HEAVY OBJECT:Volume11 Chapter 3
- 1 Chapter 3: A History of One or the Other >> South Atlantic Civil War of Emergency Succession
Chapter 3: A History of One or the Other >> South Atlantic Civil War of Emergency Succession
The next battlefield was in the South Atlantic Ocean.
The battle was to defend the Vanderbilt lady and her civilian cruise ship from the Destruction Fes.
Frolaytia’s response was simple.
First, she sent the Baby Magnum ahead at its naval speed of more than five hundred kilometers per hour.
Quenser and the others in the maintenance battalion gathered their surviving ships, stopped by a Legitimacy Kingdom base on the southern tip of Africa, and used transport planes to fly to Saint Helena, an isolated island in the South Atlantic Ocean. After borrowing some naval forces there, they regrouped with the Baby Magnum at the island, finally began the Object maintenance, and prepared to arrive on the scene and fight.
It had of course not been an easy journey.
If the Destruction Fes had been waiting for them, its anti-air weapons could have destroyed every last aircraft in midair. When the weight of death was bearing down on you the entire time, the flight was far from enjoyable.
But Frolaytia Capistrano ignored that physical and mental weariness to raise her voice in the small aircraft carrier’s briefing room.
“The greatest desire of the Legitimacy Kingdom military is to protect our people’s lives, property, and honor and to destroy anything that threatens those things! That aspect of our fight remains unchanged whether our enemy is another world power or a rogue faction of our own. If Azureyfear Winchell’s faction intends to slaughter civilians en masse in their desire to strike at the Vanderbilt family over an old feud, then we will do whatever it takes to stop them!!”
Every one of them was worn down.
They had lost many colleagues and their morale had plummeted.
They were filled with the unpleasant mood of people being forced to work without pay.
Oddly enough, none of them threw down their gun, tossed out their dog tags, and left the battalion.
“Currently, Celestial Flowers, the world’s largest ocean fireworks festival, is being held in the South Atlantic Ocean. Around five hundred civilian ships have gathered around the two-hull luxury cruise ship Rose & Lily for that festival. The Destruction Fes, which we speculate to be Second Generation, is approaching their location. If it arrives, we will have a true bloodbath on our hands, so I want to finish this before that happens.”
The enemy was a private unit led by Azureyfear Winchell.
Operating a Second Generation without relying on a Pilot Elite was estimated to require a crew of more than ten thousand. They had enough soldiers to fill an army division and it was to pilot just the one Object. And all of that personnel, equipment, and materiel would have been bought with the money she earned in her drug war.
Heivia and the others did not hesitate to oppose Azureyfear.
The fact that it was entirely remote controlled may have helped there. Blowing it away would not kill anyone, so the extra familial connection did not have to make it awkward. And if they destroyed this strange Object, the ridiculous war…no, personal feud would be over.
As usual, diagrams were projected on the white wall behind Frolaytia.
“Luckily, the Legitimacy Kingdom Second Generation Oceanic Driver was patrolling this area of sea and it put up a decent fight. It is the true ‘owner’ of the naval force at Saint Helena. Even as they worked to slow down the Destruction Fes, they gathered valuable data on the unknown Object. We can never thank them enough. Don’t you waste their efforts!”
The Oceanic Driver was a naval Second Generation that fought bravely with a laser beam main cannon. In addition to its reactor, it was equipped with several large-scale capacitors to leave no gaps in its rapid-fire when necessary. It also had several ballast tanks attached to its outer perimeter that could be filled with or emptied of seawater to intentionally shift its balance for incredibly nimble and rapid turns.
But it was no match for the Destruction Fes.
The Destruction Fes was fully remote-controlled and had no Pilot Elite. Freed from the restrictions of the inertial Gs, its movements were like lightning. More than just its top speed, it had ultra-sharp footwork and could cut back and forth unnaturally quickly. The difference was too great to be seen, like a cutting-edge stealth fighter taking on the Wright Brothers’ plane in a serious dogfight. It fully surpassed the biological limits of a manned machine. Before the Oceanic Driver could even place it in its sights, the Destruction Fes would slip into its blind spot and unleash cruel attacks that gouged into its armor.
The Destruction Fes was supported by the air cushion float directly below its main body, but it also had three insect-like legs attached in a reverse Y-shape. Those legs had booster-like devices covering the sides and they provided explosive mobility. The pure white torrent they produced looked more like a liquid than a jet or plasma.
The difference in speed was overwhelming.
The battle was so one-sided that the field itself seemed to shift out of place.
Even so, the Pilot Elite had not ejected even in the very, very end.
Over one hundred thousand innocent civilians sat behind the Oceanic Driver, so it had to hold its position until the Baby Magnum’s battalion caught up. Every minute and every second mattered. And that determination to continue fighting had sealed the Pilot Elite’s fate.
No one instructed them to, but when the Object exploded, every soldier in the briefing room saluted.
Even Quenser and Heivia.
Frolaytia gave a short sigh and then abandoned her pride. She would use everything available to her. There was a lot she had to prioritize above her own self-respect.
She did not hesitate to do something unthinkable of a soldier.
She gave the floor to a mere student.
“Quenser, what do you think?”
“Its main cannon is a large caliber low-stability plasma cannon, but that isn’t what I’m interested in.”
After moving to the head of the room in place of his commander, Quenser paused the tragic footage, rewound it, and then pointed at something with a laser pointer. He had no intention of mocking the Elite’s death. That Elite had lost their life passing on this baton, so they had to look it straight in the eye and chew it down to the marrow.
“It has some parts on the back that look like peacock feathers, but they don’t seem to be related to the boosters. If it’s supposed to be a high-mobility Object that uses the incredible speed of its footwork as its greatest weapon, they would have eliminated anything that would create air resistance, so these are odd. And as you can see when zooming in, they are a collection of some sort of giant speakers.”
Heivia looked puzzled, so Quenser nodded and continued.
“They’re an acoustic weapon. That’s what messed with our heads back with the boats.”
“Oh, goddammit. Just remembering it is making me feel nauseous. That thing was bad. It wasn’t just the ears or the head. It felt like I’d been punched in the head so hard I was going to vomit.”
“The Destruction Fes also destroyed our aircraft carrier fleet, but a low-stability plasma cannon can only fire in one direction and can’t apply damage equally to one hundred ships. These things produce a great noise at a regulated frequency. That causes micro-vibrations in the target and destroys them a lot like a harmonic scalpel. The weaker welded points of the metal are burned through on the molecular level and then the entire ship breaks apart and sinks.”
“So you’re saying the Destruction Fes has two main cannons?” asked the Princess.
She was going to directly confront this enemy, so it was a life-or-death issue for her.
Quenser gave a troubled look.
“At that power, I don’t think it could directly damage an Object.”
“Yeah, we’re still alive,” added Heivia.
“Although we might have been turned to mincemeat if we were closer and didn’t have any cover. We didn’t survive due to luck. It was because those ships sank in our stead.” Quenser rejected the other boy’s optimistic view. “If anything, I’m betting that one’s used to hold its opponent in place. Just like how the Spectre Q&A detonated the air to stop the Princess from moving. That said, it’s powerful enough to sink an entire fleet at close range. For flesh-and-blood humans, being exposed to that would be the same as being thrown into a human meat mixer.”
“That’s a dangerous combination.”
“That it is, granny. Not only does it have footwork too fast to keep up with, but it has an additional weapon to slow us down. As the gap in speed grows infinitely wide, the Destruction Fes will move to our blind spot and safely fire its main cannon. It really comes down to relative speed, but it’ll feel like fighting an enemy that can manipulate time. I doubt there would be any way to win in a straight fight.”
He paused for a beat before adding a “but”.
The projector displayed the situation in the South Atlantic. The map displayed where the Oceanic Driver had sunk and where the five hundred civilian ships were gathered for the world’s largest fireworks festival. It also showed the Destruction Fes on its way to kill the Vanderbilt lady along with countless other civilians and it showed the Baby Magnum and Legitimacy Kingdom forces moving to intervene.
The student took all that information in.
He looked across everyone’s faces and cast the die of fate.
“If we give up, a hundred thousand civilians will sink into a sea of blood and the Oceanic Driver’s resolve will be wasted. Also, Frolaytia has ordered us to keep that from happening. I will obey that order. I’m not telling you to die here. I’m telling you to draw out every ounce of strength needed to survive. So what will you do? It’s a thin, thin thread, but we have the chance left to us by the Oceanic Driver. The rest is up to you. You need to decide here whether you’re going to hear me out.”
No one objected.
Ten minutes later, the worn-down soldiers all took their battle positions.
A two-hull ship was exactly what it sounded like: a ship with two hulls.
The Rose & Lily was constructed from two cruise ships measuring four hundred meter long. They were lined up side-by-side with a few passageways connecting them. The ship had been made so large to secure more storage space and deck space, but this increased the resistance against the waves and water which reduced the fuel efficiency.
One of the hulls bore the Winchell family crest and the other bore the Vanderbilt family crest. In reference to some legend or another, a single sword was stabbed into the middle of the central connecting passageway.
A lot could be said of its origins, but none of that mattered at the moment.
The main player of the Celestial Flowers fireworks festival was not that lodging ship. Instead, it was the many ships belonging to fireworks craftsmen that were spread out around the cruise ship.
The event itself was mostly entertainment for the rich nobles.
It was the same as the nations that spent massive sums of money exploring the moon or deep sea in an older age. “We have the technology to do this.” “We are this wealthy.” “We have plenty to spare, unlike the rest of you.” By implicitly stating those things, they could build up a mistaken long-term strategy against their foreign enemies. By consuming an unnecessary countermeasure budget like water, they could indirectly torment their enemy without firing a single bullet or shell. In that way, this too was a type of war.
Of course, that was nothing more than an excuse and a pretext.
The nobles loved wine more than water and sought casino chips more than cheap meat, so they were not about to begin any stingy self-sacrifice even if the world was going to be destroyed tomorrow. They might flick some bread crust over to a charity, but they would never allow their great fortunes to be stripped from them in the name of “justice” or “self-restraint”. They would put any amount of work and argument into allowing themselves to live their hedonistic lives.
Five hundred ships had gathered around the Rose & Lily for the Celestial Flowers fireworks festival, but popular opinion had been guided on multiple levels so this festival of gluttony would not provoke the ire of the commoners.
On the Rose & Lily’s portside deck – the one engraved with a rose – the Vanderbilt lady sighed and leaned back against the railing overlooking the dark sea.
Normally, over ten thousand fireworks and the canopy of the artificial aurora would have decorated the sky while far too much food to eat was lined up and a world-class violinist provided the music for an elegant dance.
But that plan had been called off, so the sky and sea were both dark.
The nobles in dresses and suits were muttering amongst themselves and extra focused on their own safety. Not only could they no longer see the Oceanic Driver which had been sent out to protect them, but fragments of information were showing up concerning the unknown Object headed their way.
“It apparently has to do with the conflict between the Winchell and Vanderbilt families.”
“Then what does it have to do with us? I-I know. I don’t mean anything too much by it, but is it too late to request a helicopter? Yes, wouldn’t it be lovely to go for a flight between the fireworks and the aurora?”
“Don’t be stupid. If it really is an Object, its anti-air lasers will tear us to pieces. And it would be hard to reach land this far out at sea.”
The young lady could tell many eyes were glancing her way in the darkness.
(How careless. This is an age of war, so you never know who is after your life the second you take a step outside a safe country. In fact, being in a safe country doesn’t guarantee anything. And yet they fully believe they alone are safe.)
When they left their safe country despite the danger, were they contacting people from another world power to tear down both sides’ prejudices and reach a true mutual understanding that could stop war without military might?
Or was it merely a sham without any of that framework?
It seemed the VIPs gathered on the Rose & Lily did not know how to tell the difference.
“We can never let this happen, but…hypothetically. Hypothetically speaking, just to put our minds at ease…how powerful is this Winchell Second Generation? If it is on a rampage, who can stop it?”
“Why is this happening? This wasn’t part of the plan. I was promised absolute safety…”
“My family will never die! Ancient documents show it going back for five hundred years!!”
“But just because something was fine yesterday doesn’t mean it can’t fall apart tomorrow, right? Ah…ah ha…ah ha ha ha ha…”
The pressure grew.
They had lost their fangs and claws and they had grown round and fat, but when it came to their own safety, these nobles could be more tenacious than greedy wolves. They would never say it directly, but through various hints and metaphors and with the help of the secretaries by their sides, they were telling each other the following:
“This comes down to the historical conflict between those two families, so why do we have to be caught in the crossfire?”
“I only care about the survival of my family and I am indispensable as far as that is concerned.”
“The Winchell girl will be satisfied if we offer Vanderbilt to her as a blood sacrifice.”
“That means there’s something we can do here.”
“If we tie up that young lady and hand her over to the crazed lioness, we can show her we have no intention of opposing her.”
If those unpleasant nobles had been the only people at the fireworks festival, she would have abandoned them already, but unfortunately, there were also plenty of unrelated commoners. She would have trouble sleeping if she also abandoned parents who had saved up their limited pay and leave to bring their families or the couples who had secretly bought a ring for this occasion.
The Vanderbilt lady removed her back from the deck’s railing. She grabbed a glass of nonalcoholic champagne from a tray held by a passing maid in a long skirt and she calmly walked through the darkness while drinking it. The nobles were too busy practicing their wise-looking poses to think and parted in front of her without saying a word.
For the time being anyway.
Once the scales of the situation tipped too far, those ladies and gentlemen would restrain the girl’s body with more vulgar looks than thugs in an abandoned part of town.
Perhaps to show a sign of neutrality within the strained atmosphere, a courageous member of the commoner crew spoke to her while wiping down the glass door leading inside the ship.
“Lady, where are you going?”
“Unfortunately, it seems there is still something I must do.”
Faithful young men like that were the Legitimacy Kingdom’s treasure. As a noble, she could not allow those people to be killed needlessly.
She left the empty glass with him and entered the ship.
Azureyfear Winchell was behind this attack. Her goal was undoubtedly the annihilation of the Vanderbilt family and the death of this young lady as a symbol to hold up to the world. But could Azureyfear really have accomplished such a grand plan on her own? And could she really have kept it hidden for so long?
There was a possibility that something was still hidden.
Someone may have given Azureyfear a helping hand to benefit in some way.
And the White Lily of Vanderbilt had already heard someone say something curious.
The truth may have been surprisingly close by.
The starry sky covered the dark ocean of the South Atlantic Ocean.
Quenser, Heivia, and the others were rushing around within the gray aircraft carrier. The soldiers were all pulling out the motor-equipped rubber boats made from the Armadillos. They stopped up on the deck and Heivia looked out to the horizon.
“I can already see the lights of the boats. Those people on the cruise ship are paying a visit to the garden of death.”
When the other idiot did not answer, Heivia asked about it.
Despite being an idiot, Quenser had a thoughtful look on his face.
“Did I do something wrong in a past life or something?”
“It’s just…well…I’m not sure how to put it! First that Black Uniform named Meena and now the sexy little sister Azureyfear. Why!? Does every girl I flirt with end up growing a demon’s tail from her cute ass!? I’m scared! Now I can’t hope for any new love!! I’m gonna end up afraid of love!!”
“Talk about awful taste. Don’t tell me you actually had a thing for that monster Azureyfear. Ugh, just the thought is giving me the creeps.”
“Of course I did! She was walking around in a bikini and she even kissed me on the cheek! Yes, I’ll admit she was suspicious! But I thought there was more to it than that!! Why wasn’t there some kind of twist!? Stupid, stupid, stupid!!”
During that hopeless conversation, Heivia hit Quenser on the head. The student started to complain, but then he noticed something.
The Princess was walking over while surrounded by several maintenance soldiers. She was on her way to board the Baby Magnum after its hastened maintenance.
They did not even need to speak.
As Quenser and the Princess passed by, they reached out and slapped their hands together.
They were shifting their focus to the coming battle even if they had to force it.
“Oh, hell. This has already started, so I guess we have to do it.”
“Yeah. And if I don’t show off to my fiancée every once in a while, she’ll lose interest in me. Let’s blow up that remote-controlled Destruction Fes as the world’s biggest firework.”
“And once that’s over, it’ll be time to give Azureyfear some sexy punishment!!”
“Are you still going on about that? It’s scaring me!”
“You might have your girlfriend over there, but this is the only motivation I’ve got here!!”
Quenser and Heivia joined the other soldiers by throwing their rubber boat into the dark sea and then jumping down from the flight deck. After starting up the large motors, the boats scattered in different directions instead of heading in a single group.
There was a simple reason for this.
Frolaytia spoke to them over the radio.
“We can’t use the White Flag here and the Destruction Fes has an overwhelming advantage. Listen. We can only roll the die of death to find out who dies first. Even if that turns out to be those of us here in the flagship, you all need to keep going. Don’t let them end this while just sitting there!!”
In addition to the low-stability plasma main cannon, the Destruction Fes could emit an ultra-high frequency acoustic weapon from its peacock feather-like speaker units. At close range, that could destroy an entire fleet or stop an enemy Object.
Anyone in an exposed rubber boat was out of the question.
However, the risk of being torn apart remained even inside a steel warship.
They did not know who would die first, so they could not allow the entire battalion to be wiped out at once.
That said, this was a lot like digging a bunch of small trenches and hiding inside them so they would not all be wiped out by a single bomb. There could be no hard feelings no matter who the bomb made a hole-in-one on. That was the only option available to them.
“That’s a hell of a way to motivate us. What ever happened to clean wars?”
“What is it, Heivia? Quieting down now isn’t going to trick anyone into thinking you’re an intellectual.”
“Why didn’t the Destruction Fes…no, why didn’t Azureyfear finish this off right away? Average speed for an Object is five hundred kph and hers is a Second Generation with its high-speed mobility as its main selling point. The attack should have begun before our patched-together cardboard fleet showed up.”
“Because she actually wanted Knight Quenser to stop her!! Heh. These delinquent girls are always turning their damaged eyes my way!!”
“I don’t care how hard you try, there’s no making that failure into some cute little girl!!”
“Then how should I know? I don’t know how nobles think. Maybe she wants to finish off her sworn enemy herself. Maybe she thinks it would damage the ‘legend’ if the Princess showed up and one of her stray shells happened to sink the Rose & Lily instead.”
“Or…she might just want to kill my fiancée in front of me,” suggested Heivia with a bitter look.
Then static ran through the two idiots’ radios.
Someone they did not remember having permission was sending a transmission over an open line.
“Heh heh heh…”
It was a noble laugh that sounded like rolling a piece of candy on the tongue, yet it also contained endless sadism.
“How do you do, brother? Where do you think you’re going? Might it be a desperate struggle to save the Bitch of Vanderbilt that I have let live for the time being.”
Quenser looked to his own radio and prepared to send a certain signal to the Princess in the Baby Magnum and Frolaytia in the small aircraft carrier.
“It is no use. No one can capture me. In fact, my own whereabouts mean nothing to the Destruction Fes. Even if Azureyfear Winchell is taken prisoner or killed, the ten thousand operators, the stealth submarines scattered around the world’s oceans, and the satellites in orbit will continue the fight. Not that I expect you would be able to hunt me down anyway.”
“Who do you think you are? Do you think you have an infinite stock of privilege as a noble?”
“Ah ha ha ha!! Brother, you are the one that needs to bear the responsibility and duty of Winchell. I am merely taking on the debt you failed to pay back. But don’t feel bad. We are family, after all.”
Winchell and Vanderbilt.
War and peace.
What was the reality on both sides and what were the delusions on both sides?
At the very least, it seemed Azureyfear wished to open Heivia’s eyes. And to do so, she wanted to kill in front of him.
Heivia clenched his teeth and a report came in from the Princess.
“The Destruction Fes is approaching from thirteen kilometers southwest of my position. Once it is within ten kilometers, I will engage it.”
“What? Isn’t that around where the Oceanic Driver was sunk?”
Quenser grasped the meaning of the data quicker than anyone else.
“Hm. You were acting like a god, but it looks like you weren’t all that almighty.”
“Commoner, I possess a tolerant and merciful soul, but you are not needed in a conversation between nobles. Know your place.”
The student ignored her and continued.
He was expressing his thoughts, something everyone had equally.
“Don’t act so full of yourself when you’re terrified of getting hit right in the ass. The Oceanic Driver was a Second Generation with several large capacitors in addition to its normal reactor. That allowed it to fire its laser beams with no gaps, but even after it was sunk, it might have had a program to launch an attack from beyond the grave using the massive power left in the capacitors. You were slowly making sure that wasn’t the case. You were afraid of being hit with a surprise attack!!”
Quenser’s guess was that the Oceanic Driver could not actually do that. No matter how powerful the capacitors and transformers were, they were no replacement for the extraordinary reactor. But Azureyfear’s faction had feared that risk. They had feared that formidable foe.
The Oceanic Driver had done more than fight to the death.
Even after its death, it had given the rest of them the chance they needed.
The Rose & Lily and the other five hundred ships were still intact with the hopelessly powerful Destruction Fes so close, but that was undoubtedly thanks to the time bought by the Oceanic Driver. The defender of Saint Helena had done its duty and fulfilled its mission.
How could they let that go to waste?
“Don’t let her get to you, Heivia. That thing isn’t perfect. They’re afraid like normal and they’re putting together countermeasures like normal! It’s nothing more than a normal Object! Our ally proved that. We just have to fill in the gap between the ideal and reality!!”
After saying that to his awful friend, Quenser shouted into his radio.
“Frolaytia, please get started! This is the starting line! We can still end this with zero sacrifices!!”
A massive machine passed by the rubber boats.
It was the Princess’s Baby Magnum.
The mountainous silhouette of the Destruction Fes turned their way in the darkness. The peacock feather-like acoustic weapon units were spread out wide.
A thunderclap-like noise continued without end.
It stabbed at their ears, but Quenser and the others were not knocked out at this range. However, the acoustic weapon’s power would grow the closer they got to the source. They could see the Baby Magnum’s speed dropping as if it was being buffeted by a fierce wind or invisible pressure.
“Dammit! This thing’s dangerous!!”
“Are all these waves due to the ocean surface vibrating? Shit! If we don’t pay attention, we’ll be thrown from the boat!!”
“Hee hee. Hee hee hee hee. The Orchestra System is working well. The ten thousand wolves will now devour the lone Elite.”
“Now you’re really pissing me off. I’ll show you what true piloting looks like.”
The Destruction Fes was not going to pay her any heed in a normal fight.
It was unmanned, so it could ignore the limits of inertial Gs that bound a manned Object. The boosters attached to the side of the insect leg-like units provided overwhelming speed and reversals while the acoustic weapon’s “wall” kept the enemy Object from moving. Their relative speeds widened to fatal levels, so it almost felt like it could control time. The Destruction Fes would calmly circle around to the blind spot of the Baby Magnum’s cannons and unilaterally pummel it to death.
“Eh heh heh. Heh heh heh. Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha!!”
Azureyfear must have had the same destructive vision in mind because her laugh reached the entire army over the radio.
But she was wrong. Quenser had a different vision in mind.
“It seemed strange once I thought about it.” He stared at that goddess of victory from the rubber boat. “That acoustic weapon uses countless speakers to create a wall of noise that vibrates the target, shakes and tears apart the molecules, and causes it to rupture at the weakest points, like the welds. But Objects move around at an average speed of more than five hundred kph. Even more so with the Destruction Fes since its high-speed mobility is its selling point. In that case, you can’t ignore how sound works. Even if you’re emitting the optimum wavelength, that wavelength can be stretched or squished depending on the situation.”
“You mean the Doppler effect?” asked Heivia.
“That means the Destruction Fes’s speakers have to emit a wavelength that takes into account the distortion due to the Doppler effect. It has to accurately read in the relative location and speed of its target. It has to do that initial checking and correction before emitting the sound, and that of course has to be done with something faster than sound.”
Quenser waved the radio in his hand.
“Namely, electromagnetic waves. As I’m sure you can guess from the existence of the term ‘Doppler radar’, electromagnetic wavelengths can’t escape the Doppler effect either. And while the wavelengths are different, light and electromagnetic waves are pretty much the same thing. First it emits microwaves in every direction to see how they’re distorted between itself and the target. Then it uses that data to calculate out the corrections needed for the acoustic weapon and sends out the corrected waveform at high volume. …To put it another way, restricting those initial microwaves will nearly defang the acoustic weapon.”
“An acoustic weapon that creates a wall of pressure that can even stop an Object sounds like a big deal, but if you think about the nature of electromagnetic waves, it isn’t much of a threat.”
Of course, simply using jamming was not going to help just because it was using radar. It was an Object, so it was essentially a large-scale military fortress in and of itself. It could force its way through your standard interfering signal.
But that just meant they had to think bigger.
Quenser snapped his fingers and pointed up into the starry sky.
“The Celestial Flowers fireworks festival just so happened to have an interesting event planned! A collaboration of fireworks and an artificial aurora created with the help of a space station!!”
The civilian Venus-class space station was named the Princess Nikolaschka.
It belonged to the Legitimacy Kingdom’s Organization for the Peaceful Use of Space.
It was currently 20:30 Greenwich Mean Time and the space station was in sector I-9 above the South Atlantic Ocean.
A giant blue planet was visible below and an endless expanse of darkness was visible above. Directions, including above and below, meant nothing in outer space, but since he had been born on the earth, the astronaut named Marcus still found it to be a strange and dizzying sight.
Those aboard the space station called it the “Fish Tank” because it had lab modules and solar panels installed at right angles around a thick cylindrical main shaft. Several more facilities were similarly attached to the slave shafts that branched off, so overall, it resembled a fishing hole’s fish tank made from several rectangular wooden frames connected together. Those extra frames extended from the main shaft at 120 degrees intervals.
Wearing space suits and attached by a lifeline, the astronauts were clinging to the exterior of the station and working without the option of wiping the sweat from their brows.
They were working on a strange railgun that they referred to as the Debris Homer. Rather than an uncivilized military weapon that fired shells, the barrel opened wide and released a field of power to shoot back debris without touching it. It was a safety device to be used against the debris that arrived like a sandstorm at several kilometers per second.
“Marcus to control. The socket replacement is complete. It’s a perfect job. This peaceful station has been transformed into a military facility. To be honest, it kind of want to break my arms right now.”
“Those SOBs are all insane. Don’t they know this is a civilian station? I hate the smell of gunpowder. I came all the way up here to answer kids’ questions over the satellite line while I throw paper airplanes! As a kid, I loved watching those shows while looking after my little brother, but now I feel like I’ve ruined it all!!”
“Stop it, Robin. Space development has always been a proxy war. We have to do this dirty work while the kids can’t see us.”
The countdown from control began, so they restrained their chatter. They relied on their lifelines to move along the station’s exterior and reach the safe zone.
In that soundless world, the invisible stream of solar wind was bent and fired toward earth.
But the earth’s atmosphere was effective. It protected the life living below from the threat of ultraviolet rays, radiation, heat, falling objects, and more. Most of the unnaturally bent solar wind was blocked by the ionosphere. Hazy red, green, and purple light danced over one portion of the blue planet.
Robin spoke while watching the light spread with an amoeba-like motion.
“An artificial aurora, huh?”
“That’s not the main event here, Robin.”
The aurora occurred when solar winds – massive amounts of plasma launched from the sun – collided with the magnetosphere surrounding the earth and gathered at either the North or South Pole. When they contacted the magnetosphere, the solar winds had their electrons and protons separated and those particles reacted with the ionosphere to produce light.
And a few side effects of the aurora had been noticed.
One of those was of interest here.
“Loss of electromagnetic signals in the polar regions.”
Robin may have been starving for a chance to lead a children’s educational program because he began explaining.
“Very high frequency communications and microwave communications will ‘vanish’ in the affected area. Although this might be the first time in history it hit an Object-level radar emitter.”
Just as the Destruction Fes was ready to attack, it seemed to stumble a little.
Its acoustic weapon had cut out.
Instead, the night sea grew so still and silent it seemed to hurt the two idiots’ ears.
“Ksshhh! Kssssshhhhhhhh!! Click!!”
Their radios were dead.
They could no longer hear the Princess or Azureyfear.
“What? So if the communications are down, does that mean its remote control is out too!?”
“It isn’t that simple. I’m sure it’s got multiple systems like lasers to cover this kind of thing. But it still had some effect!”
The Destruction Fes resumed moving a moment later, but they were not done doing things Azureyfear’s faction did not expect.
The Princess’s Baby Magnum rushed straight forward. As soon as the Destruction Fes’s acoustic weapon was cut off, it seemed to have been released from the invisible pressure or fierce wind facing it. It had incredible speed, like a rubber band that had been stretched back to the limit.
“Thanks to the activated ionosphere, very high frequency waves and microwaves ‘vanish’ here. That affects the Doppler radar it uses to determine the wavelength correction it needs. After stumbling like that, it can’t use its wall of sound anymore! Even if it scatters sound at random, it can’t maintain the most effective wavelength!!”
The Destruction Fes was still incredibly fast, but the Baby Magnum was freed from its shackles.
It was freed from that hopeless field of relative speeds so different the enemy seemed to be controlling time.
The Princess could move.
She seemed to leap forward.
Blinding light crossed paths. The Baby Magnum and the Destruction Fes had both fired their low-stability plasmas cannons while taking evasive actions to the side. They had of course used their main cannons. It was like crossing lances in a jousting match.
The Princess just barely managed to dodge.
The Destruction Fes being remotely-controlled by Azureyfear’s faction had one of the outer peacock feather-like parts torn away. It could be heard whipping through the air as it rotated through the dark sky like a metal tower.
It fell toward the cruise ship several kilometers away.
“Hey!” shouted Heivia from the boat.
“It’s better than an attack from that thing’s main cannon. More importantly, she hit! The Princess’s attack hit!! Without the acoustic weapon slowing her down, she can shrink the gap between them. At this rate…”
The student trailed off when a bit of static ran through his radio.
“Quenser, something isn’t right. The fact that you’re getting this should tell you that.”
“Wait a second, Princess… Why is the radio working? The artificial aurora should be killing the signal!”
“My radar was down for a moment, but it’s back up now. The same should be true for them.”
Quenser and Heivia looked up.
What was happening in that starry sky? Without the assistance of the space station, the Destruction Fes could resume its high-speed fight that made it feel like time had stopped.
The astronauts had other things to worry about.
Marcus and the others were busy clenching their teeth as hundreds or even thousands of shards as sharp as a razor or box cutter rained down from outside the space station.
“I’m fine. There’s no hole in the ass of my jacket. More importantly, what was that? A killer satellite!?”
Satellite-destroying satellites were exactly what they sounded like.
A satellite was launched for the sole purpose of destroying an enemy nation’s satellites. Some would use powerful lasers or electromagnetic signals to damage their sensors, some would fire rockets or missiles, and some would be loaded with explosives for a suicide collision. It was known as the saddest and most fruitless field of space development.
This time, it was a collision model. It took the same orbit as its target, used boosters or an ion engine to slowly approach, and then detonated itself.
Explosions had no sound in outer space. Without any air resistance, the shrapnel did not slow down. Plus, the slightest cut or hole could cause fatal damage to equipment or human life. It was a deadly sandstorm that approached in absolute silence. Perhaps only those up in space could truly understand how frightening that was.
“They’re scattering a ton of debris out here. That’s against the treaties.”
“The solar panels on Module C and Module D were taken out. They even blew a hole in one lab module.”
“But given the situation, I doubt this was an indiscriminate attack. They had to have been after the anti-debris cannon. Dammit. It hurt aiming that safety device toward the earth.”
Explosion after explosion tore apart the framework of the Fish Tank. The main shaft was still unharmed, so the entire station would not fall apart and their living space was safe. However, the damage to the parts exposed on the exterior was bad. The railgun and a few solar panels had been damaged and bent.
They could no longer provide support to those on the surface.
However, they doubted the enemy would withdraw. They had spare parts inside the station, so destroying the station and slaughtering its crew would be the quickest method of crushing any possibility of repairing and reusing the railgun.
“Here they come,” muttered Marcus.
People in unfamiliar space suits were visible here and there. They had likely clung to the side of the satellite partway through its flight. They held rifles. The fingers of the space suit would not have fit, so the trigger guards had been cut away.
The astronauts had no way of knowing, but they were from Azureyfear’s faction that was controlling the Destruction Fes with a worldwide data network using a large number of stealth submarines and satellites. Their reach extended to the deep sea, the surface, and even space.
“Wait, wait, wait!” shouted Robin. “We’re civilians! We don’t have guns!!”
“We don’t have to do this their way. Robin, Anderson, you have your work lights, right? Twist the focus to concentrate the light on a single point. On my signal, let’s all target their faces one by one.”
“Our lights? Are we supposed to fight the bad guys with our light swords?”
“This is a lesson I’ve learned in my long time as an astronaut.” Marcus quietly sighed. “When taking a commemorative photo in zero gravity, you mustn’t use the flash. If you blind yourself, you lose your sense of balance and your body seems to move on instinct when you stiffen up because you end up spinning around until you don’t know which way is up. …Let’s take them out in the same way.”
In outer space, there was no need to force the enemy to the ground or knock them out. Once the enemy lost their balance, they could be thrown out into the emptiness of space. Even if they had attitude control boosters, the fear and panic of an out-of-control spin was not something they could break free of on their own. Without anything around to support them, they would helplessly continue their flight until their oxygen tank was empty.
“Their rifles are the same. If they pull the trigger in zero gravity, the recoil will flip them around. That would change if they pressed their backs against the station’s wall before firing, but we won’t let them do that. This is a civilian station, so if they want to fight a war, we’ll have them do so elsewhere.”
Heivia loudly clicked his tongue as he stared up into the night sky from the boat floating in the dark sea.
“Is it siesta time on the station up there!? What do we do, Quenser!?”
If the Destruction Fes regained its full abilities, the Baby Magnum could not win. In fact, no Object on the planet could stand up to a Second Generation with that speed and maneuverability.
They needed to seal off its acoustic weapon without using the space station’s artificial aurora.
If they did not make this work, Heivia’s girlfriend and one hundred thousand more lives would be lost.
Quenser looked around and then brought his radio to his mouth.
“Princess! Hold on for now!!”
“That isn’t something you can do just because someone tells you to. I’ll do it, though!”
The two Objects began to move.
Once more, the din of the acoustic weapon ruled the battlefield.
Fortunately, the Princess had torn away one of the Destruction Fes’s peacock feathers. That created a dead spot in the acoustic weapon’s reach. The Princess continuously moved toward that outer edge and did whatever she could to not be swallowed up by that slowing pressure.
But not even that was perfect.
The Destruction Fes truly was fast. It always occupied the most useful spot and fired its low-stability plasma main cannon toward the Baby Magnum. As payback for before, it tore away one of the seven main canons and melted the spherical main body’s armor with a glancing blow.
The intense noise must have been affecting the amplitude of the ocean’s waves because unnaturally tall waves appeared all over, forcing Heivia to cling to the boat as he let out a yell.
“There’s nothing stopping it anymore! What do we do, Quenser!?”
“If we can stop the electromagnetic waves that guide the acoustic weapon, we’ll have the upper hand again.”
“Your everyday jamming won’t cut it.”
“What about chaff? Fill the night sky with tons of thin metal and it will reflect the electromagnetic waves. Its radar will be useless.”
“But where are we gonna find that!? That aircraft carrier was prepared in a hurry, so there won’t be much left inside its fighters. And we’d need hundreds of tons of chaff to throw off an Object’s control system!!”
But Quenser calmly tossed his radio to Heivia.
“That’s your job.”
“Have you forgotten where you secret lover is? This is the world’s largest fireworks festival. And do you know why fireworks are colorful? Flames change color when they react to certain chemicals or metals. Ten thousand or a hundred thousand should be enough. If they fire all of their fireworks into the night sky, it’ll block the Destruction Fes’s electromagnetic waves and thus its acoustic weapon! So beg her to do that for us! Hurry!!”
Explosion after explosion sounded as colorful light filled the night sky.
“Honestly, don’t make it sound so easy.”
The Vanderbilt lady sighed inside the Rose & Lily.
The rose was the Winchell family’s symbol and the lily was the Vanderbilt family’s. That was enough to know what a close connection she had to the ship, but she was still only a guest at the fireworks festival. Winchell was the one running it and their maids were moving about through the ship. And since this was the “normal” Winchell family (i.e. not Heivia), it was not exactly a pleasant atmosphere for a member of the opposing Vanderbilt family.
(Well, Vanderbilt also has its issues with the main family and the branch family. And that’s only getting worse recently. I’m the only heir to the main family, so if I died, the riffraff from the branch family would gain more influence in the inheritance issue.)
And even if she had been the one running the show, it would have been unreasonable to have the fireworks prepared by craftsmen around the world fired randomly into the night sky while completely ignoring the original program.
She had only succeeded by working up the manager’s fears by eloquently convincing him that holding onto all the unnecessary explosives might be considered intent to fight, thus leading the Object to attack them.
For a noble woman, knowing how to protect her family without picking up a weapon could be seen as a necessity.
And the more she pushed things, the more her position on the ship was worn away.
The scales were tipping.
Once it crossed a line, the savage-looking nobles would tie her up and give her to Azureyfear as a present to ensure their own safety.
She did not have much time left.
But she could not escape Azureyfear by boarding a helicopter or lifeboat to flee the ship.
What could she do?
After some thought, she slipped through a staff only door.
Like all luxury cruise ships, the Rose & Lily had a large server and satellite communications facility for casino card readers and day trading. She stepped into the server room that had communications equipment lined up like shoe lockers or bookcases.
She compared the numbers of the many guest rooms with the letters on the servers and traced her fingers along them while walking through the room. She finally stopped at a certain point.
“This is the one.”
After the sudden attack from Azureyfear’s Object, quite a few voices had filled the party deck. Most had been groundless bluffs and ways of protecting oneself, but one of them had caught her attention.
“Why is this happening? This wasn’t part of the plan. I was promised absolute safety…”
(What a fool. I’m guessing he fanned the flames between Vanderbilt and Winchell, gave Azureyfear some help, concealed all sorts of information for his own sake…and then got caught in the crossfire at the very, very end.)
Once she took aim, she could more or less guess who it was.
Now she needed something to confirm her speculation.
The Vanderbilt lady pulled a handheld device from the chest of her dress. She had borrowed it from those pretending to be spies in the Winchell Countermeasures Office. She connected it to the server’s socket with a cable and monitored the communications of a certain room.
However, she was not intercepting the data from a suspicious mastermind’s room.
As a noble, she had been taught not to do anything that risky. “I have no memory of that. My secretary or butler did it all.” That was something all nobles had to learn.
“If I place a camera in my own room, it doesn’t count as spying.”
That was why she was viewing her own room.
If the mastermind was fanning the flames between Winchell and Vanderbilt for his own benefit, then he would be constantly monitoring the actions of those in both families. If she could find some trace of that, she could find a clue leading back to him.
All of this qualified as justified self-defense.
Nobles and royals had to defend the people who served them, so what qualified as self-defense was quite broad. As per the concept of noblesse oblige, the greater one’s authority, the greater their responsibility, so they carried the customary obligation to actively protect those under their care. Of course, just like the Island Nation’s idea of Kiri-Sute Gomen, it was only ever interpreted in ways that benefited the privileged classes.
“Now, now, now. Who was it that assigned the rooms for this fireworks festival? Rather than breaking in after I checked in, it would be a lot easier to place me in a room that already had a data-stealing gimmick installed in the wireless router. Whoever was in charge of that must have been bought.”
She had no specialized data processing skills, but she detected a suspicious looking entry on her device and sent it to the Countermeasures Office to hand it off to a great number of personnel. She had no idea what kind of magic they used, but a long list of results came back in no time. They may have actively search out the technicians who had completely failed as a member of an organization and thus could not be left in the military. In other words, they were the kind of hackers that could only live in the world of a movie.
A somewhat vulgar smile came to the girl’s lips when she finally spotted a certain name within the deep, deep electronic forest.
“I knew it.”
It was the same as the person who had spoken on the party deck.
As one could guess from his careless statement, he was a Legitimacy Kingdom VIP who the press often targeted as a mass-producer of gaffes. She felt like the spinning compass was finally pointing in a single direction. She shifted her focus from the Rose & Lily’s internal network to the external internet connection. After sending another request to the Countermeasures Office, another answer came back almost immediately.
She had asked for back issues of an electronic newspaper saved by one of the major communications companies.
She found an article from around when the conflict between families had grown beyond a secret feud and into full-on military conflicts.
(This is even more obvious. The Vanderbilt and Winchell families have conveniently clashed twenty-one times around the same time he made some kind of gaffe. That diverted people’s interest from that less interesting news and allowed him to escape taking any kind of responsibility.)
Nobles and royals seemed to believe in bloodline above all else, but there were always exceptions. If a family was deemed unable to protect its people, the entire family would “fall” and lose its noble status. Or if an individual was considered an exceptionally harmful example to the public, they would be “banished” from their family. And when banished, producing any children could spread their genetics and spark revolt during succession issues, so they would be charged with inciting rebellion. In other words, they were legally castrated. Heivia had gone against the wishes of the entire Winchell family and yet he had not been banished. That showed just how far one had to go to be banished, but it also meant that one could have the protection of their privileged class taken away if they did go that far.
This man had wanted to escape banishment.
But instead of closing his loose lips, he had covered it up with an even larger commotion.
This was a safety device for him.
No one from the heads of the families to the families’ butlers knew what had started the centuries-long conflict between Vanderbilt and Winchell, but someone had definitely been using it in recent years.
(Where should I strike to drive out some actual dirt?)
She decided on the things connected to the Vanderbilt family. And even then, she limited herself to the sports clubs, beauty parlors, restaurants, and salons she normally visited, not the private property. If they all had a similar setup to her room on the ship, the data would all be gathered in one place after traveling through several different servers. If necessary, she could have Heivia check on the places the Winchell family tended to visit.
Simply gathering the data was meaningless. It had to be analyzed to use it. If he was gathering the data on both families in one place and quickly determining how to drive the two families into an even larger conflict each time he made a gaffe, he would need greater analysis than even the weather forecast.
And the more a unique weapon was used, the more one could see the unique outline of the person using it.
The facilities that could pull that off were limited and the people with connections to those facilities were even more limited.
Once she knew what she was after, she only needed to send a request to the Countermeasures Office. Then she would only have to wait. They would use their specialty to swiftly hunt down the flow of money behind this. They would find all the necessary evidence.
She did not think this would fully resolve the problems between Vanderbilt and Winchell, but she could nip at least one disaster in the bud.
(The communications cut off now!?)
She was not using the sketchy Wi-Fi at a café. She was using the satellite communications antenna the cruise ship used for casino card reading and day trading. She doubted the signal would go down that easily.
Just as she began to think the mastermind was blocking the signal, the answer reached her.
She heard a loud explosion.
“Oh, all those fireworks Master Heivia asked me to have launched are acting as chaff.”
The pieces of copper and other metals had reached a certain density in the air and started to disturb the signal. It ended up harming her position, but she could not resent it when it was a request from her fiancé.
She could no longer send a request to the external Countermeasures Office.
She could not rely on those experts, so she would have to find another way on her own.
Instead of finding the analysis facility from the multiple points of data leakage, she would have to find some more direct evidence.
(The wireless router they tampered with in my room. Whether they modified the software communications log or the hardware, it would be fastest to get the device itself.)
That meant her adventure was not yet over.
She would have to return to her room when she had no idea when the nobles would give into their fear of Azureyfear, overpower her like a mob, and make a human sacrifice out of her.
She gave a truly annoyed sigh, but immediately took action.
It was the weakness introduced by her love for her fiancé that drove her to action.
And as she left the server room, she muttered a certain name.
That man was almost certainly guilty.
She was aware he often made gaffes, but rather than shut his loose lips, he had thoughtlessly and arrogantly decided to hide his problem behind a war between nobles. He was truly a terrible example for his people.
And with that in mind, the young lady moved her lips as a trail of tense sweat ran down her cheek.
“Or perhaps I should call you ‘Your Excellency’. Isn’t that right, Mr. Royal?”
The fireworks swept away the darkness of the sky and sea.
A deluge of light covered it all.
An incredible number of explosions overlapped with each other and filled the space, but that was not enough on its own. The copper and other metals used to color the flames acted as chaff and once more prevented the Destruction Fes from using the electromagnetic guide for its acoustic weapon. Depending on the range, that weapon could tear a fleet to pieces or stop an Object in its tracks, but it was dead once more.
“This is our chance, Quenser!” shouted Heivia on the boat.
“But it isn’t a guarantee.”
Despite the opportunity, Quenser did not lose sight of the situation. He continued coldly analyzing the information that worked against them.
“This only took out the acoustic weapon, so it still has its legendary speed. The Princess can’t win unless we take out those special boosters on those three legs.”
“………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………How many more climaxes is this gonna have?”
“We need to observe, Heivia. This closed the gap a little, so the Princess can last a while longer.”
The problem was not the air cushion propulsion device below the spherical main body. It was the insect leg units with the boosters attached to the side. By firing those all at once, it could pull off those lightning-like back and forth movements that a manned Object could never reproduce.
And those boosters were not emitting flames like a rocket.
“We mentioned it before, but it’s shooting a liquid out. Seawater would be the likely suspect, right? It would be pumping it up and firing it out. If that’s how it gets its propulsion, can’t we just dive down and block up the pump opening?”
“I doubt it’s that simple,” muttered Quenser. “Heivia, the Destruction Fes uses an air cushion propulsion device.”
“What does that matter!? Aren’t the boosters the problem!?”
“The air cushion suggests it’s meant for use on water and on land. Then what does it spray out for its speed on land?”
“Did you think they can’t use it on land? Not a chance. Azureyfear said she would exterminate the Vanderbilt family and that she would start with your girlfriend. Even if she joins with the hawks of your family later, they’ll want an amphibious Object that can operate in all environments to hunt down all those nobles scattered around the world. A purely naval Object doesn’t mesh with their design philosophy.”
“Then what? When it’s on land, does it stick a tube into the ground to dig up some underground water!?”
The student thought for a moment.
“Heivia, with the radios down, we can’t rely on our handheld devices’ maps. I need to investigate this based on memory, so help me out.”
“What could you possibly do now!?”
“I want to follow the route the Destruction Fes has taken in this battle.”
The two idiots used the rubber boat’s large motor to travel through the nighttime sea with no real landmarks. The dark sea would have thrown off their sense of direction, but the reflected colorful light of the fireworks messed with their senses in a different way.
Still, they somehow managed to find a remaining band of bubbles.
They stopped the boat and Quenser scooped up some seawater in his water bottle.
“What are you doing? It’s not like we have an examination kit!”
“Eyesight will be enough.”
Quenser showed Heivia the bottle as it reflected the fireworks.
“See those black specks?”
“What the hell are they?”
“Iron sand, most likely. The Destruction Fes’s boosters were never meant to spray water. They gain thrust by firing dirt like a railgun or coilgun. And of course, they use the iron and iron sand in the dirt as a ‘framework’.”
“Wait. You mean…?”
“Seawater conducts electricity, but that wouldn’t be strong enough.”
“Yeah, you don’t really hear about people making magnets out of seawater.”
“So just like mixing in diamond dust to increase the strength of an industrial water cutter, they’ve mixed in some iron sand to give themselves that ‘framework’. That way they can fire the water out with even more power.”
Heivia looked to the distant sea.
Even now, the battle between the Baby Magnum and Destruction Fes continued. A stray shot could fly toward the cruise ship and other ships at any time.
The sight was enough to squeeze at his heart, but he also noticed something else.
“Damn that fraud. I was taken in by the impressive appearance… I was taken in by Azureyfear’s fighting style.”
“Yes. It may look like it’s freely moving across the battlefield with unbeatable speed, but it’s really only fighting while moving back and forth across an extremely limited area. It’s retrieving and reusing the iron sand its boosters have scattered around. Of course it is. If it doesn’t have a filter to absorb the rare metals dissolved in the seawater, it can only use its limited stock during a naval battle. It isn’t replenishing its iron sand out of thin air.”
“B-but waiting for it to run out would be too reckless. The Princess is only barely getting by…no, she’s being worn down bit by bit. If she lets her guard down for just a moment, she’ll be hit straight through the center. We can’t hope for a long-term battle against something so fast.”
“I know that and that’s not what I’m going for.” Quenser tapped his temple with his index finger. “We don’t have to wait around for it to run out. If we take that stock away from it, it’ll stop in no time.”
“We already have the answer. We’re going over there next, Heivia. Get the boat moving.”
Before asking for details, the delinquent noble did as he was told.
The rubber boat almost seemed to hop along the nighttime sea filled with dancing colorful lights.
They were nowhere near an island or continent. They were surrounded by ocean in every direction, so the only things they could be approaching were the Objects, the aircraft carriers and cruisers where Frolaytia’s group waited, and…
“We’ve finally gotten them directly involved,” said Heivia as he operated the large motor that doubled as the rudder. “Welcome to the Celestial Flowers fireworks festival, I guess! Since we’re here, maybe I should go pay that lonely kitten a visit!!”
“If you’re going to ask a girl on a date, pay attention to your hair and clothes. Show up in that sweaty uniform and she’ll slap you.”
“Ha ha. You don’t know the first thing about nobles, Quenser. She’ll play rock, not paper.”
“Hey, if you’re going to get all lovey-dovey about your girlfriend, can you at least pay me? It sounds like more work than being a fortune teller under an overpass, but I’m willing to listen if it pays!!”
There were five hundred ships, but they came in all shapes and sizes. The biggest were the Rose & Lily and about ten other cruise ships that rivalled an aircraft carrier in size. The smallest were more like wooden river-crossing boats with plastic roofs. Some had such simple designs that taking them out to sea would clearly be suicide, but the cruise ships likely supplied water, food, fuel, and other materials like they were air refueling tankers.
The hundreds of ships were packed in over only a few kilometers, so it looked like a boat bazaar filling a river. It grew difficult to continue on even with the rubber boat. Quenser and Heivia climbed from the boat to a ship and jumped from ship to ship from there.
“That’s weird. I don’t see anyone. They’re all launching their fireworks without anyone onboard.”
“That’s convenient. They’re probably all gathered on the cruise ships. A panic here would cause the ships to start running into each other and they’re all packed full of fireworks. Who knows how far the damage would spread.”
The world-class fireworks craftsmen had likely known what would happen to radio signals when they launched their products, so they were mostly being launched by timers or wired connections.
“More importantly, where are we supposed to go!? Tell me already!!”
Quenser pointed into the distance where a giant structure seemed to lean over several ships.
“The wreckage of the acoustic weapon’s peacock feather the Princess tore off! It’s a giant speaker, so it has to have giant magnets inside. And a ton of them!!”
The Destruction Fes mixed large quantities of iron sand in with the seawater to fire it out like a railgun or coilgun.
Quenser wanted a large number of magnets.
“This is everything we need. Now we just need to set it up.”
“Wait a second!! Watch out!!”
As soon as Heivia cried out, a blinding light swept across the ships.
It was the Destruction Fes’s low-stability plasma main cannon. A fair distance from the two idiots, it slipped between a few of the cruise ships, yet dozens of the smaller ships vanished in the light. Some had simply been vaporized and others had been set alight by the intense heat, igniting the fireworks.
A chain reaction of large explosions followed.
Flowers of unnaturally colored flames meant for entertainment blossomed here and there. For the ones the size of a small fishing boat, the explosive force of the fireworks must have overpowered the ship’s weight because they were launched into the night sky like rockets. As their silhouettes fell apart in midair, a few of them approached Quenser and Heivia.
“Shit! Jump in!!”
Quenser reflexively crouched down, but Heivia grabbed his collar and threw him into the dark sea. As soon as they both plunged into the thick water, a muffled explosion and a blinding light erupted overhead. The fireworks in the falling boat and in the one they had been standing on must have ignited.
The explosions continued with no sign of ending, so the flames may have spread to the neighboring boats.
Quenser tried to rise to the surface in search of air, but Heivia held him down and forced him along. They only surfaced after diving below another ship and reaching a spot that seemed to be shielded from that ground zero.
“Bwah!! Cough, cough!! Cough, Cough! Ohaheh!!!!”
“I have no idea what you’re trying to say, but I’m not accepting any complaints. This spot won’t be safe forever either and we have no idea which ship will blow up next. If you have something to do, then hurry up and do it!!”
“Cough! Cough, cough!! Ugh… But if the Destruction Fes’s stray shots are finally ending up here…”
“Yeah, the Princess isn’t perfect. She’s gradually being pushed back this way. If she wasn’t protecting that final line, that probably would’ve been a direct hit on the cruise ships!”
The Vanderbilt lady left the Rose & Lily’s server room, walked down the corridor, and quickly doubled back after turning the first corner.
Men in black clothes and sunglasses were clearly headed her way. They were still walking rather than running, but they were clearly hurrying toward a certain destination. Plus, they either had special armor or mechanical strength enhancements because their suits swelled out from within and their feet sank deeply into the carpet.
She pressed her back against the wall by the corner and took a breath.
The wall and floor were trembling from the sounds of the fireworks and an unpleasant sweat appeared on her brow.
Just as she prepared to turn around and take another path, an elderly male face appeared nearby.
“Pardon me, lady. I did not mean to frighten you.”
He was gentle-mannered, but he wore the same black clothing. White gloves covered his dried twig-like fingers and he held a small handgun with a silencer attacked.
He held it close enough that the muzzle nearly touched her belly and he smiled.
“Please come with me, lady. You will understand why soon enough.”
“Surely you aren’t planning to take me to His Excellency of the Eggnog family. These are not my formal clothes and my family insignia is in my room. I doubt I would be given permission to have an audience with him.”
“Do not be silly. Do you really think we would put His Excellency or his honor in danger, lady? This will all fall under the category of ‘I have no memory of that. My secretary or butler did it all’.”
As expected of a royal servant, he was well trained.
(Now, will they tie me up and sacrifice me to Azureyfear or will they directly silence me while disguising it as the former?)
She placed a confident smile on her lips, but she was filled with anxiety on the inside.
There truly was nothing more she could do.
However, her pride as a member of the Vanderbilt family did not allow her to let it show.
She took her first unwilling step at the insistence of the silencer-equipped gun.
A moment later, she heard a few muffled gunshots and the old man collapsed to the floor after receiving some powerful blows to the back.
The Vanderbilt lady had no idea what had happened, but the situation did not wait for her to catch up.
“Lady, please get down.”
She heard a dignified female voice.
Someone gently slipped past the young lady as if clearing the way for her, but then she fired another shot into the head and heart of the collapsed old man. The woman held a fully-auto machine pistol. It of course had a silencer equipped. She pulled the slide back, poured a bit of mineral water into the gun through the ejection port to increase its airtightness, and did not hesitate to poke her head out from behind the corridor’s corner.
Flag Eggnog’s pawns had been rushing this way, but they were eliminated almost too easily. Those royal bodyguards had been a little lacking in skill due to their overconfidence in their equipment, but making it look that easy showed just how skilled this woman was.
The muffled sound was much quieter than the fireworks outside, but it squeezed at the young lady’s heart much more. Those blasts were meant to summon death, so they were fundamentally different.
The woman had silver hair and wore a chic maid uniform with a long skirt.
The eyepatch covering one eye and the machine pistol were dangerous looking, but something else caught her attention.
“Oh? That maid uniform… Isn’t that the kind used by the maids that serve a Winchell family manor?”
“My apologies, lady. I still haven’t introduced myself, have I? I am Karen I. Winchell. Not only have I seen you a few times at our residence, but I believe I handed you a glass of nonalcoholic champagne at the party earlier.”
“Do not worry about it. I am merely a maid. While I have been graciously named a member of the Winchell family, it means nothing on the bloodline front. My middle initial stands for ‘imitation’ and the Winchell name is a title awarded me by my master.”
A few more maids wielding guns joined her.
As someone who was constantly being escorted, the Vanderbilt lady could tell this was a bodyguard arrangement.
She thought for a moment.
“I have a few questions.”
“First, I advocate disarmament and strive to resolve the Legitimacy Kingdom’s internal and external problems with words rather than weapons.”
“We are aware this is not your preference, lady. But we will do what is in the interests of our revered and beloved Winchell family as a whole. Losing you here would be a major loss to Winchell.”
“Second, the people you defeated here are connected to the Eggnog family.”
“Lady, there are always loopholes. They carefully created an environment that left no connection back to their master in case they had to dirty their hands. But that also means that their master cannot accuse whoever might strike back at them. After all, they have made sure he and the criminals are entirely unrelated. There is no chance whatsoever of a battle breaking out over revenge. The system prevents it.”
“Three, are you prepared to oppose the overall will of Winchell and assist Vanderbilt, their official enemy?”
“I must admit, that one is harder to answer.”
The eyepatch maid smiled a little, but her lips twisted fiercely as she continued.
“But if you kick the bucket here, that snot-nosed brat will cry. I’m saying I can’t stand to even imagine that look on his face, lady. If it means protecting that smile, I’m more than willing to be branded a traitor.”
That was all she needed to hear.
The Vanderbilt lady and the Winchell maid shook hands.
“Lady, we are your pawns. Please tell us what our next move should be.”
The young lady also dropped her almost coldly elegant speech.
“Take me to my room. If Flag Eggnog is intentionally pitting our families against each other as damage control for his gaffe, he will definitely be monitoring my actions. I need to retrieve the wireless router he’s tampered with and find the evidence linking back to him in either the hardware or software.”
Additional insufficiently trained footsteps approached.
The maids from hell checked the remaining ammunition in their silencer-equipped machine pistols and poured mineral water in through the ejection port to increase the sound suppression.
“What shall we do about any obstacles on the way?”
“You should of course avoid combat as much as possible. I’m a pacifist after all.”
The young lady’s position had not changed.
“And if that doesn’t work, just slaughter them all! Slaughter every last person who stands in the way of my marriage with Master Heivia!!”
Muffled gunshots rang out.
A girl in love had endless possibilities.
The main battle between the Baby Magnum and the Destruction Fes approached as Quenser and Heivia watched, but that did not change what they had to do.
They wanted the gigantic speaker used as an acoustic weapon. More specifically, they wanted the electromagnets inside.
The two idiots grabbed onto a nearby ship and climbed onboard again. They jumped from ship to ship among the eerily colorful explosions to reach the fallen peacock feather.
“If the lineup of fireworks is destroyed, won’t the chaff vanish and won’t the acoustic weapon come back to life?”
“Even if the fireworks completely stopped now, it wouldn’t immediately eliminate all the metal in the air.”
“Shit! The Destruction Fes is really pushing forward now. It’s coming this way!! Is it trying to crush us by running us over!?”
“That’s actually exactly what we need! Help me out, Heivia. Let’s keep our work to a minimum!!”
They had finally reached the wreckage of the acoustic weapon leaning over several of the ships.
Even if it was made to be put together or broken down by human hands, Objects were made to withstand a nuclear blast and it would be difficult for the two of them to manually tear it apart. They spotted a speaker that had separated from the entire peacock feather due to the impact of the fall and Heivia lifted it up using a crane-like device attached to one ship to transfer cargo. Quenser dragged some plastic gas cans and metal drums from the nearby ships and attached those “floats” to it with wires.
“Throw it now! It won’t sink like this!!”
“Damn this thing’s scary. If I’m not careful, I think our ship might flip right over.”
With a loud splash, they tossed the giant speaker – or rather, electromagnet – into the dark sea.
Quenser than borrowed one of the cables used to send signals to the fireworks.
“We don’t have a power source to match an Object reactor!”
“We don’t need one! The electromagnet will still work as long as it has power! …Yes, yes. The ship’s large diesel engine will work as a generator. If I connect it here…!!”
The Destruction Fes arrived a moment later.
Dozens and even hundreds of ships broke apart as easily as styrofoam as it fiercely tackled them. It was going to skim right past Quenser and Heivia to hit the Rose & Lily in the center. And it would set off the fireworks and shrapnel scattered around it, so their human bodies could easily be turned to mincemeat.
The two idiots scrambled from ship to ship, trying to get as far away as they could.
But they made sure not to jump into the ocean and for good reason.
The Destruction Fes seemed to pitch forward as it rapidly lost speed.
The electromagnet had stolen all the iron sand it relied on for its speed.
The Destruction Fes mixed iron sand with the seawater to create the framework it needed to fire the water out like a railgun or coilgun for the massive thrust it needed. So what if a powerful electromagnet sucked up all the iron sand, leaving only the pure seawater behind?
The answer was simple.
The Destruction Fes could no longer use its boosters.
It arrived right in front of the Rose & Lily but could not take the last step, just like a fierce dog held by an invisible chain.
However, its target was a fattened luxury cruise ship.
An Object’s main cannon could easily send it to a watery grave.
They had to settle this before the Object began thinking more clearly.
Worried for his fiancée’s safety, Heivia ignored the fireworks going off all around him and raised his voice. With the metal for the colored flames acting as chaff, their radios did not work. His voice would not reach her, but he yelled anyway.
“Blow it awaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!”
If the remote-controlled Destruction Fes was destroyed, Azureyfear’s faction could no longer move. No matter how many stealth submarines, satellites, and soldiers they had, it all came down to this one Object. Without their ultimate bargaining chip, that pack of wolves would become a flock of sheep. He would no longer have to worry about his fiancée being exposed to that excessive firepower.
The Princess did just as he had hoped.
She took the optimum position while destroying the smaller unmanned ships and she prepared to fire her main cannons without damaging the cruise ships.
The main cannons’ targeting lenses and sensor heads whirred, and…
Something caught Quenser’s attention and he focused again on the Destruction Fes as it was lit up by the countless detonating fireworks. He grabbed a pair of binoculars from the leisure equipment thrown on the deck.
“What is it now, Quenser!?”
“This isn’t right. What is this? What does it mean?”
He was looking at the main spherical body near the top. Specifically, at the entrance hatch. It should have only been for decoration on this remote-controlled model, but it was irregularly opening and closing like a goldfish’s mouth or gills.
Unlike a manned Object, the fully remote-controlled Destruction Fes did not need an oxygen supply system. It did not need a circulation system like the Princess had that used caustic soda to remove the carbon dioxide from the exhaled air so it could be reused again and again.
If the Destruction Fes was taking in oxygen, it would introduce a fair bit of risk. For example, if the dozens of bulkheads along the boarding tunnel to the cockpit could be opened and then closed one at a time in order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…n. That would carry fresh oxygen from one “room” to the next. Of course, without a filter, that method would not protect against a nuclear attack.
Then why would the Destruction Fes even want oxygen in the first place?
Wasn’t it unmanned?
And if not, who was onboard?
The scent of roses filled the small cockpit.
That may have been because she had sprayed the wine of hatred on her skin and hair to cover up the rusted iron smell.
Azureyfear Winchell wore the kind of full-body skintight suits that Pilot Elites wore. Its design was reminiscent of blue mourning clothes with a long skirt. A thin smile could be seen on the lips covered by a translucent veil and a trail of blood dripped from the corner of her mouth.
She was not a Pilot Elite, so she could not actually pilot the Object. The control system was still reliant on the Orchestra System that used tens of thousands of people in dozens of stealth submarines and satellites.
Normally, her presence there would have been unnecessary.
Pilot Elites had been thoroughly optimized in unspeakable ways, but not even they could endure the burden of the inertial Gs produced by the Destruction Fes. Boarding that Object was more than just reckless; it was suicidal.
Then why had Azureyfear done so?
She sat in that tiny and cramped cockpit with her limbs sprawled out limply and her breathing far too shallow.
Red blood dripped not just from her mouth, but from her nose, ears, and eyes too. Nevertheless, the Blue Rose smiled.
“Honestly, what a hopeless brother.”
The conflict between the Winchell and Vanderbilt families could not be stopped.
It had continued for centuries and it would likely continue for centuries more.
She had no way of fighting that, so she had reached a certain conclusion.
“If he intends to push aside all the many other candidates and inherit the Winchell family, then he cannot be so indecisive.”
A hint of happiness filled the Blue Rose’s face.
“Winchell or Vanderbilt? Your own sister or your lover? The time has come to choose.”
If she had simply brought the issue to him directly, Heivia would likely have insisted that he would protect it all, that he would not lose his family or his lover, and that he did not care if that made him indecisive.
But that gray decision would create many enemies. He could easily find himself ostracized by both Winchell and Vanderbilt.
She could not let that happen.
She had said from the beginning that she was taking on the decision her brother should have made.
“Now, brother. Please work towards your own happiness.”
She did not have the courage to publically celebrate his marriage.
Unlike her brother, she could not boldly claim she would bring an end to a centuries-old tradition.
Nevertheless, she had made her decision.
Since her indecisive brother would not, she would choose his lover over her in his stead. If the son of Winchell risked his life to protect the daughter of Vanderbilt, he would have the starting point he needed to make an attack on his seemingly impossible task.
“Kill me and continue forward!!”
Quenser removed the binoculars from his eyes.
He was not even listening to the exploding fireworks or the screams of the small ships being blown away around him.
He looked to the Baby Magnum and Destruction Fes as they were lit by the multicolored flames.
His thoughts seemed to explode.
Quenser Barbotage ignored the awful friend by his side and yelled into the heavens.
“Yahooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!! It’s here!! The Azureyfear purity and redemption fever is heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere!!!!!”
“Wait, wait, wait, wait,” calmly cut in Heivia. “You have no proof. That was all in your head!! And even if it is true, it doesn’t remotely make up for the fact that my sister led a drug war, infected safe countries, shot her bought Black Uniforms to silence them, and blew up a fleet with her secret Object!! She’s one of the biggest criminals out there! She’s the perfect example of an evil girl!!”
“Shut up! I don’t care about any of that! I won’t rest until I get some punishment time with your sexy sister Azureyfear!! I’m not gonna let her quit while she’s ahead by dying a noble death here. Let’s do this!! Let’s drag Azureyfear out of there!!”
The next thing Heivia knew, Quenser had attached a parachute harness to himself. It was likely a leisure item meant for parasailing from the back of the ship. He also borrowed a large emergency hand light that came equipped with a radio, a hand-cranked generator, a large capacity battery, and a rescue strobe light.
“Oh, this’ll affect you too, but no complaints, okay?”
He kicked the lever to get the ship started. Quite a few ships had been crammed together, but the Baby Magnum and Destruction Fes had cleared things out quite a bit. The ship scraped against the panels and chemical materials floating in the water, but it quickly exceeded 100 kph.
They could be crushed by an Object at any moment, but Quenser did not hesitate to pull the parachute’s cord amid the intense wind produced by their speed.
“You might end up being my brother-in-law!”
“Now you’re just creeping me out!!”
The wind struck the parachute and it opened wide. Quenser was thrown from the ship and floated twenty to thirty meters into the air.
The Princess’s mouth had to have been flapping wordlessly as the parachute came into contact with the Destruction Fes while it took a sharp turn.
The cloth got tangled up on the base of the low-stability plasma main cannon and caught there.
Even if it had been slowed, the Destruction Fes was still moving at about 400 kph. That was faster than the Island Nation’s high-speed rail system. It should have torn the human body to shreds.
But Quenser was wearing a parachute that intentionally distributed the weight and a harness that attached to various parts of his body. When skydiving – specifically, in the HALO jumps from extreme high altitude – the parachute was opened during a free dive of around 400 kph. In other words, when used correctly, he could survive that.
“Ha…hah…hah!! Gh…Ha ha!! Wait for me, you damn cutie! I’m not letting you quit while you’re ahead. You’re going to pay for tricking us, sinking our fleet, and blowing away the Oceanic Driver. I’ll make you cry until your face is covered in tears and snot and you rue the day you were born! Let’s introduce ourselves to each other again, young lady!!”
He clung to the base of the main cannon, climbed up, and cut away the tangled parachute that was acting as a lifeline. Once freed, the idiot relied on the emergency hand light to begin moving atop the spherical body.
The Baby Magnum had lost its chance to fire, so it was simply moving back and forth with quick footwork. He had a feeling it was aiming a main cannon right at him, but he figured he was imagining things.
He only needed to move about ten meters.
However, he felt like his organs were being squeezed out of him and his vision quickly narrowed from every direction. He gave up on choking and found it was easier simply not breathing at all. This truly was not an environment conducive to human life. If he let his guard down even a little, he thought he would be thrown out into empty air.
Entering the Destruction Fes was easy.
To obtain oxygen, it was opening the bulkhead hatches in order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…n. One would open and then close, then the next one would. That brought the fresh air in from small room to small room.
But that method allowed foreign objects in as well.
He coughed up some blood and barely managed to arrive at the hatch.
He wiped some blood up with his trembling fingertips and wrote something next to the hatch. Then he tied the hand light’s strap to a protrusion near the hatch and activated the rescue strobe light on the side.
“Let’s do this, you piece of shit. I’ll teach you just how cruel society can be.”
Quenser threw himself into the tunnel when the hatch automatically opened and then leaned against each consecutive bulkhead. He continued moving deeper and deeper toward the cockpit.
It may have lost the boosters that used iron sand and seawater, but it could still produce the speed and inertial Gs of a normal Object.
It squeezed at his organs and he could see the edges of his vision growing red. He also felt an intense urge to vomit. He doubted he would last even a few minutes in this environment.
But that few minutes was all he needed.
Once he reached the cockpit, he only had to do one thing: embrace Azureyfear who had chosen isolation and pull the ejection lever.
Azureyfear Winchell breathed shallow breaths in the small, cramped space.
Her mind was like a narrow thread on the verge of snapping. She was using all her strength to remain conscious because dying in an accident would be meaningless. She needed for Heivia Winchell to kill her himself to show he was willing to cut down his own family to protect his family’s old enemy if it was the right thing to do.
That would be the first step toward stopping the conflict between the families.
She was giving a push in the right direction to the boy who, unlike the Blue Rose, had taken Vanderbilt’s hand and declared the conflict wrong.
Everyone else claimed it was justified because it was a centuries-old tradition, but her brother had followed his heart and announced that those centuries had been wrong.
That true hero had stood firm in the face of powerful opposition.
She was proud of him for drawing out that courage when no one else had been able to.
(And yet he’s such a fool.)
Azureyfear had detected the foreign object.
Someone had grabbed onto the Destruction Fes and had successfully gotten inside.
(If he saves me, everything I have done will be for naught. He will lose the first step toward stopping the conflict between Winchell and Vanderbilt. His marriage will have to be put off even longer…. He knows that, yet he still makes the indecisive decision. That must be where his heart leads him.)
All of her efforts were being wasted, yet she felt her entire body relaxing.
Oddly, she had been waiting for this moment.
The final bulkhead opened and a boy in a Legitimacy Kingdom uniform rushed into the cockpit.
“Yahoo!! Quenser, your knight in shining armor, has arrived! Now, young lady, are you ready to fall in love?”
The Blue Rose of Winchell completely forgot about the pain from the intense inertial Gs.
All expression vanished from her face and she shouted at the boy who had realized the truth and come to protect her.
“I didn’t want you!!!!!”
But Quenser was not about to let that get to him.
He replied with a sharp look on his face.
“I’m not saying I want to be your boyfriend or marry you or anything. I just can’t let you off the hook after everything you’ve done! Some sexy punishment time is still waiting for you!! Should I go with ropes, whips, or candles? Hell, why not go with a little of everything!?”
“Are you an idiot!? No, really. Are you an idiot!? I prepared dozens of stealth submarines, satellites, and the fastest Object ever!! And you’re here to trample on all that effort while thinking with your dick!?”
“Oh, get off your high horse!! After running a drug war, building an Object, sinking a fleet, and destroying the Oceanic Driver, do you really think everyone’s going to go along with what you want!? You’ll look much better with all your efforts ruined as you cry pathetically on the ground and beg everyone for your life!! More importantly, I’m pulling the ejection lever. We’re getting out of here! This is finally over. Plus, we have to share a parachute, so I have an excuse to hold you in my arms!”
“You can’t do that!! And what do you mean an ejection lever!?”
“Hm?” Quenser looked shocked. “Can I, um, ignore that as the airheaded comment of an ignorant noble girl?”
“This isn’t a cockpit.” Azureyfear revealed a shocking truth. “The control system is handled by the Orchestra System managed by ten thousand people scattered around the world’s oceans. I had screens installed so I could monitor the situation, but this is only the box where the cockpit would normally have been installed. Why would they install a single button or lever?”
His thread of hope had vanished.
The two hundred thousand ton Object continued moving at four or five hundred kph, applying intense inertial Gs that rivaled those of a fighter jet.
It was like a fierce compressor using artificial gravity.
And they could not get out☆
As soon as Quenser gave his honest opinion, something happened.
The Destruction Fes finally came to a complete stop.
He did not know why.
There was nothing they could do inside that box and he doubted the Destruction Fes would stop for no reason.
The reason arrived after a short delay.
The fireworks chaff was still in effect, but a transmission forced its way through using lasers or other methods.
That equipment did not belong to any unit Quenser knew of.
Nor had it come from the Baby magnum.
“…is the Legitimacy Kingdom’s Organization for the Peaceful Use of Space.”
He did not recognize the voice, but he knew it was someone who had been fighting alongside them.
“This is the civilian Venus-class space station named the Princess Nikolaschka. Can you hear this? We saw the signal from the rescue strobe light and read the writing in blood near the Object’s hatch.”
Astronaut Marcus placed his hand on the station’s exterior while looking down at the giant blue planet.
“The bloody instructions next to the strobe light were right.”
An unused module had been attached to the battered station.
It was bigger than an industrial refrigerator and it had the Winchell family emblem on it.
“As I’m sure you can tell from this transmission, we’re hitching a ride on your system. We finally managed to capture your satellite and work out the communications format you were using. That allowed us to interfere in your control system. You can’t use your weapon anymore. That Orchestra System came back to bite you.”
To cover the entire world with a large number of satellites, they needed a large number of contact points. That allowed someone to open the satellite’s cover, plug in a new cable, and begin a cyber attack from within the system. There was nothing anyone on the surface could do about that, but things changed for someone up in space. Plus, they had all too much experience matching their relative speed and retrieving a satellite thanks to all their rendezvouses with multi-stage cargo rockets.
None of it had been difficult.
Before Quenser Barbotage had rushed into the cockpit, he had left some bloody “insurance” by the hatch. The space station’s astronauts had read it from orbit and had perfectly carried out the task given to them.
The Orchestra uses submarines and laser communication satellites.
Take control from above.
He had summed it up with those short sentences and the astronauts had quickly located and retrieved a satellite with a receiver antenna and laser rod aimed at both the scene of the battle and the ocean.
“Brave Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers, thanks for providing a distraction and buying some time.”
Robin asked him for a high five, so Marcus pressed his back against the station and complied.
Marcus watched his colleague spinning from the recoil and finished his statement.
“It’s all over now. It’s time you paid for bringing the earth’s conflicts up into peaceful outer space. It’s time you paid dearly.”
The fireworks continued exploding both in the night sky and near the water’s surface.
On the Rose & Lily’s outdoor party deck, the middle-aged royal named Flag Eggnog was sweating bullets.
What was this?
What had happened?
What in the world was going on?
Under Azureyfear Winchell’s command, the Destruction Fes had been preparing to kill the members of the Vanderbilt family and everyone else here, but that monstrous weapon had come to a complete stop. That in itself was a good thing, but how many problems still remained? Wasn’t there some other chain of bad news even after that thing stopped?
He received a whispered reminder from a servant whose black clothes were unnaturally swelling out from within.
“The Vanderbilt lady.”
“Oh, goddammit!! That’s right! She’s trying to get that wireless router! If we don’t get rid of that, it’ll be analyzed and eventually lead back to me!!”
The bodyguard sighed because he had made sure to whisper the reminder and yet the gaffe machine had shouted loud enough for everyone to notice.
The royal seemed to be easily excitable and he had not noticed his mistake. In fact, he began muttering inside his fatty mouth.
“No, that isn’t it. Oh, no. Oh, no. If I don’t trigger a major incident between Winchell and Vanderbilt, I can’t distract everyone from what I said at that press conference! That goddamn press conference! Why do they upload the same news to video sites so many times!? I’ll hunt down and kill every last one of them!!”
“Due to the electromagnetic interference, we cannot currently contact the outside world.”
“I can’t believe thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis!!”
Flag realized people were quickly distancing themselves from him. He was letting things slip left and right, but no one wanted to end up in a royal’s sights because they had overheard his secrets, even if he was the one being careless.
Or perhaps they simply wanted nothing to do with a VIP who was on the decline.
That was when some unnatural static ran through the bodyguard’s earpiece.
He was a truly loyal man.
“A radio transmission has come in for you, Your Excellency.”
“How? I thought the signals were being blocked!?”
The bodyguard did not know the answer, so he could only answer with silence. He removed the earpiece and held out the radio itself he kept on the back of his waist. Flag Eggnog snatched it from him.
“Hello, Your Highness. Do you know who this is? It’s one of the Martini Series.”
“Oh! From the Information Alliance, you mean!?”
The bodyguard was just about ready to abandon the gaffe machine and run off. If it was found out a member of the Legitimacy Kingdom’s royal council had a connection to their enemies in the Information Alliance, he would be charged with more than just treason. It was possible he would be executed right in the palace.
“H-how did you get this line through?”
“We are the Information Alliance. Do not underestimate our primary desire. But to reveal the trick, we used a directional antenna just above the ocean’s surface to get a signal through despite the Legitimacy Kingdom’s fireworks jamming. Ah ha ha ha. That should tell you we’re hiding in the ocean quite close by, but is it in a fishing boat? Or maybe a cruiser?”
“Oh, oh. The Information Alliance is giving me some valuable information for free. Does that mean you still trust me enough to help me out?”
He received a short silence in reply, but he seemed unable to judge what it meant.
“If I can use the radio, that speeds things up. Contact my rear guard waiting outside of this place. With the Destruction Fes in that state, I need to start a war in some other way if I’m going to make up for my gaffe. Even if that means poking at these two hornet’s nests.”
“About that, Your Excellency. This is very difficult to say, but…”
“What is it? Out with it. We’re on the same side, aren’t we?”
“Well, if you insist. …Isn’t it about time we stopped creepily pretending to be friends?”
He did not know what she meant.
His mind went entirely blank.
Finally, he let his emotions take over and shouted back with no real plan in mind.
“Y-you!! Wh-what!? What the hell is wrong with you!? Who do you think I am!?”
“Um, some bastard from an enemy nation we should probably defeat?”
He received what should have been an obvious answer.
“Your Excellency, the Information Alliance may have assisted you with the drug war and in the construction of the Plasma 177, that you’re calling the Destruction Fes, but it was not to help you achieve your goals. We of course had something to gain there and we of course have obtained that. You could say that we’ve reached our quota, that continuing any further would only be a negative for us, or maybe that we chose the wrong person to work with. …Well, you get the picture.”
“What…what are you saying!?”
“Sigh. This is one last favor, okay? You can think of it as payment for breach of contract if you like. The Information Alliance only ever wanted to gather, analyze, and store data on the micro-level mental structure of the noble Winchell family and on its macro-level opposition with the Vanderbilt family. You probably wouldn’t understand, but for a project known as Perfect Browsing, we wanted to gather data on as many sample incidents and disasters as possible. However, we were talking about the nobles near the top of an enemy world power. They are too well defended to easily send spies or saboteurs across borders, so we instead contacted some fool who would open the gate for us from within. The puppet you gave us, Azureyfear, was a very, very, verrrrry excellent sample. You could say the twisted side of the Winchell family is concentrated inside her.”
“Oh? So even someone as talkative as you can quiet down. Or did you finally catch on? We are experts at handling all kinds of information. Our privileged classes can manipulate stock prices with insider trading or rumors while the information illiterate will dry up and die. Spreading someone’s careless gaffe across the internet to ensure a specific target is too panicked to make a rational decision is hardly difficult for us.”
Flag Eggnog felt sweat pouring from his entire body.
This was not right. How could a royal be under someone else’s rule?
But this girl was from the Information Alliance, so she existed outside the Legitimacy Kingdom’s pyramid hierarchy.
“We had thought it might be interesting to gain your trust by gathering and controlling data on Winchell and Vanderbilt to use you as a spy within the royal council, your highest decision-making institution, but it doesn’t look like it will be that easy. Not bad, Legitimacy Kingdom. Your ability to cleanse yourself is praiseworthy.”
He sensed that the conversation was coming to an end.
He was not in charge here, even though he was a royal.
“But it does look like we’ll get an interesting sample. Perhaps I should name the file, ‘Full-Speed Collapse of a Royal’s Life’. Royals are supposed to be thoroughly protected by the preferential treatment of horribly biased laws, so how does one fall to the bottom? The chance to follow the process in real time is suuuuuuch a rare opportunity. We will be making good use of you, Your Excellency. Thank you very much☆”
He shouted in anger, threw the radio to the floor, and crushed it underfoot.
He was beyond worrying about gaffes. He ignored the negative attention he was receiving and pulled a handgun from his sleeve. It was a strangely-shaped self-defense gun that resembled a miniature stapler and held only a single bullet.
“I’ll kill you!! I’ll kill every last person who mocks me!! Grab your guns and follow me. First is that Vanderbilt girl with her evidence! Once that’s over and my position is stable, I can start a war with the Information Alliance to-…”
He trailed off and looked over with bloodshot eyes.
The bodyguard who had been standing next to him a moment before had vanished.
He then heard a loud splash as something heavy fell into the ocean.
“I’ll kill them aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll!!”
Flagg Eggnog set off with the men who had failed to run off in time.
The ferocious Destruction Fes was now as still as a cicada skin.
Heivia blankly stared at it while unable to share any information via radio.
“What? Did Quenser actually save the day with love and courage? With that violent sister??? Please no. Is he really gonna be my brother-in-law!?”
He was nearly crushed by unease, but then he noticed the Baby Magnum making some kind sign.
The chaff from the fireworks continued to provide electromagnetic interference, so the Baby Magnum could not use its radio. Instead, it gently changed the angle of one main cannon. It reflected the light of the burning ships like a mirror in the sun, creating a regular pattern of flashing.
(Is that a message in Morse code? We’re getting pretty analog here.)
Something isn’t right.
That was a worrying beginning.
Was the Destruction Fes going to split open from within and evolve into some hellish second form? Was there going to be some strange claim about this only being 10% of its power? Was it going to turn out it had ten bodies and could only be slain with a holy sword purified by god? Heivia did his best to pretend he had not understood the message, but the Princess said even more.
The cruise ship.
I have too much firepower to intervene.
Heivia looked around and his eyes stopped on a certain point.
The Rose & Lily was supposed to be a safe zone where his secret lover waited. The Princess could observe that supposed safety with countless cameras and sensors and she had determined “something isn’t right”.
The look on Heivia Winchell’s face changed.
With a manly expression, the noble grabbed the bundle of rope at his feet.
He pulled out a large knife and reflected the firelight to respond to the Princess.
He did not hesitate.
Help me out. I’ll settle this.
The Rose & Lily had a two-hull structure.
That meant it kept its overall balance with two hulls arranged like a sleigh. Its name came from the rose as a symbol of Winchell and the lily as a symbol of Vanderbilt. It had been constructed based on the desire for the two families to get along.
Although the peace it was meant to bring was being forever pushed off like the release date of an extremely largescale RPG.
Inside, eyepatch-wearing Karen and the rest of the Winchell maids protected the Vanderbilt lady as they moved along.
Karen I. Winchell had cleared the path to the girl’s room.
After retrieving the wireless router in question, they had broken the window and escaped that way.
The Destruction Fes had stopped and they were on their way to the heliport to use the opened sky route to reach the Legitimacy Kingdom’s 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion where they would be safest.
The last leg of that journey was to the heliport atop the corridor connecting the two hulls.
That flat piece of artificial land had a sword stabbed into it in reference to the legend of the two families.
That was where they were finally caught.
A chubby man with many bodyguards behind him was illuminated by the colorful fireworks and a disgusting smile appeared on his face as he spread his arms.
He was Flag Eggnog, first prince of the Eggnog family.
He was part of the royal council and thus the poor man was targeted by the press as a gaffe machine.
As a royal, he was positioned even higher than a noble.
“Hello, hello, lady. You certainly are making this exciting.”
“Oh? Do you have any idea how it feels to have assault rifles and even a shoulder-fired rocket launcher aimed at me just because I wanted to visit my own room? And I was fairly certain I still had awhile before checkout time.”
“Even if you do, removing equipment from the room is bad manners.”
“True. But what if it contains evidence of someone breaking some more important rules?”
The air strained under the pressure.
Several metallic noises sounded as Flag’s bodyguards and the Winchell maids protecting the Vanderbilt lady aimed their guns at each other.
But the latter group had a disadvantage here.
There was very little cover on the heliport and the bodyguards had special armor and mechanical enhancements under their clothes. It was possible a handgun bullet would be useless except for a headshot. In a shootout, the maids would clearly be worn down faster.
But the Vanderbilt lady did not look concerned.
That did not mean she was not concerned, though. She was intentionally making sure she did not look that way.
“You cannot avoid banishment, Your Excellency.”
She rejected him from a position of superiority.
“If you were innocent, you would not need to put together this sort of plan. I do not even need to check inside the router. You have already made your mistake.”
“Know your place, little girl.”
Whether out of confidence or panic, Flag Eggnog pried open his lips.
Poking him a little was all it took for “the usual” to spill from there.
“Don’t you know how the Legitimacy Kingdom works? Royals are everything in this world! Our prosperity has already been assured!! I am merely playing my part. I may cause some slight trouble, but that is for the best. It fills the stagnant council with activity, leads them to a swift decision, and provides good fortune to the Legitimacy Kingdom’s people. What could be wrong with that!?”
The eyepatch maid feigned ignorance and asked a question while aiming her silencer-equipped machine pistol.
“Pardon me, lady, but that was a little too difficult for a mere maid such as myself. What did he mean?”
“Hm? He was saying he’s about to be charged with treason and inciting rebellion.”
“Nonsense. The nobles are given their position so they might support the royals to protect the many commoners. So fulfill your duty! You are supposed to be knights that raise your swords to fight for your king!!!!”
At this point, one could only be impressed with his stupidity.
He was even simpler than a soda fountain that produced the desired drink at the press of a button.
He claimed his gaffes filled the council with activity, but most likely that was the only compromise the others had found to handle the immense stress he brought them. Doctors focused on making money were likely constantly prescribing those around this man with stomach pills, relaxants, sleeping pills, and another stomach pill for all the other pills they were taking. If those people had heard this, they would likely have applauded and immediately decided to banish him.
Of course, a storm of bullets would kill the girl no matter how emptyheaded the idiot was who had ordered it.
“This is over, little girl. You must pay for so arrogantly stepping onto this royal stage when you were born a mere noble.”
“Lady, as an uneducated maid, I am very confused. Could you tell me what he is saying?”
“He’s saying it’s time for his silly skit.”
“That’s it!! Kill her nowwwwwww!!!!!”
The chubby middle-aged man shouted like he was throwing a tantrum, but the Vanderbilt lady still did not look concerned. She was not emotionless, however. She was intentionally sealing away her expressions and forcing a smile.
“You cannot do it.”
“Like hell I can’t, little girl!! How dare you object to the decisions of one with royal blood!!”
“After all, this is his battlefield.”
She had nothing to base this on, but she spoke as confidently as a dreaming maiden.
“You seem to be mistaken about something, so allow me to correct you. There is a reason I fell in love with the gentleman I did. He is strong enough to pick a fight with the centuries-old rift tearing apart Vanderbilt and Winchell. Meanwhile, the Legitimacy Kingdom’s framework is only about a single century old. My beloved darling has been fighting all alone against something several times that large, so did you really think he would falter before a newcomer like the commoner-noble-royal system!?”
“Don’t make me laugh, you unwanted royal. You have so much social status and yet you’re still a pathetic bachelor who never managed to win a single woman’s heart, so don’t underestimate the normal bonds between a man and a woman! He will be here. Even if the absurd surrounds him and the unreasonable stands in his way, he will come running if his fiancée calls for him! If I call for him as casually as asking for a drink, he would run through the apocalypse itself to come protect me!! There is no room for social status or bloodline there. If his woman is in danger, a man will silently make an enemy of the entire world. He will grab his sword, slay the dragon, and rescue the princess! It can be work, a war, a test at school, a contest, their first date, or anything else. Whether commoner, noble, or royal, they will envision that original image, grab whatever they see as their sword, find their princess, and face their dragon!! That is the driving force that ties together the Legitimacy Kingdom! And it is the framework you so definitively lack!! You utter fool!!!!”
She received no response.
No, she did hear an unintelligible cry.
The gun barrels protecting the Eggnog family and the Vanderbilt family began to move.
However, hadn’t she said something important?
He will be here.
He will come running.
At that exact moment, the Legitimacy Kingdom’s 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion’s First Generation Baby Magnum moved unnaturally close to the Rose & Lily.
It also made a turn that made no sense from a tactical standpoint.
Finally, a long, long rope was wrapped around one of the countless secondary cannons covering its spherical body like a sea urchin or chestnut burr.
Something was hanging from the other end of that rope.
It was Heivia Winchell.
As he was swung horizontally around, he flew through the air with the rope in hand. He was pulled up to the nine meter height of the Rose & Lily’s deck and he collided with the many bodyguards waiting behind Flag Eggnog.
The heavy kick was just like a bowling ball hitting the pins.
Those bodyguards wielded carbines and had special armor or equipment below their clothing, but they were all swept away. A particularly unlucky one crashed right into the helicopter warming its engine to the side. He collided with the rapidly rotating tail rotor and a red smoothie splattered everywhere.
Heivia ignored them, let go of the rope, rolled a few times on the hard heliport, and then got up.
He could not have known the exact situation at that point. He did not know that the conflict between Winchell and Vanderbilt had been intentionally exacerbated or that it had been done to distract everyone from First Prince Flag Eggnog’s gaffes. Nor did he know that the Vanderbilt lady had hunted down the evidence to prove it or that she was working with Karen and the other Winchell maids.
But the noble boy did not hesitate.
He looked across the scene.
He saw his fiancée and he saw who was aiming a gun at her.
That was all he needed.
Heivia Winchell immediately made up his mind based on the rules of the world he believed in.
“Looks like you’ve got a death wish, rich boy.”
A strange voice filled the stopped Destruction Fes’s cockpit(?).
“Stop it, Azureyfear! It’s too late to start with the brother complex!!”
The middle-aged man was completely left behind.
He simply stammered about some unrelated things on the heliport.
“I…I am a royal. I am First Prince Flag of the Eggnog family! Do you have any idea what will happen to a noble family that defies-…”
He came to a sudden stop.
Heivia had walked up, smashed the prince’s nose with his assault rifle’s stock, and grabbed the back of the middle-aged man’s neck as he desperately held his explosive nosebleed.
He did not even have time to reply.
He was thrown forcefully through the air to move him as far from the young lady and the maids as possible. He rolled along, screeching shrilly, and finally found something to cling to with his bloody hands.
It was the sword stabbed vertically into the heliport.
It was mostly a decorative symbol of the two families’ legend than anything, but it was still a hunk of steel. Even if it had no blade, stabbing someone with the tip would kill them.
Half in a frenzy, Flag pulled the one-handed rapier from its pedestal and pointed the tip toward Heivia.
Heivia simply narrowed his eyes.
He threw his assault rifle and military handgun aside and quietly drew a large military knife.
“Nice. I was getting sick of cleaning up all the filth, but this is finally looking a little more ‘noble’.”
“Wh-what do you think you’re doing?”
“We’re doing this like a true king and knight.”
“I am a royal! A mere noble dares turn his blade on me!?”
“You drew your blade first. Sorry, but this counts as self-defense.”
“And aren’t royals considered the top brass of the military from the moment they’re born? Surely you didn’t think you counted as a civilian. You’re not a commoner, after all.”
“I was officially ordered to stop this civil war. And now the man behind it all turns out to be a soldier, he’s holding a weapon right in front of me, and he intends to harm Legitimacy Kingdom civilians. To be honest, I can’t find a reason not to fight.”
Flag belatedly looked down to the sword in his hand, but it was too late. Of course, when most of his senses were numbed from having his nose smashed and he was thrown over to that pedestal, it had been obvious what Flag would do.
Heivia heard a sigh.
It came from Karen I. Winchell as she rubbed her index finger against her temple.
She was entirely onboard with this.
“I am aware it is rude for a mere maid to say this, but according to Legitimacy Kingdom law, commoners are guaranteed the right to punish nobles and nobles are guaranteed the same right to royals. …If someone has gone mad with power, the people may stage a justified rebellion or challenge them to a duel.”
“Did you really think I’d just go home after you threatened my woman?”
“Yoooooooooooooooooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu just had to ruin the excuse I’d given you, didn’t you?”
Even as she pouted her lips, the eyepatch maid narrowed her eyes with a hint of happiness as she viewed her master’s determination. She and the Vanderbilt lady both took a step back.
“A member of the Vanderbilt family would officially be impartial to both parties, so I would like to ask you to be the witness to the duel.”
“Oh? Are you sure? I am Master Heivia’s fiancée, you know?”
“Wait, wait! Don’t just ignore me!!”
“Not to worry. I know you will not judge him lightly, lady. After all, the Vanderbilt family and the Winchell family have long been enemies. Especially thanks to a certain someone. Isn’t that right, Your Excellency?”
“Don’t…don’t ignore me and prepare to turn your swords on meeeeeeeeeeeeee!!”
It was too late.
A clear change came over the way Winchell’s knight held his stainless steel knife. Instead of the style taught in military textbooks, he used one seen in sports. He stuck the blade forward, gently pulled back his empty left hand, and quietly pointed it at his target’s face.
One was a knife and the other a rapier, but the latter’s two or three times advantage in reach did not seem to matter.
The boy was prepared to kill in a single strike.
“En garde. I’ll give your life the brand of loser it deserves.”
(Why!? How!? I was perfect! There wasn’t supposed to be anything to worry about!!)
The knight’s duel used in the Legitimacy Kingdom was generally based around a training method known as phrase d’arme in which each side took turns attacking. One side would strike and the other would knock their blade aside and take their turn to attack. The process would then repeat with the attacker and defender reversed. The duel ended when one side surrendered or was knocked down.
There was no restriction on the weapon used.
The right hand generally held a rapier, but the length and weight could vary. The left hand could hold anything from a shield to a knife or gauntlet to block the attacks. As it was a fight rather than a sport, that was not surprising.
If someone insisted they would fight barehanded rather than use a sword, the duel would still be valid, even if it was basically suicide.
In other words, the duel would begin even if Flag refused to raise his rapier.
Flag tightened his grip on the hilt more because he was overpowered than because he was ready to fight, so Heivia grinned and made a suggestion.
“You can take the first attack, so come on. I’m a noble and the one who challenged you to the duel, so I’ll show my respect for the royal who was willing to accept my challenge.”
To translate that noble language into modern language:
I’ll kill you with my counterattack.
I’ll kill you with a triumphant smirk on my face.
(What do you mean I accepted your challenge, you fool!?)
Flag trembled without end.
He could feel the approaching wall of death. His decisions meant nothing. He felt like he had been ordered to build a bulletproof truck with all the modifications he might want and then ordered to drive it full speed off the roof of a hundred-story building. He could instinctually tell that an unreasonable fate was sealing off any effort he might make.
(Don’t joke with me, you worthless noble. You’re nothing more than an errand-runner who has been lent social status and land by us royals! I won’t die. I refuse to die here!! I have royal blood in my veins, so the Legitimacy Kingdom needs me! Without me, this thousand-year kingdom will come crashing down! So I will do whatever it takes to win. I am allowed to!! The god-given rights of a royal are absolute! Did you really think the likes of you could trample over them!?)
As soon as the middle-aged man’s internal pressure passed its limit, something unbelievable happened.
The dry sound of bursting gunpowder came from Flag Eggnog’s hand.
While he held the rapier in his right hand, he pulled a palm-sized stapler-like device from his left sleeve. It was a self-defense handgun that fired when squeezed.
The scent of sparks wafted up from the small muzzle.
The bullet had flown too quickly to be seen.
And no matter why a bullet was fired, it would still kill whoever it hit. Heivia was not a superhero from TV or comic books, so he could not spot a flying bullet and dodge it.
“A duel? Who cares!? This is a real battlefield! Only the winner gets to survive!! Just because a bug manages to crawl up a little from the dirt doesn’t mean it’s worth fighting properly. A vulgar and rude soul like yours deserves a pathetic death from a surprise attack!!”
It may have been because he was freed from the extreme tension or it may have been one of his usual gaffes, but the chubby middle-aged man shouted at the top of his lungs.
Heivia never collapsed to the ground.
He did not take a single step, his expression remained unchanged, and he had not shed a single drop of blood.
“Why? Why, why, why, why!? This makes no sense! You’re supposed to be dead! What is this, what is this!? Are you saying you cut the bullet!? You’re not some Island Nation samurai, so you couldn’t possibly do that! You can’t do thaaaaat!!”
“Sigh… Of course he couldn’t.” Karen I. Winchell interrupted him with an exasperated sigh. “Not only was it a weak handgun bullet, but that self-defense gun is extremely short and has no sight to guide your aim. These guns you hide in your palm are at best supposed to drive off a thug at less than five meters. They’re mostly just a decoration meant to scare them with the noise of the gunshot. Not to mention that you were shooting from the hip to make it a surprise. …The real surprise would be if it had actually hit.”
There was no restriction on the weapon used for the duel.
Once he made some kind of attack, it counted as his turn. And Heivia had implicitly said the following earlier:
You go first.
I’ll kill you with my counterattack.
Heivia took a step forward.
He made sure to touch the tip of the rapier with his knife to signify it was his turn.
Flag squeezed the stapler-like gun a few more times, but he completely forgot it had only been loaded with a single bullet and it simply clicked in vain.
Heivia focused on the tensed muscles of the arm he held forward as he approached stabbing range.
Flag threw the gun away and quickly raised his rapier. He no longer cared about the duel. He was clearly preparing to stab his approaching opponent, rules be damned. Even as panic and intent to kill filled his sweaty face, he formed a lowly smile and mouthed some words.
I’ll pay you however much you want.
With a dull sound, Heivia’s military knife pierced the man’s heart. It plunged in with enough force that the bloody blade stuck out from his back.
There was no need to hold back.
The corpse’s expression was frozen in a smile and filthy blood flowed from the crescent moon shape like a drain regurgitating its contents. First, the rapier fell from Flag’s hand and then Heivia swung his knife to the side to fling the filth from the blade. This threw the skewered man to the ground and Heivia returned the bloody knife to its sheath.
The Vanderbilt lady put her hands on her hips and spoke up.
“I made it in time for our date, didn’t I, baby?”
The dragon slaying was complete.
In that case, the victorious knight could expect to at least wrap his arms around the princess’s waist.