HEAVY OBJECT:Volume12 Chapter 4
A gag order was quickly placed on the information.
For that reason, the only people aware of the term “infection base” were the top level members of the 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion and the soldiers directly involved in the attack on the Pillar of Truth. If that dangerous information had reached the entire battalion or even spread to the makeshift housing outside the maintenance base zone, there would have been no stopping it.
That said, Quenser and Heivia had only obtained the phrase “infection base”. They did not know where it was controlled or what deadly package had been set up in place of the natto bacteria for soil improvement or the harmless bacteria meant to increase people’s immunities.
Time passed meaninglessly and the date changed.
Frolaytia had apparently been investigating the matter somewhere and she now called a limited group into the briefing room. It was of course only those who knew about the infection base after taking part in the broadcast tower mission.
“I’ve finally found a way we can take action.” Frolaytia looked exhausted as she began. “We found a few possessions among the mangled bodies of the Information Alliance soldiers thrown to the ground from the observation deck. The electronic simulation division and the intelligence division investigated the manufacturer and production number of the key we found. Performing a cyber-attack on the Information Alliance is something I would much rather not do, but we found a few interesting tidbits of information. Well, even if it was used to store military equipment, the manufacturer itself was a civilian workshop. Old-fashioned craftsmen are great at work that can’t be emulated by machines, but they’re weak on the data management front.”
The busty silver-haired commander turned on the projector to display a map of Second Venice on the wall.
“The lock maker made an installation here in the underground block of the west side. That is likely the entrance to the infection base in question. I want you to investigate it.”
“Um, isn’t the deadly package disseminated through the agar mixed in with the soil? Have you found anything in any soil samples?”
“We have found nothing at all.”
Frolaytia answered Quenser’s question while placing a hand on her forehead.
“I had our doctors and medics look into it, but for the time being, there is nothing of note they can see under the microscope. Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any germs, but it’s only what you would expect to find in the soil. They have no idea what this deadly Pathogen X could be.”
“While treating Myonri, we checked her blood and found nothing out of the ordinary. Quenser, you also had a bullet extracted and your blood test also came back clean. There wasn’t a problem.”
“Th-then what is this? Did that Jax guy just jump the gun?”
Heivia asked his question with a thin smile carrying some wishful thinking.
But his busty silver-haired commander did not confirm or deny the possibility.
“It’s hard to say. But the Rush’s actions are certainly worrying. I can’t imagine she would do anything so suicidal unless she had a reason like this.”
And based on a report from the Princess, there was suspicion that the Rush had jammed the Baby Magnum when they were intercepting the Supernovas and the asteroid.
Had it begun all the way back then?
If they wanted to blow away Second Venice and its possible largescale infection, an attack from satellite orbit may have seemed like an effective means of “sterilization”.
“So should we at least assume the talk of an infection base is true?”
“That would be better, but I wouldn’t call it best.” Frolaytia sighed. “Did the virus fail to spread because it could not travel through the soil properly, or is the deadly package still in place and just hasn’t been activated yet? Either way, I want data on this infection base. If we’re going to prove we haven’t been infected, I want data on this Pathogen X… And if in the worst case the device simply hasn’t activated ‘yet’ and starts disseminating it through the soil, I want to remove the deadly package from the device before that can happen. Whatever the case, we have no time. Even without the virus, don’t forget that we have limited food and water.”
However, Quenser and the others did not know what was inside the deadly package or who had set it up. Even if the infection base itself belonged to the Information Alliance, it may have been someone else who swapped out what was to be disseminated.
Who had attacked the astronomer who had predicted the impact from the Appetizer Asteroid?
How much had the Capitalist Corporations in the container yard known and what were they trying to gain by stirring things up with the copied grenade launcher?
The mysteries never seemed to end.
They had far more questions than answers.
Quenser placed a hand on his bangs and muttered a fundamental fact.
“We’ll just have to investigate them one at a time.”
With that, they had to set out for the underground entrance thought to lead to the infection base based on the production number of the key held by a corpse.
“Hm, hm, hm, hmmm.”
“You’re in a good mood, Catherine. What is it?”
“I’ve almost got all my stamps. I’m one away from the full set!! I’m almost too good at this. Heh heh heh.”
They took a hovercraft along the canals to the west side, but they could not bring it the entire way.
“Looks like this is as far as it can go,” said Evans in a short and squat powered suit. “Even if the hovercraft gets us up a little higher, we can’t go any further.”
Quenser did not try to argue. The scene before their eyes said it all.
“This is awful…” said the student as he viewed the city of rubble in front of them.
The canal should have been quite deep, but something like black stone jutted sharply up from the surface. And it was not just the canal. Stones larger than refrigerators had stabbed into the sides of high-rise buildings and gotten stuck. More than that, several buildings had entirely collapsed, creating something like runways.
Heivia stepped out from the stopped hovercraft and voiced his annoyance.
“You’re kidding, right? And this is after the Princess broke it apart in midair? How huge was that nuisance of an asteroid to begin with?”
“The vector was also broken up when it burst in midair, so this was much less devastating than it might have been,” said Catherine.
However, Quenser could not imagine something being much more devastating than this.
When that gang of powered suits looked into the distance, they could see a new landmark in the city of rubble. If they had not known better, they might have thought it was the silhouette of a domed stadium.
It was a piece of the Appetizer Asteroid.
It was dozens if not more than one hundred meters tall. If the asteroid had fallen straight down without breaking up, it could have invited in a new ice age.
Quenser and the others used the power of their powered suits’ legs to march across the float as it creaked disconcertingly.
“I have no idea which road is which.”
“More importantly, what is this noise? Please tell me the entire float isn’t bending under the asteroid’s weight.”
The seawater occasionally welled up from below. It seemed to be spraying from large holes much like the narrow crevices on a snowy mountain, but that was inaccurate.
Evans stopped in front of one crack and made an unnaturally awkward movement of his powered suit’s arm. He may have been trying to wipe the sweat from his brow before realizing he could not.
“Hey, there’s nothing but the ocean below here, right?”
“The bottom is uneven. When they developed the underground, they built it up like an upside-down pyramid, but when they didn’t, there’s only a thin layer between the surface and the ocean. So don’t fall. I don’t know how deep the ocean is here, but you’ll end up on the bottom if you’re wearing your powered suit.”
The buildings had crumbled and filled the pathways like there had been a landslide. In fact, the supposedly flat ground was slanted in some places.
“That isn’t going to break right off at some point, is it?”
“Big brother, wouldn’t it be faster to follow the ‘path’ cleared by the asteroid instead of following the roads?”
The four of them walked in silence for a while.
Quenser asked a question on the way.
“Is the ocean nearby?”
“Why do you ask that, Quenser?”
“Well, I can see a huge silhouette out at sea. The Rush is slowly patrolling the area.”
That was the greatest threat at the moment, but there was nothing they could do about it.
They continued marching through the rubble-filled city with their powered suits.
“By the way, Catherine, what do you want to do after getting into a safe country?”
“Do you want to go to school or play at a park or something?”
“Where did you live, big brother?”
“Paris. The Legitimacy Kingdom home country. Well, I was actually born way out in the countryside, but that’s what feels like home now. My childhood friend named Monica could be dangerous. I’d finally managed to move thanks to my dad changing jobs, but then I ran into her at school! I shouldn’t have chosen the best science institute in the country!!”
He could not see her expression through the powered suit, but he had a feeling Catherine’s shoulders had relaxed.
“Paris, hm? That sounds like fun.”
Meanwhile, they somehow managed to arrive at their destination.
They found a stairway leading down. Originally, it had likely been disguised as some kind of building, but after all the boulders raining down, the boxy building had entirely vanished and only the stairs remained.
“Wow, there really is a secret underground facility here. And this is supposed to be a classy resort for the rich.”
“But this place is all a giant manmade megafloat, so it would have been way easier than if they had to dig out the place with a pickaxe. They may have just rearranged the aluminum and reinforced stainless steel blocks back at the planning stage.”
It looked a lot like the entrance to a subway station.
“I’m guessing it’ll be pretty beaten up down there. Let’s just pray the door hasn’t bent so badly we can’t get it open.”
“We’re in powered suits, so can’t we just break it down?”
“This is an infection base we’re talking about, remember? It wouldn’t surprise me if they used a giant sealed door of thick duralumin. Y’know, like something used for a bank vault.”
They adjusted their grips on their weapons and descended the stairs one at a time.
The solid space of concrete and tiles did indeed feel a lot like a subway station. But large cracks ran through the walls, entire ceiling panels had fallen down, and the wiring within hung down like noodles in a Chinese restaurant.
Quenser noticed something and came to a stop.
“Frolaytia? Can you hear me? …Damn, is it because we’re underground? The signal’s dead.”
“Or maybe they shielded the infection base.”
But something else was more worrying.
“What?” said Evans as he looked around. “This area’s power is still running?”
The fluorescent lights that had not broken were lit. They were blinking in and out and most of them were out more than they were in, but it was still surprising for the west side to have some hint of civilization remaining since it had received the most damage.
“Maybe wind power or solar power? No. If it was on the surface, it would’ve been taken out by the asteroid strike’s shockwave. Maybe they have a backup power source on the bottom…like ocean current power.”
“That’s not a good thing. These wires are torn to shreds. If there’s a short somewhere, who knows how far the fire would spread.”
Either way, they could not rely on the fluorescent lights that could go out at any time. They messed with their powered suits’ cameras to enhance the lighting and then continued on.
Further in, they found a large and imposing door, just like Heivia had feared.
“Hey, look. It’s been cut through.”
“Did the Information Alliance cut their way out after being trapped inside?”
“It was cut from the outside, so I doubt it,” pointed out Catherine.
They exchanged a look with their powered suit lenses.
“Then did someone force their way in?” asked Evans.
None of them had an answer.
Still confused, they stepped through the large door someone had cut through.
And as soon as they did, they were struck by the sound of a weapon firing. It was loud enough to feel like a shockwave.
Being in an enclosed cave-like facility likely helped, but it may have harmed their eardrums had they not been protected.
But they were currently wearing powered suits.
Quenser only saw orange sparks scattering from his chest.
“You son of a bitch!”
“Stop, Heivia! Don’t kill him!!”
Quenser’s words fell on deaf ears.
Heivia was carrying a weapon that looked like a two meter version of the jitte seen in Island Nation period dramas. Attached to both of the branching ends was a “plate” much like the parabolic antenna for a satellite broadcast. The short end had a concave one and the long end had a convex one.
The convex one exploded.
The plastic explosive attached evenly to the surface and the 800 small metal balls meant to further increase the explosive power filled everything in the 120 degrees in front of Heivia.
It sounded like raindrops striking a thin metal roof during a squall, sparks flew from the walls, floor, and ceiling, and every surface appeared to glow orange.
“Hell yeah!! That’s what I wanted from a fancy powered suit. Holding a directional landmine in your hand is completely insane! …Anyway, Quenser, what were you saying?”
“Never mind, you moron! I thought that guy might know what was going on, but you had to blow him to bits with the Halberd!!”
Quenser shouted at Heivia who casually swapped out the “plate” on the end. All that remained was a dark red jelly that would teach them very little. It did not even look like a solid object anymore.
And Catherine did not seem to mind at all.
“But big brother, we were only issued the Halberd, so there’s nothing else we could have done. Well, I suppose we could have punched him with our giant fists.”
“He’d be torn to pieces either way,” said Heivia.
“The convex one is for broad-range anti-personnel attacks and the concave one is for single-point anti-tank attacks, right? Why would Frolaytia only give us such a tricky suppression weapon!? She isn’t writing up reports on experimental weapons to make some money on the side, is she!?”
“The powered suits have big fingers, so they can only use firearms specifically designed for them. The fingers also aren’t suited for taking apart and maintaining a weapon, so it’s best to use a simple but powerful weapon.”
They walked further in while listening to the obedient girl’s explanation.
They occasionally ran into a soldier of unknown affiliation, but they never received much information. After all, their only options involved blasting them to pieces in a single blow. These were soldiers instead of criminals, so they were not going to stop just because they were told to. And the Halberd scattered metal balls in a fan shape, so there was no such thing as a warning shot. It was hard to not hit someone directly and the 800 metal balls would still ricochet off the walls, pillars, and powered suits, so they would blow away the enemy soldiers regardless.
“They really need to ban this thing with a war treaty,” grumbled Quenser.
“I know you don’t exactly like being soaked in people’s dark red remains, but you should be thankful these things are letting us win and survive. It’s working amazingly well for something our busty commander issued us. Maybe she’s finally done pretending she hasn’t fallen for my dashing good looks.”
Meanwhile, they had no results to speak of.
But when they descended some stairs, they found something different.
“Someone’s collapsed over there.”
“Wait, Quenser. Don’t just walk over like an idiot. What if they’re lying on top of an anti-tank mine?”
Idiot #1 ignored Heivia’s warning and recklessly walked down the straight corridor to check on the corpse lying face down. He crouched down and brought his face in close even though he could zoom in with the powered suit’s lenses.
“What is? If his map case or rations are connected to a thin wire to pull the pin from a landmine, I don’t want any part of this. Powered suits aren’t invincible.”
“It’s nothing like that. Look at this, Heivia. Oh, and stand back a little, Catherine.”
“Why should I hold back after all the gore I already saw, big brother?”
Catherine walked right on out. It was somewhat unfortunate when she was supposed to be learning how to function in normal society.
“He doesn’t have any visible injuries. He wasn’t shot.”
“And what’s this? He’s soaking wet.”
Heivia and Evans also nervously approached. A powered suit could deflect an assault rifle, but anything more than that would be dangerous. Their general position was obvious enough from the fact that they had been unable to replace tanks and armored trucks. Simply put, no one believed they were perfectly safe.
Evans seemed to be the biggest chicken because he viewed the corpse while a little further out from the rest.
“W-was he tortured like that?”
“No, Evans, it wasn’t that. He has no marks on his wrists. If he had been bound with rope or kept in handcuffs, he would have scrapes from when he struggled.”
Because Quenser had mentioned the wrists, Heivia looked at the corpse’s arm and groaned.
From the wrist to elbow was a tattoo of two snakes coiled around a single staff.
“I was wondering who these idiots were, but they’re Kerukeion. I don’t even want to touch this.”
“Who are they?”
“A Faith Organization group in charge of bioethics. They belong to the Greek Mythology faction and they’re as insane as you might expect. Well, that last part probably describes just about anyone in the Faith Organization that’s holding a gun.”
“What exactly do they do? Are they ‘anti-sperm bank’ robots, ‘radiation therapy is the work of the devil’ rangers, or something like that?”
“They’re ‘we can use it but no one else can’ warriors.”
“Hmm. That’s just the worst.”
But a bioethics group that would know a lot about medicine and biotechnology sounded quite ominous at the moment. This was an infection base secretly built by the Information Alliance to take advantage of the global tourist location and Quenser’s group was here because some third party had apparently used that to create an incredibly dangerous situation. None of it sounded hopeful.
“I wish we’d done a proper investigation of the group that had captured that old astronomer. They might have used some thick foundation to hide their tattoos.”
“But if the Faith Organization is behind this, isn’t it weird for one of them to be dead here?” pointed out Catherine.
“I don’t see any Information Alliance soldiers, so did they run away? Or were they already killed?” asked Evans from a short distance away. “Either way, we should assume those Kerukeion people have taken over.”
Heivia tried to scratch his head through the thick armor of the powered suit.
“I don’t like the sound of this. We aren’t going to find out they were the first ones wiped out by their own mysterious virus, are we!? This isn’t a zombie movie, so I’m not sticking around for that!!”
“No, wait. This is water and not sweat, right? He only drowned. I don’t think he was killed by a virus or whatever.”
“Then did someone throw the Faith Organization soldiers into some water to kill them? Did the Information Alliance survive, take back their facility, and torture the Faith Organization? Are we not seeing any Information Alliance soldiers because they’ve moved to some kind of shelter somewhere?”
“Wait, Evans. We’ve already gone over this. There are no marks on his wrists, so he probably wasn’t tor-…”
Quenser trailed off.
Heivia’s powered suit swayed to the side, so he may have tilted his head inside.
“What is it? What annoying thing did you notice now?”
Quenser did not respond.
It may have been because he was an amateur student that he noticed it first. He had lowered his eye level when he unnecessarily crouched down to inspect the corpse, so when he looked toward Evans, he naturally ended up looking up.
And then he saw it.
A line ran along the wall near the ceiling which was tall enough that they were not about to hit their heads even in the powered suits.
“What? The color of the wall…changes?”
“No, that isn’t it. It’s water. That’s how high the seawater flooded this room!! It’s taller than the powered suits… I don’t know how it happened, but I think this guy drowned when the corridor was flooded without warning!”
That was when an ominous creaking sound surrounded them and weighed on his stomach.
Heivia looked around.
“Hey, what is that?”
“Oh, no. Just run! We won’t float back up if we’re submerged in these thick powered suits!!”
They were unsure whether they should return the way they had come or continue on, but the sound seemed to be coming from the way they had come. They naturally chose to move away from the oddity, so they ran further in.
Was the entire float creaking as a “wound” in the ground grew wider?
Geysers of seawater burst up from all around.
“Shit, shit, shit, shit!!”
“Big brother, there’s a waterproof door in our way!!”
“We have a Halberd that can break through a tank’s armor, so we just have to blow through that metal door!!”
Heivia shouted from the lead and held out his weapon. Instead of using the convex end that sent the blast over a wide area and scattered metal balls, he used the concave end that focused the blast on a single point to pierce even a powered suit. To avoid being hit by accident, Quenser and the others slowed down to ensure they did not pass Heivia. But…
“What is it, big brother?”
“Stop, Heivia!! The door’s seal is damaged and water is leaking from below! The other side must already be-…!!”
It was too late to stop.
An explosive roar filled the sealed space and a thin spear-like blast tore through the steel door like a flimsy empty can.
Immediately, the fearsome explosion was answered by something other than flames. It was a water gun like water shooting from a dam. With the equilibrium broken, the hinges burst off and the remains of the thick steel door were torn from the wall. It left incredible scratches on the concrete wall, but they did not have time to watch.
They were knocked from their feet even in the powered suits.
In just a few seconds, the corridor was inundated with dirty seawater at waist height. The bloated corpse was swept away and the water was clearly going to reach the ceiling before long. No matter how strong they were, the powered suits would become humanoid coffins if they were submerged.
Catherine was the youngest and the first to make up her mind.
With the sound of compressed air being released, the armor opened. The girl with a blonde braid left the back of the powered suit.
“Big brother, you and everyone else need to take yours off too!! Once you’re submerged, the water pressure will keep you from opening the hatch!!”
“Dammit, we have to swim through a pool filled with corpses? What the hell!?”
Heivia cursed but removed the powered suit as he was told. Quenser took too long, so Catherine and Heivia worked together to activate the external emergency release. The student was dragged out into the dirty seawater, swallowed a mouthful, and got his head above the water as it burned his throat.
“You’re a soldier, aren’t you!? It’s a little late to say you have a phobia of corpses!!”
“This is a mysterious infection base, isn’t it!? We don’t know how far it’s spread throughout Second Venice, but a half-destroyed lab has got to be the worst place to be!! I’m not taking this off!! I refuse to die here!!”
Catherine and Heivia clicked their tongues and reached for the external emergency release like they had with Quenser, but Evans was so panicked he swung the powered suit’s arms around to keep them away.
Meanwhile, the situation reached the point of no return.
The entire float tilted.
However, it was hard to tell for Quenser and the others who were floating in the water. No matter how much one tilted a cup of water, the surface of the water would always remain level.
The truth of the matter was only apparent to Evans whose powered suit was standing on the ground. He seemed to trip over nothing and vanished into the filthy water.
“Evans! Where are you!?”
“It’s no use, big brother! The water is flowing weirdly. It’s probably all pouring into a big crack in the floor!!”
Evans never returned to the surface.
He had likely fallen. Still in his humanoid coffin, he had fallen through the “bottom” of Second Venice where he would simply sink deeper and deeper.
“How long…will his oxygen last?”
“His mind will probably break first while trapped in there and unable to move! We need to report this to our busty commander and have her send out a deep sea probe for him!!”
Quenser and the others did not have time to worry about Evans. A crack ran through the bottom of the float and the “wound” widened as the entire float groaned under the asteroid’s weight, so the amount of water was increasing endlessly. If the water reached the ceiling, only death awaited them.
Catherine grabbed at a handhold on the wall and looked behind her.
She looked to the staircase leading up at the end of the long corridor.
“Let’s keep going.”
“Why!? What do we do about Evans!?”
“We can’t reach the stairs in time even if we let the current carry us! I don’t know what we’ll find further in, but we have to gamble on that!! Our radios can’t reach anyone outside, so if we die, they’ll never know that Evans fell!!”
They were fighting the current and it was too powerful to make any ground while swimming. They had to grab at the handholds on the wall and pipes on the ceiling to slowly drag themselves in through the broken waterproof door.
Everything about the situation was terrible.
But fortunately, the next room had a higher ceiling and the water level stopped after the waterproof door had been entirely submerged. Only the unnerving creaking continued.
Was it due to the waves, the asteroid’s weight, or the west side float slanting with the buildings collapsed on top? Whatever the case, the “wound” seemed to widen from time to time.
“This can’t keep happening forever… The water is only rising or stopping. Since it can’t drain, we’ll be stuck eventually.”
“We can only pray there’s another way out. We can’t turn back now since that long corridor is filled to the ceiling with water. We wouldn’t be able to breathe without oxygen tanks.”
The scariest part was how their survival hinged on some unknown factors. Even now, seawater was trickling in from various points on the walls. The wall could burst and fill the room with water at any time, so their safety could vanish in the blink of an eye.
“We were relying on the powered suits before, but now we’ve only got handguns. If we run into a group of the Faith Organization’s Kerukeion, we can’t win.”
“I just hope they’re too busy dealing with everything else…”
“We’re stuck in the same boat, so we’re dead either way.”
Quenser grabbed a floating plastic tank and handed it to Catherine. The three of them swam onwards with their heads above water. They wanted to climb up onto solid ground again, but they could not be picky. Although they did feel a squeezing at their hearts when they saw some torn cables hanging from the ceiling and scattering sparks just above the water’s surface.
“I hope they have an emergency drainage pump like submarines do,” said Catherine.
“Was this place even designed for a situation like this? I mean, an asteroid fell on it.”
Their conversation was cut short by an unpleasant creaking.
The idiots looked to the tall ceiling.
“Please tell me the wound isn’t widening again…”
“The ceiling’s a lot taller this time, so we should have some room to spare.”
“Did you forget about those wires hanging down earlier, Heivia!? If the water level rises any further, we’ll be roasted!!”
“!! Hurry, hurry!!”
But then something unexpected happened.
The water level actually dropped. Their eye level noticeably lowered and their feet reached the floor. The filthy seawater remained at ankle level, but that was far better than feeling the salty flavor fill their mouth every time they breathed.
“There may have been an unflooded area below,” suggested Catherine. “When the wound widened, the water may have fallen there.”
In addition to what areas were flooded and unflooded, the waterproofing could change things. If they shut all the waterproof doors now, they might be able to secure plenty of oxygen even below the flood line. It was like creating an empty space when screwing up in a falling block puzzle.
But if another wall or ceiling broke, the water would flow in and they would drown.
“Does that mean someone might have just lost their lives? In exchange for saving ours…”
“It’s like a miniature version of war. Including how your actions can influence the lives of people you’ve never even seen.”
Quenser and the others’ safety was not guaranteed. They may have just been lucky as the seesaw tilted back and forth. They wanted to keep moving as soon as they could.
Heivia waved around his soaked military handgun.
“Fresh water is one thing, but seawater can be a problem. Catherine, how’s your gun?”
“It’s probably fine. Big brother, you have no gun like always, right?”
The powered suits were a tight fit, so the spare weapons they could bring with them were limited. They only had those two handguns to fight with. A backpack would have been too bulky, so Quenser had no Hand Axe on him.
They cautiously progressed and closed every waterproof door they came across, but they could only say that was “better than nothing”. If the wall burst open and seawater poured in, it would all be for naught.
“That thing sure is dangerous,” said Heivia as he looked up. “It’s even showing up here.”
The ceiling should have been tall, but it suddenly lowered at a certain point. But this was not due to the building’s structure. The ceiling had been crushed down and they could see black lustrous rock breaking through. And Second Venice was an artificial island of aluminum and reinforced stainless steel, so it had no natural rock.
“Is that a piece of the Appetizer Asteroid?”
“We might have made our way underneath that ‘domed stadium’ we saw in the distance.”
That sent a chill down their spines. That weight was enough for Second Venice to creak as a whole and to allow seawater inside, and it was hanging up above them with no pillars or wires to support it. Who could say when it would crush these puny humans.
“I’m actually glad I don’t have any Hand Axe this time. I wouldn’t want to disturb that thing.”
This area had apparently been flooded at times depending on the exact conditions because a few soaked corpses were lying around.
But these were a little different from the Faith Organization ones.
“Their equipment is different. Are they Information Alliance?”
“They have the same uniforms and rifles, so they’re probably still the Faith Organization’s Kerukeion. They might have had different duties or ranks. Like some guarded the outside while the others did the actual work inside.”
Heivia rolled up one corpse’s sleeve and found the staff and twin snakes tattoo.
The main reason they bothered to check was the corpses’ faces.
“Those are gas masks, aren’t they?”
“They look like octopus aliens,” said Catherine as she reached for one of the masks.
Instead of trying to look at the corpse’s face, she twisted the cylindrical filter and removed it.
She traced her finger across the alphabetic writing on the metal surface before taking it apart and checking inside.
Quenser frowned while leaning over like they were peered inside the same lunchbox.
“Hey, this isn’t activated carbon. What is it? Does it have a drying agent inside?”
“Those masks come in a lot of different types, but this isn’t to protect against poison gas. If it’s removing the moisture, it must be to protect against something biological.”
“Biological…? So like a bacteriological weapon!?”
“I’ve never heard of a drying agent being used against bacteria…”
“That might not be it,” cut in Catherine with her blonde braid. “When I piloted my Object, I remember being told to watch out for this kind of microscopic sabotage in addition to simple firepower. And there was one thing I was warned about in addition to poison gas and viruses. And I think the countermeasure was a drying agent.”
“What was it?”
Catherine readily answered Quenser’s question.
“Mold. Deadly mold.”
This was the situation according to Catherine:
“Acquiring a strange virus or bacteria isn’t easy and it’s hard to maintain their destructive ability. It’s an emergency if they escape and, since they’re alive, you have to look after them or they’ll die. You can’t just leave them in an airtight container. They’re known as cheap weapons, but it isn’t actually that easy.”
“Well, yeah. It would be like living in the same room as some influenza with a 0% survival rate.”
Heivia agreed but did not seem to get her point.
Quenser was also out of his element when it came to biology.
“So how is that deadly mold different? Don’t you still have to look after a creature that kills you if you breathe it in?”
“Not necessarily.” Catherine giggled. “It’s called deadly mold, but the mold itself can’t kill you. The mold can be found anywhere. You just have to alter the genetics of the black stuff that grows between your kitchen or bathroom tiles.”
“But that can’t kill anyone, right?”
“Right.” The small girl readily nodded. “So the mold itself is just the carrier. The toxin that kills people is something else.”
“It can be blowfish or aconite. You just have to make a microscopic powder out of it and mix it with the ever-growing mold. There’s a ton of specialized equipment here, but you really only need to make some slight adjustments to the safe country kitchen equipment to let bread dough ferment. Then when the supposedly harmless mold spreads, the people who breathe it in start dropping like flies.”
“Ugh,” groaned Heivia. “That comes up in a legend about Napoleon, doesn’t it? His health continued to decline while he was kept imprisoned and he finally died a mysterious death, but scholars still argue over whether it was something occult or an assassination. But one theory was that a toxin and the mold in the wallpaper mixed together and slowly ate into his body.”
“I don’t know if this is the same, but I have heard about pollen, dead mites, or other allergens getting in mold.”
“The deadly mold is nothing more than a carrier, so you can control the extent of the damage,” said Catherine. “Even if the mold grows more than expected, the deadly part only comes from the separate toxin. That deadly part can’t be copied, so there’s no fear of it mutating into something incredibly toxic.”
Catherine’s answer was so perfect that Quenser felt a chill down his spine.
“And both the type and density of the material carried by the mold can be controlled. You can make everyone cough up blood and die or you can put them all safely to sleep. To put it another way, it might be easier to think of the mold as a tiny pill or injection.”
“Is there anything it can’t do…?”
It was obvious just how stubborn a life form mold was by the fact that everyone was constantly fighting it in their bathrooms with a sponge and cleaner in hand. The reproducing mold and the deadly toxin were separate, so it could not mutate into something uncontrollable, but it was still not a pleasant idea.
“That would explain why the Rush’s Oh Ho Ho was so desperate to keep everyone here. Mold spores can travel overseas on travelers’ shoes, can’t they?”
Even if they scattered absolute alcohol or lime across the entire city, they could not fully eliminate the mold growing in it. From the grout between tiles to dirt, some would definitely be missed. Even burning the entire city to the ground might not be enough.
And even if not all of it was deadly, the possibility remained, so the entire city would have to be sterilized before they could relax. It may have been the same fear as a minefield.
“But what toxin was Kerukeion planning to have the mold spread to the entire world from this infection base? No one can make a serum or antidote without knowing that.”
“We might be able to figure that out with this.” Catherine looked to the gas mask filter she had opened. “The drying agent would kill the mold, but the toxin itself would remain since it’s a chemical. Just like with a water purifier’s filter, it would all build up here.”
If that was true, they did not need to stay in the infection base any longer. They would need to find an exit and return to Frolaytia at the maintenance base.
However, Catherine’s theory assumed something.
“But wait. That assumes the deadly mold has already been disseminated. If that hasn’t happened yet, there wouldn’t be any in the air and this filter would be clean. The people handling the deadly mold may have worn the gas masks as standard etiquette.”
It was unclear whether the Rush’s Oh Ho Ho had actually sealed off the island after the deadly mold had been released. It was possible she had done so preemptively.
“Come to think of it, our busty commander said they didn’t find anything in the nearby soil or Myonri’s blood. Same for you, Quenser.”
“The mold is found everywhere, so they might have just overlooked it,” said Catherine with uncertainty in her voice.
If the deadly mold had yet to be released, leaving would be the worst choice. They would have been in arm’s reach of the greatest threat but turned back and thus allowed the deadly mold to spread through Second Venice.
“Catherine, let’s take that mask with us. And just to be sure, we should investigate the infection base’s dissemination equipment. If it hasn’t activated yet, we might be able to stop it. And if the mold is never released, the Rush will have no more reason to keep everyone here.”
The blonde braid girl sounded reluctant, but she still nodded.
She reattached the can-like filter to the mask and placed it on the side of her head like at an Island Nation festival. She likely wanted both hands free for her handgun. It had been on the pale face of a drowned corpse, but she did not seem to mind.
“Where’s the heart of the infection base? Is there a map anywhere? This underground facility is huge, so wouldn’t the people using it get lost?”
“Heivia, are you the kind of person that gets lost at home if you don’t have doorplates?”
“You clearly don’t know how many rooms my home has. I’m a noble, remember?”
They did not find anything for a while.
They occasionally ran across a drowned corpse, but that did not provide any new information.
With the giant asteroid blocking the way above them, they continued deeper and deeper until they finally found it.
“Wait, wait, wait. This looks dangerous.”
That was Heivia’s opinion of what he saw.
Unlike everything they had seen before, one room had been kept separate with clear glass. The entrance used an airlock, so it definitely seemed designed to prevent microbes from getting in or out.
They saw no one inside.
The glass walls had shattered from the asteroid impact and only the frames remained on the floor.
In the center was what looked like a broken water tank with a water-filled container inside that looked something like a pot or a spring. A thick metal pipe ran straight down, so it was likely connected to some kind of liquid inside. When the plug was released, the microbes would be sent throughout Second Venice, mixed with the soil-improving agar powder, and scattered across the city.
And something was soaking in the center of the witch’s pot.
It was a synthetic bag the size of a college notebook.
Assuming it was not a bag of pre-made curry…
“Oh, no… The deadly mold has already been set up!!”
Heivia held a hand to his mouth as he shouted his warning, but Quenser frowned and stepped over a corpse to reach the center and all its shattered glass.
“Hey, Quenser. That’s dangerous!!”
“No, wait. Look at this.”
Quenser focused on the industrial computers surrounding the broken water tank and large pot. Most of the monitors had broken, but one of them displayed a warning window.
Catherine approached and read it.
“An unexpected error has occurred. Would you like to restart the work task? Or would you like to continue?”
“Good. I don’t know if it was the impact or the switch to backup power, but it stopped running and hasn’t started back up! If we remove the curry from the pot, we can stop it from disseminating!!”
Quenser quickly turned around and reached toward the bag at the bottom of the pot.
And a moment later, he heard a dry gunshot.
Before trying to find where it had come from or ducking down on reflex, Quenser stared at the deadly mold package.
It had a hole in it.
The hole was only as large as a fingertip, but it had torn apart around that as well.
Catherine grabbed his hips and then swept his feet out from under him. They both fell onto the glass-covered floor, but he could not say for sure that not a single drop of the bag’s liquid had reached him. He had been soaking wet to begin with, so he could not say what was seawater and what was the grim reaper’s seeds.
“You son of a bitch!!”
A few more gunshots sounded. Heivia had shot the drowned corpse that Quenser had stepped over earlier. Except the man must have actually been alive, even if just barely.
Catherine lay on top of Quenser and shouted to Heivia.
“Just grab that guy’s mask!! Hurry!!”
The blonde braid girl reached for the gas mask on the side of her own head. The deadly mold had already been released. The infection base’s work task was still stopped and there may not have been any immediate risk of it escaping the facility, but this room was a different matter.
And between the half-drowned soldier Heivia had killed and Catherine, they only had two gas masks.
One of them would be left out.
Quenser relaxed his entire body as the small girl lay on top of him.
“I’ll just give up here. But promise me you’ll bring me an antidote or vaccine or whatever before I run out of time…”
This was not his specialty, but even he knew it was not that simple. There were plenty of so-called “killer viruses”, but it took years to develop a vaccine after a sample was acquired. And a lot of them were still far from a successful vaccine. Antidotes were developed for chemical toxins, but the initial amount consumed or a delay in treatment often left the victim suffering from severe after-effects.
But as all that passed through his head, something unexpected happened.
While lying on top of Quenser, Catherine pressed her gas mask onto his face.
At first, he did not understand.
And once he realized what Catherine Blueangel’s choice meant, he yelled at her.
“Wait, Catherine! Wait!! Do you understand what you’re doing!?”
He tried to grab the mask pressed against his face, but Catherine kept him from moving by using her legs to hold his torso and arms in place. He tried to move his hips to knock her off of him, but she was holding him solidly to the ground.
Meanwhile, Catherine’s hands moved along the mask. She grabbed the elastic bands and attached it to Quenser’s head.
Quenser shouted over at his unrestrained friend.
“Heivia, do something!! At this rate…!!”
“It’s too late. I’ve been exposed for too long. Placing the mask on me now wouldn’t solve anything. Removing the mask now would only get us both infected, big brother.”
That clearly stopped Heivia from moving after he put on the mask he had stolen from the soldier he had killed.
Unable to move anything else, Quenser desperately moved his mouth.
“That’s fine!! I won’t leave you all alone!! I was asked to help bring you back to a safe country and I swear I will! Why do you have to give up your own mask!?”
Quenser was shouting so loud he thought his throat would tear, but the girl’s lips relaxed slightly as she sat on top of him.
“That’s the last stamp…”
Her body shook.
She collapsed forward.
“ ‘Think about what you can do for a friend in need’…”
It may have helped that she had been lying on top of him already. As her face approached his, her soft lips bumped into his gas mask’s filter can.
It was a flavorless kiss.
After that, she did not wake back up.
Quenser was finally able to pull his arms out from between the girl’s legs. He wrapped his arms around the Pilot Elite’s abnormally hot back and embraced her with his trembling hands.
With the mask in place, he could not even wipe away his tears.
“Goddammit!! I won’t let it end like this!! Help me, Heivia!! Catherine completed everything for the Civilian Acclimation Assistance System, so I swear I’ll send her to a safe country. We should be able to keep the spread of the deadly mold to a minimum right now!!”
Quenser and Heivia both wore the masks they had gained in exchange for someone else’s life and they ran around the heart of the destroyed infection base.
“There has to be some kind of emergency method. It can be lime or absolute alcohol, but there has to be a kit for sterilizing the facility in case a microbe gets out!!”
“There’s something inside this locked cabinet. It’s the powder used to draw lines on the schoolyard during an athletic festival!”
“That’s lime! Heivia, break the glass if you have to, but scatter that around!!”
“What about you!?”
“We can’t disinfect inside Catherine’s mouth, so we have to throw her in a body bag and duct tape up the zipper to keep any more from getting out. She’ll still have two or three hours of air and the mold spores should be larger than pollen. It’s less precise than a virus weapon, so it should be fine!!”
“Oh, I hope you’re right, dammit!!”
Whatever the case, it was a race against time. The fact that everything was soaked from the flooding was a real problem. If the deadly mold began to spread at an accelerated rate, they would have to seal everything off. And that included Quenser and Heivia. If that happened, there would be nothing they could do.
That was the major deciding factor in whether or not they could bring Catherine back to the 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion’s maintenance base zone.
Even if there was no vaccine or antidote and even if they could only fight the symptoms, there was specialized equipment and military doctors there. That would be far better than anything Quenser and Heivia could do.
After sealing up the body bag with duct tape, they poured a bunch of lime powder on it. This girl had saved his life, so it drove Quenser insane that he had to treat her like she was unclean.
“Will that do it!?”
“I don’t know, but at least we haven’t passed out yet.”
But things were not over yet.
The heavens shook.
“……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………Oh, please no.”
Heivia groaned as he looked up.
Something gigantic was moving above their heads.
What looked like black rock was actually a 100 meter piece of the Appetizer Asteroid after it had been broken by the Princess’s anti-air lasers. Or so they had thought.
Had they been wrong?
If it was moving, they had to be wrong.
That black rock had looked so sturdy, but now cracks ran through it from within. And several metal towers came into view. No, that was wrong too. The scale was simply so large that they could not see the whole picture from here. That had only made it look like a wall and towers.
If they had been able to step back and view it more calmly, it may have looked different.
They would have seen a 50 meter spherical main body with cannons covering its surface. That colossal weapon could move at more than 500 kph, it had ended the nuclear age, and it contained a JPlevelMHD reactor that provided the firepower for the giant main cannons which were the one thing that could exterminate others like it.
“What dumbass did this!? Were the parts carried ‘up there’ and then constructed like a ship in a bottle!? Was that Object actually embedded inside the Appetizer Asteroid!? Was it hiding there like that was a ghillie suit made of heat insulation and cushioning!?”
The Princess’s anti-air attack had destroyed the giant asteroid and caused it to detonate in midair, but now that they thought about it, it had split apart a little too cleanly. It may have been customized to do that from the beginning. By cutting into and cracking the asteroid with an Object’s firepower, it had been remade into a vehicle for reentry.
But which world power had done it?
Was it the Faith Organization’s Kerukeion who had planned to disseminate the deadly mold? Or was it someone who wanted to stop that by destroying the infection base even if it meant crushing Second Venice?
It had been constructed in space, embedded inside the asteroid, and accurately dropped toward the surface. Its internal systems and the Pilot Elite would also have to have been perfectly preserved, so an unimaginable amount of technology had been poured into this. It would undoubtedly be a cutting edge Generation 2.
“Goddammit… Is this why that old astronomer was attacked? The asteroid was named after him, so he must have checked it on a daily basis. Did he notice something was up, so they came to silence him?”
Quenser Barbotage had come to the battlefield to learn about Object design, but his eyes were not sparkling now.
“Shut up, you…”
He picked up the body bag holding the girl who had saved his life and viscerally felt the approaching time limit. That unarmed boy did not even have Hand Axe this time and his expression was hidden by a mask.
The puny human only had one thing to say.
“This is not the time, you idiot!! Do you want me to tear you apart right this instant!?”
Out at sea, the Information Alliance’s Second Generation Gatling 033 detected the change in Second Venice.
She also glanced over at the swimsuit 3D model in another small window.
“So the Faith Organization’s Coilgun 052 has started moving. Oh ho ho. And I thought it had been smashed to pieces by the impact of the fall.”
Kerukeion had been targeting the infection base since before the asteroid incident, but the Information Alliance’s defenses had been too strong and they had had trouble in their attack.
The Appetizer Asteroid had likely been their Plan B.
The asteroid had made a mess of everything, so the Information Alliance military guards had fallen apart and Kerukeion had taken the facility. However, Kerukeion seemed to have had their own difficulties inside the flooded facility, but there was no need to sympathize with them.
Oh Ho Ho did not know whether Pathogen X had already been disseminated or if that was yet to come. She did not know whether it was fast acting or slow acting. She was not even sure if her higher ups had any accurate information. Her unit’s soldiers had only been issued masks that resembled full-face helmets, collapsible raincoat-like suits, and antibiotics that were general-purpose but had powerful side effects. Since they had not received a specific vaccine or antidote, she guessed that Pathogen X’s identity had yet to be determined.
But that was why the island needed to be quarantined in advance. If a deadly virus with an extremely long incubation period was spreading and seemingly healthy tourists unwittingly carried it back to their various countries, multiple pandemics could begin around the world. And Second Venice had originally belonged to the Information Alliance, so more of the wealthy visitors were from their countries than any other world power.
If Pathogen X’s identity was unknown, allowing it spread in the safe countries would cause a great number of sacrifices. If it took five to ten years to fully develop a solution from scratch, several nations could truly sink into a sea of blood.
“Hmm. This isn’t a great position for an idol dependent on popularity. Oh ho ho.”
So she would stop this here, no matter what kind of misunderstandings the world made.
Between her hidden side and public side, she was needed as the Pilot Elite who controlled bloody wars more than as the swimsuit idol that was dancing on the screen.
“But playing the villain from time to time can be exciting.”
The Idol Elite licked her lips with her small tongue and guessed that the situation must have changed for the Coilgun 052 to stop playing dead now.
Had Pathogen X begun to spread or had some kind of failure led them to shift to Plan C?
As the one enforcing the quarantine, she had to assume the worst. What if the Coilgun 052 had confirmed that Pathogen X had covered Second Venice, so it was going to destroy Oh Ho Ho’s Gatling 033 before making an indiscriminate attack on Second Venice?
Dead men tell no tales.
If they only had to be carriers for Pathogen X, then the people did not need to be alive. They could still infect people even if their bodies were sent back to their families. It was unknown how many of the people in Second Venice knew about the infection base, but if they were all killed, it would naturally delay the discovery.
Oh Ho Ho did not know if that was an accurate analysis of the situation.
But to maintain the quarantine, she had to act as long as it was possible. If she chose to be optimistic, she could not eliminate all risk of something escaping. When someone heard a cold was going around, they might decide they should wash out their mouth and wash their hands, but if no one at their school thought it was a big deal and they decided they were overthinking things, the entire school could be wiped out.
She could not let her conviction be shaken by the situation around her. Her decision to quarantine them had to be absolute.
“Release Strategic AI Juliet. The Gatling 033 will now engage with the red target designated Coilgun 052 which has appeared within Second Venice. Requesting authorization.”
She sent a radio transmission to the maintenance base zone as a sort of ritual, but it was essentially meaningless. If she was restricted from doing something, they would contact her regardless. And if nothing was restricted, then she was free to do as she wished. There had been a few restrictions so far, but there had not been a word about not fighting an enemy object or not getting Second Venice involved.
As expected, the response arrived before she could count to three.
“Understood, Gatling 033. But you cannot eject inside the estimated infected area. Lose here and you die. So do not play around with the calculations and use the optimal answer calculated out by Juliet. …Do you understand?”
As her commander with long silver hair and brown skin responded, her tone dropped for the last sentence.
Oh Ho Ho did not say anything, but she did laugh quietly.
(Honestly, she’s letting her personal feelings influence her.)
She switched modes and the processing power focused on a single task. The 3D model dance footage closed and it all shifted toward the coming battle.
“Authorization confirmed. Engage. Oh ho ho. Let’s get this started!!”
The blue sky was visible.
The heavy black rock covering everything overhead had been removed.
Pieces of insulating material and cushioning larger than cars were raining down, but Quenser did not bother getting down on the ground.
Heivia groaned and was helpless to do anything but watch through his gas mask.
“H-hey. Is this okay? If we didn’t decontaminate all of the deadly mold, it might get out!!”
“Quiet, Heivia. Dump the lime powder in that bag over my head. And take care of Catherine. With the top open, our radio signals should get through now, so tell Frolaytia to send in some fully-protected doctors and medics.”
“What about you!?”
“You have to ask?”
Quenser left his awful friend with the body bag containing the survivor. After the sterilizing lime was poured over his head, he looked up at the most dangerous weapon in the world.
And he spoke in a horrifyingly emotionless voice.
“We need to have Catherine retrieved as soon as possible. I’ll destroy everything that gets in our way.”
“Are you serious… Quenser!?”
He did not listen or wait around any longer.
The surface was about three stories up, but the large pieces of rock(?) dropped by the mystery Object proved useful. By climbing up a pile of rubble, he managed to crawl to the surface even without the knowledge and physical fitness of a mountain or cliff climber.
He appeared in the west side which was especially damaged and was mostly a giant pile of rubble now.
The partially-destroyed skyscrapers had all fallen now and a new giant structure had taken root on the ground. This had to be the first time to actually move the weapon after landing. Its multiple cannons moved around and the lenses and sensors whirred, so it seemed to be checking on its functionality like some warmup exercises or stretches.
Quenser ignored that.
He paid the Object no heed and ran into a half-collapsed discount store nearby.
There was one thing he wanted.
(It can be cold medicine, sugar, vaporized gasoline, hydrogen peroxide water, or whatever else. Even if it isn’t as powerful or stable, I need something I can use in place of Hand Axe!!)
Quenser stuck a basket inside the shopping cart and ran around the store dumping in product after product from the half-collapsed shelves. After making a full circuit and reaching the register counter, he tore off the packaging without paying. He put the necessary substances in the necessary containers to create explosives and detonation fuses.
He could perform a number of chemical experiments, but what he needed was separation and synthesis.
He could distill things with a vacuum coffee maker and he could manage centrifugal separation with a lawnmower that’s blades rotated with a gasoline engine. Soaking things in high-purity alcohol or using a water purifier filter would also be effective. The hand-cranked generator for an emergency radio allowed electrolysis and the drying agent in snack packages meant he could dehydrate things. By drawing out only the “pure components” from the various commercial products, he could concentrate them and easily recombine them into a devilish invention.
A heavy tremor ran through the area.
The Object had likely done something outside. Even the slightest mistake on his part could blow off his fingers or his face and it was possible he could be buried alive, but Quenser’s expression did not change. The modern alchemist’s eyes were focused on the movements of the chemicals as he closed them inside 500mm beer bottles. He could have used soda cans or water bottles as containers, but glass had always been the strongest to chemicals. Its fragility to impacts was a downside, but it was better than having the bottom burn away as soon as he poured the contents inside.
He ended up with ten bottles.
He wrapped different colors of plastic tape around the top to indicate what was inside each one.
He placed them inside a cushioned camera bag he found in the store and stuffed balled up newspaper between the bottles to fill the gaps as much as possible.
“This really isn’t going to help much.”
With a self-deprecating smile, Quenser zipped up the camera bag.
Even after all this, a heavy impact from outside would easily break the bottles and Quenser would be blown away if conditions were just right, but he could not be picky now.
He needed to focus on time more than anything.
Time was what Catherine did not have.
After a nod, he carried the camera bag in one hand and ran out of the half-destroyed discount store despite the danger.
He once more looked up at the mystery Second Generation.
Whatever its reason, this Object had made sure to appear on Second Venice itself, so that allowed him to make some guesses.
“I was right. It is an air cushion type. And it uses multiple legs instead of a flat skirt.”
Four long ski-like floats extended back from directly below the spherical main body. They were not all the same length. The outer two were longer in the back and the inner two were shorter. The inner two were likely there to supports its weight while the outer two were there to help with quick turns and high-speed mobility. On the front, it had insect-like legs that spread out to the left and right.
After all, Second Venice was a city of countless intersecting canals, so not even a car could drive through it. Unlike the Baby Magnum on the coast or the Rush watching over the island from the ocean, a static electricity method that required separate floats would not work in the city.
Also, the mystery Object had lifted itself up to the surface with no assistance. A skirt-style would not be able to overcome that large height difference.
That eliminated some unnecessary work for Quenser.
Every minute and second counted for his small savior.
“Its main cannon looks like it uses metal shells. …Is it a railgun? No, it might be a simpler coilgun. They’d want the simplest method to prevent anything from breaking during the impact of landing.”
It had a single main cannon sticking out from the front, but it was short for how thick it was. A coilgun used the power of electromagnets to accelerate a steel shell, so the more electromagnets, the greater the power. That was why the barrel was usually as long as possible.
But this mystery Object had not done that.
Quenser’s attention turned to the secondary cannons attached all around it. They and the main cannon seemed to be built from similar units. It was like they were cobbled together from the same toy blocks. If the secondary cannons were a single block, then the main cannon was three of those blocks attached end to end. Either they were hoping a single blast would be powerful enough or it was specialized for battling other Objects, because it had fewer secondary cannons than a normal Object.
(Were they trying to reduce production and maintenance costs by reusing the same parts? Or are they spares in case the main cannon is taken out?)
It did not matter either way.
All that mattered to Quenser was the main cannon’s relative lack of range.
An Object shell would blow him to pieces either way.
The student unzipped the camera bag while bringing his radio to his mouth.
“Can you hear me, Princess? Can you target the mystery Object?”
“What’s going on, Quenser? Your voice sounds weird.”
“I don’t care if it’s only as a stationary gun platform. Can you target the mystery Object?”
“I can’t avoid a counter punch, so I have to take it out in one shot.”
“Then I’ll give you that chance. You pull the trigger and kill it.”
The handmade supplies gathered from a discount store by a combat engineer in training had more or less zero chance of destroying a cutting-edge strategic weapon that cost 5 billion dollars.
But things changed when he could borrow another Object’s firepower. He did not need to worry about the nuke-resistant armor and he only had to give his ally a chance to fire.
He had to do everything as quickly as possible.
The mystery Object’s legs shook. Its greatest threat would be the Rush out at sea, so it may have been planning to use its air cushion engine to head out onto the ocean. Once truly started using that air cushion engine, Quenser would be blown into the wall by the violent winds just from being nearby.
So he took action before that could happen.
He pulled a bottle with red plastic tape from the camera bag and made an underhand throw toward the ground below the floating mystery Object.
It happened as soon as the bottle broke.
A mass of bubbles grew larger than a tour bus.
Certain chemicals would release a large quantity of gas when they reacted to something.
The most common examples were found in fire extinguishers and airbags. Some people had their nose broken by the safety device meant to protect them, so it could become a weapon if used right. However, it would be difficult to damage an Object with that.
So that was just one step.
Mixing that chemical with detergent would great a massive amount of bubbles as soon as the air burst out. (Assuming you chose one that did not interfere with the chemical reaction) mixing it with acid would add a powerful corrosive effect to the bubbles.
No matter how hard they were and even with the muscle-like shock absorption ability of the multi-layered onion armor, it still used special steel at the base.
And there was no need to dissolve all of the armor. The air cushion engine used the power of air to keep the entire Object afloat. If the separated pieces of armor and bubbles rushed in and filled those holes, it would stop for maybe a second or two.
And that second was enough.
That was all the time Catherine had after it had been carved away by some inconsiderate bastard.
As soon as he saw the mystery Object come to a jerking halt, Quenser whispered into his radio.
Bluish-white light filled the world. From ten kilometers away, the Princess’s low-stability plasma cannon wove through the gaps between Second Venice’s buildings and mercilessly pierced the center of the mystery Object.
That meant the utter destruction of the reactor and the cockpit.
The out-of-control energy would quickly cause the Object to explode and the nuke-resistant armor would open like a flower.
That was what should have happened.
The lenses attached to the sides of the main cannon continued to whirr.
The mystery Object had a donut-like hole through the center, but it ignored that and quickly turned toward the attacker. It aimed its large caliber coilgun toward the Baby Magnum.
Quenser’s eyes could not keep up with the rest.
The air cushion gale lifted him from the ground and slammed his back into a nearby pile of rubble.
His scream was drowned out by another roar.
The mystery Object’s coilgun had fired. He was only watching from the side, but his entire body was pierced by a shock that seemed to damage both his eardrums and his lungs.
The Princess was stuck as a stationary gun platform and could not move. Now that the first shot had failed, she would be unilaterally destroyed.
But she still sounded calm over the radio.
“Cough! Cough!! Sorry. I have no idea what happened!! Why is it still alive!? And why are you!?”
“That short barrel coilgun isn’t suited for long-range battles, so my onion armor somehow managed to stop it. But if it gets close, I’m in trouble. It’ll blow me away.”
“Ugh. But only if it has the chance.”
The mystery Object began moving for real.
However, it did not approach the Baby Magnum. It raced through the city of rubble to reach the nearest coast and quickly head out onto the ocean.
“So it’s top priority is the undamaged Rush.”
“That pisses me off.”
“How can you say that when that means you’re safe for now? More importantly, continue acting as a stationary gun platform and fire your main cannon if you see an opportunity! Even if that doesn’t work, continue targeting it to restrict its movements!!”
“Where exactly am I supposed to shoot it? I already shot through that Zombie Object’s heart…”
Quenser ignored the creaking pain in his spine and got up. The camera bag…was fine. His body had cushioned the blow.
He was unsteady, but he ran through the city of rubble. He would never even dream of catching up to an Object on foot. Some fancy pro-sports motorboats that had to cost $200,000 each were stopped alongside a wide canal and he jumped from one to another.
“Frolaytia! How much have you heard about Catherine? The Zombie Object is on its way to the ocean. Can you retrieve Catherine and Heivia from the infection base!?”
“We can’t send any helicopters with the Rush and the unknown Object out there. I sent out a doctor and some medics on a spare hovercraft, but if that Object fires even the smallest cannon at them on a whim, it’s all over. That Second Generations might be made for fighting other Objects and not people, but it should be able to easily locate a target as big as a boat.”
“Then I’ll open the way.”
As he jumped across the boats and peered in near the helm, he spotted something.
One of them had been abandoned during the asteroid detonation with the key still in the ignition.
The boy could not drive a car or motorcycle, but for some reason, he had a fair bit of experience with marine sports.
Oh Ho Ho laughed mockingly as she maintained her blockade.
First her Gatling 033 then an indiscriminate attack on Second Venice. It was all so boringly predictable.
She had been a little surprised when the Coilgun 052 survived being shot through the center, but that was unimportant. Its important “innards” were likely made so they could be lifted up to change their position. That kind of cheap trick only worked the first time and would be useless once word got out. All that remained was for the battle to reveal the fragility introduced by the unnecessary design element.
As proof, it had fired on the stationary Legitimacy Kingdom First Generation and yet had not destroyed it. There appeared to have been some kind of accident, but getting pierced through the center by a stationary gun platform on the very first shot was unthinkable for a footwork-focused Object.
And if it had intentionally allowed the hit, it made no sense for that First Generation to have survived the main cannon blast afterwards. The risks outweighed the returns.
“You’ve evolved in an odd direction like an ancient extinct creature that walked on its nose, haven’t you? Oh ho ho.”
It was said that very little personal playfulness could remain in an Object because so many people’s desires were involved in a construction plan costing 5 billion dollars.
But at the same time, projects worth so very much were hard to stop once the ball got rolling. Everyone might have a bad feeling and know they had been wrong, but canceling the project would mean shouldering a massive loss, so they would end up continuing on.
Objects as a whole had evolved in an unnecessary direction in order to defeat the nuclear age.
And at the Second Generation, they had grown even more sharply specialized and tricky. That was how Objects with somewhat mistaken designs ended up strutting across the world.
Stories in which weapons always hit on the optimum answer as time passed and as technology evolved were only found in the fictional wars of paperbacks and electronic books written to take advantage of the war boom. No matter how old they got and no matter what position they held, the actual adults were nothing but imbeciles. No one ever truly matured.
Oh Ho Ho felt pity.
Even if the adults could let the stone roll away for their own benefit, the Pilot Elite could not leave the Object. If they had been “adjusted” for an Object with a flawed design philosophy, they would be forced to accept contradictory strategic theories and use every trick they could to face the cutting-edge wars. It was like being given a loincloth to wear and told guts and willpower were the key to victory while all your marathon opponents had been trained based on sports science in a clean laboratory.
She faced the Zombie Object as it hovered out onto the ocean.
She showed no respect.
The Information Alliance Idol Elite gave a proclamation of death while continuing to look down on it from a position of pity.
“It’s time for a test to see if you can still move around after being sliced into tiny pieces. Oh ho ho.”
The two great masses moved.
The Coilgun 052’s main cannon had failed to defeat a motionless First Generation at long distance. That naturally meant it was meant for close-range.
But that was the Gatling 033’s specialty.
The large caliber, short barrel coilgun’s only advantage was a simple design that made it hard to break. Just as Oh Ho Ho had announced, the power of twin rapid-fire beam Gatling cannons could slice even a nuke-resistant Object in two if it scored a clean hit.
And Oh Ho Ho also had the greater skill in close-range footwork.
The Gatling 033 worked best on the ground where its chainsaw-like treads could work along with its air cushion for high-speed dashes, but the Coilgun 052 had already been shot through the center and its center of gravity and air resistance would be a mess. Her enemy had the greater handicap, so Oh Ho Ho had no reason not to outdo them.
She swung her right main cannon around.
It fired thousands of shots a minute. They blurred together into a single bluish-white beam of light that instantly burned horizontally through the world.
Oh Ho Ho knew the damaged Coilgun 052 could never dodge that. In fact, it would have been impossible even without the damage.
With a direct hit to the spherical main body, the onion armor peeled away and orange sparks flew as if she were welding a wall.
“…!? It isn’t…burning through!?”
The Idol Elite gasped when she saw the result of the “sword” strike.
And then she realized something.
“It isn’t the damage that’s making the onion armor peel away. Is it a type of reactive armor!?”
Reactive armor had been developed to protect tanks from chemical energy weapons such as rockets. The thin armor panels kept in a case as thick as a phonebook would be lifted up by an explosion to randomly scatter the rocket’s blast and stop the flames and impact from piercing the armor like a spear.
This Object carved away its own armor in the same way.
When designing a car, it was important to intentionally make the frame soft. That was to absorb the impact of an accident that would otherwise reach the driver. The idea of building in areas intended to be destroyed was also seen in earthquake-proof buildings and water barriers that prevented the propagation of coal mine explosions. …And if it was used in cars, buildings, and mines, it would of course be used for military purposes as well.
This was the truth of the Zombie Object that could continue moving even after falling to earth with no parachute and only an asteroid for cushioning. It did not deflect things with its solid armor or receive them with its soft shell. It was broken, crushed, and diverted. This self-harming weapon was the polar opposite of the standard image of an Object as the most powerful presence on the battlefield.
“How unique an evolution have you gone through!?”
Rather than its main cannon’s power or its propulsion method, this Second Generation had specialized in its defense. But since it intentionally let the enemy shells hit to use them up while damaging itself, that could hardly be called a specialty in defense.
Or so she thought.
This went beyond even that.
A deafening blast came from the Coilgun 052.
But it did not come from the main cannon. It came from the surrounding secondary cannons. They were relatively meaningless in a battle between Objects, but the Zombie Object’s secondary cannons were the same as the main coilgun, just shorter. That shorter length caused the power to drop, but they still caused plenty of damage compared to an anti-personnel or anti-vehicle cannon.
A few of the Gatling 033’s secondary cannons were torn from its spherical main body.
But that did not qualify as any real damage. As already stated, only the main cannon was important in a battle between Objects. It was not easy breaking through the onion armor that not even a nuke could destroy. Even if a few of the secondary cannons were torn away, it could still fight just fine with the armor, main cannons, reactor, cockpit, and propulsion device intact.
But that was not the Zombie Object’s intent.
Its main cannon finally gave a roar.
For some reason, an unpleasant sensation raced down Oh Ho Ho’s back.
A moment later, a great number of needles were released from the main cannon.
It was a needle gun. The main cannon had clearly changed mode since it used a normal shell to attack the Legitimacy Kingdom. Each of these shells was only about the size of a ballpoint pen. A total of 45,000 scattered in a fan-like shape to cover the entire area.
They were small antennae and the electrode on the end had a tank of instant glue attached. And they were targeting the spots where the Gatling 033’s secondary cannons had been torn off. Specifically, they targeted the printed circuit board data network that sent electronic signals from the cockpit. In other words, electrodes.
More and more needles rained down.
Most of them attached to the armor panels and accomplished nothing, but only one of them had to attach to the exposed pure gold of the data network.
That created an opening for a cyber-attack, just like sticking a USB drive into a computer to infect it with a virus even though it was disconnected from the network.
Wireless signals began an attack through the small antennae.
Oh Ho Ho frantically grabbed the Gatling 033’s reins and quickly had Strategic AI Juliet focus on the cyber battle. The special Information Alliance Object had an entire supercomputer onboard, but a cyber-attack was not determined just by the pure machine specs.
And zombies did more than not die.
They were frightening because they bit people, ate them, infected them, and increased in number.
It was the despair of finding your neighbor was now baring their fangs and attacking you.
The Gatling 033 came to a quick stop. The Idol Elite choked as the belt squeezed her body.
“You mean it broke through the Information Alliance system!?”
The Gatling 033 was no longer accepting its master’s instructions.
The two Objects lined up alongside each other as they raced across the ocean like an acrobatic military exercise…
Quenser used the pro-sports motorboat to practically skip along the canal’s water and out into the nearby ocean. He immediately noticed the change. The mystery Zombie Object and the Information Alliance’s Rush would never begin to race alongside each other like that. Something had clearly happened between the two Objects approaching him…no, approaching Second Venice behind him.
Whatever the case, they were approaching at 500 kph. He would only have one chance as they passed by. If he could not settle this then, he could never catch up. No matter how hard he worked the engine, a normal boat could not reach even half that speed.
Quenser himself did not have a clear answer.
They did not care about a tiny fly in their way and they would crush him if he was in their path. Sensing that arrogance, Quenser worked the helm to escape the Zombie Object and the Rush. That may have been his real reason for doing it.
Regardless, he drove into the gap between the two.
Both the Rush and the Zombie Object used air cushion engines. And they were constantly creating enough wind to keep their 200,000 ton bodies afloat. Quenser should have realized what passing between them would mean.
Gravity seemed to vanish.
The student pictured the ping pong ball floating above a toy pipe.
Yes. The powerful winds created by the two Objects collided between them and created an intense updraft in search of a way out.
The motorboat instantly flipped over and then flew straight up like a leaf. The idiot was no different.
As Quenser was instantly rocketed up the length of a 25 meter pool, his hips bent at an unfortunate angle and he happened to spot something.
A few secondary cannons had been torn from the Rush’s side and several pen-sized antennae were stabbed there. They had forcibly connected to the cannon control electrodes that were exposed by the damage, so an opening had been created for a cyber-attack by an extreme short-range wireless signal.
It all happened in an instant, which was not enough time to do much.
And the Objects were moving at 500 kph. Even if they were pen-sized, reaching out and trying to break them away would only tear his hand off.
So Quenser threw the entire camera bag at the Rush’s side without bothering to choose a specific variety of handmade explosive.
Time seemed to start moving again.
The various bottles broke in the bag, the chemicals mixed together, and a number of chemical reactions created a large explosion. By that time, Quenser had left the “valley” between Objects. Not because he was moving quickly but because the Objects were.
His handmade explosives could not destroy an Object’s armor, but the Rush’s problem was the pen-sized antennae. They were like tiny mites or lice in a dog’s fur. A normal bomb was more than enough for them.
And once the curse of the antennae was gone, life was breathed back into the Rush.
The Rush turned around at close range and aimed its main cannon at the Zombie Object that had approached so close. With a deafening explosion, the rapid-fire beam Gatling cannon blew everything away.
That threw Quenser through the air once more.
He had been flying in a parabolic arc, but without anything to support him, he made an unnatural midair hop. Needless to say, the Rush’s main cannon’s shockwave had hit him.
But Quenser did not have time to cry out from the pain in his back.
(Even that point-blank beam cannon blast – and a Gatling one at that – didn’t break through its armor!?)
Layer after layer peeled away, but the damage never got through. Meanwhile, the Zombie Object’s main cannon began to move. The large caliber, short barrel cannon had failed to finish off the Princess at ten kilometers, but it would be destructive enough at point-blank range. The Rush’s movements showed more panic than the Zombie Object’s.
(Oh, no! She’ll be destroyed!)
But just as he thought that, an orange beam of frightening destructive power passed right by the airborne student.
At first, he did not know what had happened.
It was only a long while later that he realized it was compressed metal cannon that compressed the shell down to a needle-like point.
At any rate, he made another unnatural bounce, was tossed around, and nearly passed out.
As if peeling away the upper surface of the Zombie Object’s spherical main body, a giant hole appeared by also taking out the armor around the single sharp point. A spine chilling sound like a can of food caught in a bear trap reached Quenser’s ears after a short delay.
The Zombie Object stopped moving.
It tilted. The air cushion engine must have been malfunctioning because it slowly sank into the sea.
Finally, Quenser was able to stop being a bird.
He was in a tailspin and unable to prepare as he was slammed into the ocean surface.
The impact felt like a slap to the entire face and it actually snapped his scattering mind into focus. As masochistic talent bloomed inside the idiot, he got his head above the water and searched for something like driftwood or a plastic tank to grab onto. He was far out enough for ships to sail, so there was no way his feet could reach the bottom and he could not swim back to shore under his own power.
Then something else was fired from the distance.
It was a giant antenna buoy that was likely meant for jamming. As he grabbed onto it, Quenser received a radio transmission.
“Legitimacy Kingdom, I quite enjoyed the show. Think of this as my thanks.”
“Cough, cough… What? The Old Fashion..?”
That Object was focused on the battlefield student rather than the Rush or the Zombie Object. Quenser could not figure out what he wanted.
Or perhaps that old warrior did not really want anything out of this.
“So you provide a helping hand even if it is your enemy’s leader in trouble? Not bad. So this is what you lot call ‘chivalry’. I felt just as excited when I first showed this Object off to my old friend. I will fall back as a sign of respect. Legitimacy Kingdom, how much longer will your food and water last?”
“…We won’t last beyond another four days.”
“Then I will ensure the Information Alliance falls back and opens the way before then. Did you hear that, Information Alliance? Prepare yourself.”
At this rate, the Old Fashion and Rush would clash on their own. If things went well, Oh Ho Ho would fall back, the blockade would be broken, and everyone would be freed from the hell in Second Venice.
Quenser thought about the benefits of that, but he could not hold his tongue.
“Old Fashion, wait!”
“What is it, MVP? Would you like me to fire a case of champagne out there for you?”
“Infection base. Investigate that term. If you still feel like helping us and you’re willing to help people who might be mankind’s enemies, then we’ll be waiting.”
This time, the transmission ended.
As Quenser gasped for breath while clinging to the large antenna buoy, another transmission reached him. This one was from the Information Alliance’s Oh Ho Ho.
“How foolish are you? Oh ho ho. If you had kept silent, you could have played the victim and gotten their help, but you went out of your way to turn that ace against you.”
“…I know that.”
Quenser spat his words out toward the enemy leader and then made a declaration.
“But it was necessary.”
“Hmph. …You fool.”
It was a long while before a patrol boat arrived to rescue Quenser from the drifting antenna buoy.
It was already evening.
When he arrived back at the maintenance base zone, he was soaking wet and asked his awful friend a question.
“What happened to Catherine?”
“See for yourself. You’ve earned the right.”
Heivia did not take him to a general medical room. It was a sterile room kept at a low temperature for military computers. One corner was separated out by thick translucent tape for a makeshift treatment room.
But how much good did that really do?
Catherine Blueangel was sleeping inside a spindle-shaped capsule. It looked like a fancy coffin to Quenser, so it put him in a really bad mood.
The blonde braid girl seemed to notice her guest.
Unable to remove the oxygen mask covering her mouth, she only opened one eye a little. An amateur like Quenser did not know why she did not open the other eye.
He had no idea how dangerous it was to do so, but Quenser pressed both hands against the clear shade of the capsule.
“I’m sorry, Catherine. I was ordered to return you to a safe country. I was supposed to help you say goodbye to these dangerous wars. I was supposed to help you gather all the stamps and clear your quota so you could go home!!”
“What am I supposed to do? How can I reward all the effort you put into this? Just tell me. This happened because you fought to protect not just the 37th but Second Venice as a whole. So tell me! Is there anything I can do for you!?”
He had a feeling Catherine smiled ever so slightly.
Her young lips whispered to him.
“Protect everyone, big brother.”
Finally, Quenser left the treatment room sealed off by thick plastic.
Heivia had waited outside the giant vehicle the entire time.
“Our busty commander says she has something to discuss with us.”
“So I guess everyone’s thinking the same thing. If Frolaytia hadn’t suggested it, I would have deserted.”
Not everyone knew the truth. To prevent a panic, very few people knew about the infection base or the deadly mold even within the 37th. For that reason, they were called to Frolaytia’s room full of Island Nation products instead of a large conference room.
Quenser asked a question as soon as he stepped inside.
“Do we know what it is infecting Catherine?”
“Yes. Our doctors, the intelligence division, and the electronic simulation division worked hard even if this wasn’t their specialty. It seems Catherine is quite well liked.”
“How many stamps do you think she had earned in such a short time? And most of them couldn’t be done alone. She isn’t a monster. She’s a human being who can create her own circle of friends to smile with. …So much so that she threw away her own life to rescue this idiot here.”
“Yes. That’s right.” Frolaytia lit her long, narrow kiseru. “I’ll get right to the point: Argeiphontes. Catherine is suffering from the primary component of an infamous riot suppression gas used by the Faith Organization special police. It was developed to be nonlethal, but it was more powerful than intended and the rioters began dropping like flies. And since it took time to prove a link between the accidental deaths and the gas rounds, the number of deaths only grew. Apparently 15,000 people died just in the Faith Organization safe countries around Rome and Athens. It probably took so long to respond because of collusion between the pharmaceutical company and the central ethics board. It apparently began by accepting the reports from computer simulation tests while foregoing actual clinical trials to cut costs.”
“A military chemical…”
“Breathe in even a small amount and it takes out your autonomic nervous system. Do you know what Catherine’s body temperature is right now? If she wasn’t being cooled there, she would have broken 42 degrees within an hour. Stomach pumping and dialysis don’t work. The death rate is 99.8%. That beats out mustard gas for mankind’s worst invention.”
Quenser inhaled and exhaled.
And he touched on the crux of the issue.
“But 0.2% survive, right? I’m not talking about relying on a miracle or some emotional story. Isn’t it possible those people bought god’s love with money?”
“As always, you notice the most interesting things.” Frolaytia grinned. “I just said most of the victims were in the major cities of Rome and Athens, didn’t I? Naturally, plenty of VIPs and wealthy people were involved. And some of those miraculously survived even after being exposed to the Argeiphontes. The mass media called them ‘a beautiful woman loved by god’ or whatever else, but every last one of them used a complex route to donate a large sum to a certain bank account.”
“Who owns the account?”
“That’s an obvious one.”
Frolaytia shrugged and spoke their target’s name.
“Hermes Pharmaceuticals. The developer of the Argeiphontes poison gas and a major investor secretly supporting the Kerukeion special forces.”
External Document – Newspaper Editorial Reporting a Miraculous Survival
While on a vacation to Athens, Miss Elizabeth Schnozzle was caught in the suspected nonlethal gas weapon Argeiphontes used to suppress the riot that developed from the janitors strike, but she has now shown a miraculous recovery. Is this a matter of her own vitality, of compatibility, or simply god’s love for her? Everyone involved is focusing on her.
Miss Schnozzle is currently undergoing mental rehabilitation while also actively participating in various forms of charity. Her miraculous survival means a lot. Las Vegas, Rio de Janeiro, and Second Venice. Gamblers gather at every casino she visits in order to receive some of god’s love for her. This increases the chances of many famous players gathering in one place, so it also allows some big names in charity to set up events.
The Faith Organization has yet to make a clear statement on the toxicity of Argeiphontes, but Miss Schnozzle’s presence has given hope to a lot of people.
Her fortune will brighten not just her life but the entire world.
Perhaps it is no surprise that god would provide her with so much love.