HEAVY OBJECT:Volume13 Track 7
Track 07: Last, Lust, Lost
Mariydi had been fully convinced the battle was over, so she had to frantically grab the control column once more. Several alarms activated as she did so. She was being hit by radar waves from her own Ice Squadron.
Even with a Boy Racer masterpiece permeating her body, she could not stop sweating from tension.
They were not locking onto her in order to demand she make a forced landing (FL). In that case, they would have sent a warning before beginning the lock. Besides, her own squadron would have no reason to order an FL.
“See, I told yooouuu!!”
“Shut up!! …This can’t be happening!! Why would my own squadron be after my tail!?”
“Urp. Maybe they have a lot of frustration to take out on you from the way you treat them on a daily basis…”
“Do you want me to fire right back at you!?”
Mariydi was confused, but she twisted her fighter around for a sharp turn.
Could they not trust her because she was flying an enemy fighter? Or were they now working for whoever was offering the 50 billion dollars? Speculation raced through her mind, but none of it was very convincing. The current situation simply did not add up with her view of her squadron.
(What the hell is going on!?)
“Ice Girl 1 to all, Ice Girl 1 to all!! It’s me!! Do I need to read off the number engraved in my dog tags!?”
She opened the radio and shouted at them, but there was no response.
More lines of tracer rounds pursued her and gradually took away her freedom of movement. If she was captured by the inertial G limit, her movements would simplify and they would complete a lock. She could not escape.
(What would get them to turn against me?)
Even so, this was the focus of Mariydi’s mind.
(Were their friends or lovers taken hostage? Are they getting an extra bonus for shooting me down? Is there some kind of just cause they can’t complete without shooting me down? No, none of that would explain this. These are the idiots who ignored the BtB order and kept flying around so they could demand a search for me. If they’re willing to go that far, some threats or temptation now aren’t going to change their resolve.)
In that case, what was it?
What possible reason could the rest of Ice Squadron have to try so persistently to shoot her down?
“…I see. So that’s it.”
“So those idiots still want to fly with me.”
“How did you reach that conclusion? They’re ganging up on us right nowww!!”
“That’s the point!!” Mariydi was a little annoyed that Nancy did not understand. “They’re trying to gain the trust of the higher ups by turning on me and shooting me down. That way they can continue their own investigation from within the organization. And if they let another squadron handle this mission, they’d probably pretend they never heard my transmissions and claim they only took out a Legitimacy Kingdom crew!”
“Since those idiots were the first ones here, they must have the most accurate information. Enough to keep up the fight against the higher ups behind this conspiracy!”
Whether or not they could actually get the price removed from her head, it meant a lot to know she had people on her side. She could not put her squadron in danger.
“…Fine, then. I’ll let you shoot me down.”
“Whaaat!? Wh-what did you say just n-n-nowww!?”
No matter what anyone might say, Mariydi was the one holding the control column, so she began a quick descent. In a by-the-book response, 2 of the “enemies” pursued her and 1 remained above to cut off her ascent. Now Mariydi’s only option was to weave her way through the precipitous mountains. If she sped up, she would slam into a mountain. If she slowed down in fear, the pursuing Zig-27s would shoot her down with a missile. But if she moved up, she would expose her tail to the other fighter.
It was an ideal pursuit for them.
Of course, they would never do it in a real battle because it was too easy to predict.
As the radar exposure buzzer rang, Mariydi made a decision with such a carefree attitude she could have been humming.
“This area looks good.”
“Wait! No! You’re kidding, riiight!?”
It was obvious what was making the fried shrimp protest.
There was a gaping hole in the green mountain surface.
“That’s an abandoned tunnel.”
This was actually less difficult than landing on an aircraft carrier. Just after Mariydi’s S/G-31 flew cleanly inside with the same motion used to descend toward a runway, 2 AAMs fired from directly behind her produced brilliant blossoms of flame at the entrance.
Her dot had vanished from the radar, but CT would pick her up again if she simply flew out the other end of the tunnel. So Mariydi brought the 3 wheels out from the bottom of the fuselage and forcibly began the usual landing motion inside the tunnel.
With a dull bursting noise, the nose tilted downwards.
“Wah, wah, wahhh!!”
“Tch. I was afraid I’d blow a tire. Hey, fried shrimp, we’ll make it somehow, so don’t piss yourself.”
A great din followed as if a thick piece of metal were being worn down by an electric grinder. The trail of sparks would have looked beautiful from the outside.
Fighters were generally towed around, so they were not built to make turns on the ground under their own power like a car. But the S/G-31 was equipped with VTOL functionality. Making minute adjustments to the direction of the boosters allowed for minor changes of direction similar to operating a steering wheel.
To be blunt, not even a professional pilot had any use for this skill.
Lastly, there was only a scant 40cm between the tilted delta wings and the tunnel walls.
But Mariydi successfully pulled off the landing without batting an eye and then she popped the canopy.
There was no access ladder for climbing down, but she was pretty close to the ground thanks to blowing the front tire. She tossed aside the helmet, pulled out the handmade ghillie suit she had placed below her butt so it would be out of the way, retrieved her handheld music player, and hopped down to the cracked ground of the abandoned tunnel.
“What should we do with this thing? Take it to the exit and blow it up? No, any weird camouflage would only look unnatural when they inspect the scene. Even if they do send in a ground unit to check things out, it would be best to leave it like this. That way it looks like Ice Squadron turned on me, but I was just better than them.”
“E-eek. So what was all that about?”
“Whatever the case, we’re back to moving on foot.”
With that, Mariydi put the ghillie suit on over her head to cover her lemon yellow special suit.
She tried thinking calmly about what she needed to do.
…First of all, she still had the flight recorder the villains wanted. The encrypted data there was the villains’ Achilles’ heel, so she wanted that data if at all possible.
But she would need a supercomputer-level machine to decrypt it. Needless to say, Mariydi did not have access to one of those while wandering around after being shot down.
That said, she could not just return to her AB either. Ice Squadron had put on an act to buy time for investigation, so she could not reveal her presence so easily.
“We need to head to somewhere with a large enough machine to decrypt it on our own. That’s probably the best option.”
“Fine, but how exactly do we do thaaat…?”
She could think of plenty of options when it came to supercomputer-level machines. That list would include things like the data link exchanges that processed tens of thousands of soldiers’ communications or the machines that processed anti-air radar networks. Looking back at the origins of the internet revealed it had begun as an experiment in military communications infrastructure, so this was hardly surprising. Modern battlefields were as overrun by electromagnetic signals as California and all of its risky free wi-fi.
But those large communication processing facilities would be full of guards.
Not even Mariydi wanted to bring too large a fight to the other good (or goodish) soldiers of the Capitalist Corporations. That could easily become a betrayal of the trust Ice Squadron had put in her.
She thought for a bit.
“Anything’s fine as long as we have access to a machine. A facility without any guards would be best.”
“Where are we supposed to find something like that?”
“We just have to borrow some equipment abandoned by the military.”
“Don’t they normally take any important equipment when they withdraw?”
That was true. It would be odd for them to leave behind a machine full of classified information, plus this was the Capitalist Corporations. They would not waste a single cent if they could avoid it, so they would never abandon a major computer system.
“Things change when it’s something they can’t take back with them even if they wanted to.” Mariydi winked. “For example, what about a destroyed cruiser that ran aground on a reef? I doubt they could drag something that heavy away.”
It was the 5th Argo-class battlecruiser.
The Faith Organization’s prized Naglfar had originally used its great speed and thick armor to form the foundation of transport ship defense. As that would suggest, it had been built with a focus on anti-submarine abilities to destroy the hounds used for commerce raiding. It had generally left air support to a separate squadron of escort aircraft. Its Gatling-style CIWS control was truly exceptional. It had been half-deified after it avoided any friendly damage by simultaneously shooting down 6 large anti-ship missiles (AShM) as they skimmed along the ocean surface after being fired from a submarine.
“On the other hand, when the escort squadron screwed up, they were wiped out like fish in a barrel. It’s not their fault our Ice Squadron finished them off with aerial bombs. The Naglfar’s crew, from the captain on down, fought bravely to the end. Enough so that we had to put in some overtime for free.”
That was a Capitalist Corporations form of praise.
After walking to the coast, they saw something rising up from the chilly fjord like a small island. It was the aforementioned grounded battlecruiser. 3 months had passed since its defeat and it had become quite a home for seabirds, but it had not lost its former majesty.
“But how are we supposed to get there?”
“It’s only 3 kilometers, so we can swim it.”
“No, we cannot!! Besides, have you forgotten we’re in Scandinavia!?”
The grown-up fried shrimp clung to the hips of a 12-year-old girl and threw a fit as Mariydi strolled along the beach. The Northern Restricted Zone was a constant battlefield, so soldiers were instructed to carry back any equipment containing classified information, but it was not uncommon to find unimportant equipment like ammunition or small guns lying around. They would of course be destroyed before they were abandoned, but gathering the undamaged pieces from multiple copies of the same equipment allowed one to create a single functioning version.
And that included the military rubber motor boats abandoned after making a landing.
“They really shouldn’t be leaving them with gas still inside. One of them could blow up and take out a kid or old person gathering shell cartridges to make some money.”
With that comment, Mariydi and Nancy boarded a boat and set off. They arrived at the battlecruiser with little difficulty, but the deck was about 9 meters up from the very bottom of the hull. And the sides curved outwards, so it was worse than purely vertical.
“Wh-what do we do now?”
“Use our arms and legs to climb up.”
“By now I’ve figured out you’re a crazy super soldier hopped up on protein and steroids, but can you please lower this to a difficulty level a normal human can manage!?”
Mariydi had no choice but to find a rope floating nearby, toss it up so it caught on the railing, and then climb up that. The fried shrimp could not manage even with the rope, so she had to tie it around herself and let Mariydi pull her up.
“Bghh…!! I-I’m…I’m going to break wind…!?”
“You…really are…a natural at being…a burden!”
Once they had both arrived on the deck, they got to work.
Once they were inside, Nancy was much more carefree.
“Hm, hm, hm, hm, hm, hmmm☆”
“What’s that for? It’s creeping me out.”
“Well, an abandoned warship at least won’t have any enemy soldiers in it, right? Ahh, safety is the ultimate luxuryyy. I can finally relaaax…”
“…Um, an abandoned warship will have lots of explosives and fuel left inside and it could be set off at any moment with everything rusting over due to lack of maintenance. Why don’t you understand that we’re essentially exploring a 250-meter piece of unexploded ordnance?”
A scream echoed through the empty ship, but there was nothing they could do now.
Plus, the 5th Argo-class was known for its high-precision anti-submarine sonar and CIWS. That meant it had to be equipped with a largescale computer system. On the way to the engine room (ER), Mariydi could only pray it had not been disposed of with incendiary grenades or something when evacuating.
“Wouldn’t the computer be on the bridge or CIC?”
“It’s been 3 months since the ship was abandoned, so the batteries will be dead. We need to start up the engine to secure power.”
But of course…
“This ship was grounded after taking 16 aerial bombs. Who can say where the wiring was severed in the walls, so there’s a risk of electrical fires. As I said, warships are crammed full of explosives and fuel and we’re in real trouble if a fire reaches them. Prepare yourself.”
“Does this country not have any save points in it?”
They were in the Northern Restricted Zone, so adrenaline was a constant companion. If you wanted to rest easy, you were SOL.
After opening the thick metal door to the ER in the very bottom of the ship’s stern, Mariydi opened a few valves and breathed new life into the ship’s long-stopped heart. For the time being, the ship was not torn in two by an explosion. She breathed a sigh of relief and started toward the bridge.
“Hell yes. Did they not realize their incineration had failed to activate?”
She removed the ghillie suit from her head and grabbed the superficially scorched flight recorder.
“If the computer is functioning, we can use it for the decryption. It shouldn’t take long if we have it ignore its usual duties and dedicate all of its machine power toward the one task.”
Machines larger than refrigerators lined the wall and she only had to use a specialized cable to attach the recorder to one of them and then give the command. However…
Mariydi let out a hysteric voice for once, so the glasses fired shrimp gave her a confused look.
She was stretching upwards.
She was really forcing herself.
With her back to the fried shrimp, Mariydi stood on her toes, stretched her back, and reached her slender hand as high up as it would go…but she could not reach. That 12-year-old cool beauty simply could not reach the necessary slot.
And the fried shrimp felt like this was the first time in a long while she had laughed from the gut.
“Pff. Heh heh. You’re so tiny. So very tiny.”
“N-no, I can reach it!! I can reach it just fine!!”
She ended up hopping up and down as well, but she could not make up for her insufficient height.
Nancy’s index finger stroked up along the back of her skintight suit.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day. You should probably drink more milk.”
“Cough, cough! Hearing that from those breasts really pisses me off!!”
“Yes, yes. This is where you need to stick that, right?”
Nancy pressed up against Mariydi’s back, took the recorder, and rested her large breasts atop the small girl’s head while trying to help, but…
“No! Don’t take this chance from me! I haven’t lost yet!!”
“Oh, honestly. Then let’s do this.”
The fried shrimp lowered her hands, grabbed Mariydi by her tiny hips, and then lifted her up like a small child.
The slot was right in front of Mariydi’s face, but she fell oddly quiet.
“What’s the matter, widdle girrrl? Hurry up and finish helping out the grownups, okayyy?”
Mariydi connected the flight recorder and computer with a cable while feeling a sense of defeat greater than any she had previously experienced.
At the cost of considerable pride, the analysis work finally began.
The blonde girl tearfully puffed out her cheeks and refused to look her companion in the eye.
“Such humiliation… If I was from the Island Nation, I’d commit harakiri…”
“Everything’s going well, so you should be happy.”
“And how long are you going to keep this up!? Put me down already!! Hey, are you even listening!? Don’t gently shake me up and down!!”
That was how they spent the wait time.
Nancy seemed to see this as her chance to take revenge.
“Good girl, good girl. Look how high you are!”
“…I find it hard to believe you were shot through the arm. What kind of endorphins are your brain putting out, you pessimistic woman!?”
As far as Mariydi could tell, most of the Naglfar’s equipment was still in working order. If they had not had the misfortune of running aground on the reef, it might have been able to continue the battle. As a participant in that naval battle, Mariydi felt a chill.
“Looks like it found something.”
Mariydi had assumed she would find a conversation between the villains.
But this was something else.
The result being displayed on one of the bridge’s many monitors was not even human language.
“…16 alphanumeric characters?”
She doubted the actual content of the string was meaningful and Nancy the glasses fried shrimp tilted her head as she muttered another possibility.
“Hmm, is it some kind of password?”
“…Wait a minute.”
That rang a bell.
“This uses the numbers from 0 to 9 and only the letters from A to S. And it’s 16 characters long… Oh, damn. I’ve heard of this. It’s a detonation code sent out by high-ranking military officers.”
“For the JPlevelMHD reactors they install in Objects. It’s a failsafe used to finish off a Pilot Elite that disobeys orders and goes on a rampage.”
Mariydi frowned despite being the one to mention it.
Transmitting it by radio was fine, but where was there an Object reactor in the Northern Restricted Zone? Objects could not be directly used in Mariydi’s workplace. That was why it was known as a restricted zone. That would make a reactor completely useless.
Something sounded familiar about this. It was on the tip of her tongue. Where had it been? She had seen something related to Objects in the Northern Restricted Zone. Something more accurately referred to as the scars of one.
Where had it been?
What form had it taken?
“The Lævateinn. The Legitimacy Kingdom’s Lævateinn combat train.” Mariydi brought a hand to her small chin. “It was stuck in that dead city. The poor city of Asgard buried an Object reactor in the middle of their city, claiming it was for peaceful purposes, but they also built a powerful anti-air network of powerful cannons around the city and got blown away along with the reactor thanks to concentrated fire. That Object in the form of a city is what made the Northern Restricted Zone a restricted zone!! We saw that ourselves, didn’t we!?”
“B-but what does that matter? Asgard was turned into a giant crater long ago, so there is no reactor there. I doubt anyone would care about a detonation code for it now.”
That was true, but it still bothered her.
Since she had recovered the flight recorder and exposed its contents, she could review the entirety of her past conversations. She did not remember the details of the unimportant banter with her squadron, so she made a search of the necessary keyword on the voice data of her old conversations.
And she knew exactly what term to use.
“Search for Asgard.”
The flight recorder had to record everything said during a mission, so the recordings could not be divided into small files. A few pins appeared at the corresponding times within the single long recording.
One of them was in the interval just before being shot down and before protecting her wingmen from the light and explosions of the Thor’s Hammer.
She selected that one and played it. She heard her own voice which sounded almost unrecognizable when played back through the machine.
“But they have to be insane to create a second Asgard now. History must be weeping.”
“It’s the Divided City, so what’re you gonna do? It’s controlled by the Capitalist Corporations and the Information Alliance, right? This is probably another form of deterrence.”
“I get that, but they’re burying the reactor right in the middle of the city. Aren’t the people afraid to live in a place like that?”
“Don’t worry. It won’t blow up.”
It had been nothing more than a casual chat over the flight radio.
They had probably been flying above that city on the way to their next MA.
Her own nearly unrecognizable voice continued.
“Basically, they’ve intentionally created a situation where the ocean side and the mountain side are holding each other in check by holding the detonation switch, right? That political nonsense about mutual respect is ridiculous. Just thinking about it makes my stomach clench.”
Mariydi and Nancy exchanged a glance.
The glasses fried shrimp put on an obviously stiff smile.
“Th-th-that detonation code has leaked out, hasn’t iiit!? Now a third party can blow up the city whenever they waaaant!!!”
“So that’s why the villains want to kill me even if it means spending 50 billion.” Mariydi slapped her forehead and sighed. “The Divided City is Valhalla on the southern end of the Northern Restricted Zone, right? That city of a million has made a lot of money in trade and finances by piling up a bunch of dirt to create a mountain range that makes them the sole entrance connecting the Northern Restricted Zone to Eastern Europe. They used all the dirt leftover after building the nearby mines and harbor. Due to a territorial dispute, the single city is currently managed by both the Capitalist Corporations and the Information Alliance. It might be called a benevolent barrier, but they’ve stacked up a veritable cliff of metal containers and tanks to divide the city down the center. And they’re all only known as presents on the official paperwork.”
“Wh-wh-when did they bring a reactor in?”
“Who knows. The Information Alliance on the mountain side does things the Northern Restricted Zone way, but the Capitalist Corporations by the ocean leans more toward the European safe country format. They might have needed to switch power generation methods to meet the requirements for some recent carbon dioxide output restrictions.”
“Why would someone try to blow up Valhalla…?”
“That’s a mystery. It could be ideological terrorism for bringing an Object into the restricted zone, or it might somehow earn enough money to make it worth paying 50 billion dollars for me. It’s too soon to say anything much.” Mariydi spun around her raised index finger. “But the villains secretly transmitting the detonation code to a city of a million aren’t just a terrorist organization. They’re an ultranationalist organization with deep roots in the four world powers. This isn’t something you could pull off by thinking it up on the spot.”
The detonation code itself was periodically changed and it could be immediately swapped out with another code in case of an emergency. Thus, a single code was only good for a limited time. That ruled out the possibility of using the code to gradually threaten a politician for money over time.
If this exchange had happened, someone was definitely planning to blow the Divided City of Valhalla to smithereens. And they would have to do so while the code was active, which meant quite soon.
“U-u-umm! Oh, right. What if we report this and have them change the detonation code!?”
“We could always send them a message along with the 16 alphanumeric characters, but would the message actually reach the politician in charge? Whoever is behind this is deep inside the 4 world powers. If one of them is located anywhere between the contact point and the politician, they can make the message disappear.”
And that deception only had to last the few days until the actual detonation. They knew they did not have to keep the secret forever, so they could use some very forceful methods.
“Th-then what about the worldwide web!? We can scatter it all across the globe so they can’t hide it!!”
“You want everyone in the world to know the 16-character detonation code? From that moment on, you would never know when someone would set it off as a prank. Well, assuming it’s connected to the normal internet anyway.”
The busty glasses girl tearfully shook her hands in distress.
They could not rely on anyone else. To be certain, they had to do it themselves.
“The problem now is that we still don’t know what the villains are after. What do they hope to gain by blowing up a city of a million? If we could figure that out, I bet we’d have a better idea of who we’re dealing with here.”
“How are we supposed to figure that out? They’re like hidden phantoms, so we can’t just grab them and ask them.”
“Yeah. And if the culprits are off limits, then we’ll have to go with the victims.”
“Eh? You mean…?”
“Let’s head to the Divided City of Valhalla and see what the locals have to say.”
“No, let’s not!! I absolutely refuse to sneak into a city that could be blown up by an out-of-control reactor at any moment!! Please leave me herrrre!!”
“Y’know, checking over the logs for this computer will tell anyone interested that you learned this secret with me here. That means you’re the same as me: killing you is worth 50 billion dollars. What do you hope to accomplish by heading back to a Capitalist Corporations base with no means of fighting back? You’ll just end up the victim of a hit-and-run or an unnatural hanging.”
“And since we started the engine, a satellite investigation of carbon dioxide distribution will quickly reveal something’s up with the Naglfar. Not to mention the unnatural flight of the seabirds. You can stay if you want, but the villains will be the first ones here. Well, it is a large ship. If you’re confident in your hide-and-seek skills, I won’t stop you.”
The fried shrimp held her head in her hands, but it was too late.
There were no safe-and-sound fluffy beds in the Northern Restricted Zone.