HEAVY OBJECT:Volume13 Track 12
Track 12: Signal Break
The great explosion overhead was surrounded by a vortex of wind that seemed dragged in from every direction. After the direct wind damage, the television, radio, cellphone, internet, and other wired and wireless communication media were cut.
“Wah, wah, wahhh!!”
“Stop, don’t go outside, boy! Tons of deadly weapons on legs are making a mess of things out there, so stay inside!!”
“But, papa, a masked guy just went flying. Like a horse had kicked him.”
“That was a robber trying to use the confusion to get in our shop!!”
The chaos had brought the Divided City of Valhalla to a state of panic and Mariydi skillfully drove through it all. She was moving at speeds where a vehicle with the usual weak tire grip would have been sliding all over the place. Visibility was poor thanks to all the gray dust, so most of the wiser drivers had stopped on the curb to wait it out. That meant Mariydi and the fried shrimp could smoothly drive around without worrying about accidents or congestion.
The younger girl spoke as she listened to a Boy Racer masterpiece.
“Isn’t it mainly the police cars and rescue vehicles getting into accidents? Come on, people. You’re not getting paid overtime no matter how hard you work here, so just pull over. Well, those vehicles are built tough, so running into a road sign probably won’t injure them too badly.”
“H-how long will this fool the villaaaiiins?”
“We just have to pray an overly curious radio lover doesn’t try to leave the city with their prized collection.”
Mariydi was flooring the accelerator, but she did not actually have a set destination in mind. For the time being, she drove toward the Information Alliance exit surrounded by the artificial mountains.
“Can…hear…ydi! …tons of…gnals…ying around. …an emergen…easily…the encrypt… We’re…begin…decryption!”
Mariydi clicked her tongue as she turned a dial on the military radio that had been installed separately to the stereo.
“Damn, we’re being hit by the electronic interference we put in place. We need to contact the intelligence division group that left the city!”
“Seeing all this chaos here, I can only assume they managed to cut the connections out of the cityyy.”
The wired connections within the city were still up, so the traffic control center was safe. It was fortunate the traffic light controls were working. Mariydi did not want secondary damages.
The Information Alliance soldiers supposedly had a gate set up at the Divided City of Valhalla’s entrance, but they must have left to rescue people because the station was empty. There was no need to even get out of the truck. When Nancy glanced over and snapped her fingers, the metal claws of the spike lock retracted into the road. Even with the powerful electronic interference, a signal could apparently reach from a meter away.
After finally exiting the city, Mariydi asked the fried shrimp in the passenger seat a question.
“Be honest: how much can hackers really do?”
“Once you know how it works, it’s actually extremely restrictive and not very convenient. Just like stage magic, the trick is to make it look like you can do anything.”
Even in the dark mountains, the communications situation did not recover.
Only once the lights of the city had completely vanished did a clear voice break through the static that seemed to stab into their brains. It was the middle-aged intelligence agent.
“Can you hear me, Mariydi? I’ve been calling into this thing all night long and I really don’t want that to continue through to dawn!”
“We somehow managed to leave the city. How goes the main task?”
When she stopped the truck, Nancy looked back and cried out.
Mariydi checked in the side mirror and saw something like an impressive pure white world tree towering above the city. Needless to say, that was the perfectly safe mushroom cloud that they had created. The actual damages were nearly zero, but anyone who saw it from a distance would have their heart crushed by worry. The Valhalla residents may have only been so calm because they were too close to see it all.
“So I finally got through,” said the middle-aged man. “We successfully severed the primarily fiber optic cables out of the city to match the timing of the explosion. The Divided City of Valhalla is entirely isolated. Since then, we have intercepted a total of 5,023,619 wireless transmissions in the vicinity. The world was shocked awake, Mariydi.”
“That’s fine, but you’ve managed to single out some of those transmissions, right? We don’t have time to deal with an amateur paparazzo armed with only a cellphone or a video-maker who wants to be famous.”
“A lot of them were military transmissions, but we found some that used ridiculously powerful encryption and yet didn’t match the standards of any of the 4 world powers. We decrypted it by borrowing a supercomputer used to develop new drugs at a California biochemistry university, so we can give you the original messages. The transmissions themselves were short. They probably only decided to meet up somewhere and left the details for that meeting.”
“Get to the point.”
“Don’t rely on us for everything. Listen to it for yourself.”
Mariydi grimaced when he practically spat those words out at her. At middle age, he simply did not understand modern kids who liked to check a video site to see how something ended before watching it.
Then the voice data played from the radio.
“Who was it? Who inserted the key!? There is an etiquette to making information attacks. If you don’t contact me in advance, I can’t make my preparations for manipulating public opinion!”
“Wait, don’t say anymore on the signal. This might be an unofficial line, but we never know who could be recording this!”
“Besides, we had it set up so you need to physically enter 4 passwords and we each set one of them. It shouldn’t have been possible input the detonation code without agreement from all 4 of us.”
“…Doesn’t this mean someone got ahead of us?”
“We shouldn’t say anymore here. Let’s meet in person.”
“Safety measures are great, but this is spreading beyond our plans with every passing second. We can’t spend time on preparations.”
“And we can’t use our ‘usual spot’ since Valhalla was blown away.”
“That’s right. …Then we’ll just have to use the next point.”
“Where is the next point?”
Once done listening, Mariydi lightly tapped her own temple with her index finger.
And she asked a question.
“Can we use the voiceprints as evidence?”
“We decrypted it using an illegal method, so there’s no way we can submit that at a court martial. And this was using a codebook for data compression. Just like cellphone tech, it was only using mechanical presets arranged to reproduce the sounds and inflection of the original voice. You understand now, don’t you? This isn’t actually the physical voices, so you can’t extract a voiceprint from it. You’ll only find some electronic tones that sound as much like the real person as possible. This data could theoretically be produced with a computer music program or synthesizer so it can’t prove anything. This can’t push back their full chorus of lawyers.”
“…Then let’s quit getting sidetracked and focus on the real issue: is this conversation enough to determine their meeting spot?”
“If I knew the answer, do you really think I would have presented this like a quiz show? We have better things to be doing.”
“Dammit!! All this and it didn’t get us anything!? Once they recover from their confusion, we’ll lose our one and only shot at this!!”
Mariydi gave herself over to the hard rock, pressed the back of her head against the driver’s seat headrest, and took a deep breath.
(Think. Complaining isn’t going to make the answer appear.)
Whatever they were going to do, they had no time. She had to find the villains’ meeting place and fire a missile into their table to blow all 4 of them away. And that meant taking action before the meeting was over.
(This situation had to be highly unexpected for them. They won’t be able to use their usual place below Valhalla, but they also can’t all gather somewhere without guaranteed safety. Just snapping a photo of a meeting between 4 VIPs carrying classified information from each world power could easily get them charged with treason.)
The world seemed to expand infinitely before her eyes, but if she ruled out all of the impossibilities and connected the remaining dots, the path would narrow down considerably.
(They will almost certainly choose somewhere they can all meet right away out of the options they have on hand. …But where exactly is that? Even these villains will only have a limited number of usable locations in the Northern Restricted Zone. I’ve been pursued by the troops at their command far too many times already. That should give me an idea of what kind of resources they have.)
The Information Alliance’s Thor’s Hammer SAM network which used a great number of missile containers along with a limited number of mobile radar devices.
The abandoned highway battle in which their supposed allies from the Capitalist Corporations had pursued them with a heavy machinegun.
The Legitimacy Kingdom’s stranded Lævateinn combat train and the zombies created by infecting the soldiers’ corpses with rabies molecular motors.
The Legitimacy Kingdom’s Punish Squadron and the Capitalist Corporations Ice Squadron that had supposedly arrived to rescue her but had forced her back to the surface.
The grounded Faith Organization’s Naglfar Argo-class battlecruiser used to decrypt the flight recorder.
The Divided City of Valhalla where a reactor slept below the city of a million.
…None of those seemed to suggest a comfortable place for the villains from the 4 world powers to settle down. But that may have only been because Mariydi still did not have a view of the whole situation. In that case, where was the blank black box that still contained a mystery she had yet to see?
She only had to think about it for a moment.
There was only one answer.
“…The rabies molecular motors.”
“Since you didn’t draw out that sound, can I assume you’re taking this seriously? Unlike everything else we’ve come across, we still don’t know which faction released those rabies molecular motors. Those shut-in villains have been attacking us with the official troops of the world powers by falsifying documents, but that was the one point where they thought that wasn’t enough, panicked, and sent in one of their secret weapons. That’s why it felt so odd. That’s why it stands out.”
“But how does that help us? Are you suggesting we search for someone infected with the rabies molecular motors and check the microscopic components for information on the manufacturer?”
“We don’t need to look into it that deeply.” Mariydi took a slow breath. “You couldn’t normally get permission to produce an inhumane weapon like rabies molecular motors. The smallpox-based one I’m familiar with apparently had to do a lot of fighting with the paperwork and that was when it was officially only a tiny amount for a proof of concept. To set up a mass-production system and distribute it as a chemical weapon would require a secret factory, but that introduces some limitations. It’s the same as a semiconductor plant. You would need a cleanroom without even a speck of dust and ultra pure water composed of only pure H20. That kind of environment isn’t easy to come by in the Northern Restricted Zone where everywhere is shaken by constant bombing and shelling. And this violates international treaties, so they can’t let anyone see what they’re doing. That means they can’t borrow a factory in one of the cities protected by a fragile myth of peace.”
Anyone could freely view the earth’s surface with civilian satellites. Secret labs had been built in the middle of the mountains or desert in the past, but that would only stand out now. Even if battlefields were whited out, no one would be stupid enough to rely on that fact.
That meant they would likely reuse an existing facility. The Northern Restricted Zone was a quagmire of a battlefield where the borders were constantly redrawn like a moving amoeba, so quite a few cities or roads between villages had been abandoned in the process. There were somethings one can reuse without catching much attention on the satellite. Just like how the Thor’s Hammer’s mobile radar had driven around on the roads while disguised as a school bus or large truck.
“It would have to be a large enough space to carry in a lot of equipment and materials where the satellites can’t see and it would have to be sturdy enough to not crack when exposed to bombs and shells. They would want to reuse something built for civilian use instead of something originally developed for military use.”
She lined up the requirements, eliminated the impossibilities, and worked out the outlines of the answer like carving a human sculpture out of a rectangular block of stone. There was more to this than simple logic. Mariydi’s choices were guided by her ample experience fighting in the Northern Restricted Zone.
And she ultimately found the answer.
“…A tunnel, I suppose.”
“Yeah,” said the middle-aged man. “I sort of remember hearing about abandoned tunnels being reused as wine cellars. That and for growing white asparagus, I think.”
“It would have to be quite long, but the ones that run all the way through a mountain can be longer than ten kilometers. Looking at the overall volume, they would have more space than a school to work with. And if it’s a tunnel in a forest away from any major cities, they could easily collect the clean water needed to make ultra pure water. Places like that were considered for emergency runways for fighters to take off and land away from the bombings. A small aircraft meant for taking off from and landing on highways was even developed here in Scandinavia. That means it would be plenty strong as a bomb shelter. Plus, a sealed tunnel will already have giant ventilation ducts and a spare power source to release the exhaust. If they used that to generate their own power, no one would notice the power they used. …I could list more, but no other location would be better for a secret factory.”
If vehicles kept driving into a supposedly abandoned tunnel, someone might get suspicious, but nothing said the tunnel had just the 2 entrances. In case of accidents, emergency exits were generally prepared at even intervals, but those would be deep in the forest. With the branches spread out overhead like an umbrella, the satellites could not tell if anyone was going in or out.
“But, Mariydi, there have to be hundreds of those abandoned tunnels. This is the Northern Restricted Zone, known for the beautiful fjords created by the ocean and mountains.”
“I know that. And that’s why they’re hiding their tree in the forest. If they wanted an even sturdier facility, there are plenty of candidates, like an old power plant. But something you can find anywhere is perfect for them. That part is important.”
“…Act smug all you want, but how are you going to find the right one? You can’t exactly start from the north and work south.”
“Well, I doubt it will be as easy as checking for exhaust heat with a satellite.” Mariydi slowly licked her lovely lips. “The majority of the Northern Restricted Zone will be whited out and unviewable on civilian map apps, but we just have to pray that you in the intelligence division have been doing your job. It needs to be away from any cities and near a source of natural water clean enough to make ultra pure water, it needs to have more than 5 kilometers of space for both the factory and the soldiers’ living space, and it needs to be near the base of a solid mountain so it’s deep enough to endure anything short of a bunker buster. Can you search for those conditions?”
“I’ve got 83 search results.”
“Add in that the tunnel interior can’t be directly entered from the 2 main entrances because they’ve caved in or the bridge leading to them has collapsed.”
“Wait, wait. Um…still 19 results.”
“Then I’ll add one more thing. Check the records of the local police or the MPs in Valhalla. Check for tunnels with a lot of suicides, accidents, missing people, and other unnatural incidents after it was abandoned. In other words, check for traces of witnesses being erased when they approached on a hike or drive.”
“That brought it down to exactly 1. Hvergelmir Loop. It’s a circular loop tunnel that cuts through the mountain at a height of 500 meters. Instead of passing through the mountain, it’s a junction allowing you to exit at various points around the mountain. Of course, all of the exits have been sealed off by collapses. …Are you a legendary profiler or something???”
“This was only from a few hundred options, so it’s nothing compared to web searches that check through the 10 or 20 billion sites that outnumber the population of the earth. Now hurry up and hand over the map data.”
With that answer, Mariydi restarted the military truck’s engine.
The fried shrimp in the passenger seat began to panic.
“Are we on our way to go attack that secret factoryyy!?”
“That depends. Where exactly is it located?”
“Pretty far away,” answered the man. “It’s 200km away as the bird flies. And since the roads weave back and forth along the fjords, that’s a tragic distance.”
“You heard him.”
Besides, that was somewhere sturdy enough for the world’s 4 villains to gather without worry. Mariydi doubted 1 expert and 1 amateur could do any damage charging in with a knife and a gun.
“So did you procure what I asked for?”
“Just to be clear, this is a piece of junk from the Northern Restricted Zone, so caveat emptor,” said the man. “It’s too late if you later realize it’s missing a crucial part inside.”
The fried shrimp was getting annoying, but Mariydi continued driving the truck regardless.
They arrived in the middle of the highway instead of a set location.
The blond girl retrieved her handheld music player, left the truck, and saw some men lined up across the road, shining flashlights on the ground, and slowly walking along.
“Hi. You’re even cleaning up the trash for me?”
“We chose low-pressure tires meant for field battles, but don’t trust them too much. Generally speaking, stepping on a single screw could mean a failed takeoff and a giant fireball around you.”
The glasses fried shrimp was full of questions.
In the darkness, Mariydi took a military flashlight that doubled as a club from the middle-aged intelligence agent and shined the light in a different direction.
Nancy let out a short shriek when she saw what was there:
A large dump truck with a thick sheet over the back.
And a gray-winged fighter that had likely been assembled from the dump truck’s contents.
Mariydi had the look of someone who had heard their favorite song playing on a restaurant’s sound system.
“The Capitalist Corporations Zig-27, hm? Good job.”
“Wh-wh-wh-why is there a fighter herrrre!?”
“Because we bought one off the black market, of course.”
“Hey, miss, you make it sound simple, but procuring that thing was anything but easy! Especially when you insisted on that large Capitalist Corporations twin-engine model!!”
“And that’s why I honestly praised you for doing a good job. Good boy, good boy.”
Mariydi let out an exasperated sigh and patted the worn-out middle-aged man’s head as she looked over at the fried shrimp.
“Procuring a whole fighter would be difficult, but this is the Northern Restricted Zone. How many do you think are shot down here on a daily basis? By swiping the usable parts from multiple downed fighters, you can create a whole one. The only problem is that they get sold for ridiculous prices because people think they’re brilliant craftsmen just for putting together parts they picked off the ground.”
“…And there are also ones that don’t know what the completed fighter is supposed to look like and end up with an original aircraft made from different fighters’ parts. It’s like they gather all the robot arms and weapons and stick them all on there because they like how it looks.”
“This one was made by a proper ‘craftsman’, right?”
“Yes, but those certificates have been counterfeited lately, so they aren’t all that trustworthy.”
It was all about supply and demand.
In the Northern Restricted Zone, people would gather the parts of crashed fighters like a troublesome old man that gathered old newspapers and magazines bundled up on the porch for recycling.
The fried shrimp did not seem able to speak properly, so she simply flapped her mouth wordlessly and looked to the middle-aged intelligence agent. She was long past expecting to understand Mariydi’s craziness, but her expression said she at least wanted an explanation of how their entire organization could put up with that craziness.
“This is the Capitalist Corporations way.” The man’s response could not have been simpler. “It turns out our great leader, Mariydi Whitewitch, was even wealthier than we thought. The high-ranking…sorry, high-earning soldiers who never have a chance to spend their money are a frightening thing.”
“You’re the one that said there’s more to money than just earning it and the true value is in spending it. ….Do you accept credit cards?”
“You even have an unlimited black card, do you? Frightening indeed. And not many people in any one credit card company are double-strikethrough VIP customers that don’t leave their name in the records! Thank you very much!!”
An incredibly dark handshake was exchanged in front of the glasses girl.
Nancy held a hand to her forehead. Was there some kind of morals-destroying magnetism leaking into the Northern Restricted Zone?
Meanwhile, Mariydi climbed the access ladder and hopped into the fighter through the opened canopy.
“You’ve completed the system check, I assume. What about the physical tests?”
“Our engineer lit the engine and tested the tail flaps, but we didn’t do a real wind tunnel test. The welding might come undone, causing it to fall apart as soon as you take flight, but that’s outside of what we can support.”
“You heard him.” Mariydi gave a truly cruel smile. “What’ll it be, fried shrimp? There hasn’t been a proper test flight and the same goes for a test of the single-use ejection device. In other words, flying in this carries the risk of death. Are you still going to stick with me?”
“As long as there’s at least one thing I can do for those children.”
“No hesitation, huh? To be honest, you probably won’t be anything more than a burden, but hop in already.”
The middle-aged intelligence agent’s eyes followed the glasses fried shrimp’s butt as she nervously climbed the access ladder, but then he frowned a little.
He spoke up while staring at that butt enough to get tired of it.
“Hey, miss, don’t you need a g-suit? We did buy both the top and bottom.”
“Yessssss!? I-if you have one, I’ll put it on! There’s no real reason not to!!”
“It’s used, so it’ll be a one-size-fits-all model that a corpse was wearing in a crashed fighter, right? She has no tolerance for that kind of thing, so she’ll probably puke.”
She started groaning just imagining it, so putting one on her would not end well.
Incidentally, reusing the pieces of crashed fighters meant they were closing themselves inside a used coffin, but Mariydi left that unsaid because she did not want the older girl to fill her new fighter with vomit.
Nancy had no choice but to tearfully tie cords around her thighs and Mariydi casually spoke to her while listening to a Boy Racer masterpiece from her handheld music player.
“I won’t save you even if you blackout. As long as I’m wide awake, we won’t crash. I don’t care if your eyes roll back in your head and you foam at the mouth, but try not to bite your tongue.”
“Huh, huhhh? Does that mean we’re about to begin an unprecedented kind of torturrrre!? Is this divine punishment for trying to act coooool!?”
Mariydi was not about to go along with her complaints, so she closed the canopy. Some might view that as trapping the fried shrimp in the cockpit. The middle-aged man gestured to let her know everyone was away from the back of the aircraft, so Mariydi followed the proper procedure to ignite the engine.
The vehicles lined up along either side of the highway switched their headlights on one after another. In no time, a makeshift runway appeared in the darkness of the night.
The preparations were complete.
“Welcome to the world’s greatest centrifuge.”
“Are you trying to turn me into butter or soooaaap!?”
The twin-engine fighter rapidly accelerated while held to the ground by gravity, but the aircraft was meant to travel through the sky. It passed 200kph in no time, the air resistance became lift, and the mass of composite armor began to float up from the highway.
These speeds were greater than the average sports car, but it felt like swimming in molasses. It was the same as how watching a video of skydiving for too long made it look like the divers were actually ascending.
“The distance is only about 200km, so we’ll arrive in just a few minutes like this. Prepare yourself.”
“Obh, obah, obabababababababah!!”
“What’s that weird noise for? Are you the kind of person whose sexual awakening came courtesy of her bike seat? I’ll admit the vibration of the engine penetrates your entire body, but try not to enjoy it that way.”
While operating her music player to select one of her favorite rock numbers, Mariydi aimed toward their destination with even her head shaking. There was nothing but mountains large and small all around, but human vision was a mysterious thing. When you focused too strongly in a single direction, that direction alone would look more ominous.
Her slender fingers operated the LCD.
Instead of a radar or map, she accessed a “criminal confession” sent to the general internet via a video site. A blonde girl spoke in front of the video camera while wearing an octopus-like gas mask and a raincoat that hid her identity and body type.
It was of course Mariydi Whitewitch herself and it was filmed by the Capitalist Corporations intelligence division men.
In the video, she said the following:
“In the Capitalist Corporations style, we have obliterated the Divided City of Valhalla to destroy the giant underground bank that glorified a false prosperity built on lies that spreads chaos throughout the world economy. A toast to the global director who appropriately manages the world’s assets. And we have a warning for the similar underground banks around the world. We will show no mercy, even if you exist within a safe country. We shall purge this planet of all underground banks. This was no more than the tutorial stage for a long-term game!! …Oh, Lord Hayato, Lady Recess. We are filming at the moment, so try to stay out of frame.”
She heard the middle-aged man chuckling over the radio.
“I can’t believe we actually used their names like that. It’s so badly done. Any idiot can tell it’s a third-rate fake. Identity theft is a serious crime, you know? The Information Alliance is sure to be pissed when they see this.”
“There’s actual truth behind our claims, so they can’t just call it fake news. It’s their turn to be manipulated. These villains are soldiers, so once the organization gets moving, they can’t stop it.”
“You mean they’ll give the go-sign for an attack on the Hvergelmir Loop?”
“The very mission they electronically signed for will drop a bomb right on their heads. A fitting end for them, don’t you think?”
With a derisive snort, Mariydi shifted her focus from the radio to the back seat.
“If there really is a secret factory in that abandoned tunnel, their alarm network will have detected us from the moment we took off. There are going to be anti-air weapons all throughout the forests here. Such as missiles and guns hidden below the tree branches or under plastic sheets.”
“Dobh, what, gabh, will you, dobh, do about, gahh, thaaat?”
The fried shrimp seemed to be full of odd noises, but Mariydi’s answer was simple.
“Unfortunately, we’re not playing a bullet hell game, so we have limited ammo. We can’t just blow them all up. And even if this is a large fighter, we need to preserve the armaments hanging from its wings.”
Island Nation swords were famous for the sword fights in period dramas, but they actually became useless due to all the blood and fat after cutting down a few people in a single battle. Similarly, fighters were not designed to single-handedly take on a great number of enemies in a long-term battle.
“We’ll use our speed to shake all the unnecessary ones. Sorry, but this is about to get pretty acrobatic. I mentioned that your blood will gather in your ankles under high Gs, right? For the same reason, if you don’t keep things tight in the crotch, gravity will make you wet yourself whether you want to or not, so be careful.”
The hard rock song changed and the fried shrimp screamed as the large twin-engine Zig-27 fighter spun forcefully around.
Spears with long and narrow trails of smoke rose from the surface and attacked their prey in the night sky, but there was nothing to fear since this was not the Thor’s Hammer from before. The electronic armaments on the ends of the main wings scattered a jamming signal, the fighter made a sharp turn past the first wave, and it continued further and further in.
“Active Jammer: Defense Delta.”
Heat sources, metal readings, communication signals, and more were used to calculate the location of targets in the mountains and target boxes were displayed there.
“Tanks and gunships, huh?”
Mariydi kept the Zig-27 at an altitude of 500 meters to focus in the anti-surface battle while making sure not to crash into the mountains. The helicopter gunships could fly, but since they were stopped in the mountains which were only a few hundred meters, she could ignore them without even having to make a sweep with her regular gun.
“These are the guards of a secret factory they can’t let anyone know exists. They must want to avoid flying too high and showing up on civilian CTs.”
Modern helicopter gunships and tanks were equipped with SAMs, but these were apparently using multiple launch systems with warheads no larger than those used for shoulder-fired missiles. The bare-chested machos in movies could hit with perfect accuracy using those, but in actual battle, they tended not to hit unless you took careful aim from behind a fighter flying in a straight line just off the ground to make a sweep with its machinegun. The shoulder-fired missiles carried around by an individual were only an emergency method much like a fire extinguisher. Just as a fire extinguisher could not instantly put out any fire with no exceptions, shoulder-fired missiles were not made to handle every situation. Although having one on hand could still be a relief.
That said, it was not all that easy.
“So they did have more hidden here. Are those Faith Organization Fefnirs? They really do love their VTOLs, don’t they?”
There were plenty of highways and tunnels in addition to the abandoned Hvergelmir Loop. Some small variable-sweep-wing fighters were taking off from those. Instead of using them as runways, they were dragged out onto them like heliports before rising vertically. If she had had the ammo necessary, Mariydi would have loved to destroy them before they took off, but that was not an option. This would all be for naught if she ran out of ammo before arriving at the abandoned tunnel she had to bomb.
“Uhb, if we pass by them, won’t we be exposing our tail to them? Isn’t that baaad!?”
“It isn’t often you bring up such a good point.”
Dogfights were about taking up a position behind your opponent, so exposing your tail to them was of course bad. In fact, it was about the worst thing you could do.
But this was not a problem.
“The cavalry has arrived.”
Just as Mariydi glanced down at the LCD radar display and made that comment, 3 masses of composite armor cut across the night sky as if forming a cross with her course.
The shockwave of their passage just a few meters away shook Mariydi and Nancy’s fighter. Nancy blinked in confusion in the rear seat, so had she even been able to see it?
It was not a defense squadron sent in by the villains that had crossed their path.
They were Capitalist Corporations Zig-27 multi-role righters just like the one Mariydi was piloting. If she had seen the emblem largely emblazoned on the main wings, would she have known who they were?
That emblem was a blue maiden’s silhouette carrying an ice crystal.
“Ice Sword 2 to unknown. Put out the usual signal on your IFF, leader!!”
“Were you idiots just waiting around for this moment?”
“Ice Horse 3. We’re under your command. What should we do?”
“I’ll crush Hvergelmir with a damn heavy bunker buster, so don’t worry about that. More importantly some Faith Organization Fefnirs are coming. Looks like 8 of them. I’m not really in any position for a dogfight with this extra burden weighing me down. Swat down the perverted stalkers aiming for my ass, will you?”
“Ice Burn 4. Roger that!!”
The trend of the battle quickly changed.
The violence of numbers did exist in the world of aircrafts, but there was a world of difference between the Zig-27s which were already up to speed and the Fefnirs which were only just shifting their vectors from vertical to horizontal. The standard tack was of course to take out as many as possible before they could finish shifting into combat mode.
Meanwhile, Mariydi alone charged deeper in.
“Ice Girl 1 to all. What about the others?”
“Ice Sword 2. Fighters generally can’t just take off without permission. Unlike a certain someone I could mention.”
“So why’d they give you tacit permission? Surely that previous trick wasn’t that convincing.”
“Apparently, all of the Pilot Elites around the world who were ‘shipped out’ from Scandinavia could possibly go on strike. This could seriously jam the gears of war around the world, so the higher ups must be sweating bullets. Might make a good diet for them.”
As Mariydi had pointed out when viewing the protest before, the true purpose of protests was for a large group to stop working and apply enough economic pressure for the leaders to sit down at the negotiating table. The Pilot Elites deployed across the world were doing that now.
…The faked video claiming responsibility for the bombing had only talked about the underground banks. It had not mentioned anything about Nancy or the children.
But the Scandinavian Cinderellas created for the villains’ business interests must have sensed some kind of message there. They seemed to be supporting someone who had not arrived in time for them and working to not create anyone else like them.
“Curse those high-paid monsters. They’ve dug in their roots and hidden private troops all around the world.”
“Ice Horse 3. Don’t say that. This is being treated like a recon mission. If we make enough of a scene to reveal the villains behind all this, the higher ups will get off their asses and do something about it.”
“That will take too long. We need to take out the villains before they can escape. I’ll teach them who the star is here.”
As they chatted, she approached the goal.
The middle-aged intelligence agent must have been monitoring her position because he spoke up.
“You can’t miss using a GPS smart bomb. The margin of error is 4cm.”
“I’m getting an error on the LCD display, you moron. It can’t link with the military satellite. You didn’t activate the software right, did you?”
This was only a hunk of junk pieced together from crashed fighters and forcibly loaded with a military OS the intelligence division had scrounged up. Then again, it would be a major problem if a device that was essentially a maliciously emulated version could slip past the authentication for a military datalink, so this failure might have been the correct result.
“Ice Horse 3 to commander. What are you going to do?”
“Are you kidding? The fuse itself is still live, so I just have to drop it freefall-style.”
The Legitimacy Kingdom, Information Alliance, Capitalist Corporations, and Faith Organization.
They had to be rushing around out at the moment, but as long as the damn heavy bunker buster broke through the rock and delivered its deadly fruit anywhere within the circular loop tunnel, the explosive flames and shockwave would fill every nook and cranny of the sealed space and reach the villains wherever they might be. They would be blown out like cleaning out a bath pipe.
“…Now, then. It’s time to drop this damn heavy load.”
She was only flying a collection of abandoned parts. Since it had not been properly activated over the Capitalist Corporations military datalink, she could not use GPS guidance or any other online weapons that received help from an external machine instead of relying only on the fighter itself. That meant she had to rely on an old-fashioned freefall drop that took into account altitude, speed, tilt, the bomb’s weight, air resistance, gravity, the Coriolis effect, and plenty of other factors.
Mariydi did not feel particularly nervous.
She was given a guide display, but she did not rely on it too much. It was a little complicated, but it felt about as difficult as parallel parking in the city. That is, it seemed difficult until you were used to it, but you could just follow your instincts once you were used to it.
This skill was seen as old-fashioned in an age full of online weapons where a missile was controlled by a military satellite or AWACS once it was fired, but actual wars were not just a collection of cool scenes like they were in movies. Poor maintenance could cause flames to burst from the engine just after takeoff, a weapon’s radar lock could be rendered entirely useless by a poor connection in the wiring, and nothing more than the vibrations caused by air resistance could cause a crack in the base of the main wing. Those crises that would not make a good movie were all too common. And no matter how unreasonable things got, a soldier had to fight and survive to see tomorrow. In the quagmire of the Northern Restricted Zone it was not uncommon to hear stories of pilots using every trick in the book to keep their fighter in the air even with fire bursting from the engine and a crack in the main wing, using the speed of the aircraft and raising their nose to fire a missile like a javelin when it refused to lock, and safely returning after neutralizing the enemy’s airfield.
“On your mark. Standby.”
When making a freefall drop, it was important not to include any unnecessary vectors. Dropping it while flying in a straight line required fewer calculations than dropping it while flying in a curve. To increase the bomb’s flight distance, you needed to raise your nose to drop it along a curved path. To increase its penetrative power, you needed to lower your nose to drop it while pointing toward the ground. But those techniques could be ignored when using a specialized bunker buster. It would be best to fly parallel to the ground in a straight line that did not shift to the left or right.
She was only able to fly so straight on the battlefield because her wingmen were protecting her from behind. While feeling thankful for that, Mariydi prepared to make an accurate bombing.
Five seconds might not seem like much, but a supersonic fighter would travel more than 340 meters in a second.
And dropping this extra-large bunker buster bomb would fill the tunnel with explosive flames and kill every single person inside. Explosions in enclosed spaces were truly tragic. Even if it was 5 or 10 kilometers long, the extra-large flames would fill the entire tunnel in search of an exit.
Not all of the researchers running the secret factory or soldiers guarding the tunnel were necessarily all that malicious. Even if they were assisting a mission that had to be kept a secret, they would have families or lovers and some of them might need the money to save a sick little sister or something. For that matter, the 4 villains themselves would have families and friends.
But she would fire.
Mariydi Whitewitch had become one with her weapon as she coldly and accurately counted down in preparation to drop the deadly fruit.
This may have been the image Nancy Jolly-Roger most feared. This may have been the completed form of what she did not want the children she knew to become.
Only the god in heaven would know what was right and what was wrong. Fully approving of Mariydi was no different from the villains who were abducting war-traumatized children and turning them into Pilot Elites, but fully rejecting Mariydi was the same as pulling back the sword that could save those children.
Contradictions sometimes ran rampant in the world and those distortions tended to concentrate in the military. That was a fact proven by history.
Mariydi adjusted her fighter’s vector and speed. All she had to do was release the bomb she held like a clutch and the extra-large aerial bomb would be dropped on the supposedly abandoned Hvergelmir Loop.
“Shoot. Shifting to strike check.”
As soon as the bomb was released from the main wing, the aircraft tilted slightly. She had only pressed a single button, but that had created a discrepancy of more than a ton.
Now that it was released, no one could change the bomb’s course. She only had to watch it fall and accept the result.
Or so it should have been.
But Mariydi clicked her tongue and quickly moved the control column. The aircraft spun around and made a sharp turn as she did everything in her power to leave without waiting for the strike check.
Immediately afterwards, something sharp and black stabbed through the slowly falling bunker buster bomb.
This was not an attack from the kind of puny shoulder-fired missile commonly carried by infantry. However, it was also not a fighter hidden in another tunnel catching up to her.
At nearly 30m, it was the same size as a large fighter. It had a single engine, but the silhouette was clearly different from any existing fighter. There was no division between fuselage and wings and the black-painted aircraft’s swollen base and sharp tip were reminiscent of a double-edged sword.
It was more like a rocket or missile than an airplane.
It had stopped the bunker buster by flying right into it.
This triggered a large explosion nearby and the blast meant to roast the tunnel and blow up the villains instead nearly took out Mariydi’s fighter. She was not shot down, but metal shrapnel tore at the aircraft like sharp claws.
“Ice Burn 4 to Ice Girl 1!! Leader!?”
“Don’t panic! More importantly, what was that!?”
“Ice Sword 2. Another one is headed your way from diagonally down at 4 o’clock. That’s a blind spot for you, so roll out of the way!!”
She clicked her tongue and moved the control column.
Her radar was never fully effective at close range, but this dot kept appearing and disappearing.
Something black passed by at the spot she had just vacated.
It was nearly 30 meters long. It was that large, but it only briefly flashed on the radar when blasting its engine or turning around such that it exposed its belly to her.
It turned more sharply than a fighter, but it was not a single-use weapon like a missile. She had dodged the first charge, but it turned back around in a flash using movements that clearly surpassed the G-limits and then approached once more.
And it did more than just try to crash into her. She was pursued by machinegun-fire and she was exposed to missile lock radar waves, so she could not stop clicking her tongue.
“Dammit, dammit, dammit!! What the hell is this thing!?”
Unsurprisingly, AAMs were faster than fighters, they could turn better, and they persistently stuck to their target’s tail. They would never hit otherwise.
It might seem like the fighter itself should just be given the same solid fuel rocket system as the missiles, but that idea was not realistic.
Missiles could turn so sharply because they were far lighter than fighters and they could fly so fast because they burned through their solid fuel that much quicker.
Single-use missiles were not meant to return, so the design concept was fundamentally different. Building a fighter based on a missile’s structure was bound to cause problems. And even if it worked, the internal Gs would kill the pilot.
“Ice Horse 3 to Ice Girl 1. We’ve finished eliminating the Fefnirs. We will begin assisting you, commander!”
“Hurry it up.”
“Dammit, we should have it sandwiched, but I can’t stay on its tail!!”
Bright light and powerful pressure pressed in on her from a distance.
“Kssshhh!! …ce Sword 2 to all. Be careful when intercepting them at close range. These are essentially missiles, not aircraft! Once they can’t fly any further, they seem to ignite all their remaining explosives and fuel to take you out with them!”
“Ice Sword 2!?”
“Don’t worry about me. I took a lot of shrapnel, but I can still fly!!”
“Ice Girl 1 to Ice Sword 2. If the smoke from your main wing hasn’t stopped in 120 seconds, bail out. And they can use the advantages of a missile to the very end? Goddammit!!”
It continually fired on them like it was human, but that seemed to be meant to reduce their freedom of movement, not to shoot them down. So once it had them stopped, it would fly right into them and blow itself up once it was within definite lethal range. These were meant to be “fired” not “flown”.
Their greatest attack was flying into the enemy, but they also had machineguns and AAMs and they had enough intelligence to fire chaff or flares to shake any counterattacks.
“Are they something like disposable brain missiles? How much do each of these bizarre things cost to fire!?”
“Ice Sword 2 to Ice Girl 1. They use sharp turns and deception weapons to escape our radar and IR and then register us as a candidate target for flying into. Don’t let your guard down even if you launch a fire-and-forget missile.”
Its overall shape was that of a double-edged sword that narrowed to a sharp point at the tip.
But they would not have appeared out of thin air. If there was a weapon in the air, there had to be a platform that launched it. Even if they were stealth, the platform had to be quite nearby for them to not notice until they were so close.
“Ice Sword 2 to all. Focus on the ocean. Something’s coming from the inlet!”
An especially large dot appeared on the radar.
She could not hear anything while protected by a canopy that could withstand the shockwave of a sonic boom, but it had to have made quite a noise if observed from the ground.
It was like nearly the entire coast had been disguised.
The camouflage sheet with lots of real tree branches and leaves placed on top was removed and something far too large appeared from between the shark teeth of the sharp fjords.
It looked small from the fighter’s altitude, but given the scale, it had to be more than 700 meters.
The overall silhouette was similar to a boomerang, but the design was clearly different from existing submarines and warships.
Mariydi did not really know what it was, but she knew it was bad news.
She trusted her instincts and immediately prepared to drop her sole remaining bunker buster on it.
But it was just a slight bit faster.
A white light burst from the entire smooth rear edge. By the time Mariydi narrowed her eyes at the bright light, the giant form was already gone from that spot. It had completely blasted itself forward. It was a marine weapon that floated in the black ocean, but it lived in the same supersonic world as airborne Mariydi.
The 2 floats directly below it moved backwards and it began to look like a giant ray with 2 tails.
The ray left the jagged fjord, entered the ocean, made a wide turn, and tried to point its nose her way. And it did more than just that. As Mariydi grimaced at missing her chance to attack, it launched long trails of smoke up from the flat island of its upper surface.
They were all those double-edged sword weapons colored black with ferrite.
These were an additional 20 of the same brain missiles as the one causing her so much trouble from behind.
Their courses bent as they began pursuing Mariydi in a flash. They thought for themselves and pursued their target with inhumanly sharp maneuvers in order to envelop their targets in a flower of flames like a missile.
“Goddamn these things!!!!!”
“Ubweh!? Wh-wh-what is that thing!?”
She should not have had time to answer the fried shrimp’s question, but she still politely responded while continually moving the control column back and forth. She may have wanted to calm her own desire for an answer.
“Probably a GEM, or ground effect machine, but it’s huge. From the looks of it, it might be even tougher than the Lævateinn combat train!!”
It was something like a small island moving around the ocean faster than the speed of sound. She understood the principle behind it, but the sight was enough to make her dizzy.
“That…that huge thing…is a kind of airplaaaane!?”
“Like a hovercraft, it can only float just off the water’s surface. Still, it’s a good thing we’re using a fighter. If we had used a warship out at sea or a tank on the coast, we would’ve been killed several times over by that speed and those brain missiles.”
If the nearly 30m brain missiles it used were chemical missiles that relied on an oxidizer despite operating in the atmosphere, then it could be classified as a ground effect machine chemical missile bomber (GEMCMB).
Since it had appeared now, it had to be one of the weapons protecting the villains. It was 700 meters wide. That was more than 10 Objects, which seemed like an unpleasant symbol. Once more, the 50 billion dollar price on Mariydi’s head made an appearance.
“Ice Sword 2 to Ice Girl 1. Might the villains be riding that thing?”
“I doubt it,” answered Mariydi while just barely dodging the approaching brain missiles.
“Dbhy, dbhy nhoooot!?”
“The same reason you’re being tossed around back there. The 4 villains won’t have a tolerance for a high-G environment. And the inertial intensity is influenced by the weight of the craft itself in addition to the speed and angle. Move that giant thing around like a fighter and I can’t even imagine what the Gs are like inside it. A normal person would probably end up as something akin to butter.”
That meant it was piloted by someone with the same special training…no, human experimentation as an Object’s Pilot Elite, or it too was unmanned.
The answer came from somewhere unexpected.
It was the middle-aged intelligence agent.
“Mariydi!! We heard something interesting from the old ‘craftsman’ who put your fighter together. There was some big and secret job 2 or 3 years ago and a lot of people in his line of work were recruited, but he hasn’t been able to contact any of them since. He claims it was the same principle as the architect who builds a king’s castle: once the job was done, they were all ‘silenced’ so its secrets would not get out.”
“I’m a little busy trying not to die! Is that sob story going anywhere!?”
“It turns out the data for the plans was recently sent to the old man. It was probably meant as final message on the verge of death. The plans were for an unbelievably unrealistic weapon, but tracing the money back from the recruiters in black led right to the 4 villains you’re currently fighting with.”
“Was it a 700m-wide GEM?”
“It’s like the end result of trying to make a world record with the world’s largest pot of paella. I’ll send you the data so you can view it on your LCD while we talk.”
“Send it to my wingmen too. If an unknown like me tried to send it to them, it might get rejected by the datalink firewall.”
The middle-aged intelligence agent sounded like he could not believe what he was seeing.
“Its development codename is Wotan. That’s an alternate name for a certain head god. It’s an experimental weapon that had a laundry list of problems to solve: how to provide the lift to keep something that big afloat, what to do about the pilot given the insane Gs created by its movement, how to control the Gungnir high-speed high-mobility brain missiles, etc.”
“Why would they need to rely on something like that when Objects exist!? Those brain missiles might think for themselves and pursue their target with superhuman acrobatics, but they’d be useless against a SAL. I don’t see a use for them outside of filling in a gap in the Northern Restricted Zone!!”
“No, no.” The man slowly rejected that idea. “The villains are pro-war. And they’re the ones that are sipping at the sweet nectar provided by the old-fashioned quagmire of the Northern Restricted Zone that lives on despite the modern clean wars. They would be in trouble if the people who control the wider world decided to get up and crush the savage Northern Restricted Zone. That means they have to avoid making something that does better than absolutely necessary. To soothe the pride of those using the Objects, they have to offer something every once in a while. They need some kind of obvious results from the Northern Restricted Zone.”
“…So they intentionally create a weapon that will fail in the wider world?”
“And they spent 50 billion dollars to do so. By keeping the Northern Restricted Zone as the laughing stock of the world, they maintain the power balance and further drive home the impression that this is a Galapagos that can’t alter the trends of the world at large. They strengthen the clean war paradigm so that the Northern Restricted Zone is allowed to live on in the gaps. That’s why they wanted a bizarre, dumb, and utterly misguided weapon.”
Wotan was the head god, but also a god who lost his life in the final war.
That was tragic for the pilot placed inside the thing.
“Ice Sword 2. That’s awful.”
Like the battery powering a toy doll as it marched toward a cliff’s age, that person was doomed to be smashed along with the toy. Had they been deceived and kept ignorant of their fate, or were they prepared to protect the Northern Restricted Zone at all costs? Their body had likely been modified even more than a Pilot Elite’s, so there was no aspect of this that worked in their favor.
…And with that in mind, Mariydi felt like she had touched the tail-end of some kind of incredible malice. Nancy Jolly-Roger was groaning behind her in the back seat of the fighter. What had that older girl come to the Northern Restricted Zone to do? What had her original job been?
“Those Cinderella Wizard people do some pretty tragic stuff,” said the middle-aged intelligence agent. “I’m not one to talk what with everything I’ve done as an intelligence agent, but it was a shock to learn there’s a group like that in the Capitalist Corporations.”
The fried shrimp had nearly passed out, but now her shoulders jumped due to something other than the high Gs.
“They’ve apparently thoroughly modified a kid’s brain and forced her to act as the core of the giant weapons system. She has no will of her own as external electrical signals are sent in as commands, so she’s like a human computer hooked up to a medical life support device. In other words, the fairy god mother prepared a lovely dress and glass slippers for the unhappy girl, but they were not meant to make the girl happy. They were meant to transform her into a product that would please the scumbag of a prince.”
Nancy had contacted almost all of the scattered children.
She had seen Eleanor, one of the twin girls, at Valhalla.
Then who was the final one?
There was only one possible name.
Why had Eleanor been unable to find her identical twin no matter how much she wandered around?
“The pilot is named Necleka Mojito. Sex: Female. Age: 11. This is Cinderella Wizard’s greatest offering and the final fortress protecting the piece-of-shit villains. I hate that it feels like they intentionally chose to use the daughter of a vocalist who hid criticisms of war in his songs!!”