HEAVY OBJECT:Volume10 Chapter 2
Chapter 2: Rapidly Growing Conspiracy Theory >> Joint Military Exercise in the Kariba District
The multinational group military exercise known as Gigant Hustler begins April 15 in the South African battlefield country of the Kariba District!!
“This is insane.”
The Princess muttered to herself while taking a break from preparing for a real war by staring at the posters covering the Object maintenance area’s wall.
Several Objects and the green savanna grasslands of the April rainy season acted as the poster backgrounds and a sexy idol gave an exaggerated wink while aiming a handgun gesture straight out from the poster.
The Princess repeated herself as a shell supported by wires was slowly moved by heavy machinery groaning so loudly it sounded like the end of the world had come.
“This is completely insane.”
“This was the only way.” The old maintenance lady cut in with a sigh in her voice while using her index finger to send instructions out over her tablet device. “Objects are the symbol of war and there are eight of them here. That means eight monsters have gathered in a single spot to wage war. Without manipulating the information like this, the safe countries would think a world war was starting and social unrest would run rampant.”
In other words, the “exercise” was a front for a true battle to the death.
If a single shell strayed into the stands, the entire area would be soaked red.
“And this Gigant Hustler thing is a giant farce in the first place,” complained the Princess.
“That just shows how much the higher ups of the world powers are afraid of this Sixth Branch that specializes in psychological warfare. If its effectiveness spreads, the entire clean war structure will crumble. If people like them start showing up in the safe countries, they won’t be safe in the slightest. So the world powers have prepared this major event to drown out the historical impact. Basically, they want to put out this fire as soon as possible.”
Some young maintenance soldiers carrying toolboxes passed behind the two of them. The portable disaster radios and 1seg TVs hanging from their necks provided a mixture of cheerful voices.
The event had grown well beyond a mere joint military exercise.
One radio was giving a grand celebration from the surprise visit of a Capitalist Corporations VIP.
“Four weapons shows are being held in the surroundings of the Gigant Hustler. And now Acre Kiss-of-Rose, CEO of Salem Logistics, one of the 7th Core corporations that control the Capitalist Corporations home country, has made a surprise visit, so speculation abounds that some major defense contract negotiations are underway.”
One TV was announcing the online concert of an Information Alliance idol Elite.
“Ho ho ho. Oh ho ho ho ho ho!! Welcome to the Stardust Concert where the stars fall on the stage! Let’s enjoy this night below the full screen of a meteor shower!! Oh ho ho ho ho ho ho ho ho!!”
“This is insane…” repeated the Princess as she gently brought a hand to her forehead.
The Legitimacy Kingdom, Information Alliance, Capitalist Corporations, and Faith Organization had sent in a total of eight Objects for a major battle there. It resembled a scene from the end of the world or some kind of ultimate showdown, yet the higher ups had thoroughly diluted the sense of fear and danger.
As a result, everyone was treating it like a giant festival. Countless clusters of food stands and several concert halls had been haphazardly set up around the maintenance bases, several weapons shows and concerts were underway, and temporary tent hotels filled the savanna to house the more than two million people who had showed up from safe countries.
And yet none of them knew what turn this battle was going to take.
None of them could predict when a stray shell would fly their way from the eight-Object melee.
“The Princess needs some mental stabilization. Quenser, you go show her around ‘downtown’. We can’t have her grogginess get worse and send her into a gloomy bout of war-weariness.”
Even if the place was called a desert, it was not covered with scorching sand and giant pyramids.
The rain of the rainy season had cleared up, so the entire area was covered in short green grass. It looked something like a pasture without fences.
“…This really is insane.”
“Do you not like crowds, Princess?”
“That isn’t what I meant.”
The Princess gave the “peaceful scenery” an icy look and she pouted her lips a little next to Quenser.
The vibrant grasslands were overflowing with a deluge of people, people, and more people. Makeshift stages with roofs and corporate display booths were set up here and there. The floors were polished like a new car and companion girls were standing next to the new weapons, showing off their white teeth in a smile and waving at passersby.
Everyone here thought the event was nothing more than a military exercise and a lot of them had used their precious vacation days to visit from a safe country.
Quenser and the Princess knew this was actually a great battle between eight Objects owned by all four major world powers, so the smiles surrounding them were bad for their hearts.
“They have new anti-materiel rifles and wheeled armored vehicles?” commented Quenser. “Huh, so I guess there is a demand for normal, non-Object weapons.”
“Objects are filled with national secrets, so they’re all ‘self-made’. I don’t think you can run a business selling any of its parts.”
“Is that how it works?”
“Everything here is for urban warfare where they can’t send in an Object. That armored vehicle’s design focuses on its light weight more than its defenses because they don’t want to damage the roads or bridges.”
Also, most of the companion girls were wearing outfits modeled after a Pilot Elite’s special suit. The colors of their costumes were divided between blue, red, yellow, or green, depending on the world power they were affiliated with.
There were an awful lot of people dressed like that in the crowds too. It was not clear if that was for their job or just for fun, but it helped a real one like the Princess escape the strobe light of camera flashes that would have found her otherwise.
There was of course also a Legitimacy Kingdom bodyguard team blending into their surroundings.
“Come to think of it, there aren’t very many unmanned weapons here,” noted Quenser.
“They’re afraid of cyber attacks. And if you use a powerful ECM, they can be brought down in enemy territory or an urban area.”
Some booths had gone full circle and started showing off analog sights one could add to a gun. They were for “just in case” there was equipment trouble, a cyber attack, or an electromagnetic pulse.
“Part of me thinks there’s something wrong when soldiers are worried about their cellphone battery, but I bet all this extra trouble is due to the military and the corporations working together a little too closely.”
One booth was selling normal semiconductors as well as printed circuit boards encased in tiny vacuum tubes as an electromagnetic pulse countermeasure. The advertisement tried to spread fear far more than necessary, so it reminded Quenser of how disaster goods were sold.
“That’s just how it is for the higher, higher, higher, higher ups,” said the Princess. “I don’t even want to think about how many backdoor deals go into the five billion dollar Objects.”
A sweet smell reached their noses.
Quenser followed the Princess’s gaze and found a rest space just outside the weapons booths. Stands selling ice cream, frappes, crepes, etc. were crammed in around it, but he grabbed her hand to stop her.
Even through her special glove, he could feel the unique marshmallow softness of a girl’s hand.
“Don’t forget that we’re in the middle of a war here. Who knows what’ll be mixed in with the food.”
“I didn’t have my heart that set on getting something to eat. Besides, I have my fridge and microwave back in the Object.”
Despite what she said, he had a feeling her lips were slightly pouted.
Then he felt her squeeze his hand back a little.
“What is it?”
“The maintenance soldiers told me something interesting. During the battle against the copied weapons factory…”
“D-did you really say I’m a ‘girl you’re int-…”
Suddenly, their conversation was cut off as something ran into Quenser’s back – or rather, near his butt.
Their hands were pulled apart.
Quenser looked back, but he only saw the never-ending crowd of people and could not tell who had bumped into him.
“Ahhhh!! Papa, everything around here’s made of metal. It’s so boring.”
“Now, we can crunch out the exact numbers over there. Oh, and I forgot to introduce myself. I am Heavy Bullet Co.’s special out-of-store sales division representative. My name is…”
“Oh ho ho. Understood. I’ve finished with my detour, so I’ll be right there.”
(Hm? That voice…???)
He briefly felt a shudder run down his spine, but he did not have time to check on it.
As soon as their hands had parted, the Princess had started kicking at his shin.
“Wha-? Ow. Princ- Wait, that really hurts. Princess, I’m telling you that hurts!!”
The Princess had clearly reached her zone of displeasure.
The intelligence division contacted Frolaytia to tell her the Princess’s fighting spirit had returned.
After accomplishing his goal for the day, Quenser was thrown down to the bottom level of society along with Heivia. They had been sent out for training.
“I’d heard this was the rainy season, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a clearer sky. If only it’d start pouring. Then they might change the training menu.”
“They’re apparently using a meteorological weapon for the big event.”
“Tch. Then why can’t they just screw with the atmospheric pressure enough for a tornado or downburst to blow away the enemy maintenance bases?”
“There are plusses and minuses. The cheap silver iodide types apparently lead to soil contamination.”
Their full course of hell for the day was being held in the grassy plain far away from the weapons show booths. For some reason, it was being run by a female soldier wearing a chef’s hat instead of a helmet.
They looked around and found everyone else there had a similar background. That is, they had been labeled “problem soldiers”. That only made their bad feeling about this even worse.
Then the chef started speaking.
“Major Capistrano has made a wonderful order to celebrate our trip to Africa! Since you’re all so fat from your gourmet lifestyles, you get to learn some true survival skills! The basic rule of food is to eat everything that’s nontoxic and digestible!! Something being hard, bitter, smelly, or gross is not an acceptable excuse!! I will make sure to remind you that you are mere animals first and foremost and proud humans only second, so prepare yourselves!!”
The soldiers all perked up when they heard talk of food.
They were stuck eating rations that could only be described as erasers or soap, so some odd cuisine was not going to faze them. Present them with a tiger or a lion and they were prepared to chop it up and cook it. Anything on four legs looked like a meal to them.
“The soul of cooking is salt and oil. You may think of ‘roasted meat’ when someone mentions makeshift meals made on the battlefield, but that is often not enough to cover the texture, bitterness, and odor I mentioned earlier. That is what makes frying so good. Just like fries are as addictive as drugs and just like slimy octopus or squid fries up nice and crispy, frying fixes everything. Carry a metal pot if you have the room or just use a mug if you have to. Make sure to carry cooking oil at all times. And with that said…”
The chef soldier carried out a basket covered by a scarf.
For some reason, the scarf was wriggling a little bit.
“(Hey, what do you think’s in there?)”
“(Our ingredient. Maybe snakes or frogs? That’s not about to shock me at this point.)”
They were so hungry that they were beginning to suspect the tasteless soap-like rations were part of a masterplan to get the soldiers to go on suicide missions in exchange for a burger.
“Tah dah!! This is today’s ingredient!!”
The female soldier removed the scarf and revealed what was inside: crickets.
The entire basket was filled with a wriggling mass of shiny black insects.
“Are you insane!? Are you completely insane!? I can’t eat bugs! And these don’t look all that different from roaches! Not to mention that there isn’t meat inside them! It’s just some kind of weird juices!!”
Everyone here was a problem soldier charged with disobeying orders or negligence in their duties, so this was obviously meant as a punishment.
But the chef soldier put her hands on her hips and snorted proudly.
“Insects sit at the bottom of the food chain and they are an abundant source of protein that supports the entire ecosystem. And as long as they aren’t poisonous, they’re easy to obtain. You can eat the whole thing, so you don’t leave any bones or skins behind for enemy soldiers to find. …You just need to know how to make them taste good. Got that?”
She began preparing to show them how.
She started a fire without using a lighter, boiled the vegetable oil inside her metal pot, and dumped tons of live crickets inside.
“They’re really the same as fries. Fry them up and then add salt. When not using any batter, the trick to making them taste good is to apply plenty of moisture beforehand.”
“Oh, no. That sizzling really does sound like fries.”
“Stop that. I’ll never be able to eat fries again!!”
It was a teacher’s job to answer all of her students’ questions.
“If you don’t like how they look, you can crush them and roll them into a dumpling. Use about ten of them per dumpling.”
“I’m pretty sure I’d vomit at least three times in the process!! And is it just me or would this count as abuse in a safe country!?”
This recipe was meant to be made during military operations, so the fewer tools needed, the better. They used forks to scoop the crickets directly from the oil.
“They come out perfectly bite-sized.”
“They still look just like crickets.”
“But they sometimes stick together even when not using batter. See, like this one.”
“Ew, that is disgusting! Twenty of them have fused together into some kind of cookie!”
“By the way, this works for wasps and scorpions too. Even if they’re poisonous, that can be neutralized by the high heat. Of course, it isn’t a perfect method, so don’t put too much faith in it. And don’t even try mantises. They often have parasites, so I can’t recommend them to rookies.”
The cricket dishes were lined up in front of them.
The slimy black luster was gone, but they mostly maintained their original shape.
“You should be thankful for this gift from your battlefield chef. Follow my example and add this to your repertoire of skills. And don’t forget to say grace and follow your table manners like proper ladies and gentlemen.”
Quenser and Heivia exchanged a glance.
They did not want to do this, but doing nothing would get them nowhere. Plus, the crickets were sure to taste even worse once they cooled, just like fries after they went cold and limp. If potatoes tasted that bad, they did not even want to know how bad crickets would get. Waiting would only increase the difficulty level of this hellish ordeal.
“I guess we just have to bite the bullet.”
“Let’s eat them together. On the count of three.”
“Zero… I knew you weren’t going to eat it!! You were gonna have me eat it first as your little guinea pig, weren’t you!?”
“You waited too, Heivia!! So stop making me out like the only bad guy!!”
A small scuffle broke out between the two idiots, but they were not going to escape the issue at hand like that.
Now, what do cooked crickets actually taste like?
“Now, it’s time for war!! …Hm? Someone’s eating something in here. What’s that smell?”
Frolaytia Capistrano frowned on top of the dais and the source of the smell was the usual two idiots.
“(These crickets are surprisingly good.)”
“(They’re like small fried shrimp. Y’know, like those sakura shrimp. Anyway, let’s eat them all before they get cold.)”
They were so focused on munching away that they were relatively quiet for once.
Frolaytia looked suspicious, but she began her briefing.
“The battlefield today is a grassy field covering forty square kilometers around here. There are some hills, but they won’t even break out of the margin of error for an Object. There are no rivers, mountains, canyons, deserts, or other geographical features of note. It’s just a boring field.”
A map was projected on the wall behind her, but it was nothing but green.
Several giant circles were added to indicate the expected positions of the Objects.
“We and the other world powers are calling this a joint military exercise known as the Gigant Hustler and the most important point is the number of Objects taking part. There’s a total of eight and this isn’t the usual structure of one-on-one or many-against-one. The Legitimacy Kingdom, Information Alliance, Capitalist Corporations, and Faith Organization have all sent out two Objects each. That makes this a balanced melee with little room for power games. No one can predict how this will turn out.”
Records of past battles were used to display photos and predicted specs around the circles representing the Objects.
Its main cannons were supported by seven arms attached to the back of the spherical body by joints. It used a static electricity propulsion device and its floats were structured in a reverse Y-shape.
This all-purpose First Generation used its seven changeable main cannons based on the principles of diffusion and convergence. It had no outstanding features, but that allowed it to apply even damage to any opponent. Even if an opponent had specialized armor or defense methods for lasers, coilguns, or whatever else, it could swap out the type of cannon used to adapt.
Uneven rectangular structures larger than the main body were attached to the left, right, and back of the spherical body. It had plenty of additional equipment such as a supercomputer, an armory, and extra cooling devices. It was also armed with equipment too large for a normal Object such as a largescale radar, a main cannon larger than a bridge, and rocket boosters for high speed movement. It used a static electricity propulsion device with irregularly positioned circular floats.
This oddly shaped Second Generation had further increased the size of its already giant exterior using its many additional pieces of equipment and armor. By lighting the countless boosters attached across itself despite their great size and weight, it could achieve great mobility in exchange for some intense inertial Gs.
A rapid-fire beam Gatling cannon was attached to the left and right side of its spherical body. It used an air cushion propulsion device with the floats arranged in a cross. The bottom of the floats contained giant chainsaw-like treads that allowed for extremely high-speed evasive actions when used in addition to the air cushion.
This Second Generation excelled at close-quarters combat while swinging around its two rapid-fire beam Gatling cannons. It used the quick evasive actions of its air cushion and tread combo to slip through the gaps in its opponent’s barrage and threaten them with a point-blank range rapid-fire blast.
Its one main cannon was located on its right side. The rear of the cannon had four pieces linked together on top of each other. By sliding those up and down, it could switch between a low-stability plasma canon, a railgun, a coilgun, or a rapid-fire beam cannon. The left side contained a sensor turret the same size as the main cannon that had tons of cameras, microphones, sensors, radars, etc. attached. It used an air cushion propulsion device and the floats were attached to the end of four devices resembling heavy machinery arms that extended from the top of the spherical body.
This Second Generation had a very “Information Alliance-y” design that used its many cameras and sensors to search for the enemy’s weak points instead of focusing on direct firepower. It was also known for the powerful broadcast equipment inside that sent out a quiz show with extremely lucrative prizes for the people back in the safe countries. It used the entertainment and greed of over one billion people to analyze the enemy Object.
The Capitalist Corporations.
It had an extremely large main cannon on the top of its spherical body. Containers were lined up on the left and right sides of that body to eject barbed wire and instant glue meant to slow down the enemy. It used an air cushion propulsion device, the floats were arranged in a line at the front and back of the Object, and those floats were supported by arms.
This Second Generation preferred to use a low-stability plasma cannon from extreme close range. It would approach at extreme high speed, but it was also well-equipped with barbed wire, instant glue, molten metal and other ways to slow down the enemy Object. It was known for fighting like a jousting spider, just as its name suggested.
It had three main cannons equipped on the upper back of the spherical body. Those main cannons could freely change their angle to aim anywhere between straight ahead and straight up. It used a static electricity propulsion device that arranged five rings like flower petals.
This unique Second Generation used three large railguns as its main cannons. The shells had wings for attitude control and it preferred to fire them straight up to an extremely high altitude where they would turn in the shape of a Mobius strip and destroy the enemy from above. The attack combined the kinetic energy of the railgun with the potential energy of the high altitude to produce destructive power rivaling a meteor strike experiment.
The main cannon attached to the top of the spherical body was a rapid-fire beam cannon structured like a reflecting telescope. Its static electricity propulsion device had a single main float passing straight below the spherical body with a sub float on either side that was attached with an arm bent into a V-shape. Overall, it resembled a balancing toy. A variety of deception armaments were supported by the suspended wings extending horizontally from the left and right sides of the spherical body.
This Second Generation was intensely focused on deception weapons like chaff, flares, and jammers. More than just keeping the enemy’s attacks from hitting, it sometimes had the enemy fire on its own forces or get caught in a blast after mistaking the range of an explosion.
Its one main cannon was attached to the very front of the spherical body. Several giant, speaker-like gravitational control devices and iron sand launchers were attached to the left and right sides. It used an air cushion propulsion device, two of the floats extended from the center to the left and right, and four others extended diagonally backwards.
This Second Generation controlled its low-stability plasma cannons with massive amounts of magnetism. The cannon itself could spread out like a fan which allowed for a number of tricky cannon techniques such as diffused plasma blasts, disseminating magnetized iron sand through the air, or curving the plasma’s trajectory a little to better target the enemy.
As he saw the data appear one after another, Heivia gulped down some of his cricket food and raised his hand.
“Teacher, this is way too much to take in at one time. Are you screwing with us?”
“Even if failing to grasp all this could directly lead to your death? And look, Quenser’s eyes are shining.”
“P-pant, pant!! A-as far as the eye can see…pant, pant, pant! Completely surrounded…pant, pant, pant!! Shudder… So much classified information…uuh!!”
“Oh, god!! There’s a rainbow light coming from this pervert!!”
Heivia shouted as his awful friend stood next to him trembling.
Frolaytia ignored them to continue with her briefing.
“The battlefield is forty kilometers in each direction and an Object’s average firing range is ten kilometers. Send eight of them in there, and they’ll be scraping up against someone’s firing range whenever they move. The Princess needs to assume she’ll always be under attack from multiple directions.”
There was no guarantee of a one-on-one battle, but the one-against-many structure was generally considered bad news during Object battles.
What would these eight Objects do?
The battlefield would not remain in balance forever. Some would try to keep their distance while others would actively move in to attack. Those uneven “irregularities” would set the entire battlefield in motion.
In the worst case, it was entirely possible one would be ganged up on as soon as the battle began.
“This was called Gigant Hustler because the Objects act a little like billiards balls, but it’s really more like a game of musical chairs. Whether it’s to attack or escape, standing out carries the risk of death.”
Frolaytia marked two of the eight Objects.
“And the two that stand out the most now are the biggest threat and the smallest threat. Should we defeat the big boss to secure our safety or should we take out a small fry we know we can handle? Excluding our own forces, the former is the Capitalist Corporations’ Mobius Infinity which can produce the destruction of a meteor strike and the latter is the Faith Organization’s Self Deception which has plenty of deception weapons but comes up short in firepower.”
The strongest was the Mobius Infinity.
The weakest was the Self Deception.
In a battle of life-or-death, chivalry was meaningless. When asked who to target, the standard idea was to begin with the enemy they could most easily defeat.
Except Frolaytia had a different idea.
“We have narrowed down our target to the Mobius Infinity because we can defeat the weakest one at any time. If we don’t bring a many-against-one battle against the Mobius Infinity and destroy it early, we’ll have more trouble later once it has fewer enemies to worry about. Plus, fear is a powerful motivator. Once one Object starts the attack, the others will decide to join the winning team.”
In this game of musical chairs, they would isolate the Mobius Infinity and set up a situation where all the other Objects ganged up on it.
Quenser swallowed some fried crickets and asked a question.
“Um, what exactly are we going to do?”
“That is the excellent question of an excellent student. This battle is being passed off as a military exercise, so the odds of an Object directly attacking infantry is extremely low. …Although that probably means there are going to be some ‘accidents during live fire exercises’ between infantry teams. You’re going to use that to infiltrate the warfront. And of course, your goal is sabotage.”
Frolaytia marked another Object.
It was the Information Alliance’s Second Generation Band Station.
“This one is named after a broadcast station because it observes the enemy Object with its many sensors and sends it back to their safe countries as a quiz show with extremely lucrative prizes. Basically, over a billion bored people are used to find a weakness. First, turn its attention toward the Mobius Infinity. The Mobius Infinity is filled with cutting-edge military technology, so it won’t want to reveal all of its secrets in front of that analysis device. And the other Objects are sure to jump at the chance to attack while its movements are dulled. After all, it’s the one they least want to fight at full power.”
“Will that really work?”
“Just like poker, this is a world of strategy. If the Mobius Infinity has weathered the battle for a while and used its secret attacks several times already, it’ll grow defiant and go all out. But the electronic simulation division predicts it might not be willing to show that much resolve right away. Based on the records of its past battles, the Mobius Infinity’s Pilot Elite is very cautious. The odds are good they’ll try to avoid as much damage as possible as they fight.”
The two idiots began whispering with crickets in hand.
“(What do you think? She’s basically telling us to pretend we’re doing something to the Mobius Infinity. We haven’t found an actual weakness, but we’re supposed to purposefully get caught by an Object. She claims the Band Station will notice us doing something and start focusing that way, but I get the feeling the Mobius Infinity is going to ignore her assumptions and start slaughtering the infantry.)”
“(How the hell should I know? Nothing she and those huge tits have ever suggested has turned out well for us. Anything that sound good ends up being the worst thing imaginable, so maybe we should count ourselves lucky that we have a chance to prepare ourselves for the coming danger this time.)”
Meanwhile, someone else spoke.
It was the Pilot Elite Princess.
“I understand not wanting to expose yourself to the Band Station, but then what about me?”
Frolaytia removed the kiseru from her mouth and slowly exhaled the sweet-smelling smoke.
For once, she sounded apologetic as she answered.
“Information on your First Generation is already pretty well known, so the damage will be minimal compared to a cutting-edge Second Generation. …Or so the higher ups concluded.”
The Princess fell into a sulking silence.
Her mental condition could have a major impact on the course of a battle, but Frolaytia had chosen to give her a direct answer.
“Think of this as a chance to get the upper hand while they’re looking down on you. Princess, you can decide what to do after the Objects have focused on the Mobius Infinity. You can assist them in destroying the Mobius Infinity or you can start attacking your #2 and #3 enemies while they’re focused on the attack. Just play it by ear. But whatever you do, remember that allowing the Mobius Infinity to survive would be dangerous. As long as its destruction is a part of your plan, you are free to decide what order you will deal with the rest.”
“Understood. I just have to destroy them all and be the last one standing, right?”
Frolaytia grinned at that.
This was nothing like an overly-protective school in a safe country. The military knew the best way to motivate someone was to hurt their pride just a little.
“Also, I’m sure the other world powers will also send in plenty of soldiers as part of the ‘exercise’. They’ll be doing what they can to get the upper hand in this game of musical chairs. Be on the lookout for conspiracies and saboteurs, and defeat them if necessary. Or kill them for no real reason. I don’t really care. That is all.”
And so Quenser and Heivia were hiding on the ground with some other soldiers. The area was covered by waist-height grass, so crouching down a little was all someone would need to do if they wanted to get away with some outdoorsy baby-making.
“It’s called a Slingshot,” complained Heivia.
The metal tube on his back was two sizes larger than his normal shoulder-fired missile launcher. There was even a small LCD monitor attached to the side. Just like modern laptops, the screen could be removed, allowing someone other than the firer to set up the targeting.
It was cutting-edge, but the soldiers hated it because it was heavy, fragile, expensive, and filled with so much technology they were not allowed to abandon it on the battlefield.
“Are they morons? Did they name it that because they want us to point out that isn’t what it is!? Why do weapons developers have to have such a warped sense of humor!?”
“Quit shouting. This is the battlefield, so we need to be quiet. Got it?”
“It doesn’t matter what we do. There are eight objects here and they’re all bristling with sensors. They’ll find us even if we take a nice leisurely nap here. Maybe I should ask someone to rub some sun oil on my back.”
Quenser and Heivia both had a reinforced plastic case in each hand. They contained the missiles warheads and firing powder for the Slingshot. They would never be able to fight while trudging along with such a large burden, but this was a joint military exercise.
“Oh, there they go,” muttered Heivia as he heard explosive sounds in the distance.
They did not come from Object cannons. If they did, the shockwave would have been enough to knock them over. They were hearing the little people firing on the giant from Gulliver’s Travels.
“That’s meaningless,” decided Quenser.
“You’re damn right it is! They’re attacking the…which one is that?”
“The Sand Cluster. It’s a Faith Organization Second Generation that uses a low-stability plasma cannon.”
“Oh, I see. And are those multiple rocket launchers the little people are firing at it? Did their Object ask them to judge its interception accuracy?”
“And yet a direct hit from one of those wouldn’t even scratch it. It sure is nice to bother shooting them all down.”
The soldiers were firing like crazy now that they had seen the Object would not fire back at them. Otherwise, they would only have been able to tremble and ball up on the ground in fear.
Then a cheerful voice arrived over the radio.
“…Ksshh… Yes, this is a momentous occasion, so I would have loved to send in Cynthia, our company’s cutting-edge Second Generation, but she is currently busy suppressing the Soberania Disturbance near the Panama Canal. That said, the two Objects we did send in are wonderful as well. The copycats made elsewhere can never hope to match how we give physical form to the fighting spirit of our Pilot Elites.”
“That concludes the scheduled interview with Acre Kiss-of-Rose, the very busy CEO of Salem Logistics. Also, a Capitalist Corporations PMC is planning some wartime evacuation training based on an imagined attack by special commandos from another world power…ksshh…”
“What was that? Are we picking up some other radio broadcast?”
“This is just a giant plain and broadcast stations from all over the world have shown up to relay the Gigant Hustler. Add in the amateurish news site reporters and the people obsessed with uploading videos to the internet, and the chaos only grows. There are no rules about what frequencies to use here, so people will end up using the same one.”
“Does that mean our transmissions are reaching them?”
“We just have to pray whoever developed our encryption tech wasn’t slacking off. …Anyway, it sure is peaceful on the ‘outside’. And what good is evacuation training if you announce it’s only training in the first place? Even a school’s evacuation training has a little more tension than that.”
At any rate, Quenser and Heivia had work to do and could not get caught up in a pointless conflict.
The two of them gave the Faith Organization’s Sand Cluster a wide berth as they stayed low and walked through the waist-height grass.
“This can’t be good for my hips.”
“Yeah, and I’ve decided I don’t want to hurt my hips from anything other than a night spent with a woman.”
A few wild birds flew into the air about five hundred meters ahead.
Heivia raised a hand horizontally and Quenser stopped moving.
“You mean that rustling? But all this shooting is bound to scare some animals.”
“It isn’t timed with the explosions.”
Heivia’s rifle had a number of sensors, but infrared could be blocked to a certain extent with special materials and both ultrasonic waves and the microwaves of radar were not very effective in this tall grass. But holding his breath and observing carefully revealed something in the scenery that did not belong.
“Found them. The Faith Organization’s Valkyries are five hundred meters ahead and an Information Alliance powered suit unit is three hundred to the left of them.”
“What do we do?”
“One group is an internal discipline squad meant to deal with the unfaithful and the other is made up of walking wireless routers meant for electronic warfare. Small fries like us aren’t going to get paid any more for fighting each other and the Gigant Hustler is underway, so ignoring each other is the best plan for everyone involved.”
As soon as Heivia moved to the side, the other groups started moving as well.
The three groups did not want a direct confrontation, so they moved in giant circle to pass by each other without moving closer than a few hundred meters to each other. It looked like the roundabouts seen on European roads or rotating sushi being removed from the conveyer belt after no one chose it.
Quenser spoke quietly to his awful friend while following him.
“We handled that peacefully. Mankind has finally overcome our history.”
“Oh, shut up. They’ll be marking out location on their maps. We need to assume they’re burying a landmine while smiling so kindly our way. And there are plenty of landmines made from wood, glass, or plastic that can slip right past a metal detector.”
The two of them looked back to watch the other figures disappear.
“Did you see all the antennae on those powered suits?”
“I said they’re for electronic warfare, didn’t I?”
“You can’t jam an Object that has a control center bigger than a fortress’s and the amplification provided by any targeting assistance would be less than a decimal point.”
“Still better than the Valkyries. Those scouts are sent out to observe the infantry at the bottom in an attempt to read the intentions and movement patterns of the entire pyramid structure, but that’s completely useless if the Object decides to trample on its own allies to win.”
Distant explosions rang out once more.
There had likely been a lag to reload the multiple rocket launchers.
“Those must be the Capitalist Corporations’ mechanized combat engineers.”
“Oh, what a cool name.”
“Just to be clear, that doesn’t mean they’re cyborgs. It means they use vehicles. They’re apparently all from civil engineering companies and their main mission is to stop the enemy Object by digging tunnels through the battlefield to create pitfalls, by pumping water to submerge the area, or by whatever means they can come up with. Basically, they’re specialists in military tractors and tunneling machines.”
“Neat. They sound like the most effective ones.”
“How!? One stray shell from an Object creates a giant crater. Slowly digging a little tunnel isn’t going to stop those cutting-edge machines, you idiot!!”
“Sure the pitfalls would be useless, but what about the water? If the Object uses static electricity propulsion like the Princess…”
“This entire map is a giant green plain. Do you see any rivers to draw water from?”
As they argued, they continued through some even taller grass. They occasionally came across the paths left by other units, but they chose to trample their own way through the grass instead of using the easier “premade” paths. Simply put, they were afraid of mines.
Heivia came to a stop again when he heard some unnatural rustling to the side.
“They’re on our side.”
Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers gathered in this one spot after taking different routes to get there.
And up ahead…
“Looks like it’s still warming up.”
Quenser looked at its majestic form through gaps in the grass.
Going all out, an Object could instantly reach speeds of over five hundred kph. It could easily lose these infantry soldiers, but a total of eight Objects were taking part in the Gigant Hustler. Any thoughtless movement would be like making the first shot in a game of billiards.
It might seem harmless at first, but that one move could end up placing a noose around its neck.
And so it tried to give that first move as much thought as possible even if that meant ignoring the insignificant infantry.
The crawling challenger spat out the name of the ruler sitting in its throne.
“A Capitalist Corporations Second Generation… The Mobius Infinity.”
Sad to say, no matter how much computerization and digitization advanced, soldiers who got separated from their unit were far from uncommon. In fact, the more they grew to rely on precise machinery, the more they had difficulty regrouping or returning to base once the machines malfunctioned. Basically, they had gone soft.
“The focus of today’s Grand Eyes News will be wars fought over supply routes.”
“This might not be immediately obvious, but everything I’m wearing – from the suit, the shirt, the tie, the belt, the socks, the shoes, and even the underwear – may say they’re domestic products on the tag, but the original materials are not necessarily so. Does that much make sense?”
“Oh? But what about the toupee? That had to have cost more than any of those other things.”
“I’ll kill you, you bitch of a newscaster! …As you can see, the ability to maintain supply routes by deploying largescale units including Objects has great strategic importance that even affects your own lives. Memories of the incidents in the Indian Ocean, the Panama Canal, and the Strait of Gibraltar are probably still fresh in your minds, but…”
A man wandered through the Gigant Hustler exercise grounds while listening to a radio show like a housewife taking care of housework with the TV on.
“Honestly, this is so heavy.”
No one paid him any heed as he wandered around one edge of the battlefield. Units from the four world powers were moving every which way at the moment, so enemy and ally alike were ignoring this soldier who had lost his way and his will to fight.
And so he was overlooked.
The middle-aged man with pristinely parted hair did not look built for physical labor and his military uniform was worn down like used clothing. He set down the metal tripod resting on his shoulder, spread the device’s legs, and fixed it in place.
It resembled a camera’s tripod, but one aspect was decidedly different.
Another long, narrow metal cylinder extended straight down from the joint of the three legs. The cylinder’s tip formed a sharp stake and one side had a plain lever and a “sliding metal window” meant for loading and ejecting cartridges.
“Now, then. It was 7.62mm blanks that worked, wasn’t it?”
He almost seemed to be recalling the manual as he pulled the lever to open the metal window, pulled a cartridge from his pocket, and slid it inside the cylinder. He pushed the lever back into place to finish loading. It was much like forcibly loading a bullet through the ejection port after a bolt-action sniper rifle’s magazine broke.
But this device was not meant to blow someone’s brains out.
International weaponry law did not even classify it as a firearm.
The man lowered the vertical cylinder by rotating the round metal wheel attached where a camera would normally be. Its sharp tip stabbed into the soft dirt. Rather than the sharpness of a sword, it had the gradual but constant pressure of a vise. He brought it accurately down to the red line on the side of the cylinder.
The preparations were complete.
“Time for the first shot. …There are explosions all over the place, so I wonder if this will even work.”
The man brought his finger to the trigger.
The Mobius Infinity was a Second Generation belonging to the Capitalist Corporations. It used a static electricity propulsion device and its five ring-shaped floats were arranged like flower petals. It had been made for long-distance attacks and it had three ultra-large railguns attached on the back. Instead of directly targeting the enemy, it primarily fired straight upwards, sending giant shells with control wings up to the stratosphere where they would turn like a Mobius strip and attack the enemy Object from the sky. Immense kinetic energy was combined with the potential energy of the great altitude to produce destruction rumored to rival a meteor strike.
That Object was considered the greatest enemy here and thus it bore the risk of being the first target out of the eight.
“This is insane.”
Heivia lowered his Slingshot multipurpose missile launcher to the grassy ground.
“That shell would continue on up into space if they didn’t have it turn, so why are they dropping it back down? Couldn’t they use that cannon to build a peaceful country on Mars or something?”
“The Capitalist Corporations are supposed to be pioneers in the field of mass drivers, aren’t they? I’m sure they have plenty of offshoots like this.”
“So you’re saying this world is filled with idiots?”
As Heivia complained, Quenser opened the reinforced plastic case he had placed on the ground. Inside were cylinders five centimeters wide and thirty centimeters long placed inside waterproof packages. They contained the powder combination used to fire the missile.
“Two of them make a set. I need to cut off the edge with my survival kit’s knife and attach the clasp and plug that reveals.”
“The warhead is still empty. Don’t forget to add in Set C.”
“Yes, yes. Leave it all to the legendary maid Quensette. Would you like fries and a drink with that?”
He unscrewed the rugby ball-shaped warhead and opened it up. After splitting it in two, he attached a sheet of explosives on the inside of the back. He then shoved inside the unit packed in plastic and closed the capsule once more.
He finally attached the firing powder cylinder to the rugby ball-shaped warhead and pushed the club-like missile toward Heivia.
“What a pain in the ass. Couldn’t they just give us the completed missile?”
“This freedom is the entire point of the thing. We can prepare and fire warheads with any number of effects, so it comes in handy in a variety of situations.”
In this case, they were using a combination of instant glue and a special wire net sharp enough to cut off a human finger. It could not destroy an Object, but there was some hope it could gum up some of the movable parts or joints.
“Isn’t that why it’s on the verge of being classified as an inhumane weapon? If you wanted to, you could fire liquid nitrogen or the growth medium for a biological weapon.”
“Yeah, I saw a video online of a soldier on an angry rampage after one covered him in dogshit. But that had to be a setup. Once it went viral, he started showing up in the ads.”
“But people always associate him with being covered in shit, so no one liked having him show up on TV during dinner time.”
Heivia stuck the club inside the firing tube and twisted it until he heard a click. The Slingshot missile was now complete.
“Get a few spare shots ready. And deal with this.”
Heivia removed the flat monitor attached to the side of the launcher and tossed it to Quenser.
“Hey, what am I supposed to do with this?”
“Were you even listening to the pre-mission briefing? Over a hundred of our comrades are hiding around here like peepers in the park at night. We’ll synchronize all of our triggers to make a simultaneous saturation attack from one hundred directions at once. I’m busy making some minor adjustments to the hardware, so you take care of the network setup.”
“But I want to be a designer. I live in the world of mechanics. Can I just hit ‘yes’ or ‘okay’ to everything that appears on the screen?”
“Don’t worry. This is easier to use than a tablet for housewives. Just keep your finger moving like you’re looking up the recipe for dinner tonight.”
“Are you sure…?”
Quenser frowned as he leaned over the tablet and moved his finger across the display. It was unclear if he was controlling the device or vice versa.
“I’m done, I think. …Wait, is this connected through normal Wi-Fi!? That’s really dangerous!!”
“Want a real shock? Each of these launchers can be used for tethering. Makes me want to leave one in a net café.”
The setup on the screen was complete, but Quenser and Heivia’s work was not done. The student set the monitor down and began preparing more missiles while Heivia rested the launcher on his shoulder and looked up at the Capitalist Corporations’ Second Generation Mobius Infinity.
Quenser began complaining under his breath.
“(Tch. I brought a high-quality loupe and a millimeter wave scanner, but it doesn’t look like I’ll get a chance to use them.)”
“We’re about to get started, skinny boy. Watch where you stand if you don’t want to get caught in the backfire.”
The sound of the missile firing resembled escaping steam.
The missile rocketed out from the launcher on Heivia’s shoulder. A normal missile might have looked like a great spear in the sky with a long shaft of smoke and a blade of orange light, but this one did not. From over one hundred directions along the 180 degrees behind the Mobius Infinity, over one hundred shots were fired. The missiles had all been fired from a single pull of the trigger, so they looked like the dancing digital meter on the screen of a sound system.
They were targeting the three main cannons attached to the back of the Mobius Infinity’s spherical body. Those dangerous weapons fired giant shells into the stratosphere where they twisted around and dropped from the sky. But if something went wrong there, the situation on the battlefield would definitely change. The other Objects would move to defeat their most powerful enemy before it could recover.
An Object’s anti-air laser beams could shoot down any aircraft or missile headed its way, but what about a simultaneous attack from too many missiles for the optical weaponry to handle?
What if they surpassed its limits and just one shot slipped past the net of death?
That was the definition of a saturation attack.
Orange explosions blossomed across the entire sky.
They had not hit; every last one of them had been shot down by the laser beams.
Quenser glanced down at the monitor on the ground. The paths of the missiles were drawn like a reverse hedgehog, but they all ended in an X-mark and the word “lost”. The repeated word was overlapped too much to read it anymore.
“Oh, honestly! I knew this wouldn’t work! This entire job was pointless!!”
“Even the worst Object can withstand a nuke, so the entire concept was wrong from the moment they tried to cause a malfunction with traditional firepower!”
With missiles and recoilless rifles, the smoke of firing allowed the enemy to quickly locate the origin point, so Quenser and Heivia grabbed the launcher, spare warheads, and monitor before making a mad dash through the tall grass.
Their comrades who had fired from over one hundred other locations were probably scattering as well.
“So far, this is all going as planned! Quenser, tap the monitor to start up the communication software with the yellow triangle icon. You take care of the rest!!”
“Won’t those Second Generations get suspicious when we used encryption before!?”
“This is meaningless if we aren’t certain they’ll intercept it. Just get to it! A weird time lag will make them suspicious too!!”
Quenser operated the machine in complete desperation.
He attached the image of their “results” that had been prepared in advance and then spoke to silver-haired well-endowed Frolaytia who was sitting safely at the very back of the battlefield.
“Oh! Behold the crimson furor of yonder flame!! The Mobius Infinity’s fearsome fangs are caked in ebony soot and lack the bite necessary to devour its foe. Oh, radiant warrior princess, great honor is sure to be thine afore thy gain any muscle in thine delicate arms!!”
Heivia did a spit-take.
After Quenser ended the transmission, Heivia just about grabbed his collar as he shouted at him.
“This isn’t a school play, you moron! Why did you turn this into something from a musical!?”
“If an amateur tries to add in a subtle flavor, everyone will notice right away. So it’s better to dump a bunch of curry powder in so it tastes the same to everyone. …Besides, that’s basically how people see the Legitimacy Kingdom. They actually seem to think we still throw white gloves at each other to pick fights with a sabre in one hand.”
“Are you serious? But even nobles like me shop online.”
A light flashed on the monitor in Quenser’s hand.
They were far enough away from their previous spot, so the two idiots stopped and looked to the screen.
“They’re moving, they’re moving. A few Objects are approaching the Mobius Infinity and starting to secure a line of fire. It worked!”
“I’m not sure I like that they were fooled by that. Maybe I need to work on improving the Winchell family’s diplomatic image.”
“If you’re our representative, everyone will think the Legitimacy Kingdom is Sodom and Gomorrah.”
Meanwhile, Quenser’s farce had set the situation in motion. Negative attention was turning in the Mobius Infinity’s direction.
The Information Alliance’s Second Generation Rush.
The Faith Organization’s Second Generation Self Deception.
The Faith Organization’s Second Generation Sand Cluster.
And to get it all started and to draw the others in, the Legitimacy Kingdom’s First Generation Baby Magnum and Second Generation Royal Residence were also approaching while making bluffs to the left and right.
The only one taking a “wait and see” approach was the Information Alliance’s Second Generation Band Station which was in charge of information analysis and broadcasting. Then again, it could be seen as “attacking” by filming like a sniper or paparazzo.
The Capitalist Corporations Second Generation Spider Joust positioned itself as the vanguard to shield the Mobius Infinity from the approaching Objects while firing from long-distance, but at this point, its enemies could push past it using their superior numbers.
“It’s finally turning out the way we wanted.”
“I can’t believe all this was just the first step of our plan. How many more steps before the Princess and the Baby Magnum can come back alive? It feels like it’s about time for someone to bring out the tea and cookies.”
But as the two idiots complained, something unexpected happened.
The man in the camouflage military uniform would have looked more at home as a door-to-door salesman in a cheap suit, but he was instead wiping sweat from his brow while surrounded by tall grass.
“It shouldn’t be long now.”
The phenomenon itself was extremely simple.
The three main cannons attached to the back of the Mobius Infinity’s spherical body were long-range railguns. They used Fleming’s left hand rule to fire metal shells larger than a small car at tremendous speeds.
As soon as the other Objects surrounded it at five kilometers (mid-range for an Object), the Mobius Infinity fired its multiple main cannons in quick succession.
Those railguns were aimed straight up like metal towers.
The metal shells had adjustable control wings on the sides, so they did not fly in a simple arc like a long throw in baseball. It was more like a figure eight, the infinity sign, or a Mobius strip. After being fired straight up, the metal shells followed an unnatural curve to an altitude of twenty-five thousand meters where they turned around, added the gravitational acceleration on top of their magnetic acceleration, and dropped toward their targets with dreadful speed.
And what happened then?
One of the surrounding Objects, the more than fifty meter Self Deception, spilled its insides like a crushed fruit.
The ground was torn up for kilometers, creating a great crater. It almost looked like a giant’s foot had stomped on the ground there.
The shockwave was visible thanks to the dust and sand as it approached from beyond the horizon.
Quenser and Heivia knew it was coming, but there was nothing they could do. They immediately got on the ground and covered the backs of their heads with their hands, but they were still peeled up and tossed into the air. They were reminded of news footage of cars and pieces of houses blown away by a hurricane.
Fortunately, they were only lifted about two meters and being slammed back into the soft grassy ground was not going to kill them, but then the second wave arrived.
Far in the distance, the flattened Self Deception’s reactor exploded as if it had only just now remembered to do so.
The blast itself did not reach them, but the bright flash of light stabbed into their eyeballs.
“You’ve gotta…dammit…be kidding me! Damn, that huge-breasted commander! This time…this time I’m going to…!!”
Heivia wailed as he held his head in his hands, but Quenser could not hear what he was saying.
He desperately rubbed his eyes to bring back his vision, but then his blurry vision managed to see yet another explosion.
“You’re kidding… The Mobius Infinity’s main cannons are skewering the other Objects from above while they’re shaken by that first blast!!”
“Oh, goddammit!! You mean another flash is going to blind us!?”
This time, the Faith Organization’s Sand Cluster was transformed into scrap metal.
Next, the Rush piloted by the Information Alliance’s Oh ho ho was almost hit, but it sacrificed its right main cannon to just barely avoid it.
Heivia was sent tumbling along the ground again and again, but his expression changed entirely when he looked up.
The Objects had scattered wreckage in every direction like a volcanic eruption, so twisted pieces of cannon barrels the size of bridges and armor panels larger than busses were raining down around them.
It did not matter that they were four or five kilometers away.
“Watch out! Dodge!!”
Quenser attempted a meaningless dive to the side, but Heivia grabbed the back of his neck and forced him to his feet. They somehow managed to escape disaster like an un-athletic player running away from the baseball after being stuck in the outfield to fill an empty spot on the team.
“Can we really beat something like this!?”
“Not if it was just us, but this is the Gigant Hustler! There are plenty of Objects just like it!”
The Mobius Infinity had achieved astounding results, but it was still outnumbered.
If the four remaining non-Capitalist Corporations Objects made a suicidal charge together, they may have been able to defeat the Mobius Infinity.
“Dammit, something isn’t right,” spat out Heivia while leaning against the wreckage of a main cannon sticking out of the ground nearby. “The Objects surrounding it are getting oddly wary of each other. Have they given up on defeating the final boss together and are instead trying to defeat whatever enemies they can!?”
Gigant Hustler was the world’s greatest battle which included eight Objects, but it was also a massive psychological battle between the Pilot Elites.
Who would target who first?
Whose help would they use to attack who and when would they make their betrayal to get ahead?
“This was is a battle to survive. None of them are going to agree to work together when it could easily mean their own destruction.”
“Yeah, but if the Mobius Infinity sticks around, they don’t stand a chance against it on their own. Don’t they all get that!?”
“Then, Heivia, are you going to volunteer as the first to sacrifice himself to help the others? That’s what this is about. We can’t count on the Objects. They’re holding the bottom of their skirt and fidgeting as they try to keep from wetting themselves, so we’ll be at checkmate in no time if we rely on them!”
Quenser clenched his teeth as the Objects ended their brief joint fight against the Mobius Infinity and started moving away from the others.
The Princess’s Baby Magnum was one of those.
Given her mission objective, it was obvious she didn’t want to end the fight against the Mobius Infinity, but if she alone remained, she would be immediately picked off by that enemy Object. She could not fight the current trend of the situation.
So who would be the first one ejected from this deadly game of musical chairs?
The Mobius Infinity was the most powerful yet had used brute force to stop anyone else from targeting it.
The Self Deception had been the weakest and it had already been blown away.
No one knew what would happen next and anyone could be the next one kicked out.
And that was when another unexpected event occurred.
The ground around the Baby Magnum suddenly split apart and a massive amount of water burst out.
Water was the greatest weakness of a static electricity propulsion device.
“What…the hell?” muttered Heivia.
This was more than a water pipe bursting. Cracks covered the entire surface and the Baby Magnum was nearly swallowed up by a great torrent like a South American waterfall turned upside down.
“No, wait. Wait, wait!! The Princess is using static electricity, so she can’t cross rivers or the ocean. So isn’t all that water really bad!?”
Once it caught her, she would be unable to move.
The Princess spun her Object around as if kicking at the ground like a horse and desperately tried to escape the flooded area, but even if she did escape, the impassable zone would grow as the water continued to surge out. And what would the other monsters do once her freedom of movement was restricted?
“Where did all that water even come from!? The entire map is green and there aren’t any obvious rivers anywhere!!”
“No,” muttered Quenser. “We were thinking about this wrong. Why isn’t this place a desert? Because there’s water. I don’t know who, but someone searched out an underground water vein and set up bombs at the Princess’s feet! They weaponized the water that’s keeping this giant plain nice and green!!”
“But how? And who? Was it those mechanized combat engineers from the Capitalist Corporations? It’s true I’ve heard those civil engineers use tunnels and manmade wetlands to stop Objects.”
“If they could accomplish this, they would be doing a lot more. And they would stand out so much that we probably would have been sent out to shoot them.”
“Then who did this!?”
“I don’t know and I don’t care. Besides, that isn’t the biggest problem.”
Far in the distance, an Object made a large turn.
It was the Information Alliance’s Second Generation Rush.
The Pilot Elite they referred to as the Oh ho ho mercilessly aimed her one remaining rapid-fire beam Gatling cannon to take advantage of the Baby Magnum’s unexpected trouble.
“It doesn’t look like she’s going to overlook this just because they know each other.”
“She’s had one of her main cannons destroyed. If she’s seen as an easy target, the others will be quick to attack, so she can’t let herself look weak.”
A few other Objects followed the Rush’s lead and targeted the Baby Magnum.
And one of those was the Mobius Infinity.
“Oh, no,” groaned Quenser. “We need something to turn this around. If we let this continue as is, we’ll have to see the Princess torn into from every direction!!”
The lanky man rested something like a giant steel compass on his shoulder and slowly left the front line.
With its barrel, trigger, ejection port, and cocking lever, the device resembled a simplified bolt-action sniper rifle, but it was not meant to shoot people. It was an explosive underground probe that searched for buried objects using the shockwave of an explosion.
It could of course be used to locate underground water veins.
The device was meant for use in deep forests or deserts with no cars anywhere nearby, so it required miraculous skill to accurately locate anything with all the explosions in the area.
The skinny man looked back just once to view the battlefield he had set into motion.
“Now, then. I’ve poked the hornet’s nest with water from the hose. I look forward to what you do next, gentlemen.”
No one noticed the man slipping away from the confused battlefield. Or rather, he appeared on the Objects’ anti-personnel sensors and the cameras of drones, but he only looked like a pathetic modern soldier who was trying to find help outside the exercise grounds after getting himself separated from his unit. He had set everything up to make sure he looked that way.
The voices of a broadcast station reached his ears.
“Special commando units that specialize in terrorist attacks on safe country metropolises have been in decline in this age of clean wars using Objects and all related nations have announced a reduction in their usage.”
“But at the same time, there are many unknowns about what happened to those commandos ‘afterwards’. Some are suspected to have joined antigovernment or anti-Object groups where they plan attacks on safe countries or help smuggle people into the safe countries. Even the previous Soberania Disturbance near the Panama Canal is said to have involved those commandos.”
As the tall, skinny man parted the tall grass, he listened to a supposed specialist from a peaceful country.
As he did, he spoke words that were swept away by the wind.
“It really isn’t that simple.”
“Ding, ding, ding, dong. It is now two o’clock and time for a relaxing afternoon oasis courtesy of the Queen’s Café.”
“Salem Logistics is introducing a brand new online shopping system. Order on your smartphone and the product is guaranteed to arrive anywhere on the globe within twelve hours.”
“Leave the first song to me. I’ve got the perfect thing to put you in a good mood. It’s a classic from when the band Boy Racer still had some sanity left.”
Inside the cockpit used to control a machine measuring over fifty meters and weighing over two hundred thousand tons, the Princess was swallowed up by a deluge of sound.
She had chosen not to eliminate any of the voices being broadcast over the same frequency because she was desperate for as much information as she could get.
An explosion had occurred directly below her and an unbelievable amount of underground water had leaked out.
The spot she had been in five seconds before was now a giant wetland and the puddle had grown to five kilometers. If she was caught in that, she would be trapped in the bottomless swamp and it was obvious what the other Objects would do then.
New water was continuing to well up from the countless cracks and the Baby Magnum was moving left and right in a desperate attempt to escape the net of water.
Another machine was in hot pursuit.
It used an air cushion to keep the entire Object afloat with the power of air, so unlike the Princess, it could ignore the water as it moved.
“Ho ho ho. Oh ho ho ho ho ho! Once you smell the stench of defeat, it’s too late to recover. Sorry, but this is the end for you. I’ll make sure to at least send a message and some flowers to your unit. Oh ho ho ho ho ho ho ho ho ho!!”
“You don’t even understand how I was giving you a chance to be on the winning side, do you? That head of yours really is empty, isn’t it?”
“I will answer all of your questions after I’ve won. Oh, and after we win the Gigant Hustler, I’ll make sure to look after your defeated soldiers. It would be a shame to let that bomb-using student’s talents continue being wasted with you.”
“I will destroy you.”
“Oh ho ho. How could you possibly-…bwah!?”
Countless shells flew from the fleeing Baby Magnum, but they were not fired by its seven main cannons. The Princess was firing the many railguns and coilguns attached all over the spherical body.
Those were not enough to damage the Rush, but that was not her intention.
By sending a downpour of shells toward the Oh ho ho’s feet, the ground was filled with holes.
An air cushion device kept the two hundred thousand ton Object afloat using a massive layer of air.
It could compensate for irregular terrain by scanning it with lasers and ultrasonic waves ahead of time, but what happened when the ground below underwent such a rapid change?
The Rush shook violently.
The Oh ho ho used the giant chainsaw-like treads attached as secondary propulsion devices to forcibly regain her balance.
“Wha- Ah, wait!?”
“I hope you get motion sickness and barf. It’s time you learned air cushions aren’t perfect!!”
The two Objects seemed to kick off the ground as they moved at sharp angles and aimed their main cannons at each other.
An exchange of ultra heavy shellfire was about to begin, but then a familiar boy’s voice joined the deluge of noise filling the cockpit.
“Can you hear me, Princess? Our plan failed and you’ve been kicked out of the game of musical chairs instead of the Mobius Infinity!”
“Is that all you have to say!?”
Quenser was not done yet.
He went on to say more.
“It doesn’t matter how many hits you take as long as you keep your life, so do everything you can to survive while we change the flow of battle again. We’ll hit the Mobius Infinity with a fatal blow, transforming it into some irresistible bait.”
The expression on the Princess’s graceful, doll-like features rarely changed, but all alone in the cockpit, she gave a look she could never let anyone else see.
“Understood. I’ll be waiting.”
Shells flew back and forth and she almost seemed to dance as she dodged them.
The transmission ended and she faced her enemy once more.
“As you can see, there’s no room for you here. You need to realize which one of us is giving off the stench of defeat! Then you can die!!”
“Oh ho ho. True love is taken by force. If you don’t understand that, you truly are a child!!”
After ending the transmission, Quenser spoke to his awful friend.
“Let’s go, Heivia. It’s time to blow away the Mobius Infinity.”
“Are you serious? I mean, are you serious!? This is officially a joint military exercise and the Band Station is providing a live broadcast. Obsolete infantry aren’t going to be slaughtered by cutting-edge weaponry here, so if we stay quiet and leave the battlefield, we can escape safely!!”
“But the Baby Magnum can’t. I won’t let the Princess be disgraced while people watch from their living rooms. We’ve already worked up a sweat helping her out, so what’s wrong with sticking with that to the end?”
“Oh, goddammit!! Why couldn’t it be a filthy old man on there!? Then we could just abandon him!!”
Quenser and Heivia motivated each other while traveling across the battlefield. The Mobius Infinity had moved away from them in order to take up the optimal firing spot.
They hid behind scattered pieces of armor wreckage bigger than cars and ran through the tall grass.
“What exactly are we going to do!?”
“That’s part of what we need to look into, but I have a general idea.”
“Remember that first saturation attack? That colossal weapon can withstand a nuke, but it still shot down all of our missiles to avoid a direct hit.”
“The other ones did that too. Remember when the Capitalist Corporations mechanized combat engineers had all their multiple rocket launchers shot down while we were on our way to the Mobius Infinity?”
They spoke back and forth while moving from wreckage to wreckage in quick bursts of speed.
“Then what about my musical-style false report? The Mobius Infinity immediately started firing its prized main cannons. Yet saving that secret weapon until later would have been better.”
“Wasn’t that because everyone was starting to gang up on it!? It probably just wanted some big fireworks to scare everyone away!”
“Yes. It ‘just’ wanted to do that.”
Quenser’s comment made no sense, but he was not done yet.
“Have you forgotten what Frolaytia said in the pre-mission briefing? With the Band Station’s analysis and worldwide broadcast, it wouldn’t want to fire its precious weapons in front of the cameras. …It needed to scare everyone away and it had a reason worth using its main cannons despite the risk.”
“Are you saying that peashooter might have been able to destroy its main cannons?”
“I doubt it’s that simple, but it feared something. We need to hunt it down and crush it with pinpoint accuracy. That has to be the shortest route to catching the last train out of here.”
That was when they heard a rustling of grass and Heivia held up his assault rifle.
“!! Why now!?”
“Wait, Heivia, it’s the Faith Organization Valkyries!!”
“So what!? Do you not want to kill them because it’s a women-only unit!?”
Even as he shouted back, Heivia was confused by the lack of bullets flying their way.
“Their Objects were the Self Deception and the Sand Cluster, so they don’t have anything left. They won’t want to attack another army’s unit right now. If we asked for supporting fire, they’d be blown to bits.”
Most likely, Quenser and Heivia had only heard the rustling grass because the Valkyries had intentionally given away their position. If they seemed too powerful, an enemy might feel the need to kill them.
Heivia clicked his tongue and aimed his assault rifle a little further upwards.
“Sorry, but I’ve got somewhere I have to be, so I don’t have time for you ladies! …I’ll overlook you for now, so make sure to give me your email addresses later.”
He was answered with a warning shot over his head.
The two idiots and the Valkyries passed each other by and continued toward their respective destinations.
“There it is. It’s the Mobius Infinity. …Hey, Quenser, let’s spy on it from behind that leg-like wreckage over there.”
The other Objects were not going to start attacking the Mobius Infinity and it did not want to leave its optimal firing position, so it only made quick movements here and there instead of rushing all throughout the forty square kilometer battlefield. If it had done that, Quenser and Heivia could never have kept up.
“Let’s check out those main cannons.”
Quenser used binoculars to view the back of the Object.
“They’re supported at one point. The giant cylinder is just attached horizontally to the back.”
“That’s the standard method used on tanks and battleships, right? Is there really a weakness there?”
Quenser tilted his head back without removing the binoculars.
He seemed to be focused on the very top of the three main cannons towering above them.
“That’s exactly it. Tank and battleship guns are both attached at one point, but their concepts are entirely different. Do you know why, Heivia?”
“What? Because the battleship guns are way bigger?”
“Close, but no cigar.” Quenser looked entirely serious as he answered Heivia’s joking reply. “The answer is that tank guns are much thinner. When positioned horizontally, the end of the barrel bends under its own weight. …Check out the end of the Mobius Infinity’s main cannons, Heivia. Isn’t it a little curved like it’s made from glass fiber?”
“What? Can you even use a bent cannon!? The shell wouldn’t go where you aimed it and it might even blow up inside the barrel!”
“Long ago, they apparently used to intentionally shift their aim a little for the first shot. The heat of the shot would straighten the barrel afterwards, so they would fine-tune their aim based on that.”
“I’ve never heard of that. Do the Princess and the Oh ho ho do that too?”
“No, this technology is probably unique to the Mobius Infinity.”
“I seriously doubt it. That thing fires it shells to extreme high altitude and drops them back down to create destruction on the level of a meteor strike. They wouldn’t use such an analog method to determine the exact bend of the barrel.”
“Tanks have advanced since those times, so let’s follow those advances to their conclusion.”
Quenser focused his mind on the nearly vertical cannon barrels as if stroking his fingertips along the kilometer long metal towers.
“Basically, they have to make sure the metal cannon doesn’t bend under its own weight or heat. The easiest method is to cool the entire cannon. One method is to use a thermal jacket. That’s a system that places a container of water over the barrel to constantly cool it with the power of water.”
“Then is that what’s going on here?”
“No, the thermal jacket itself was a failure. This has either overcome its weaknesses or is using a system from a later age.”
“Attaching small mirrors to the barrel and sending infrared lasers out from the base. The reflected light can be used to determine the bend, so the targeting information can be corrected before firing. I believe that’s the method our tanks use.”
But from a distance, it was difficult to determine what method was being used here.
Quenser waved the flat monitor to the shoulder-fired missile set.
“Heivia, can we use this to access the military database? The intelligence division has to have been investigating the Mobius Infinity.”
“Do you really think their report is going to have a big red circle labelled ‘there’s a weakness here’? If so, we would have been given a different plan.”
Quenser fell silent for a moment.
“Then it doesn’t have to be the military database. What about the normal internet?”
“Hey, wait. Don’t tell me you just want to check on your favorite swimsuit model’s blog!”
“No, that isn’t it. The Information Alliance’s Second Generation Band Station broadcasts a TV show which gives out tons of prize money to any normal people who come up with an Object’s weakness, right? Don’t you feel like taking a peek at that show’s official site?”
The two of them fiddled with the monitor’s settings until they somehow managed to access the normal internet.
The site’s address was easily found: it was painted in giant letters on the side of the Band Station.
In order to gather information from as many people around the world as possible, the site did not require an ID or password.
“Are you serious? There’s a ton of posts here. Do we really have to look through all of this?”
“That’s what happens when you get billions of people fighting over a ton of prize money. The scariest thing out there is human greed.”
“Not that we’re any better. …Anyway, will this really help? It all looks like posts from safe country amateurs.”
“Well, I’m not one to talk since I’m only a student.”
Fortunately, the high-priority posts (i.e. the ones closest to the prize money) were ranked and marked with different colors. Rookies were meant to use the top opinions as a starting point to further pursue the truth. That structure intentionally fostered a dead heat situation.
The two idiots read through only the posts marked with the highest priority.
“The heat distribution over the barrels is incredibly low. They probably use a thermal jacket that surrounds the cannon in a giant water tank.”
“The cannons have several protrusions surrounding the barrel at about two-thirds out from the base. They might be mirrors for infrared lasers, but I doubt they would use something that would break from the shockwaves.”
“If they’re using a thermal jacket, there would be a deviation in the heat distribution just like the surface of bathwater growing hotter than the rest. Maybe they’re using propellers or jets to continually stir up the liquid inside.”
Heivia looked up from the screen in disgust and looked to the true monster on the other end of the scenery.
“So which is it? Don’t tell me it uses both a thermal jacket and lasers.”
“I don’t mind if it does,” replied Quenser. “As far as I’m concerned, it can use both or it can use some magical new technology that uses the heat distribution of the thermal jacket to freely bend the barrel and increase its accuracy. Either way, they still have to rely on lasers to get the information needed to adjust their aim, so we just have to destroy those. If we destroy the laser oscillators or the reflectors, it won’t be able to use its main cannons. Who cares how powerful it is if it can’t hit?”
“Come to think of it, the false report we let the enemy intercept mentioned ‘ebony soot’, didn’t it? If that’s what got it so worked up…”
“Did it not want anyone to know dirtying its reflectors would create an opening?”
“But even the amateurs online were saying its weakness couldn’t just be the mirrors. It won’t be that simple.”
“And that’s why we still have work to do here on the scene. There has to be something there that made it panic, so let’s go, Heivia.”
“If we can’t see the answer from here, we just have to get closer until we can.”
Quenser moved out from their cover and started approaching the Mobius Infinity.
Heivia groaned but ultimately followed.
“I really think it’s about time to abandon you for once.”
“You make it sound like you’ve been saving me from myself each time, but without me, you’d have died long ago.”
Just as they started arguing, they heard a dull sound and the main cannon on one side tilted forward. The giant railgun had resembled a vertical tower before, but it now took a horizontal angle like a tank’s gun.
“Wait, what’s going on? It’s collapsing, Quenser! What the hell is going on!?”
“It’s not collapsing. It’s aiming?”
It was not aiming at them, but still…
With a deafening roar, a metal shell was fired at terrifying speed. The side effects of it splitting the air were enough to throw the two idiots forcefully to the ground.
At the moment, the Legitimacy Kingdom’s two Objects were fighting. The Baby Magnum was being exposed to concentrated fire and the Royal Residence was fighting a defensive battle to shield the other since it was large enough to take a fair bit of damage without issue.
The shell flew horizontally into the middle of that.
And it did so in the shape of a figure eight tilted on its side, an infinity sign, or a Mobius strip.
The shell passed right by the Royal Residence, flew in a large arc in the distance, and shot back in to hit the Baby Magnum from behind.
The sound of destruction rang throughout the battlefield.
The shell had struck the structure containing the attachments for the arms supporting the seven main cannons.
“Shit!! Sparks just flew from the back!”
“I can’t believe that bastard. …Did it just fire that giant shell like a boomerang!?”
Quenser and Heivia shouted their surprise despite having their breath knocked from them after landing on their back.
The series of events had occurred too quickly to see with the naked eye, but they had managed to see a tremendous shower of sparks flying from the Baby Magnum’s rear attachment joints. The Object was still moving, but it had taken quite a bit of damage. It was possible all of its main cannons had been taken out.
Quenser got up on top of the flattened grass and spoke aloud to reassure himself.
“It’s fine. The reactor wasn’t hit and it didn’t add on the force of gravity like normal, so it wasn’t as powerful. So this is fine.”
“How about you worry about us before anyone else!? …Hm? What’s this?”
Heivia stopped complaining and wiped something cold from his cheek.
He had thought it was rain, but it was not.
The substance he had wiped onto the back of his hand was melting, but it seemed to have been a snow crystal.
“Really, what is this? Aren’t we in Southern Africa during the summer?”
“Wait. Could the contents of the thermal jacket be leaking? …No, probably not. But if this isn’t a special coolant, then where’d the ice come from?”
Quenser once more observed the scenery cautiously ruled by the Mobius Infinity and spotted quite a few white, cotton-like objects falling from the sky. It did indeed look a lot more like snow than water or ice.
He spotted one that fell on a blade of grass and, without touching it, pulled out a loupe like a jeweler would use.
It was a personal possession he had brought along in case he could steal some technology from a destroyed Object. Carrying it with him was of course against military regulations, so he was prepared to have Frolaytia kick his ass if she found out.
“It really is ice with bonds at 120 degrees, so it’s definitely a snow crystal. Although each and every one of them has the exact same shape.”
“That doesn’t sound natural then. Where’s it coming from? What part of the Mobius Infinity is frozen!?”
“It started falling when it fired, so is it related to the main cannons? Are the shells coated in ice? Or the inside of the barrel?”
Heivia raised his voice when Quenser licked the mystery ice crystal.
“It has no flavor… That means I’m wrong. Those main cannons are railguns. If the inside of the barrels or the shells were coated in ice, they’d definitely use salt to raise the conductivity. But then what could it-…?”
Quenser trailed off, frantically grabbed his binoculars, and stared up at the Mobius Infinity’s main cannons again.
“...There it is.”
“There what is?”
“There are small protrusions on the side of the cannon barrels. They’re reflectors for detecting the bend with lasers. It’s blowing in ice crystals to make the reflectors instead of using normal glass!!”
The protrusions were only about the size of hand mirrors.
Lasers were a convenient way to detect the bend caused by a barrel’s weight or heat, but they were not perfect.
The very nature of the method required the reflectors to be exposed on the outside.
And as mirrors, the reflectors were easily broken.
Plus, they would not work as well if dust or paint got on them.
Since they were the key to making targeting corrections, the shells would not hit if they were taken out. It was a lot like breaking a sniper rifle’s scope.
That may not have been a huge issue for a normal tank. The reflectors could simply be replaced whenever they broke. However, an Object was a weapon made to endure a nuclear attack. If it would fail to work after a direct hit from shockwaves, nuclear fallout, and heat spread evenly across its surface, it never would have been adopted as a crucial part of the main cannons.
“That’s why the Mobius Infinity makes new reflectors.” Quenser gulped. “Instead of using indestructible mirrors, it uses ones that can be replaced as soon as they break. The snow crystals are made by gathering moisture around the dust in the air and then freezing it. It probably uses nanotechnology to create the core and sprays supercooled water around it to complete the crystal. Unlike normal snow, the crystal didn’t ‘just so happen’ to take this shape. Like a photonic crystal, this is artificial snow designed to have the optimal design for bending the lasers.”
“But…what are we supposed to do?” Heivia was confused. “I get the concept, but that’s not a weakness! We can fire all the missiles in the world at it or dump an ocean of paint on it, but it can keep blowing in new reflectors. There’s no point in even trying to take on infinitely reproducible mirrors!”
“Don’t be so sure.”
Quenser grinned and did the last thing Heivia had expected.
Despite his apparent confidence, he grabbed the flat monitor to access the official site for the Band Station’s prize show.
“Wait. After all this, you’re relying on other people’s knowledge?”
“Quite the opposite,” replied Quenser. “After risking our lives so much, doesn’t our measly pay seem a little lacking? Don’t you want to post our ‘answer’ in the hopes of hitting the jackpot?”
The Princess was just about at her limit.
She was under attack from several Objects, including the Rush, and the Mobius Infinity was firing boomerang-like horizontal shots. With two or three attacks arriving at any one moment, she was gradually running out of space to escape.
For one thing, clean wars were decided by the number of Objects.
One-against-two was considered near hopeless and one-against-three was to be avoided at all costs.
She knew her luck would run out sooner or later.
“Oh, dear. You aren’t using your precious main cannons? Are they broken…or are you pretending they are for a chance at a surprise attack? But do you really think the Information Alliance would fall for a cheap trick like that? Oh ho ho.”
“You really are stupid. Throwing away your own options like this will only leave you all alone to be crushed by the Mobius Infinity.”
“Oh, dear! Oh, dear! Do you think fighting is the only way to wage war? This is the problem with you uncivilized Legitimacy Kingdom Elites.”
“I have a reset button.”
The Information Alliance grim reaper laughed over the radio while firing her rapid-fire beam Gatling cannon that combined thousands or tens of thousands of electron beams that were each powerful enough to tear into a shelter.
“This is the world’s largest battlefield, but it is officially known as a joint military exercise. I can use those two facts to my advantage. If things are looking bad, I can have the truth leaked via a variety of routes to inform the masses that a battle on the level of a world war is underway. And our ECM110 is gathering all the footage we need to prove it.”
“Oh ho ho. Once panic spreads throughout the world, no one will have time to worry about clean wars, will they? If the higher ups don’t force smiles, shake hands, and pretend to get along, the safe countries would fall apart, wouldn’t they? So that makes this a reset button. Once we press it, all of the Objects will be forced to withdraw.”
“You knew from the beginning you would lose? You were gloating because you had a way out so you could turn tail and run!?”
“This is war. The game of chess is not just about taking your opponent’s king; it is also about keeping your own king from being taken.”
She would kill as much as she could.
She would laugh as much as she could.
And once her own life was in danger, she would immediately hit the reset button and escape to safety.
This was a clean war.
These ideal wars were fought as casually as taking an overseas trip or going out for a picnic and it was assumed none of your own forces would be harmed.
“I think I’m going to throw up.”
“Oh ho ho. That’s exactly what I would expect from an Elite who can’t even protect the infantry she brought with her.”
Suddenly, a new broadcast cut in to the torrent of sounds from the many military lines and civilian broadcasts mixed together over the radio.
It was the prize show run by the Information Alliance’s Band Station, which they apparently called the ECM110. A broadcast station from an enemy nation had the danger of including false information, so the Princess had not been paying much attention to it before. However, the host’s tone of voice suddenly grew much calmer.
“Some incredibly useful information was just submitted. Oh, might this settle it right here!? Further work is needed to complete the acceptance of the submission form, but someone might just have won a bathtub full of dollar bills!!”
The Princess must not have been the only one to find this odd because the Oh ho ho spoke over the communication device.
“That’s strange. This wasn’t how the reset button was supposed to work.”
A high-speed battle between several Objects was still underway, but this broadcast from a distant safe country reached the two girls’ ears.
“The new theory in question comes from Billy the Kid in the Legitimacy Kingdom. …The Mobius Infinity uses lasers to detect the bend of the cannon barrels, but the reflectors are made from artificial snow created with nanotech and supercooled water. No matter how much they’re broken or dirtied, it can blow in new reflectors.”
“But whether natural or artificial, snow crystals are made when supercooled water covers the tiny core floating in the air.”
“You don’t mean…”
“If you investigated the structure and shape of the tiny cores made with nanotech, made cores with a different shape, and scattered them around the reflectors, it would create reflectors with the wrong reflectivity. Once that happens, the Mobius Infinity can’t target its main cannons and will be completely defenseless. It says here that our submitter Billy the Kid is going to demonstrate this method on site. Now this is getting exciting! How about a commercial break!?”
Back on the battlefield, Quenser and Heivia were incredibly busy.
“Will this really defeat that Object!?”
“Weapons are a type of system, so they’re weak against unpredicted situations, just like with a computer error. It doesn’t matter how big or small it is!”
What they had done was simple.
They gathered all the artificial snow they could find scattered around the Mobius Infinity. At first, Quenser had made sure to check its shape with his loupe, but he quickly gave up on that. If they melted that snow, they would have a large number of identically-sized materials, so they poured it all into the stainless steel cup from a survival kit and placed it over a fire to get rid of all the moisture.
“Always carry a metal cup you can put oil in, huh? We need to thank that cricket chef.”
“The scary thing about survival skills is how you never know when they’ll come in handy.”
Once only the tiny cores remained, it looked like a pile of pepper almost too small to see at the bottom of the cup. Quenser stuck a spoon inside and mixed it all around as if scraping at the bottom of the cup. He was intentionally destroying the microscopic cores to change their shape.
“We’re using homemade techniques against cutting-edge nanotech. It’s too bad we can’t check to see what shape they are now.”
“All that matters is that we know the shape has changed. Once the incorrect snow crystal is made, the laser will be reflected all wrong. …More importantly, Heivia, are the missiles ready?”
“The Slingshot’s ready when you are. I’ve got a special seat reserved inside the magic warheads that can hold anything from explosives to glue. I just have to shove these in there, right?
“We have two shots, but only one chance. We need to aim at the reflector creation points located a little over halfway up the barrels. We’re assuming the anti-air lasers will shoot it down, but we only need for the core dust to be dumped down on the reflectors. From there, its own supercooled water will create the artificial snow crystals for us.”
“Oh, damn. If that one cannon wasn’t aimed horizontally, I could’ve aimed at them all along the same line.”
“That’s my point. You have to fire one shot at the horizontal one and then another at the two vertical ones. If either misses, it’s all over. If you have any good luck charms, now would be the time.”
“Sure, sure! So what are we gonna do with the prize money once it’s in that net bank account? That prize rivals the world’s biggest lottery jackpot, so we could build a villa on the moon and live surrounded by topless girls.”
“Thinking about using it all up like that is why lottery winners tend to go broke. How about we do some day trading until someday we can buy an entire Object and fund some wars?”
“You’re the type that dumps it all into investing or gambling and ends up broke in a night, aren’t you? C’mon, let’s get started!”
Heivia rested the launcher on his shoulder and Quenser used the flat monitor for targeting support.
A long trail of smoke cut straight up through the blue sky. It reached the height of the three main cannons extending from the back of the Mobius Infinity.
A flash of light as if from welding immediately followed.
The missile’s fuel was roasted by the anti-air laser and it violently exploded in midair.
Quenser and Heivia ignored that as they loaded the next shot and fired it into the sky as well. It too was shot down.
It looked like a perfect defense system at first and its accuracy was so great they could almost see the smirk on the Pilot Elite’s face.
But Quenser and Heivia exchanged a high five.
“All right! Just like we wanted!!”
“Hey, then we need to get out of here. If that worked, it’ll probably get pissed and attack us. And if it didn’t work, this battlefield is going straight to hell. Either way, running away sounds like a great idea to me!!”
The two idiots exchanged a glance and turned their back on the Mobius Infinity as fast as they could. They no longer worried about leaving a trail in the tall grass and they focused on putting as much distance between themselves and the Object as possible.
An explosive sound burst from one of the tower-like main cannons.
The shockwave struck their backs and they tumbled forward. They choked as they got up and continued running on wobbly legs.
The giant metal shell had flown up into the stratosphere where it added on the gravitational acceleration as it fell back toward earth.
However, there was no Object there. One had not even taken hasty evasive action; it simply tore into already empty ground. The green plain was blown apart and a giant crater was born.
“Talk about luck! It actually worked. Ha ha. Now the Princess’s life and the prize money are ours!”
“Hey, but what about the second shot? If it keeps firing, won’t the snow crystals be destroyed by the shock? And won’t the new ones blown in actual work?”
“The ‘wrong’ cores will hang around and stick to the area around the reflectors for a while, so it won’t be a problem! It might have a system that uses static electricity to deflect dust and other unwanted substances, but it would be difficult to tell apart powder of the exact same size and material. It might be like giving someone a transfusion of the wrong kind of blood!”
It test fired a few more times and must have concluded that all of the shells landed in the wrong spot.
A deafening creaking came from the Mobius Infinity.
The two idiots were sent tumbling to the ground with each shockwave, but now the many cannons attached to the spherical body turned their way.
They could feel clear anger on their backs that could not have come from a mere machine.
“This doesn’t look good.”
Heivia looked back and almost froze in place.
“This really doesn’t look good!! Any one of an Object’s cannons can turn us to mincemeat! And I doubt we can escape its sensors at this point!!”
They immediately changed direction and leaped behind the wreckage of an Object’s armor lying nearby, but they had no clue how effective it would be.
However, something else happened before that defense had to be tested.
A low-stability plasma cannon blast punched through the Mobius Infinity as if stabbing it in the side.
“It was the Princess… She finished it off in the very, very end!!”
In a way, hiding behind the armor wreckage may have been the right decision.
The overwhelming surge that followed completely overturned the definitions of sound and light. They felt like even the backs of their eyeballs were scorched white and they lost all sense of up or down. Quenser thought the ground was shaking like a small boat rocking in the waves, but after more than half a minute, he realized it was actually his own limbs convulsing unnaturally. It took him another half minute to remember how to stop his body from moving.
The Baby Magnum fired its main cannon right by the Oh ho ho’s Rush. It pierced through and destroyed the Mobius Infinity which had been using that area as a safe zone.
The absence of that one Object turned the situation on its head.
The Gigant Hustler was the world’s greatest battle which included eight Objects, but it was also a massive psychological battle between the Pilot Elites.
The Mobius Infinity had been defeated despite being the strongest one there.
That title had been taken by the Baby Magnum.
And which Object was most obviously attacking the Baby Magnum while having lost one of its main cannons?
If the other Elites wanted to be on the winning team, who would they turn against now?
“Ho…oh ho ho…”
“Checkmate,” muttered the Princess.
A moment later, the remaining Objects except for the Band Station which was also from the Information Alliance (i.e. the Legitimacy Kingdom’s Baby Magnum and Royal Residence and the Capitalist Corporations’ Spider Joust) all focused on that one Object.
“Quenser kept his promise. I won’t let you have him.”
The Oh ho ho’s ally, the Band Station, was still an Object, but it would be overpowered in a head-on shootout. Plus, the Rush was damaged and not in top form. Not to mention that the three-against-two structure meant they would be overpowered and killed eventually regardless.
A number of thoughts had to be spiraling through the Oh ho ho’s mind.
The Legitimacy Kingdom and Information Alliance both had two Objects while the Capitalist Corporations had one. Could she get the neutral Spider Joust to join her and overturn the current majority?
Or could she hold onto her life by immediately destroying the isolated Spider Joust?
But at the same time, she had to have realized something else.
The Princess would undoubtedly target her first and that Princess had taken control of this situation.
She had no freedom of choice here.
Even a second’s hesitation could easily leave the Rush punched full of holes without even giving her time to eject.
“Hit the reset button!! Now!!”
With those few words, the “exercise” was revealed to the world to be a “war”.
Comments on the internet exploded and news sites were flooded.
The people in the stands and in the safe countries had learned this was a very real danger.
That villainous switch left no option but to forcibly end the world’s largest battle.
And that naturally meant admitting defeat against the enemy before their eyes.
The Gigant Hustler exercise was cancelled due to “unforeseen trouble”, so Quenser and Heivia were being carried from the battle line in a large transport helicopter.
Not many soldiers had ever had a chance to look down at Objects and all their anti-air lasers from a helicopter. One of the Legitimacy Kingdom infantry on the same helicopter was trying to film the Object from above with his camera.
“Large transport helicopters are weak to crosswinds, so lean out too much and you might get dumped out,” warned Heivia. “Anyway, we’ve really got ourselves a bath full of dollar bills. How many million is that in euros? It might even be ten million euros. Even if we’re splitting it between the two of us, it’s still more than enough to live on easy street for the rest of our lives.”
“We won’t get it right away. I’m sure the other participants will try to protest. It’ll probably show up in the bank account after the TV show finishes shooting down all those complaints. Let’s try to take it easy while we wait for Santa’s visit.”
“Hah hah! There’s nothing like stability! We can actually just wait around now!!”
“I know what you mean. The slow life is for the people who made a ton of money and then moved out to the countryside. If you do that after failing, it just looks like you’re running away! Hah hah!!”
As the two idiots laughed vacantly in a sort of exhausted high, Frolaytia contacted them for the first time in a while.
“Hey, the electronic simulation division just told me they found signs of someone opening an illegal port over the military line and leaking highly classified military information to an Information Alliance prize show.”
“Oh, hell!! Did they get wind of this money already!?”
“Who cares? I’ll still be laughing even if they throw us in a cell for half a year! After all, a bathtub full of money is waiting for us!!”
“Sorry, but that isn’t happening,” cut in Frolaytia’s icy voice. “Even war has rules. The intelligence division is protected by a few different war treaties if they’re doing so as a means to gather intelligence, but leaking classified information to a quiz show is entirely unprecedented. The Capitalist Corporations are requesting a significant sum of damages via the international courts. Listen, a single Object costs five billion dollars and that number doesn’t shrink all that much when when converted into euros. Do you have any idea how valuable the classified intellectual property you ‘illegally’ divulged was?”
“Wait, wait, please wait!! All we did was make a submission to an official Information Alliance show. I’ve never heard of some safe country housewife being sued for that much money.”
“That’s a gray zone. After all, they’re a normal person in a safe country. Plus, the weakness is normally found by combining hundreds or even thousands of different ideas. The situation changes considerably when just one or two professionals working on site perfectly reveal an Object’s technological information. There isn’t much we can say if they accuse you of stealing and disseminating the plans, even if you didn’t do that.”
“And so the Capitalist Corporations have sent a request for damages that truly shows their love of money. …All told, it’s thirteen million dollars. Oh, would you look at that? Isn’t that the exact amount you two won on that quiz show? Having the entire army spend years fighting this in court for some worthless soldiers would be a pain in the ass and refusing could easily start a back-and-forth divulgence war of intellectual property and lists of spies, so I’ve been told to get you to pay up.”
“Those liars!! Don’t you force this crap on us! Do you want me to start another war, you greedy bastards!!”
Heivia began meaninglessly firing his assault rifle down from the helicopter’s cargo door, but that was obviously not going to change a thing.
Acre Kiss-of-Rose was the chief executive officer of Salem Logistics, one of the seven corporations that directly controlled the Capitalist Corporations’ home country. Currently, his made-to-order jacket was soaked on the inside.
However, this was not due to the heat of Africa. It came from sweat brought on by a much more unpleasant feeling.
The Gigant Hustler had been both a giant battle and a giant weapons trade fair. That weapons show had a certain important objective in addition to holding sales negotiations for military weapons and threatening the opposing world powers by showing off one’s technological might.
Simply put, it was to create connections.
To do that, it had been assumed that his Capitalist Corporations would win the battle fought between eight Objects. That had been the scenario set up in advance.
But it had all crumbled down around him.
One moment, Acre had been boldly swinging up his fist. The next, he had become a laughing stock. The gentlemen in suits, the ladies in dresses, and the high-ranking military officers in berets and plenty of medals had all given him false looks of pity and those faces were burned into the back of his mind. He might as well have been updating his unwritten execution list.
(I will recover.)
He had a “large physique” that was a fair bit removed from the ideal human body and he had neatly-maintained white hair and an identically-colored beard. He had aged so naturally that it looked like he had been born with hair that color.
But his eyes alone were filled with blazing light.
(No matter what happens and no matter what it takes, I will take back the respect I lost at the Gigant Hustler! Even if it means faking a largescale accident!!)
Heat filled him until it seemed he would burn out the thin circuits in his mind, but then a driver opened the back door of a black luxury car. Acre climbed in without thanking or tipping the man. In a space rivalling a small bus, he sat on the sofa and pulled a chilled bottle of champagne from the mini-fridge.
Instead of speaking to the driver directly, he used a small microphone.
“What happens next?”
“You have special evacuation training as part of the weapons show.”
“I know that! I’m asking what kind of accident we’ll be faking to recover my…no, I mean Salem Logistics’ reputation!!”
“It has all been planned out. The impression left by that battle will be wiped clean and you will stand at center stage once more. Tomorrow, the world will be shocked by the new turn history has taken, CEO.”
“As long as you understand. And just to be clear, this is for Salem as a whole, not just me.”
He was a man who had no distinction between his work and private life. An enemy of the company was an enemy of his life and his victories were the company’s victories. He was the stereotypical example of someone who would have nothing left if his job was taken from him.
So as he fidgeted with the audio set, he could not stand the relatively insignificant broadcast he found.
“Salem Logistics has announced a new generation of online shopping with their Silver Key service. This revolutionary system allows you to order something from your smartphone anywhere on the globe and have it delivered within twelve hours.”
“What is this?”
“But the system has a dark side. It’s set to use a number of routes used by air tankers, which shows just how much fuel it will consume. And consuming all that fuel requires expanding the tanker routes used to carry it. There’s a possibility the international conflicts over the Indian Ocean and Panama Canal have been strongly influenced by Salem Logistics.”
“What is going on? This audio set is broken! None of the buttons are working and it won’t even turn off!”
Only after shouting in anger and looking up did he realize that the black luxury car was driving through an area he had never seen before.
The area was nothing like the bright international airports, luxury hotels, or casinos the old man was used to seeing. It was filled with people he suspected would punch him in the jaw and steal his gold teeth not five minutes after he started walking around there.
“Let me ask again: what is going on?”
“It’s simple: first the Sixth Branch incident in the Arctic and now the pitiful defeat at the Gigant Hustler. Of course, stirring up the battlefield took some doing. I even had to dig up an underground water vein below the Legitimacy Kingdom’s First Generation.”
A mocking tone filled the driver’s voice.
“But setting that aside, this is really quite sad, CEO. All I did was claim this was part of your evacuation training and I easily abducted someone with power rivalling a head of state. The secret service readily opened the way when I told them their boss had selfishly changed his plans and that I couldn’t reveal the details. Being a one-man manager certainly has its downsides, doesn’t it?”
There was a questioning tone in Acre’s voice, but not because he was questioning who this was.
He was asking why this person was alive.
For one, the skilled abduction could not have been as easy as the man claimed. He would have had to overcome countless barriers to pull it off. And that went beyond the security around Acre. If this man had not had the Gigant Hustler advance as he wanted, Acre would not have been so panicked. In fact, if the negative psychological warfare of the Sixth Branch had not shown itself, the Gigant Hustler would not have happened in the first place. If any one of those pieces had not succeeded, Acre would never have taken the first step toward this abduction.
Acre knew of only one person who could so easily pull off that kind of world-scale tightrope act just to accomplish a single goal.
Meanwhile, the driver continued speaking.
“One: I am a poor man who was swallowed up by Salem Logistic’s new service, the Silver Key.
“Two: I am a feeble former spy who had already retired and started a second life in a small household in the Soberania District near the Panama Canal, but had it all taken from me by your money-driven war.
“Three: if I used the name Nyarlathotep, would you still have to ask why you haven’t been killed yet, Azathoth?”
Things had yet to truly begin.
An unmanaged war was about to start and it would be far from clean and would surpass the boundaries of a mere military exercise.
The Capitalist Corporations home country was managed by a group of seven corporations known as 7th Core.
The position at the top of one of those corporations was equivalent to being a king in the Legitimacy Kingdom.
And one such CEO’s life was at the center of the madness about to burn through the world.