HEAVY OBJECT:Volume13 Track 8
Track 08: Night City
The Northern Restricted Zone was an intense battlefield, so there were damaged guns and burned-out tanks everywhere. It made sense that the local children would come to gather scrap metal. After returning to land with the boat, Mariydi used her knife to slit the throats of some soldiers who had left their unit to cook up some insane rock candy. She borrowed the key to their four-wheel drive truck. They were from the Capitalist Corporations, but she felt no need to show any mercy.
“It sounds fine and all when you explain it all in order, but I would need both hands to count all the corpses lying around herrre…eeeek!”
“There’s something wrong with the world when they can freely experiment with that stuff just by using ingredients for explosives and a container lab. There are three things I have no patience for whatsoever: red meat that wasn’t prepared right, kids who kick the elderly in the back, and that stuff. Besides, that stuff was more than half the reason Boy Racer fell apart. It pisses me off so much.”
They boarded the truck they had acquired. Wearing the ghillie suit inside a vehicle was meaningless, so she removed it from her head and placed it below her butt.
And then it was that time again.
“Oh, I won’t say anything this time, okay? You need to adjust the seat, right? Don’t worry, don’t worry. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Yes, I’ll just look the other way.”
“Don’t be so understanding. It just makes me sadder.”
“Wow, young lady, your legs are so looong! Your back is so preeeetty! I’m so jealousss!”
“Now it just sounds like you’re mocking me!!”
“Ow, ow, ow!! You’re the one that said not to be so understanding!!”
They pulled off the headrests to the driver and passenger seat and began pummeling each other in something like a somewhat harder pillow fight. Mariydi seemed to have the advantage by about 8-to-2.
“B-buhii. There’s no way I can beat you. Buhihi.”
“Hey, pig. You should probably aim for being a cow with that excess fat. And I’ve been wondering: why do you pick fights when you know you’re going to lose? Are you one of those women who think the commander of a losing army is romantic?”
Having mechanically worked off some stress by moving her body a bit, Mariydi finally adjusted the seat to match her height.
When Mariydi connected her music player to the stereo with practiced hand, Nancy gave a disgusted look from the passenger seat.
“We have to listen to the same song agaaaiiin?”
“This is the heavy remix re-edited by the vocalist’s wife!! There’s something wrong with you if you can’t tell the difference!”
They had a vehicle, but it would still take time to reach the Divided City of Valhalla since it was on the southern end of the Northern Restricted Zone. Mariydi sighed while passing a group of Capitalist Corporations armored trucks going the other way.
“That was probably the villains. Looks like they’re on their way to investigate the battlecruiser.”
“I’ve been wondering: can’t you cry in a cuter way? But anyway, I doubt we would learn anything by attacking the actual soldiers on the ground.”
Regardless, driving through Capitalist Corporations territory felt nice. As the hard rock ruled the truck, the fried shrimp looked down to the radio that could pick up normal broadcasts.
“U-u-umm. Aren’t you curious what they’re saying on the news?”
“The Northern Restricted Zone is in the middle of a war, so they aren’t going to mention a few bodies lying around. And I’m not interested in the false accusations the villains have cooked up to escape responsibility. All I need to know is they’re after me for some reason or another.”
With that, Mariydi began a true bandit-style feast of stuffing her mouth with the vacuum-packed rations found in the dashboard. The food belonged to people who were now corpses, so the fried shrimp did not feel hungry.
The standard Capitalist Corporations rations were something like a cold hamburger steak squished beneath someone’s boot heel. But it still tasted fine and was a world better than the Legitimacy Kingdom’s mystery food that was something like flavorless soap. Mariydi personally liked the Information Alliance’s rations best. Why did she know so much about this? Because she had swiped food from the enemy soldiers she had killed, of course.
“At least drink a sports drinks.”
“I’m not sure I caaan.”
But despite her human complaints, Nancy too was devouring the rations after about an hour into the drive. It would seem animals could not fight their biological urges.
By the time they arrived near the Divided City, the sun had set and stars twinkled in the night sky.
The city in question was surrounded by the ocean and the precipitous mountains it had built itself, so there was only one path in for a vehicle. It was something like an artificial fortress. If they were to fortify it with stationary firepower as Asgard had, they would probably install cannons on the mountain peaks and run high-voltage lines below the slopes.
“The entire city is apparently arranged in a donut shape. The middle is supposedly taken up by a 2km-wide Sacred Forest.”
“It scares me that I’m getting used to that. Anyway, they say that forest has been there since before Norse mythology was exterminated by a massive religion. It’s what you call a pillar of culture, but I hear the benevolent barrier of containers and tanks runs right through it.”
“The center…of the city.”
“If there is a reactor, my money’s on there. But I still want some objective evidence.”
Why had Mariydi brought this up while holding the steering wheel?
If she had started with the real topic at hand, the fried shrimp might have panicked, so she had thinned out the information as if hiding a tree in the forest.
“If we’re going to enter the city from the Northern Restricted Zone end, we’ll be on the Information Alliance side. We’re enemy soldiers, so the residents will gang up on us if we’re discovered. They don’t obey the treaties concerning POWs, so they’ll make us regret being born women. Be careful.”
“W-w-w-wait! But we’re wearing Capitalist Corporations uniforrrms!”
Nancy spoke up in a panic, but even as they drove up to the gate in a military truck, the Information Alliance soldiers did not question them all that much. After a few questions about the purpose of their visit, the metal claws of the spike lock retracted into the road and they were waved on into the city.
“Eh? Eh? Fwehhh?”
“As I suspected, there’s a complete mix of equipment from both militaries. Is there a black market for things stolen on the battlefield? …More importantly, be careful about how you speak. They’ll start getting suspicious if we use the standard Capitalist Corporations language.”
It was divided now, but it had been a single city originally. Unlike the soldiers posted there, the actual residents may not have seen a real difference between Capitalist Corporations and Information Alliance.
Mariydi found a convenient pay parking lot and drove the truck over to it. She stopped in front of the lowered bar at the entrance and reached out the window for the automatic ticket machine, but…
“Can you not reach?”
“Of course I can. I just have to…ah, hell. Who designed this thing!?”
“You’re so tiny. Poo hoo hoo. You’re just so all-around tiny.”
“Shut the hell up! A perfect lady like me won’t be foiled by something like this!!”
Whoever had designed it, they had clearly not expected a 12-year-old girl to be driving a giant military truck, but a grin filled the fried shrimp’s eyes as she watched Mariydi stretching her arm out as far as it would go to reach the ticket machine from the adult-sized window.
Hers were the eyes of someone who was enjoying this far too much to lend a helping hand.
And once Mariydi finally got pissed, she stomped violently on the gas pedal with the clutch still disengaged.
“Do you want me to drive right through the damn bar!? That’d probably be easier, so it’s sounding like a good idea!!”
“Wah, wah! Okay, okay! I’ll grab the ticket!!”
The fried shrimp hopped out from the passenger side and pulled out the scrap of paper sticking out of the boxy machine like a tongue. Thus, a chaotic action movie scene was avoided.
“Here you go, widdle girl. Have some candyyy.”
“Dammit… The world keeps throwing so much crap at me that I feel like I’ve dropped down to the level of a cat or dog people consider to be family.”
After stopping in a random parking spot and retrieving her music player, Mariydi set foot in Valhalla. She carried the ghillie suit with her, but there was no need to wear it. Even if the sign said it was a cultural metropolis, this was still the Northern Restricted Zone, so no one panicked when seeing a young girl carrying around a carbine. The insanity of the place actually helped them here.
But no matter how comfortable it might be, they could not stay long since a third party could blow up the reactor at any time. They had to gather information as quickly as possible.
“Hey, fried shrimp, not that way. Listen to that shouting. You’ll get caught in a protest.”
The glasses girl raised a hysterical cry as a stream of people filled an intersection up ahead. Men and women carrying a motley collection of placards and banners marched through while yelling angrily.
“We don’t want goods! Remove that benevolent barrier!!”
“Valhalla is our city! Soldiers, get out!!”
“Feel the anger of a family torn apart!!”
Mariydi put her hands on her hips and sighed before looking to the clock in the parking lot.
“Ahh, ahh. So the shopping district is full of young men and women at 8 at night. Sure is peaceful here.”
“…I don’t think this is anything to laugh about.” Nancy pouted her lips for once. “The benevolent barrier and the Divided City name have only been around for about a year, you know? How do you expect people to accept being suddenly separated like that?”
She seemed to be looking at a small girl in the crowd. The side ponytail on the left of her head swayed about as she moved every which way while holding a handwritten placard saying “give back my sister”. She had bandages around her thumb and forefinger, so she may have hurt herself using a hammer to make the placard.
“Those scraps of metal even divide up the Sacred Forest, so there are examples of family members and relatives being torn apart. It probably feels like having the world taken away from them.”
She’s the kind of person who runs out and donates to charity after seeing a movie where a sick kid dies, isn’t she? thought an exasperated Mariydi.
“I get what you’re saying, but what do you want me to do? Starting a war on my own isn’t going to change anything.”
“Pleas made without a clear vision behind them are powerless. You can’t even negotiate that way. Besides, do you know what the point of protests is?”
“Well…to gather a bunch of people together so their voices can be heard.”
“Wrong.” Mariydi sighed. “If you just wanted to list out what you thought, a lot more people would see it if you posted a short message on an SNS. And if you’re more dedicated, you could use a video site instead. But those voices fall on deaf ears. An individual’s opinions are easily lost in the ocean of data produced on a daily basis. And even if they spread, they’ll be distorted as they pass from person to person. Changing the world isn’t that simple.”
“Then what are you trying to say?”
“A protest is a means for the 99% to wield threats of economic damage to bring the 1% to the negotiating table,” answered the blonde girl.
That idea may have been preset in anyone from the Capitalist Corporations where the size of your bank account determined your human rights.
“I don’t know if there are 50,000 or 100,000 people participating in this protest, but if all of them are skilled technicians and none of them are working while protesting, then this will deliver a major blow to the city’s economy. And that means the 1% can’t ignore it. Well, that’s really more the mentality behind a strike than a protest, but it’s the quickest shortcut to being heard in this surprisingly large and unbelievably cold world.”
Her lovely lips then formed the word “however”.
“The people in that group making a fuss over there don’t look like they’re all that crucial to the city. It might sound cruel, but it looks more like they’re only doing this because they have nothing better to do.”
“In that case, their next best option is to clog up the roads and do economic damage by blocking traffic, but they would have to do that on a highway that functions as a major artery for the city. Doing it in the labyrinthine shopping district won’t be very effective. The traffic can just have their GPS show them another way around.” The blonde girl continued while pointing over with her chin. “People commonly think protests are a way for the weak to have their voices heard, but it’s actually not very effective for those who are truly weak. If you’re someone society can afford to just get rid of at any time, they’ll do just that when you cause a problem. And if you don’t make any specific demands and it becomes clear you’ll just keep doing this forever with no chance of compromise…well, let’s just say the gas canisters could start flying even if the TV cameras are rolling.”
With a protest being held in a shopping district overrun with guns, Mariydi could not help but wonder when someone would cause a panic by firing into the crowd half for fun, but none of the protesters seemed to consider that possibility. The city truly was peaceful.
And the girls had something to do. If they let things continue, both the ocean side and the mountain side would be blown to smithereens by the reactor explosion.
“I guess the standard would be a foreign restaurant. A cheap hotel with a bar would be my guess.”
“U-u-umm. Wouldn’t you stand out ordering alcohol at your age?”
“I got into the city carrying a gun and driving a truck. It’s a bit late for my age to start mattering.” Mariydi walked toward a neon sign. “And it’s not the drunks I want to have a chat with.”
The glasses fried shrimp tilted her head and followed Mariydi who avoided the front door and instead circled around to the back and pushed open the door without permission. That should have led to the kitchen, but in addition to food, there were a whole roast pig with its belly stuffed with rolls of cash packed in plastic bags and a bunch of frightening-looking men who did not seem like cooks despite wearing the appropriate white uniforms.
At the center of attention to this audience, Mariydi raised a hand and spoke with a smile.
“Hi, intelligence division. Do you have a moment to speak with a fellow Capitalist Corporations friend?”
Several silencer-equipped handguns were immediately drawn, so Mariydi twisted the arm of the man closest to her, used him as a shield, and caught all the bullets on his bulletproof vest. She then borrowed a handgun from the hip of her limp shield and aimed it toward the door of an industrial-size oven instead of the spies who had infiltrated the mountain side.
They all knew what meant and froze in place, so Mariydi alone smiled and continued speaking.
“Is this loaded with .45 Hammerheads? A few shots from this will damage the gas pipe and blow us all to pieces. But if you’d like to be as roasted as one of your prized turkeys, go right ahead. So tell me what I want to know. …We’re both Capitalist Corporations soldiers, right? Having to deliver whatever someone might ask for to anywhere in the world can’t be fun, but I need this to continue my mission.”
The one who finally lowered his hand and ordered his men to lower their guns as well was the middle-aged man taking the cash from the pig’s belly and stuffing it in a money counter.
“A failed Pilot Elite and a slow-looking indoor soldier in glasses. Mariydi Whitewitch, I presume?”
“Word gets around quick, but I’d prefer you left out that first part.”
Nancy’s spine froze as she sensed a scorched atmosphere she had never before experienced. She was of course picking up on the change in the intelligence division men.
(If not for the Boy Racer poster on the wall, I might have shot him here.)
But the leader man continued regardless.
“What do you want to know? We know you’re caught up in some kind of mess, but we don’t have the details.”
“I wasn’t expecting you to. I just want to know what information you have on this Divided City of Valhalla.”
“Any reasons someone might want to pay 50 billion dollars to blow up its reactor.”
A stir ran through the air.
The ominous atmosphere that spread through the men was like wind through the conifer trees.
The leader exhaled through his nose.
“Then it’s gotta be this.”
He pulled a stack of 100 100-dollar bills out from the money counter and casually tossed it onto the kitchen counter in front of Mariydi.
“Valhalla is a city built on a foundation of trade and finance. It does nothing productive such as agriculture or industry and instead charges massive fees as money, goods, and information pass through. By creating their own mountain range to intentionally restrict transportation access, they’ve managed to support a city of a million with that.”
“That makes it a lucrative possession for the Capitalist Corporations, right? I don’t see why the four world powers would want to blow it up.”
“I don’t know the actual total amount of damages.” The leader shrugged. “It’s known as the Divided City now because the Capitalist Corporations and Information Alliance are managing it via the piles of containers and tanks, but it was a single city originally. The locals proudly view themselves as the people of Valhalla and they don’t particularly care which world power they belong to. Is the picture starting to form in your head now?”
“You don’t mean…”
“I said they have piles of containers and tanks, right? Those obstacles are being used to strictly manage the flow of people and goods.”
And with that established…
“But as you can see, no one cares if someone like you walks around the Information Alliance’s mountain side while wearing a Capitalist Corporations uniform. There are ways through. …In fact, the higher ups seem satisfied with their benevolent barrier on the surface, but the underground labyrinth of subterranean paths, subway tunnels, and underground malls was untouched. Same goes for the copper wire and fiber optic cable.”
“You mean money, goods, and information can all be exchanged between the ocean side and mountain side without the government’s permission!?”
“Hm? Hmm? Is that a problemmm???”
The fired shrimp did not understand at all and the middle-aged leader apparently liked to explain things, so he smiled bitterly.
“A big one. It’s basically an underground bank. Make 3 trips from ocean to mountain and mountain to ocean and anyone can launder all of their dirty money. It can be anything from the crumpled-up 100-dollar bills robbed from a convenient store to the billions a major corporation needs to hide to dodge taxes.”
Money laundering was the act of taking money of suspicious origins and replacing it in a way a third party could not trace. That could mean faking a large win at a private gambling parlor or casino with lax management, exchanging all of your traditional money for electronic money, or using a fake name and a bank account in a dictatorship that was not party to international financial crime pacts.
For that reason, a large fence that crossed between world powers was an attractive target.
“First an online bank or something deposits money in a city bank in either the ocean or mountain side. Then the account name is changed while things are shuffled through the underground labyrinth or fiber optic cables. Finally, the money is deposited in another online bank account owned by the client. Lock the bankbook with the fake name in a safe deposit box somewhere afterwards and you have some nice clean money no one can trace. And if no one can trace it, you can escape both criminal investigations and your tax duty.”
That was a life and death problem for the higher ups of the Capitalist Corporations where money was everything. No, money was what kept war running for all 4 world powers, so they all had to be feeling the threat there.
“Whenever the ocean-side Capitalist Corporations or the mountain-side Information Alliance find a labyrinth path passing below the benevolent barrier, they seem to be blowing it up or filling it in with concrete, but there’s nothing they can do when they don’t have a full grasp of what’s down there. Even if they fill in one spot, people can open a side path by tearing down a wall with drills or pickaxes. But I think the biggest problem is that the people of Valhalla don’t see it as an illegal act. As I said, they see both sides of the city as a single whole. They think it’s no one else’s business where they want to send money in their own city.”
“I see. In other words, major corporations and investors are going to be dodging taxes so much it’s going to get hard to keep waging war, so the military leaders sitting back in New York or London are pissed and trying to tear out the lesion. And to do that, they’re willing to spend 10 Objects’ worth of money and turn both halves of a city of a million into a smoking crater.”
“No, it’s bigger than that. The Northern Restricted Zone is mostly allowed to remain as an experimental battlefield, but there is talk of dismantling it if it’s going to get in the way of the rest of the world’s wars. What you’ve uncovered means there are people out there who don’t want that. The local higher ups of the world powers are sipping at the sweet nectar of profit, profit, and more profit that this place gives them, so they’re not about to let someone take that fertile soil away from them.”
“And they’re willing to burn some of it to the ground if they have to?”
“Unfortunately, human rights can be bought and sold these days.”
Mariydi quietly thought on this while still using the one man as a shield and aiming her gun at the oven.
(If the detonation plan is limited to the local higher ups who can only wield their power here in the Northern Restricted Zone, their roots may not reach all that deep. I might’ve just had to give up if this was a decision by the home countries of the world powers, but I still have a chance of a comeback like this.)
“If representatives of the world powers were going to meet in secret, where would they do it?”
“You already know the answer, don’t you? The military networks are always monitored, so they can’t use that. Cellphones are even more out of the question. Meeting face-to-face is best for a secret conversation, but if the paparazzi caught a photo of their date, it would cause a scene in more than just the tabloids. The only damage control for that kind of treason would be for the VIPs’ corpses to end up floating in the frigid ocean along with the drift ice.”
“And even if a third party does have the reactor’s detonation code, they can’t detonate it from just anywhere. Wouldn’t they need to hijack the direct fiber optic line connecting the offices of the ocean and mountain leaders to the reactor? Now, where could they actually do that? You know the answer, don’t you?”
The middle-aged man pointed to his feet and winked.
“In that loathsome underground labyrinth. What better place is there to keep a secret? They’ve already proven that the government can’t keep track of what’s going on there.”