HEAVY OBJECT:Volume13 Track 11
Track 11: White Sun
Now, let’s return to before the explosion.
Some meaningless screaming and shouting continued for a while.
Nancy the Fried Shrimp and even the middle-aged man who had lived in an enemy nation for years as an intelligence officer seemed to bristle at the thought, but Mariydi did not particularly care.
She ignored their fruitless attempts at conversation and spoke entirely calmly.
“As the fried shrimp said before, guiding all 4 villains into place to defeat them would be a century-long feat if done the proper way. And I’m not about to go along with that. …We need to completely smash their plan to take the initiative away from them and send them into a panic. That’s the best way to get them to meet face-to-face for a planning session they don’t want intercepted. Attack them there and a single missile can take out all 4 of them. And since it’s a secret meeting they can’t afford to have leaked, they’ll only bring their most trusted subordinates along.”
“B-but that’s…buuut!? M-mushroom! Y-you said mushroom cloud!”
The glasses fried shrimp was panicking, but Mariydi still paid her no heed.
“They have an incredible impact on whoever sees them, but mushroom clouds aren’t exclusive to the hydrogen bombs of an older age. Historically, similarly-shaped clouds have also been seen with largescale FAEs.”
“An FAE or Fuel-Air Explosive is an artificial weather phenomenon that produces a largescale air pressure difference accompanied by an explosion, right?”
The middle-aged man seemed to be drawing on a foggy memory and Mariydi nodded.
“In the FAE’s case, it’s because they consume so much oxygen. But if all you have to do is instantaneously spread a difference in air pressure, it doesn’t have to be oxygen you take away.”
“For example, the Capitalist Corporations has something known as a Nitrogen Compound Explosive or NCE. It generally uses a nitro explosive – meaning, a nitrogen compound – but by securing the necessary nitrogen from the air, the bomb can be kept small. In the instant it expands from the package, the explosive is formed in the air to trigger a large explosion. And of course, it does this by stealing all the nitrogen, which makes up 70% of earth’s atmosphere.”
“I see. So you’d be inducing the rapid air pressure difference by consuming the nitrogen instead of the oxygen. 70% of the atmosphere. The more there is to take, the easier the pressure difference would spread, I suppose.”
“B-b-but…but! If we blow up something like that in the middle of the city, wouldn’t the Divided City of Valhalla disappear into the light regardless!? That’s pointleeeess!!”
“It might seem that way if you’re looking at a 2D map.” Mariydi gave a devilish smile. “But what if you look at the vertical direction? If we increase the altitude and detonate it unreasonably high in the sky, the point on the map is the same, but the damage will be reduced almost to zero. Of course, the mushroom cloud itself is a giant artificial weather phenomenon, so it might cause some gusts of wind that break some windows or something. Still, it’s like the difference between blowing up an Island Nation’s Sanjakudama firework on the ground or in the sky.”
“Then, um, when you were talking about cutting off communications…”
“However it’s caused, a mushroom cloud will suck in a whole bunch of dust and blast it into the sky, so it’ll interfere with any wireless communications. You can think of it like covering an entire city with chaff. As long as we also cut all of the phone and internet cables leading out of the city, it’ll be perfect. Whether wired or wireless, Valhalla will have been ‘erased’ as far as the data is concerned. The satellites will only show a giant mushroom cloud covering the city and any attempt to contact the city will only get static.”
Valhalla had limited its own communication access, so the internet lines leading out were all inside a single thick bundle of fiber optic cables similar to a submarine communications cable. Cutting them all would not be difficult.
“You want to detonate it at high altitude, but what platform are you going to use? Surely you aren’t suggesting we build our own ballistic missile.”
“We don’t need to make it that difficult. A normal helicopter can reach 6000 meters these days. A drone that operates the same way can also fly pretty high as long as the signal can reach. With an NCE, the fireball itself has a diameter of 500 meters and the shockwave’s lethal range has a diameter of 1500 meters. Fly it up the height of a mountain and the lethal range won’t reach the surface. Of course, the noise and shockwave will still reach the city to a certain extent.”
“Ahn? Will an explosion like that really create a mushroom cloud? I know you said it was a special kind of explosion, but still.”
“Who ever said we’re only using 1? We just have to fly around 10 of them up in drones so the fireballs can fuse in midair. They’ll combine just like the Island Nation’s Senko Hanabi fireworks.”
“So it’s the MIRV method.”
Now that they had a plan, it was time to get to work.
Drones like a hexacopter could be bought at any toy store lately, but they were not equipped to receive long-range signals from thousands of meters away, so they would have to be dismantled and rebuilt with the intelligence division’s equipment. Mariydi wanted a specialized algorithm to send the drones up as a single group like migratory birds. …But unlike the overly diligent Island Nation, Europe closed all the shops that did not serve alcohol by 7 PM. So how were they supposed to get the appropriate number of drones now that night had fallen?
Mariydi Whitewitch knew her answer.
“You’re just going to steal everything from us!?”
“Would you prefer this, or a gun pressed to your forehead?”
For intelligence agents in an enemy nation, the scene’s atmosphere took top priority. The man’s fate was sealed as soon as he was overpowered by the smile in front of his eyes and looked away.
“H-how are you going to make those NCE booombs? Wh-why are you rolling up your sleeves? Don’ tell me you’re going to make them herrre!”
“Once you know how, it’s surprisingly easy. This might just cause another commotion at the shareholder’s meeting.”
True enough, simply making an NCE was fairly simple. …But because it reacted to the nitrogen in the air, you could easily blow yourself up if you were careless in your work.
Mariydi safely worked on the strategic weapon by sticking her slender arms in the kind of special airtight container used for experiments with bacteriological weapons. Of course, the exact ingredients were a secret.
“I guess you could say I’m pouring in my love for my big brother using my lovey-dovey beam. …Sigh.”
“But you are saying that with a lifeless look in your eyes…!?”
Before long, Mariydi had a line of aluminum containers about the size of a 2-liter plastic bottle. The item had been originally developed as a light and cheap strategic weapon, so a delivery drone could easily carry one. And the high-powered recon models modified by the intelligence division were even more reliable.
“The changing times are a frightening thing.” The middle-aged intelligence officer grimaced at the completed products. “When I think about it, we’re creating history’s worst weapon right now, aren’t we?”
“Technology bears no sins. It’s all in how you use it.”
“And it really looks to me like we’re reaching in the worst possible direction with thissss!”
They were controlled with a touch-screen tablet instead of a controller like those used for RC cars. The main purpose of that was to control all 10 as a single unit instead of each one individually.
“It’s nighttime, so send them up now and we don’t have to worry about anyone seeing. We need to set an altitude limit for the detonation. This will all be for naught if there’s a malfunction and one falls down to detonate on the surface.”
“They have sensors for automatically opening the parachute, so that won’t be a problem.”
“Good.” Mariydi nodded. “Once everything’s ready, all of you from the intelligence division need to evacuate to somewhere outside the mushroom cloud’s effects. Signals from the villains should be flying around the area, so intercept as many of them as you can.”
“Since when can you order us around?”
“I’m making it so you don’t have to skip town. You should be thanking me, not scowling at me.”
The drones themselves would mostly fly on their own, but in the kitchen, their programs would send them right into the ceiling. Thus, Mariydi and Nancy had to physically carry them outside.
The drones would become almost invisible once they were in the night sky, but letting normal citizens see them all lined up on the ground was not the best idea. Public or private, people too strongly associated drones with spying, so it would only bring unnecessary trouble.
“Hey, fried shrimp, let’s head back to the parking lot we left the truck in. We need an open space.”
“Ehhh? But wasn’t there a perfect open lot right behind the restauraaant?”
“Don’t you dare launch a bunch of drones right behind a den of intelligence agents! That’s like sending up an ad balloon telling everyone there are spies here!!”
The middle-aged man was more bothered by that idea than Mariydi.
He drove the 2 girls out and back the way they had come.
“Where should we put theeem?”
“Well, anywhere passersby won’t notice them. We can use the truck as a shield.”
With that, Mariydi entered the parking lot, pulled the drones out of the travel bag they had stuffed them in, and lined them up on the asphalt. With all 10 together, it looked like a small trade show.
“Phew. That’s everything set up then.”
“Yes,” agreed Mariydi. “But before we actually do anything, I want to get an answer to something that’s still unclear.”
Without even waiting for Nancy Jolly-Roger to make her drawn-out response, the blonde girl grabbed the fried shrimp’s collar and slammed her back into the side of the truck. The sudden shock caused the glasses girl to choke, so she could not even scream properly as Mariydi whispered a question.
“Who are you?”
“When we first met, I shot your arm to judge the truth of what you said, right? That was of course because I couldn’t trust what you were saying.” The look in Mariydi’s eyes showed she was not joking. “You had no tolerance to pain and no idea how to treat a wound. If I hadn’t helped, you really would have died. I took that to mean you were innocent, but looking back, you passed out before I could really make a judgement.”
Back in that log cabin, Nancy had said she was investigating dangerous Capitalist Corporations elements making weapons deals across the border. She had discovered that “untraceable” weapons were being sold to terrorist organizations from near that log cabin, but she had been captured while visiting the area to investigate.
But someone who did not know how to fire a gun or even walk through the forest would never be deployed there, especially while still wearing an office uniform. A lot was unknown about her independent actions there and Mariydi had guessed the rest of her team had been wiped out. But when she had seen a corpse, it had really seemed like her “first time”, so Mariydi doubted she had any experience in seeing dead bodies.
“Whatever your objective is, I won’t get in your way as long as it doesn’t violate the Capitalist Corporations ways. That’s why I took you with me this far.” Mariydi spoke in a low voice while still holding the older girl’s collar. “But your behavior clearly changed here. In the Divided City of Valhalla. …And it was in the mountain side, which is Information Alliance territory.”
“Ghh… What do you meeeaaan…?”
“You tended to view the residents here in a sympathetic light. For example, those protesters. And your drawn-out way of speaking tended to vanish when discussing the protests or the safety of the residents. Again, this was when talking about people from Information Alliance territory.”
She breathed in and out.
And she asked a question.
“Where does your soul reside?”
That sounded like a Faith Organization kind of thing to say, but it was not.
Mariydi was viewing things digitally.
“That log cabin was a gathering point for delinquent soldiers from both the Capitalist Corporations and the Information Alliance. And you were always sympathetic of the Information Alliance. If you happen to belong to that side, I’ll have to change my policy on you. It was my mistake, but you’ve seen the identities and hideout of intelligence agents infiltrating this city. That would put their lives at risk.”
Another important factor was that Nancy Jolly-Roger had mentioned the sum of 50 billion dollars from the very beginning. It had begun as the hidden fortune gathered by the black market, it had then become the price on Mariydi’s head, and it had finally transformed into the “weapon” thought appropriate for wiping clean the underground bank run in Valhalla.
If Nancy had intentionally guided Mariydi here, she needed to find out why. If it involved an ideology or belief outside the Capitalist Corporations’, she could not relax here.
A short silence followed.
Nancy kept her mouth shut even after Mariydi loosened her grip on the older girl’s collar. It was an intentional silence brought on by hesitation. She had the look of someone who had something to hide and was unsure if they should reveal it here.
Finally, the mystery person spoke.
“I am…from the Capitalist Corporations.”
“So what? Turncoats are a dime a dozen in the Northern Restricted Zone. Like the ones in that log cabin where we first met.”
“I am from a special unit named Cinderella Wizard. …Although that proves nothing since a search for that name won’t turn up anything.” She gave an exhausted smile very unlike anything before. “Mariydi, why do you think the Northern Restricted Zone is even allowed to exist in the first place?”
“Historically speaking, because of the destruction of Asgard. Economically speaking, because it’s a giant experimental battlefield which was intentionally made into a Galapagos that would spontaneously create new technology that could not be gained through normal Object development.”
“…The world wouldn’t allow this miniature garden if that was all it provided.”
“This Northern Restricted Zone provides another benefit. It provides a clear benefit to the clean wars supported by Objects. And, Mariydi, you are no exception.”
At first, the girl could not imagine what she meant.
Perhaps that was because it was incredibly obvious and she had already accepted it on a fundamental level.
“This place has a high rate of naturally producing ‘candidates’ for Pilot Elites,” said Nancy. She said it clearly. “War changes children like a disease. Even if a child is an excellent candidate for a Pilot Elite, they tend to ‘close up’ psychologically when they are exposed to the fear of bombings and pillaging for long periods of time. …When that nightmarish result was discovered in a research report, units like mine were established.”
A science award had been established using the fortune earned by inventing the world’s most famous explosive.
But as its popularity grew, it became a target of all sorts of conspiracy theories which in turn spread completely baseless rumors and speculation. When two opposing standards were in competition – such as video formats – the one chosen for this award gained overwhelming popularity. Even stem cells and neutrinos only really become household names after winning this award. And of course, a technology better understood by the public at large had an easier time gaining funding, performing largescale experiments, and producing greater results. And the opposite was just as true. There were rumors that someone was using this to select the technologies that would change the world (and could be used for weapons) and thus adjust history in their desired direction.
It was not actually clear if anyone was doing so intentionally.
But had the rumors been enough to get people around the world to pay attention?
“It sounds like a used clothing shop.”
“…Yes. If they won’t sell while new, the jeans are intentionally damaged and faded and then have a new price tag attached. But in this case, we’re talking about unseen psychological damage to innocent children.” Nancy took a slow breath. “I belong to a special unit that has been ordered to collect children who have been orphaned on this quagmire of a battlefield, test their aptitude, and ship them back to the safe countries if they pass. In other words, we recruit for the world superpowers. And since it only looks like we’re protecting orphaned children from the fear of bombings and pillaging and then sending them to a safe life free from gunfire…no one stops us. It’s seen as the power of the state saving the children suffering from war and allowing them to spread their wings as Pilot Elites where they earn more money than a normal household.”
This sort of problem could run rampant at scenes of wartime or natural disasters. For example, when foreign volunteers adopted orphans, it was not uncommon to find out it was viewed as a kidnapping across national borders.
But Mariydi doubted that kind of mistake would happen when they had guidelines established in advance. Even if the safe country Pilot Elite development experiments came to light, they probably had enough legal protections in place to have it viewed as a medical treatment to heal their psychological damage from war. Even if those sealed white rooms were actually sites of what amounted to torture or abuse, the person who had rightfully accused the government would only be made into a villain by the mass media.
“…See? It’s almost too obviously written to be a Cinderella story of a girl rescued by a prince, isn’t it?”
“Whether any of that’s true or not,” spat out Mariydi, “what does it matter? Whatever unit you belonged to, it doesn’t explain why you were captured in that log cabin with only an office uniform.”
“I have no ability to fight. Without ever visiting the scene, I kept an eye on the situation and maintained coordination between everyone, so I was something like the midpoint between an operator and a hacker.” Nancy breathed shallowly while still pressed against the side of the truck. “So I was able to use that ability to open enough of a hole for the children to escape. …Of course, they really should have noticed something was wrong when it kept happening, but it’s possible the soldiers on the scene were questioning their mission somewhere deep in their hearts.”
“And why were you actually on the scene?”
“Because of that benevolent barrier made from containers and tanks.”
Mariydi had already mostly relaxed her arms.
Of course, she was still in a position to instantly kill Nancy with her gun or knife if the older girl made any suspicious movements.
“Messing with the data to let the children escape is all well and good, but their lives continue afterwards. If they simply wandered around randomly, they could easily blow themselves up on a landmine or unexploded ordnance without even running across the soldiers. But teaching them how to survive in that harsh environment would be meaningless if it meant they would not hesitate to pick up a gun.”
“…Well, excuse me.”
“The only option left was to get them a place to live in a safe city free of gunfire. And it had to be somewhere where the adults could not interfere. …The Sacred Forest in the center of Valhalla was the perfect place. They were protected and distanced from war thanks to the adults of the city around them, but they could still have a small home there without any direct influence from those adults.”
“Are you saying you built an orphanage there!? That’s a thousand-year-old primeval forest!!”
“It wasn’t difficult to manipulate some data to get them the food and other supplies they needed. Our unit didn’t officially exist, so we received no official supplies. We would receive a fraction of an official unit’s supplies, so I just had to divert a fraction of that for the children. That created a sanctuary unknown to anyone, even the other members of my unit. I taught them using something like remote teaching. And if my own personal opinion is good enough, they looked happy to me.”
“…That’s quite the illegal charity work.”
“Yes, I know. I would undoubtedly be court martialed and I’m honestly amazed I managed to keep it up for 2 or 3 years. But it was finally starting to show results.”
She had used the Sacred Forest in which even academic research was forbidden because it was seen as a pillar of Valhalla’s culture. It was the perfect place to hide.
If not for a certain action.
“About a year ago, the benevolent barrier was put up to divide Valhalla between the ocean side and mountain side. They claimed it was needed to evenly divide the city’s area, but that was a lie. Their true goal was to break apart a treasure of this world which is worth more than 50 billion dollars.”
“A treasure of this world? Are you saying there was something like that at the ‘home’ you created?”
“Yes, of course.” Nancy Jolly-Roger smiled thinly at Mariydi’s question. “The Capitalist Corporations, the Information Alliance, the Legitimacy Kingdom, and the Faith Organization…”
And she said it.
“Children from every world power were smiling together and living under a single roof. That is the world’s ultimate treasure and something that no amount of dirty money could ever buy.”
Her logic was different.
Mariydi was good friends with blood and gun smoke, so the plug and socket were simply incompatible. But that was why the words held such powerful meaning.
“There are people who want to profit by keeping the wars going. And they have dug their roots into the world far wider and deeper than you think. And I’m not just talking about some mysterious mastermind on the other side of the world. Even in the happy homes of the safe countries, people watch the distant wars on their living room TV screens and enjoy the superiority of having secured safety with money. Day by day, people consume more profits of war than they do artificial food coloring. Enough so that this truth would make anyone shiver.”
Nancy used specific language to describe a vague feeling.
Even Mariydi felt a sort of fear from those words.
“The people who seem to represent that point of view will never allow something that proves that war need not continue. Especially when it occurred in the quagmire of the Northern Restricted Zone which is far more tragic than the clean wars. Those children’s meager lives are being viewed as a social experiment. If the world at large learns of it, it could easily grow into a major movement. This goes beyond Valhalla’s underground bank or the money laundering. They need the people of the enemy nations to be cannibals, rapists, monsters, and demons who you can’t even hold a conversation with. They fear that the gears of war could grind to a halt. They wanted to destroy that ‘single roof’ even if it meant splitting apart a city of a million and destroying those children’s lives. They wanted to cover up that truth and pretend it never happened.” Nancy slowly exhaled before continuing. “They can’t ignore the children who scattered and fled. If possible, they must have wanted to capture them all and give them as cruel a fate as possible as a lesson to the world. Just killing them would not be enough. They would have wanted to create a legend to convince the world that ‘this is what happens if people from the 4 world powers try to get along’.”
So Nancy had been unable to just sit around.
She had likely sensed that her data management skills were not enough to rescue all of the children scattered across the ocean and mountain side of the city, so she had faked her work records to give herself time to head out onto the quagmire of a battlefield in her office uniform.
“Although I ended up accomplishing nothing and getting caught by some delinquent soldiers. I made up a terrible lie and relied on you because I couldn’t afford to give up. I had to know whether or not those scattered children were okay. Although reality proved to be even worse than I’d imagined.” Nancy smiled thinly. “No matter how much I had worked on the front line, I had never actually experienced the atmosphere on the scene. I didn’t know true suffering, yet I still felt like I had saved those children.”
Mariydi had completely let go of Nancy’s collar by now.
And she clicked her tongue.
“…So that’s why you seemed to sympathize with the people of Valhalla so much.”
“I didn’t realize I was doing it myself.”
“You’re the kind of person who doesn’t care how many soldiers die, but can never allow a noncombatant to be tragically caught in the middle. And it doesn’t matter which world power they belong to. You only draw the line between combatant and noncombatant.”
And before arriving in Valhalla, everyone they had seen was some form of soldier. It made sense that her behavior had changed after entering the city.
(And it’s all so no more children like me will be created, huh?)
Mariydi twisted the corners of her lips into a thin smile at that ironic pacifism.
But if that was her deal, Mariydi could trust her.
She did not know how to fire a gun or walk through the forest, but she had still persistently stuck with Mariydi even after the younger girl immediately shot her, causing her to pass out. The inconsistencies finally clicked into place.
There had been some aspects that could not be explained by assuming it was all an act, but those awkward puzzle pieces could be explained with a benevolence that did not exist within Mariydi.
“Every time we came across something bad, I was terrified that those children would be used as a scapegoat. With the smuggling base, the zombies created by synthetic molecular motors, and the reactor explosion…I thought I might find one of their names listed as a stand-in villain.”
But that meant they had yet to see the actual plan that the pro-war group wanted to use to dispose of the children. Was the destruction of Valhalla all they were doing to create a tragedy?
Nancy was relieved that she had not seen any of the children’s names, but she also had to be worried that only meant they were being preserved for something far worse.
“By the way, how many of the scattered children have you located?”
“I took me nearly a year to decide to take this final step, so 99% of them are safe. But there were still 2 I hadn’t located.”
It may have been Nancy Jolly-Roger’s humanity that prevented her from writing that off as an acceptable margin of error and instead deeming it a critical failure and putting herself in danger.
“They are twin sisters named Necleka Mojito and Eleanor Mojito, but it would seem they failed to escape and got split up between the ocean side and mountain side.”
“Mojito?” Mariydi repeated the name in surprise. “You mean like Blaze Mojito!? The vocalist of Boy Racer!?”
The Mojito surname was apparently fairly common in the cities of the Northern Restricted Zone, but the fried shrimp weakly nodded.
“There were also children of the guitarist, bassist, and drummer. Do you know why they took stage names to hide their real names? Because they were all from different world powers and they only managed to meet thanks to the bizarre intermingling found here in the Northern Restricted Zone. But that was inconvenient when it came to rising to the world stage. They hid satirical criticism of war in their lyrics because it was their dream to one day play a world tour without hiding their names.”
The fried shrimp did not seem familiar with Boy Racer’s songs themselves.
So why did she know this behind-the-scenes information that not even Mariydi knew? Because she had directly spoken with people close to the band members who had since disappeared.
“Remember the girl with the side ponytail who was protesting with a placard saying ‘give back my sister’? That was Eleanor Mojito and one of the daughters of that vocalist you like so much. I don’t know what she thought about rock, but I do remember that she liked to sing. I believe she and her twin sister were always humming improvised songs.”
“A treasure worth 50 billion dollars, hm? If they inherited his musical talent, that might be truer than you think.”
“I don’t like converting people’s lives into dollar amounts like that,” cut in Nancy. “I was worried about her, but since I faked military records to go save them, I can’t go talk to her in front of a crowd. She seemed to be carrying a prepaid cellphone, so I’m tracking its signal. I have it set to send me an alert if she comes within a certain range of a military radio signal.”
“…I didn’t think you had a computer on you.”
“I said you can get a prepaid cellphone here, right? Besides, even a payphone can be used to run an embedded program that queries an account at a local bank. Of course, that’s an emergency method that only allows strict preset commands found in the data list.”
“Are you sure she should be participating in the protest? Whether you intervene or not, that protest is going to be monitored.”
“Of course she shouldn’t be. But as I said, contacting her in a major way is too dangerous when the protest is being monitored. But the protest seems to be a continuous thing, so I hope she’s managed to blend in well enough.”
If government agents stormed into a peaceful protest and took away a child participant without giving a proper reason, it could easily develop into a major riot when word got around. The people who secretly wanted to create a ‘tragic legend’ did not want the spotlight shined on them. The villains wanted to create a Marie Antoinette, not a Joan of Arc. In that sense, taking refuge within the public eye of a protest was not a bad choice.
“…But even that will fail if the reactor sleeping in the center of the city blows up.”
There was a quiet sound.
Mariydi operated the tablet and the drones on the ground began spinning their small propellers.
“I’m not trying to brag, but as naïve as I might be, I am a pacifist. I don’t think I will ever fit in here in the Northern Restricted Zone.”
Once the rotation speed reached a certain point, the toy-like machines broke free of gravity’s invisible bonds. Once they began floating, it did not take long.
As if watching a certain kind of paper lantern, Nancy the Glasses Fried Shrimp looked up as the military weapons flew up into the night sky.
And she made a clear statement.
“But I have a reason to want to kill the bastards hiding in the shadows here. So let me help you until we’ve done that.”
There was a dull sound.
Mariydi and Nancy lightly bumped their fists together.
They looked away from the flying drones and opened the doors to the military truck.
The hard rock of Boy Racer burst from the handheld music player. But the meaning contained in those deep notes had entirely changed.
Round 1 of the counterattack had begun.