HEAVY OBJECT:Volume13 Track 9
Track 09: Life is Dungeon
“Oh, damn. I knew we were headed to the city, so I shouldn’t have eaten those rations. I can’t believe how poorly I planned this.”
“Hmm. But wouldn’t it be a shock to your stomach to eat something this heavy right away? Warming up our stomachs in advance was for the best.”
The city was a mixture of Eastern Europe and southern Scandinavia, and it was apparently well known for its elk steaks and fried anchovies (and wine that went well with it). The nonalcoholic fruit juice and cheap meat sold at a roadside stand was quite good. The seasoning was strong, so it seemed like it would go better with rice than bread. They chose not to eat at the restaurant run by the intelligence division because those men could slip any number of dangerous substances into the food.
“Here, you have some ketchup from the fried fish on your mouth.”
“It’s just a bit of sweet tomato puree. …Nn.”
Mariydi somewhat forcibly converted it into a more grownup term, but Nancy still wiped off her mouth. And once it started, Mariydi was at the older girl’s mercy.
“Ohh? Young lady, do you not put mustard on your steeeaaak???”
“…Why do you sound so triumphant? Spices just add to the smell. For anyone on the battlefield-…”
“Yeah, I guess there’s no helping it then. Perhaps that’s just what it’s like to have such young taste buds. I’m kind of jealous.”
“I’m saying you have childish tast-..”
Mariydi grabbed the yellow bottle in a flash.
She covered the thick cut of meat with some stuff that looked hard to grind.
“This much is just what you would call the default, right!? I mean, I am a fully-grown lady after all!!”
“Ahh, ahh. But now you won’t be able to taste the meat.”
“Maybe if I was an old hag with dead taste bu-…”
The glasses fried shrimp stole back the mustard bottle.
“Man, I was really craving some stimulation today. Oh ho ho. And as an adult woman, my buds aren’t as solid as yoursss!!”
“What good are buds that shriveled up without ever blooming? Now, this here is what they call a gorgeous blossom. And the night is young here in Valhalla!!”
“A real woman needs to go at least this far!!”
“No, that’s just getting started!!”
The man running the stand looked sad to have his prized food toyed with in such a fruitless battle, but the girls’ lips raised the white flag before their minds.
Even so, they were good girls, so they made sure to eat it all.
“Here, have some ice water. You can hold the glass to your lips. …Honestly, what are we even doing?”
The current atmosphere made it easy to let loose like that.
This was a city that had bought up literal mountains of dirt to turn itself into a crucial transportation point. There was a lot of the yelling and shouting always heard in shopping districts, but there was more than that here on this night. They heard yelling in the distance.
“Valhalla is Valhalla! There is no ocean or mountain side!!”
“End your unjust occupation and leave!”
“Give back Necleka! Give back my sister!!”
“Sounds like that protest is still going on,” commented Nancy.
That glasses fried shrimp normally had her hands full with her own life, but she still spoke worriedly about that distant shouting. She was almost certainly the kind of person that would eat all the food on her dining room table while tearfully watching a documentary about impoverished children.
“If they really want to change the world, they should start an SNS company. Well, not that it matters to me as long as they don’t flood onto this road.”
Now that their stomachs were full of a crude luxury, Mariydi got to the real issue at hand.
“Let’s go down into the sewers.”
“Are you trying to get me to puke back up everything I just ate, you demooooon!?”
“Yeah, but the villains have their base in the labyrinth down there, so we don’t have much of a choice. If we’re going to defeat them and take back our original lives, we need the actual names of the scum who have infiltrated the military.”
“…That sounds nice and all, but when you talk about getting back to your original life…”
“I’m talking about my war life where I can relax and fire a gun.”
“Ehhh, ehhh? I-I really think there’s another path for you in life. Look, look. How about this, Mariydiiii?”
“Hey, wait. Don’t start ‘correcting’ my life for me. Hey!”
The fried shrimp must have been really reluctant to head into the sewers right after eating because she put on a stiff smile, circled behind Mariydi, and started guiding her elsewhere.
They ended up right in front of the window to a perfectly normal clothing store.
One of the mannequins wore a children’s party dress that was the perfect size for Mariydi. The gorgeous wine-red shoulder-exposing dress aligned perfectly with the girl’s own reflection in the glass.
“Look, look. Couldn’t you live this kind of elegant life instead of one of blood and gun smoooke?”
“…Specifically how are you trying to change me?”
“Wellll… You could learn an artistic skill like the piano or violin as pillar of support for your self-esteem, you could use that to establish a network of connections with people in all sorts of industries at a young age, you could establish a position for yourself in a safe country with no connection to war, you could build yourself a house in the kind of fancy upper-class district everyone wants to live in, and you could start a happy family there…”
“That’s too scarily specific!!”
She seemed lost in her own fantasy world, but what they had to do remained the same. They headed straight for the sewers below the city.
The military supposedly had it locked down, so there were no blatant entrances to the underground. And those using them must have decided posting guards would only make the entrances stand out more. The suspicious manholes and drain openings were generally just ignored.
If a single mafia or gang had controlled all of the underground routes, busting that organization would provide information on all of the entrances and it all would have been cut off. But here, no one knew who was using them. There was no single objective or ideology. And thus there was no way of grasping the whole picture.
On the other hand, that was exactly why the villains are feeling desperate enough to blow up an entire city of a million.
“I guess we’ll go in through here.”
“U-uuhh… We have to enter a tunnel from a muddy riverrr?”
Turning on a light in the darkness was dangerous, but they could not just fumble around in the darkness either. Thus, Mariydi bought an LED flashlight at a random hardware store. And she was allowed to go shopping with the carbine hanging from her shoulder, proving once again that this was the Northern Restricted Zone. They were numb to things such as common sense.
The drain they entered was basically a river given a concrete and asphalt lid in order to develop the city. Muddy water flowed down the center, but there were narrow concrete paths on either side for workers. They did not actually need to get in the water, so they obediently walked along the pathway positioned slightly higher.
Instead of keeping the light on the entire time, Mariydi would flash it on and off quickly to burn the image into her retinas before continuing on. By updating the image in her retinas about every 10 seconds, she connected the dots. This was of course to avoid being located even if they were detected by the enemy. If the light was on constantly, the enemy could simply fire toward the source of the beam and they would be mercilessly filled with lead.
Mariydi had put back on her handmade ghillie suit. It was out of place in a city, but it was still better than her lemon yellow special suit.
“Uwehp. It’s more like an invisible wall than a smellll.”
“Can you not produce anything other than shrieks and burps?”
That said, the smell was quite bad. Simply put, the sludge smelled like rotting mud. Even water could have its impurities broken down by microbes, so it would change like this when it was kept in a dark place.
After a while, the path branched and one of the branches was blocked. The water could flow through just fine, but countless metal bars had been roughly welded in so people could not pass through.
Mariydi then shined her light straight up. There had to be a manhole there, but the metal ladder had been cut away and metal bars were welded in near the cover. There was also something like a club with a swollen tip dangling down.
“What is that?”
“A cheerful maraca. Simply put, it’s a stick grenade. Any powerful vibration will cause the pin to come out and it’ll fall down.”
The fried shrimp just about screamed, so Mariydi quickly covered her mouth. Why could she not understand that Mariydi had been politely warning her not to do exactly that?
“I-i-is that there because the ocean side or mountain side army was sealing up the labyrinth?”
“No, they can bring in tons of materials without worrying who sees, so they could fully seal it off by causing a collapse with an explosion or building a thick concrete wall. My guess would be this was the Valhalla residents’ doing. They’ve remade the place into a dungeon full of traps to keep the soldiers from patrolling.”
But the labyrinth apparently had no specific group in control and any of the local people could freely enter it. That would mean individuals were bringing in and installing the metal bars and stick grenade traps. …And wouldn’t that mean quite a few of the residents would get blown up after failing to notice one of the constantly updating traps?
(It appears to all be analog, but we’ll have to pray there are no traps that react to light. The worst case would be combining that with a cheap detergent bomb that scatters chlorine gas.)
She adjusted her light flash updates from every 10 seconds to every 5 seconds and worked to notice any details she might have overlooked.
“Do you have any guesses where exactly they would have held their meetings? This place is spread out below a city of a million, isn’t it?”
“Well, there are a few conditions.” Mariydi took the lead and eliminated the possibility of traps. “If any of the locals can get in here as they please, no one can apply pressure and have the place cleared. The villains can’t have anyone seeing their high officials gathered together, so they wouldn’t use an open passageway like this. Whatever form it takes, they would use some kind of closed room.”
“Well, I suppose so.”
After walking a while longer, they found an unnatural hole in the wall. The wall had been forcibly torn down with handheld tools instead of explosives. Stepping through it led to an underground mall with its metal shutters down. The odor from the drainage river flowed in and killed the fashionable image of the brand-name shops there.
“If high officials from the 4 world powers are gathering to talk, it would of course be a mixture of affiliations. They would want somewhere accessible from both the ocean side and mountain side.”
“That does make sense. If the only entrance was on the Information Alliance side of the city, it could throw off the balance between the world powers. They’d probably charge a passage toll or meeting fee.”
“On top of that, they have to detonate the reactor buried below Valhalla. They would want to hold a position from which they could tap into the direct fiber optic cable to input the detonation code.”
“Can you just get to the point and give me the answerrr?”
“It’s simple,” said Mariydi before giving her conclusion. “They’ll be right below the large fence running down the middle of Valhalla. They’ll use the underground storage room for the JPlevelMHD reactor buried by the Capitalist Corporations and Information Alliance.”
They walked through the complex arrangement of passageways in the underground mall, climbed through another large hole in a wall, and found themselves in something like a formal office. It seemed to be the basement of a government building.
“This is the historic relic in the center of Valhalla…the Sacred Forest.” Mariydi looked around. “But I’m sure a lot of powerful people wanted to build themselves a palace in the center of the city. They wouldn’t see the problem as long as they didn’t damage the trees, so it seems they looked belowground and built a largescale subterranean government office. It’s a giant geofront.”
“I bet the militaries in charge of the ocean and mountain sides didn’t really care about the Sacred Forest at all. They were really trying to split this apart to crush the old ruling system.”
Then they had placed an Object reactor underground here and remade it into a dangerous self-destruct facility that would instantly take a million lives. The world was just as insane as always. It seemed to have caught a fatal disease at some point.
“B-but that means this is the evil boss’s headquarters, right? Won’t they have a big army waitinnnggg?”
“Why would they want to bring a large force with them for secret talks? You can’t put a lock on people’s mouths.”
In other words, there would only be a small number of tightlipped elites here.
That group would not have believed in the clean war concept in the first place, so their pride would not be harmed even if they saw their bosses exchanging secret handshakes even as they fought over their claimed ideas of justice back aboveground. They were the ultimate realists. They would be the soldiers who would precisely and mechanically carry out their orders without batting an eye even if they were told to shoot a baby or pregnant woman. …Mariydi did not particularly care about that, but she was not going to praise them or look up to them either.
“We’ve finally reached those despicable bastards. Are you ready?”
“Um? What exactly am I supposed to be ready for???”
With an exasperated sigh, Mariydi just about tossed her a handgun, but she stopped herself at the last second. Even if that fried shrimp was military, she had only worked on filing paperwork in an office. Carelessly handing her a gun could easily get Mariydi shot in the back.
The younger girl struggled for an answer with an incredibly grim look on her face.
“I may have been known around my neighborhood as slow, but even I can tell you’re mocking me here.”
The entranceway of the underground government office looked about the same as the reception desk of a major corporation. The only real difference from a normal building was that the more important floors were located further down instead of up. This here did not seem to be an actual work division. It had probably been a space rented out for regional promotion. When the facility had been run properly, it had likely been used for events and trade shows.
The large atrium floor leading down had a stopped escalator on one end. There was also an elevator and emergency stairway by the wall.
And in there…
A distinct human silhouette was visible in the light flash.
He must have been surprised too. His face was hidden by a mask and his eye line was covered by night vision goggles. The lenses could be heard whirring.
Before he could recover, Mariydi fired 2 rifle bullets into his face.
The corpse rolled backwards with half its head missing, but the loud gunshots had alerted all the others to their location.
Mariydi shoved the fried shrimp behind a nearby column and clicked her tongue.
(Tch. I should’ve shot him in the heart. Snagging his goggles would’ve been convenient, but I broke them.)
The ghillie suit and lemon yellow special suit were essentially the same in this darkness, but the ghillie suit noisily shook like a cheerleader’s pompoms whenever she moved. It was not suitable for close-quarters combat, so she threw it aside.
She had two options from here on.
Would she turn the light on so she could see and focus on the firefight?
Or would she give up on the firefight, sneak through the darkness, and focus on covert action?
She made up her mind almost immediately.
(I’ve gotta take the best part for myself.)
“I will only say this once. Curl up behind that shriveled potted plant over there. If you keep your head down until you don’t her anymore gunshots, you’ll survive this.”
Mariydi did not have time to argue. If the older girl did not obey her instructions, then that was that.
She pulled her military knife from her ankle and moved from column to column. Grasping the overall situation was difficult without any light, but the floor was tiled with evenly-spaced faux marble panels. By crouching low and following the lines between panels with her finger, she could maintain her sense of direction even in the dark.
The enemy was a group of skilled soldiers of unknown affiliation who were equipped with high-precision night vision goggles.
She had an overwhelming disadvantage on the information front.
But at the same time, they were not clairvoyant, so they could not see her with their night vision devices if she hid behind a column or wall. And she had a valuable information source allowing her to perceive the enemy’s location.
(The finders for their goggles. Are they autofocus? The whirring sounds are hard to miss.)
Night vision goggles that revealed your position to the enemy in the darkness were defective enough to require a recall, but they probably had not been designed with such close ranges in mind.
She pressed against a round column and accurately perceived the location of someone right on the other side. She only had to circle around and stab her knife through the gap in his bulletproof vest to target from his shoulder to his neck. She took his life before he could scream, supported him so he would not fall noisily to the floor, and then slowly lowered him down.
It seemed the night vision goggles presented a number of problems. Continuing like this would be most efficient. She felt along the dead man, found a few pineapple-shaped grenades on his chest, and borrowed them. She pulled the pin from one and placed it between the floor and the face-down corpse’s stomach such that the lever was held down. That only left feeling along the floor panel lines to silently leave.
She monitored the situation from 3 columns away.
“(Oh, no. They got another one! I need a tourniquet!!)”
To help them breathe among other reasons, it was human nature to want to turn an injured person on their back if they were lying face down. And as that caring comrade spoke over his short-range radio, he rolled the corpse over, removing the pressure on the lever. Had he noticed the grenade? Whether he had or not, he failed to escape within 3 seconds, and he vanished inside a blast chock full of shrapnel.
Mariydi used the instant in which the great noise and light wiped away the darkness to lean out from her column and fire her carbine. She managed to shoot 3 men while disguised by the blinding effect. That left 4.
(If I can get rid of 2 more, I can probably turn on my light and shoot them both head on.)
She heard the quiet sound of something whistling through the air.
She had left her previous position while following the lines of the floor with her fingers.
(Have they changed to hand signals for making orders? They must be panicking because those are pretty exaggerated…but I can’t sneak a peek at them without any night vision goggles of my own.)
That said, if she held her breath in the darkness, she could generally track their movements thanks to the unavoidable sound of hard military boots on the floor, the metallic scraping of grenades against their vests, and the overly-loud whirring of their goggles. They seemed to have given up on moving separately, so the 4 survivors had gathered into a single group to continue their search while remaining wary of their surroundings.
(All 4 together, huh?)
That meant a change of plans: no more need to hold back.
She pulled the pin from one of the grenades she had borrowed earlier and tossed it toward the honest noises in the darkness. The fuse was set to 3 seconds. In the instant of detonation, she leaned out from the behind the column and aimed her carbine.
There was no one there.
Thinking back on the image that had burned into her retinas along with the bright flash, she guessed the grenade had only blown away the loud goggles which had been placed on the floor there.
After a moment of honest praise, she sensed movement from multiple directions. As soon as she ducked back behind the column, repeated bright flashes and loud noises filled the darkness.
Eventually, the gunshots stopped too.
Now both sides were in the dark.
Mariydi grabbed her knife again and resumed her slow movement guided by her fingers on the gaps between floor panels.
The obvious whirring noises were gone.
Thus began a life-or-death submarine game in which both sides hid in darkness and searched for the other’s position.
The conditions were 50/50, but something unexpected pushed one side over the top.
(Wet wipes, hm? Well, if you’re ordered to remain on constant alert without any baths in this reeking abandoned building, I can understand the feeling, but those are a luxury. The alcohol smell catches in the nose.)
That was just how dangerous the elk steaks and fried anchovies Mariydi had eaten beforehand were, but the stench from the drain had saved her this time. Between greasy oil and disinfectant alcohol, it was obvious which one would stand out over the odorous sludge.
(If they had thrown wet wipes around as bait, they might have had more of a fighting chance.)
Then again, they probably had no idea the alcohol smell was so fatal, so they would not have done that even if they could have.
After sneaking behind and slitting the throats of 2 of them, Mariydi removed her self-imposed light restriction. She switched on the LED flashlight and quickly dispatched the remaining 2 with her carbine.
Then she shined the flashlight toward where the fried shrimp was curled up.
“You can come out now.”
“Uuuhh… There’s a really dangerous smell hanging in this darkness…ugeh!! I-I-I wasn’t asking to see it! Please don’t shine the light on thaaaaat!!”
The fried shrimp had apparently seen the one torn to pieces by the trap made from a corpse and a grenade. She fell on her butt and screamed. Her glasses even slipped down.
“C’mon, vomiting heroine, let’s head further down and keep investigating.”
“Huh, huhhh? My reaction here is the normal one, right? Right???”
Nancy tilted her head and followed Mariydi down the stopped escalator and to the bottom of the atrium. Several cables thicker than Mariydi’s arms lay across the floor.
“What are those?”
“They have thick coverings, so it should be fine, but they’re probably even more dangerous than train power lines. Try not to touch them so you aren’t blown apart by the power cables that support a city of a million.”
The older girl shrieked like always and Mariydi simply followed the power cables. Since they extended horizontally instead of vertically, this seemed to be the right floor.
(This underground government office seems to have more than 20 floors, but we didn’t have to go down far to reach the big boss. Well, if they put it too deep underground, the blast of the detonation might be contained down here just like in the underground nuclear tests from an older era.)
Their path left the main event hall and continued through some double doors. The doorplate said it was a conference room, but there was no way anyone would actually hold secret conversations somewhere so visible from the standard spaces. Mariydi guessed it had been used for press conferences.
The door had not been fully closed.
The cables had been in the way.
“Wait, wait, wait… You’re kidding, right? They don’t have it closed in some kind of vault?”
Even calm and collected Mariydi gave a stiff smile at what she found inside. She used the muzzle of her carbine to slowly push one of the doors inwards.
It was a large space that could have fit an entire 50m pool.
And all of the various cables and cords were gathered in the center.
In other words, there was a metal sphere measuring 10 meters in diameter.
That was the extra-large bomb that would burn away a city of a million.
It was just sitting there.
They found it too easily.
This was the heart of the colossal weapon that had ended the nuclear age. It was the source of all the energy. And that also meant that a single Object would go on rampages while carrying enough energy to power an entire city of a million. It made sense that the existing tanks and fighters lacked the firepower, armor, and so much more to take one on even when working together.
And they had discovered that incredible thing with so little difficulty.
Mariydi had no idea what idiot had given the go sign for this, but this made it all too clear how little concern the local authorities had for crisis management. This may have been another tragedy of the myth that Objects were clean.
“I don’t see any kind of console for operating the reactor.”
“Well, they don’t want an on-site worker to blow it up.” Mariydi pointed at the precision equipment positioned around the metal sphere. “They probably use these sensors to keep track of the reactor’s condition and monitor the readings from a remote location. Only the offices of the ocean and mountain leaders will be able to interfere with the reactor itself. When the workers inform them of a change in the parameters, the leaders can fix it by inputting the proper values themselves. It was because this place is generally unmanned that the villains could station those masked troops here.”
“But if they already control this place, couldn’t they have directly destroyed the reactor without the detonation code…?”
“It’s a sensible thought, but it lacks reliability. In the off chance they failed to trigger a detonation, they would have to rebuild their plan to wipe out the money laundering paradise from scratch. How long does it take from proposing a plan to executing it? 3 years? 5? Who knows how far their losses will grow in that time. It’s human nature to want a 100% reliable method, even if it takes a little more doing.”
But to put it another way, this left Mariydi and Nancy with nothing they could do with the reactor. If they simply destroyed it, it might trigger a critical explosion and it might not. Mariydi had considered the possibility that the explosion would be contained if the reactor was deeper underground, but that was no more than a theory. If they forcibly moved it, it might lose stability and enter a critical state, and the ground could break apart and cause the entire surface city to collapse. There were a million lives on the line here, so they could not treat this decision lightly.
Plus, their goal here was not the reactor.
They wanted the names and faces of the bastards from the 4 world powers who had been secretly meeting here.
“But will there just be a register of names around herrre?”
“What kind of person would leave behind their real name when meeting in secret?” Mariydi breathed an exasperated sigh. “At times like this, it’s best to go back to the basics. No matter how hard they try, people will always leave behind traces of their presence.”
“Don’t just tilt your head to try and get me to continue! Can’t you think for yourself sometimes!? …I’m talking about fingerprints, saliva, hairs, and such. We need to collect everything we can, head back up top, and contact that intelligence division team again. Our only option is to use their database to see if we can find any matches.”