HEAVY OBJECT:EX Chapter 3
The hellish night had come to an end.
Morning came early for the soldiers…but that did not mean they had an easy time waking up. After being woken by an explosive blast from a cheerful idiot with a trumpet, Quenser rubbed his eyes in the top bunk of a triple bunk bed crammed into the barracks and he said good morning to the large nude poster within arm’s reach on the ceiling.
Unlike an officer like Frolaytia or a Pilot Elite like the Princess, the lowly soldiers and the student (who was nearly a freeloader) were crammed in together at night. The boys and girls were split up and then they had to climb into the beds stacked up almost to the ceiling. The comfort level was greater than a hammock but less than a capsule hotel.
He did not have time for a leisurely morning shower. He finished the bare minimum of preparation to make himself presentable and grabbed the day’s rations from one of the boxes piled up in the mess hall. That careless setup would allow a glutton to sneak off with more than their share, but since they were flavorless and odorless lumps reminiscent of soap or an eraser, no such trouble had been reported.
This was a maintenance base zone located near the coast.
Over one hundred large military vehicles had been gathered together. Even their barracks were built on top of a giant flat vehicle with at least thirty or forty wheels.
Quenser sat on the stairs up into the vehicle and nibbled on a corner of the rations while looking like he was facing the end of the world. He then noticed Myonri, a colleague of his, sneaking around out front.
“Hey, Myonri. What are you doing out so early? …Are those blueberries?”
The girl’s shoulders jumped and she looked back while holding a basket in both arms. The basket was filled with small fruits that must have been picked just that morning because they still had thin vines and leaves attached.
“N-nothing? There certainly isn’t an alliance trying to create pastes because we’re fed up with the flavorless rations. And I’m definitely not on my way to boil these to make jam!”
“Wait! You were sneaking around selecting ingredients while some of us were running around a hellish battlefield in the middle of the night!? Inexcusable! Share some of those with me. Simply inexcusable!!”
“Wahhhh!! My share always shrinks and shrinks like this!!”
According to teary-eyed Myonri (most likely to divert the predator’s attention), there was a rather large group that took issue with the tasteless rations and a number of communities had formed there. Some would try to get salt by boiling down seawater and some would try to make margarine using the oils from plant seeds.
Not only were the completed products tasty, but they could be used to trade for other seasonings.
“Rumor has it there are hidden groups making mayonnaise or crushing grapes to make wine.”
“The depths of the Legitimacy Kingdom’s darkness know no bounds! Absolutely inexcusable!!”
“Wahh! Quit trying to distract me!!”
Quenser was not going to wait until the jam was made, so he grabbed a few of the blueberries as-is and used their perfect acidity as an accent between the flavorless bites that seemed to sap his will to live.
“There’s so much variation in individual preferences that they can’t satisfy everyone. Since they don’t want the food to affect people’s combat-readiness, they go for something everyone finds tasteless, but there’s got to be something wrong with that reasoning.”
“Ah ha ha. But taste aside, those rations are supposed to be quite useful. They’re nutritious, they preserve well, they’re portable, and so on.”
“Really? I’ve seen rumors online that they dry restaurants’ leftover rice into a powder and cook it in the used frying oil.”
“C’mon, c’mon. That can’t possibly be…wait…”
Myonri rejected the idea with a smile, but then she realized she had no basis at all for doing so. She must have sensed that staying out in the open too long would let other soldiers notice her blueberry basket and thus take everything she had collected, so she said a quick goodbye and left.
Quenser used his dull mind to think about how peaceful things were here in the middle of the battlefield, but…
“Surely that’s just a preposterous rumor like the worm burgers, right?”
He had himself worried now.
In truth, the Legitimacy Kingdom’s 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion was in a state of limbo.
“Eh? We’re not waiting for a one-on-one fight with the Trinity Style?”
Quenser frantically spoke up inside the Object maintenance facility. The old maintenance lady sighed, but she was not working on the Baby Magnum. She was photographing the various remains of the small robots known as Dvergr and the armor panels that had come from the Trinity Style the night before.
“It’s true the Faith Organization probably wants to take a bite at us, but they’re taking their time after raising the White Flag themselves. They’ll want to get back at us since we injured them and they’ll also want to silence that Pilot Elite. …Skuld Silent-Third was it?”
She sounded disinterested.
“But that’s only what they want, so we have no reason to go along with it. We completed our original plan by attacking that flower garden with its intentionally contaminated pollen in order to end the production of the new drug they use to make Elites. There’s no reason to stick around now. A unit costs tax money every day it’s deployed like this.”
“Then why don’t we withdraw already?”
“By carelessly damaging the Trinity Style and forcing it to withdraw, you seem to have nearly changed the minds of the bored higher ups in the safe countries. They aren’t sure if we should withdraw immediately or keep going and maybe destroy a 5 billion dollar Second Generation and take its tech for ourselves.”
“There’s also something else preventing us from moving on.”
The Pilot Elite Princess must not have had anything better to do because she walked over to join them. Her unreadable eyes observed the wreckage lined up like a scene from an airplane crash investigation.
“Even under normal circumstances, we have to worry about being attacked while withdrawing, but now we have so many more people,” said the Princess. “A withdrawal is going to take time, so waiting around is dangerous.”
“Yeah, the Trinity Style ran off, but the Faith Organization soldiers were left on the battlefield,” added Quenser. “We took them all prisoner, didn’t we?”
“Frolaytia wasn’t happy about that,” said the old maintenance lady. “Even POWs need clothes, food, and shelter and that costs money. She was complaining about how you don’t even need to develop a new weapon to end the war. She said you just need to have a billion of your people surrender to the enemy in order to apply financial pressure.”
“Hold on. That doesn’t mean our rations will get even worse, does it? I’m not sure I want to see how that’s even possible.”
The Princess looked up at Quenser while she crouched down and poked at the wreckage.
“But those are good,” she said innocently. “They’re like a special treat.”
“What the hell!? Are you one of those people who thinks hospital food is something special!? You have a fridge and microwave in your cockpit, so you know nothing of our suffering!!”
“I’m so sick of pizza and burgers. There’s no surprise in the flavor…”
“Stop that, boy. Overwhelming anger is no reason to strip.”
At any rate, the entire battalion had nothing to do until their next orders came in. And even if they were to withdraw, it might not happen very quickly due to the Faith Organization POWs inflating their numbers.
(Well, I don’t really care as long as I can study Object design here.)
Then a transmission from Frolaytia reached the old lady’s tablet.
“Any luck analyzing that Dvergr?”
“The individual tech isn’t anything special. It looks more suited to a space station or a remote controlled Mars rover than military use, though.”
The old lady glanced over at the crushed robots.
“Then there’s the tech used to link them together into a solid fifty meter, two hundred thousand ton mass. I haven’t a clue what kind of pattern they use. These crushed ones aren’t enough. I’d need quite a few ‘living’ samples to even know where to start.”
“So it’s like the difference between pencil lead and carbon nanotubes even though they’re both carbon?”
“I’m glad you understand. The electronic simulation division was all excited about digitally reproducing it, but we’ll see if that gets anywhere.”
“That means Quenser is just wasting time over there, doesn’t it? Could you send him over here? I think I have a more important lesson for him.”
(What’s this, what’s this? Is busty silver-haired Frolaytia going to be loosening her collar to give me some ‘adult’ lessons!? O-oh, no! I have to make sure she wears glasses when in teacher mode!!)
Quenser started straining his ears to listen in, but Frolaytia’s explanation led elsewhere.
“Now that she’s had a night to recover her energy, I think it’s time to begin the interrogation of Skuld, the Faith Organization Pilot Elite. If you’re interested in enemy technology, then come watch, Quenser.”
Quenser left the Object maintenance facility and started toward a different building, but he ran across a vehicle having engine trouble on the way.
“What’s this about, Heivia? Did the thing stall out inside the base?”
“Oh, shut up. …Goddammit, I can’t believe this!? Again!? I already opened up the hood and dealt with this!!”
“That’s unusual. Did someone get lax with the maintenance?”
He glanced inside the hood and saw something like white steam rising from within.
“No, it’s bugs.” Heivia sounded utterly disgusted. “I don’t know how they’re getting in, but they must think the dark and cramped engine grill is the perfect bed. You know how you’ll find a ton of them when you turn over a heavy rock? Well, they’re messing with the engine and burning onto the thing.”
“And that means I’ve got to use a brush to scrape off the bugs that are burned onto the pipes and stuff. Experimental Battlefield Madagascar can go straight to hell. These strange bugs are everywhere.”
“Well, Heivia, Frolaytia called me in to help with Skuld’s interrogation, so I’ll catch you later!”
“You coldhearted bastard!! And what’s this about interrogating a girl!? Is it gonna be sexy? And how far are you going? Is it gonna be one-on-one between that busty commander in black leather bondage gear and Skuld with a ball gag!? As your mother, I cannot allow that kind of closed-door investigation!!”
Since his awful friend would not stop complaining, Quenser raised his middle finger and continued on to the facility where Frolaytia and Skuld awaited.
The detention barracks were normally used to hold soldiers who had screwed up and it normally ate up maintenance costs without getting much use, but the problem was how indispensable it was at times. That may have been why Frolaytia seemed to be in a bad mood as she leaned against the wall with her arms crossed.
“Are you ready?” she asked.
“Well, I’m just watching, so I’m ready when you are. This place really is packed full of Faith Organization people, isn’t it?”
“There are 203 including the Elite, so it’s like a small school. The lower level has the group cells and the upper level has the individual cells.”
Still leaning against the wall, Frolaytia used her chin to gesture down a corridor blocked by metal bars and doors at a few points. One wall contained a row of doors with peepholes and the other wall contained a row of windows covered with a thick wire mesh. The signs painted on the walls and floor indicated there was a stairway at the end.
The cells behind the bars had originally been individual cells, but they had been left with no choice but to throw up to about ten people into each one. While they had air conditioning, they had to share the blanket and toilet, so it was not exactly a comfortable living space.
“Skuld has her own cell, but the others are all in there together. Of course, asking for funding to expand the detention barracks would be an embarrassment to our unit.”
Frolaytia opened a nearby door.
Instead of Skuld’s interrogation room, it was the neighboring room. One wall was a one-way mirror and the rest of the room was filled with flat screen monitors and analysis equipment. Two indoorsy-looking soldiers were already in there. They may have been specialists in determining the veracity of a statement based on the speaker’s expression and eye movements.
The room beyond the special mirror had a table and two chairs just like a scene from a police drama. However, the furniture was bolted to the floor and the girl in one chair had her arms handcuffed to the top of the table.
It was Skuld.
She was the Trinity Style’s Pilot Elite. Or rather, she was one of its Elites.
On the other hand, the interrogator sitting across from her looked to be from the intelligence division.
The woman wore her uniform perfectly by the book in a different way than Frolaytia did. She had long black hair, thin-framed glasses, and giant breasts.
“Damn, I need to be careful. If I’m not, I might accidentally call her ‘Class Rep’.”
“Quenser, the intercom is active.”
He quickly began to cough, but the blushing glasses woman beyond the one-way mirror could not stop her shoulders from trembling.
Frolaytia casually spoke into the microphone sitting on top of the equipment.
“Sorry about killing your enthusiasm like that, Second Lieutenant Elfily, but duty is duty. Please get this started.”
“Understood. …Now, let’s try this again. Nice to meet you. My name is Elfily Classic. I belong to the 37th’s intelligence division and my rank is second lieutenant. I have been placed in charge of your interrogation.”
“Now for some jabs. How about we start with what is protected by international law? What is your name and affiliation? …Telling me that should not qualify as treason.”
After her name, the discussion continued to age, blood type, birthplace, height, and weight. It was all personal information, but it was made to gradually dig into one’s privacy and complexes. The questions were sometimes gentle and sometimes rude. It was all so varied that Quenser could not tell what the point of the questions was.
“She called these jabs, remember?” commented Frolaytia. “We’re observing the girl’s reactions.”
“This room is filled with two million euros’ worth of equipment and it isn’t just for decoration. We’re monitoring body temperature, perspiration, eye movements, facial muscle tension, changes in breath volume, and really just any kind of reaction people make when they lie. That said, an expert can fool all of that, so we like to fine-tune the equipment as much as possible before getting to the questions that truly matter.”
As the boring(?) questioning continued, Quenser finally heard a topic he cared about.
“I would like to ask about the Trinity Style.”
“Are you going to inject me with something if I don’t talk? Oh, but I hear using the mucous membrane of the nose is the latest trend. It leaves less of a mark after all.”
“The Object in question uses three Pilot Elites at once. I have a report saying you yourself admitted to that, so will holding your tongue do you any good here?”
“Curse him and his loose lips…”
Even through the one-way mirror, her low voice made Quenser’s heart skip a beat. It was impossible, but he still felt like she was looking right at him.
Meanwhile, the Class Re-…no, the second lieutenant in glasses continued speaking.
“This concerns your own safety in addition to our technological investigation and understanding of our enemy’s capabilities. How valuable you are to the Faith Organization will tell us how likely they are to target you while you are restrained here. If we do not understand that, we cannot continue to the next stage. That remains true whether you wish to return to the Faith Organization or to defect to the Legitimacy Kingdom.”
Skuld fell silent for a while, but she finally rattled the handcuffs holding her arms to the table. She clasped her fingers together and slowly provided the desired information.
“Our Norn always uses three pilots. The Elites are Skuld – that’s me – as well as Verdandi and Urd. You know where those names come from, don’t you?”
“Three goddesses from Norse mythology. They were the goddesses of fate or of time.”
“Not only do we work together, but we really are blood-related sisters. And that’s why I doubt they’ll show any mercy.”
“Did you think we got along just because we’re sisters? Once the disappointment starts to spread, the familial hatred will settle in. Their heads will boil with anger as they go on about me being a blot on the family name.”
“You mean they will not consider you expendable and leave you here because they have multiple Pilot Elites?”
“They’ll come after me for revenge. I 100% guarantee it.”
Skuld gave an exasperated shake of the head.
“As you know, the Norn’s design and specs can change. That changes who the Object’s main pilot is. …That previous one was Urd’s, but if Verdandi takes over, the Object’s traits will change entirely. What you did last time won’t work again.”
Frolaytia spoke without using the microphone.
“That also means Verdandi is the only card still up their sleeve. We don’t know what Skuld’s mode is, but they can’t use it with her here. Maybe it would be safer to make an attack and reveal that card.”
“No, not necessarily,” reflexively replied Quenser. “We can’t completely trust what Skuld says. That might have been Skuld’s mode last time, leaving them both Urd and Verdandi’s modes in reserve. It’s also possible all three sisters can use all three modes and they’re just better with their own than the others. If so, that’s three Objects times three people for nine patterns overall. With one person out of the equation, they still have six battle patterns left.”
“Perhaps. On top of that, we have no guarantee each sister only has the one mode. If each one has three or four, the combination of cards grows indefinitely.”
“My sisters will kill me,” said Skuld in the interrogation room.
The scratchy, resigned voice sounded out-of-place coming from such a young girl.
“They will come to kill me no matter what. Fate is absolute to the Norn, so they honestly believe that throwing off our plans for victory is a violation of our proper behavior. That is why they will kill me.”
“We have heard that the Faith Organization has developed a unique process for converting belief into a fighting spirit. Is that what this is?”
“Have you heard the term ‘berserker’?”
“Doesn’t that primarily refer to a method of numbing foot soldiers’ fear before making a charge?”
“It’s based in mass hysteria. Just like a rock star’s enthusiasm spreads to the audience during a concert. We act as an amplifier to boost the berserker effect. The greater our enthusiasm, the greater the frenzy among the berserkers. That atmosphere is then sent back to use, creating an even greater explosion of emotion. Then the process repeats.”
“In that case…”
“Our base zone is probably filled with war cries right about now. They’ll be yelling for the traitor’s head. What my sisters hate most of all is letting the heat die down. They will be keeping the engine running no matter what it takes.”
It was not a pleasant conversation.
Quenser decided to ask Frolaytia a question.
“What’s going to happen to Skuld now?”
“That depends on what she wants and what the higher ups are willing to allow. It’s possible she will defect to our side or she might be thrown back to the Faith Organization. She also might be treated as a hostage and used in a prisoner exchange to settle some troublesome diplomatic issue or another.”
What she was saying sounded simple, but there was no emotion in Frolaytia’s voice.
She then changed the subject.
“Anyway, that’s about as much as we can ask about her personally. Quenser, if you have any questions about the Trinity Style, tell Elfily through her intercom. If she’s in a good mood, she’ll ask about it.”
Quenser thought for a moment before doing so.
“Miss Elfily, if you have the chance, can you ask about something? The Trinity Style is composed of a bunch of small robots, so why are they fixated on making a giant Object? If they have spare robots, they should be able to make a second identical one. If it’s about the reactor, they could always put in a prototype one. Just thin out the armor a little and they might have been able to use two at once.”
Beyond the mirror, the glasses woman casually changed the flow of conversation.
“Miss Skuld, I have a question somewhat concerning your relationship with your sisters. The Trinity Style is composed of small robots…”
“Oh? I thought she might still be mad about what you said at the beginning, but it looks like she actually likes you, Quenser. Maybe that Class Rep has a thing baby faces.”
“Frolaytia, the intercom is still on.”
Frolaytia started coughing, but it was too late. It was becoming unclear whether they were watching Skuld’s interrogation or enjoying how embarrassed the busty glasses Class Rep had grown.
Regardless, Skuld answered the question presented to her.
“The Object only has meaning by being an Object.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“You don’t get it? It’s true we could make all sorts of things with the Dvergr. We could make a great number of them if they were on the level of tanks or armored trucks, but that would be meaningless. No one would fear that. The battle begins before a weapon is used. Only a second-rate weapon does not strike fear in the heart of the enemy before it is ever used. That is why we have no interest in anything but the most powerful Object. If we lowered the specs to split it into two or three, the enemy would just pick them off one by one.”
That was indeed one aspect of the clean wars touted by the world powers.
It was not enough to say you could never know until you tried.
When facing normal weapons like tanks or fighters, it was best to make sure the enemy never even thought about trying to use them against you. When facing another Object, you had to make sure the enemy knew their specs were hopelessly inferior before the battle began. That prevented wars from dragging on, that kept them clean, and that preserved world peace.
That was the modern trend.
And that was exactly why Skuld had reached her conclusion.
“My sisters will kill me.”
She had returned to her initial claim.
The danger she sensed was finally coming into view.
“The Norn must be the most powerful. All else must be sacrificed if it means maintaining its special position at the top. The Elite being captured alive will mar the ‘legend’. That is why Urd and Verdandi will do whatever it takes to resurrect that legend. The first thing they need to do is make a bloodbath out of the one who harmed the Norn’s status as the strongest.”
They left Skuld in the interrogation room and took a coffee break.
A time of elegant ladies and gentlemen began while watching the prisoner through the one-way mirror.
“Hey, no fair! The intelligence division gets coffee!? All we get is soap-like rations and lukewarm water!”
“This is a strategy to let the scent reach the restrained Elite and shake her heart by reminding her of the finer things in life. More importantly, you two!! Why do you keep calling me a class rep while I’m trying to work!?”
Quenser and Frolaytia both began coughing.
At any rate, Quenser used the confusion to grab some iced coffee for himself and began the discussion as if simply chatting.
“Man, that was some surprisingly heavy stuff back there.”
Quenser was a little disheartened, but Frolaytia and Elfily must have been used to it. The Class Re-…no, Elfily smiled his way.
“With Elites, it isn’t uncommon to find they were taking into the military for ‘protection’ due to a complicated upbringing or family environment. If the military feels like the most comfortable place for them, they won’t get any unwelcome ideas. That kind of restraint is quite effective given the modern system of clean wars settled by one-on-one battles.”
“(Hm, she really does look happy. Maybe she’s less a class rep than she is a gentle liberal arts teacher.)”
“Major, do not forget that I belong to the intelligence division which excels at gathering information!”
When Frolaytia started to cough on reflex, some ashes burst from the end of her kiseru like a tiny eruption.
Quenser was sitting across from her, so he was hit full in the face.
“Hot!? Wait! Low temperature candles are one thing, but I think pipe ashes are a little too advanced for me!!”
“Ah! What are you two doing!? C-come here. Start by cooling your forehead with this glass of iced coffee. …Um, is there anything in this survival kit I can use?”
“(She really does like to take care of people. Could it be…?)”
That was when Quenser and the two women heard an odd sound. It sounded like a great number of small things hitting the wall. Quenser initially thought of rain blowing in the wind, but it had been sunny outside. More importantly, the monitoring room next to the interrogation room had no windows. The walls were too thick to hear the rain so clearly even during a cyclone.
“Hm? What is that?”
Asking was not going to help, so Quenser walked to the door with the glass of iced coffee still pressed against his forehead. He could see what was going on through the corridor windows which were covered with wire mesh to prevent anyone from escaping.
At first, he had no idea what was going on.
It was completely dark. Unlike the windowless interrogation room and monitoring room, the corridor’s fluorescent lights were kept off during the day. Even so, it should not have been as dark as a school or hospital at night. It was almost like the sunlight from the windows was being completely blocked off.
The mystery sound had grown much louder.
When the boy looked over, the situation finally dawned on him.
It took a moment longer before the intense revulsion and terror assaulted him.
Black bugs were covering every inch of the windows.
The outside world had become a storm of tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of winged insects.