operation sequence was the same as Harley's, so it really could only give the same outcome.
"It couldn't be......"
After murmuring this, Nene closed the monitor data for the moment, and called up other programs.
It was the artificial intelligence program of A-1's movement.
"......An error has really appeared in the connection to the sensing machines."
"The sensing machines should have received the stop signal. But, the sensing machines couldn't identify that signal, so they took it as noise and ignored it. With that, the stop signal obviously wouldn't appear in the monitoring data."
Harley shook for a moment, and then quickly stood up. He couldn't just spectate like this. A-1 was still advancing, and he feared that it was completely destroying the opponent machine...... In other words, if the opponent continued to send the enemy identification signal, A-1 wouldn't stop attacking. If this went on, A-1 would hit the wall of the practice field. Harley didn't think that the wall would be destroyed, but judging from A-1's direction of advance, it might hit directly into the other side's preparation room. And moreover, the two sides seemed to only have their machines advance in straight lines, so that possibility was quite high.
"Hurry up and send the emergency stop signal!"
"No good, it's an error with the sensing machines. It won't receive the signals that we send."
"Then what if we stop the other side's enemy identification signal?"
"If we could do it, it probably would have been done already. Since they can't do it, that means that problems might also have been produced in the opponent's because of that collision."
Harley held his breath, but Nene in front of him hung her head.
"Ahh...... this is karma."
"I only ignored such an essential place because I planned on cheating."
"My results this year weren't very good. It was even bad to a level where this test would decide whether my research lab was taken back or not."
Facing Nene's sudden confession, Harley was speechless.
"I lost my self-confidence. Because I didn't want my current research lab to be taken away, I invented 'A-1' for this assessment, but I didn't think I could succeed by myself at all...... Just then, I heard that your results were very excellent, and that's why I wanted to see whether I could rely on you to turn the tables......"
"Uh, that kind of stuff doesn't matter right now."
Nene's sudden monologue surprised Harley.
It wasn't because he learned of her true thoughts.
Rather, because she was saying these kinds of things right now.
Right now wasn't a time to talk about those things.
"If senpai wants to say something, I'll listen properly after this, but right now let's first put our minds to what we can do."
"By 'what we can do', you mean......"
Nene also showed a surprised expression. Her confession just now clearly meant that her feelings towards Harley were fake.
However, Harley didn't care about that matter.
"Senpai, you can fix this error quickly, right?"
"Then I'm counting on you."
"But, even if I fix the program on this side, it won't affect anything out there. Didn't I say? The sensing machines have errors......"
"In that case, we can only change the program directly."
"I'll do it."
Harley shouted, and Nene quickly and hurriedly operated the terminal to rewrite the program. Though Nene was panicked and unfocused, she was a technician in the end. She already had the necessary procedures in her brain, so her fingers moved correctly, and changed the program in the blink of an eye.
She put the program into a data chip.
During this process, Harley started up the engine of a small motorcycle.
"Just insert this into the third port on the back outer shell portion, and the program will be changed instantly."
After putting the data chip he received into his pocket, Harley started up the motorcycle.
Nene didn't do anything, just watching from the side.
He drove the motorcycle.
Harley drove full-throttle towards the center of the forest. He dodged the trees that grew around randomly while driving on the bumpy road with what definitely could not be called good driving, also avoiding various obstacles.
Normally, Harley would have screamed and relaxed the throttles long ago, but right now he didn't do that. Harley's mind was full of how he should find A-1, whose position he had been unable to confirm with his eyes yet, so he focused on chasing the tread tracks carved into the ground and the path of trees knocked over by A-1. If he went along with A-1's trail, he wouldn't encounter any obstacles, so this was a very fortunate situation for him who didn't have much motor skills.
Harley muttered this, and almost bit his tongue because of the left and right swaying as he drove over the ground.
After passing through the forest, Harley saw A-1. The opponent's training-usage mock filth monster was on the ground, seemingly in a state of having been knocked over by A-1. In that situation, it wouldn't be strange for its stop signal to have been given out. The structure of the machine that sent out the stop signal should be quite simple, so it wasn't easy to break, but A-1 that received this signal had a problem and was unable to stop.
Harley had been going full throttle long ago, but after he left the bad road conditions of the manmade forest, the motorcycle's speed went up a bit. More importantly, A-1 was advancing while pushing the enemy, so its speed wasn't as fast.
The motorcycle Harley was seated on was indeed closing in on A-1. The moving battle machine seemed to give off pressure when viewed from up close. Harley wasn't fazed by that pressure, and set his target as the back outer shell.
"Almost there...... Alright!"
Just as the front wheel was about to touch the back outer shell......
Harley forcefully swerved them motorcycle and jumped onto A-1.
"Uwah! Ah, uh......"
The pain of his body colliding and the violent shaking almost made Harley forget his position, but he still quickly positioned himself securely on the outer shell. After some work, he succeeded in climbing to his destination.
The vibrations of the tread system constantly shook Harley. Harley used strength to stabilize his feet as he searched for the cover of the third port. He opened it, and then succeeded in inserting the data chip.
There weren't any screens nearby the port indicating whether data was being transmitted. Harley who was sent flying by the intense shaking of A-1 could only trust that he had succeeded in changing the program.
A strong shock sent him into a world of darkness.
Harley awoke in the embrace of something warm.
Nene's face was in front of him. Her worried face returned to anger the moment Harley awoke, and the pressure with which she held Harley became stronger.
No, he wasn't being held.
He was being tightly embraced.
Until now, Harley had never seen Nene's face this close to his own.
Why would she be in such a place? Oblivious to the situation, Harley was at a loss.
"It stopped, thanks to you."
"Ah, really? That's great."
The confusion in his heart instantly became indecision. When he was helping to create A-1, Harley had actually completely forgotten about Nene's confession to him, and just spend sleepless nights researching.
But, after everything had ended, Harley calmed down. He once again realized the fact that her confession had just been a lie, and he had just been used.
Harley didn't think much about having been used. He believed that making A-1 was a very helpful experience for himself.
But, it was very sorrowful that the confession had just been a lie.
No, if it were just a lie, then what was going on right now?
"Well, I'm already alright."
Please let me go - the shy Harley planned on saying this, but Nene's look didn't permit him to do so.
"Um, do you know why everyone from my hometown has two names, but only let other people call them by one of them?"
"Because only a promised lover can call them by both names."
Nene closed her eyes and brought her face in close.
A sensation he had never felt before went through Harley.
"This time isn't a lie."
Harley sank into darkness again because of his brain's computing power was overloaded, as the last words he heard were that passionate, and that sweet.
That was how things should have been......
"You're amazing, Harley."
After being woken up by a strange electronic voice, what appeared before his eyes was a being that couldn't exist in the real world.
Harley couldn't help but scream.
It wasn't Nene's intellectual and friendly face that was there. It was composed of inorganic machinery and didn't look like it was alive, and of course it didn't have the muscles of a human.
It was a robot.
And, Harley had seen that figure.
It was the superb maiden Lantica.
"Wahahahaha! How are my techniques!"
Taurus laughed loudly from behind Lantica.
"It's equipped with artificial intelligence, so it can act independently to a degree, and moreover it can identify people in its database. It can even predict the feelings of the person from what they say, and then make expressions. If I just cover it with imitation skin, I can complete a beautiful, flawless cyborg!"
Harley whose brain was completely confused looked around everywhere.
It was a hospital room.
"Huh? What's going on here?"
Taurus patted Lantica's head. He was too eye-catching, so Harley only noticed after a while that Kirik was on the other side.
"We only came here after receiving a communication saying that you were injured, so we don't know anything more than that."
"Huh? Uh, then what about Nene, M............Senpai?" 
"Didn't see her."
"Hey hey hey, it's better if you hurry up and forget those girls that will deteriorate some day. Only Lantica is the best. She won't change forever, and can even be upgraded however you desire!"
"You, you're actually saying such pathetic things!"
After making Taurus shut up, Harley once again inspected his surroundings from the white bedsheets, confirming the fact that she wasn't around.
"Huh...... What's going on?"
Why wasn't she here?
Had he really fainted after hearing those words from her mouth? Or had that just been a dream...... Harley remembered when he had succeeded in inserting the data chip, but maybe because he had suddenly relaxed, the thoughts 'Ah, I might be pretty cool right now' had emerged in his brain.
Was it because of this that he had such a dream, or was it just wishful thinking that he had felt would be nice that way?
Regardless of how Harley thought, he couldn't come up with a conclusion. No, he didn't want to make a conclusion.
But Nene indeed wasn't here right now. In that case, did it mean that the thing just now had really been......?
"Harley, cheer up."
Lantica placed her inorganic arm on Harley's shoulder.
Harley was almost attracted by her unfinished expression. Though it was a secret, Harley began kind of wanting to make a cyborg.
Translator's Notes and References
- The Dites she received from Zuellni.
- Harley almost uses both of her names as discussed before.