HEAVY OBJECT:Volume3 Chapter 2
Chapter 2: A Coal Mine that Scatters Stacks of Cash >> Nighttime Surprise Blitzkrieg on the Kamchatka Peninsula
The CS☆Military Channel!!
“This is Monica, your battlefield idol reporter who can both sing and kill! Today, I have come to the Legitimacy Kingdom military’s 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion!! Today’s theme is the women who work in the militaries of the world!! There was a time when militaries were filled almost exclusively with men as an extension of our history of kings and knights, but that is in the past!! I want to see the true faces of the female commanders and Elites who work on the front lines of modern battlefields!!”
The cute, youthful voice of a girl rang throughout the nighttime maintenance base zone.
“What? What’s going on?”
When Heivia stuck his head out from the barracks trailer, he spotted an entertainer who was lit up by powerful lights and surrounded by cameras.
“…A comsat broadcast? What’s this battlefield reporter crap? She’s speaking as stiffly as some swimsuit idol.”
“Oh, Heivia. I thought you would be the type to breathe more heavily the closer you got to someone like that,” said Froleytia as she approached on her way back from a cold night walk.
“It’s different when I have to help protect them. Should we really let them do that? We’re planning this night mission, but they’re shining those lights everywhere.”
“Just inside the base. It’s not like we’re going to let them perform a live broadcast of our invasion. The actual battlefield is a good ways from here. And we have to worry about how people view the military.”
“The media has always been quite powerful. If they can make an amusing show, we might get more new recruits and people might not get so angry about how their tax money is being spent. …Of course, the rookies drawn in by the smile of that swimsuit idol will have no idea how much hard work awaits them.”
“I guess it’s better than mobilizing to help film an action movie.”
“Exactly.” Froleytia put her long, narrow kiseru in her mouth. “And I am about to be interviewed.”
“Thanks for everything you do for the military and our nation…”
“Yes. Did you hear what the show’s theme is, Heivia? It’s about the women working in the military world. Women in the military are so commonplace these days that I have no idea what purpose there is in this.”
“I see. Well, I’d rather not get chosen as the example of the worthless male soldier to compare to the wonderful female officer, so I’ll be leaving.”
“You should really just use who you can and not use who you can’t without worrying about whether they're men or women,” muttered Froleytia as she cracked her neck. Then she seemed to remember something. “Oh, right. Heivia, the restriction on the caffeine supply is being released in another 2 hours. When the time comes, get everyone in the barracks up and force some painfully hot coffee down their throats.”
“…If you don’t give proper time for sleep, it’ll just make everyone sleepier.”
“Let them sleep even if for only 5 minutes more or even just 10 seconds more. Our mission will head straight through the night this time.” She grabbed her long, narrow kiseru between two fingers and used it to point into the distant darkness. “A nighttime surprise blitzkrieg. This isn’t a mission we can leave to tired eyes.”
Meanwhile, Quenser was in the Baby Magnum’s maintenance area.
The old maintenance lady was making preliminary preparations and Quenser was studying the Object, but then Quenser frowned at a noise from outside the maintenance area.
“…Is something going on out there?”
“Froleytia said they were filming a television show,” answered the Elite princess.
In preparation for the nighttime mission, most of the soldiers who did not have guard duty had gone to sleep early. However, the old lady and the other maintenance soldiers had to work to prepare the Object in time rather than rest. But the maintenance soldiers would have a chance to relax once the mission began and the Object left, so it was not necessary to regulate their sleep time.
Speaking of which…
“You’re the most important part of this nighttime mission, princess. Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”
“I will be fine. Also, I am most relaxed when sitting in the cockpit seat.”
“Is that so?” muttered Quenser.
Quenser could not imagine what a pilot like her would look like sleeping. The only image that came to mind was her lying down while still wearing that special suit of hers.
“…Shouldn’t you be sleeping, Quenser?”
“Technically, I’m a student rather than a proper soldier. Apparently, I won’t be sent to the front lines of a delicate blitzkrieg like this. I’ll still be sent to the battlefield for logistical support, but it isn’t something I need to be too focused for.”
The old maintenance lady then clanked a wrench against the handrail.
“Really, now. Whether you’re on the front lines or in a safe country, a bullet will kill you just as dead. You shouldn’t let your guard down so long as you’re in a war.”
“Yeah, but there’s a risk of your heart stopping even when you masturbate. It’s rare, but it happens. Thinking too much about that kind of thing isn’t going to help.”
“Masturbate?” said the princess in puzzlement, but Quenser looked down at his handheld device to check on the status of the motors that opened and closed the barriers.
He was standing at a point near the upper surface of the Object. Bright sparks were flying from some welding on a level lower than him.
“This monstrous weapon can withstand a nuclear strike, but its armor is put on with normal welding and bolts, isn’t it?”
“Maintaining its strength is important, but it’s also necessary to make sure quick maintenance can be carried out on the battlefield. Apparently, even racecar pit stops are used as experimental grounds for Object designs. …I’m sure you learned that well enough in the Alaska district before, didn’t you, boy?”
With that comment, the old maintenance lady sent an email to Quenser’s handheld device over the local network. The message notification covered up the maintenance diagram.
Quenser looked up, but the old lady shook her head and went back to work. She was telling him to read the email for details.
He opened the message and found a list of various materials with numbers next to them. The primary item on the list was welding gas. She seemed to be telling him to get the materials they were lacking.
【“…Tch. Why do they always give me odd jobs that have nothing to do with Object design?”】
“Did you say something, boy?”
“What point was there in the email!? You were close enough to just tell me!!”
Still grumbling, Quenser finished with what he was doing and headed for the staircase attached to the scaffolding. Partway there, he noticed the princess’s shoulders were trembling.
“…Quenser, you exchanged email addresses with the old lady?”
“Why are you looking at me like I’m some kind of indiscriminate beast?” asked Quenser.
He then added, “You’re the only one I love, baby,” but she turned away and headed back for the cockpit. It seemed he had been rejected. His luck that day was so poor he felt like he would hit the bartender’s prized cactus if he tried to play darts in a bar.
He headed for ground level using the staircase that circled around again and again. This seemed a silly way to get up and down since the Object was over 50 meters tall, but a battlefield student like Quenser did not have the authority to use the elevator. He had grown to hate more athletic people.
The maintenance area was pretty chilly, but a blast of cold air stabbed at him when he opened the door.
Quenser contemplated just staying in the maintenance area, but he had no choice but to head crying out into the cold when he saw the hate-filled gazes he was getting that seemed to be saying, “Just get out and close the door!! You’re getting us cold, too!!”
He checked the list of materials as he walked along.
(…Ugh, this is too much to take in one trip. Maybe I should get a battlefield license like Heivia has. Then I could use a military tractor.)
The problem was that any time spent on that would be better spent studying Object design.
(Also, that old woman works people too hard. If I got a license, I bet she’d just shove more odd jobs on me. Maybe the easier-sounding option is actually more dangerous.)
As Quenser trudged through the thick snow on his way to the storehouse, he wondered if a sled would work better than a dolly. In fact, the storehouse was constructed atop a large vehicle itself, so he truly wished it could just be brought to him.
Someone called out to him.
Quenser turned around and found a woman in a military uniform approaching him. She was in her early twenties. He did not recognize her. She had glossy brown hair that was contrasted by her skin which was white as snow. More than 800 people belonged to the battalion, so it was not surprising to run across someone you did not know. However, this woman was still odd.
Her uniform was different.
While Quenser’s uniform was based on a camouflage matched to the environment, the woman’s was a luxurious uniform of primarily black with gold hemming. Her rimless glasses gave an intelligent impression, but she had an odd air of intimidation that went beyond a mere intellectual. Below, she wore a tight black skirt, but it seemed to be primarily for decoration. She wore tights so thick they were not much different from pants. She had medals and decorations Quenser did not recognize on her bountiful chest. She was clearly someone important from first glance, but it also seemed that someone that glittered that much would get shot right away on an actual battlefield.
She had a rank insignia on her collar, but the plate was dyed red for some reason.
The woman brought both her white-glove-covered hands to her mouth and breathed her white breath on them as she stood before Quenser. Her uniform was intimidating, but that feminine action managed to shine through.
Quenser was completely taken aback, so he just gave voice to his first impression.
“Um…Are you a noble?”
“No, I am a commoner. That has given me various difficulties. But you are the one that matters here. I assume you do not mind if I ask you a few questions.”
“Let me confirm something. All soldiers with the exception of the guards, the official members of the Baby Magnum’s maintenance team, and the pilot Elite herself are to be on standby in the barracks. I believe you were ordered to get as much sleep as possible before the pre-mission briefing in two hours.”
(Oh, crap! She’s the strict class president type!!)
Quenser put himself on maximum guard. He had been helping out with the Object’s maintenance, but he was not an “official member” of the maintenance team. He was a battlefield student and his technical designation was “combat engineer”.
“No, um!! I’m sorry!! But I was requested to bring in these materials for the maintenance soldiers! Once I finish that, I will head to the barracks!!”
“What is your unit and rank?”
Quenser raised a questioning voice, but not because he had not understood what she meant. It was because the woman in the black uniform had approached close enough to kiss him and had drawn a ceremonial revolver from her waist at some point. Quenser then felt something hard press against his stomach.
With a slight smile, the woman asked once more.
“What is your unit and rank?”
At that moment, Quenser spotted the unit insignia on the woman’s shoulder. It was different from Quenser’s.
(She clearly isn’t part of our unit! Wait…I’m always gotten by with just saying I’m a student, but what’s my technical rank!? I remember there being some kind of pain-in-the-ass term written on the official documents, but if I get this wrong…bang!!)
Quenser started to panic.
Despite the gun being a double action so she could simply pull the trigger, the woman used her thumb to raise the hammer, making an obvious metallic click.
With a strangely calm voice, she said, “Your unit and rank.”
“I-I’m a student! A battlefield student! I know I’m designated as a combat engineer, but it’s a bit unclear what unit in the battalion I actually belong to! Sometimes Heivia and I make the old maintenance lady mad so she lectures us!!”
Quenser’s confused answer made it seem he had a death wish, but the woman in the black uniform clicked her tongue and stepped away like a carnivorous beast that had lost its prey.
“A student, hm? Too bad. Then you aren’t under my jurisdiction.”
The woman in the black uniform purposefully aimed the gun at Quenser once more and slowly lowered the revolver’s hammer with her thumb.
“Bang,” she muttered jokingly. “My barrier duty is meant for the proper soldiers.”
“Hey, Quenser. I heard you were taken out by some lovely lady in a black uniform.”
“I was walking along at night and she suddenly stuck an old-fashioned revolver into my gut and asked me for my unit and rank. It makes me wonder if she’s related to the Kuchisake Lady from the Japanese islands. Heivia, what is barrier duty?”
While soldiers gathered for the pre-mission briefing, Quenser and Heivia sipped at an aromaless black drink solely meant to wake them up. Quenser seriously thought the coffee they were given was worse than fast food coffee.
Heivia pushed his cup aside and said, “Barrier duty was originally to prevent soldiers from retreating from a battle, but the meaning has changed over time. In the modern Legitimacy Kingdom military, it entails being something like the supervisor of the battlefield. In other words, those with barrier duty watch over us. They check over everything to ensure the soldiers aren’t committing crimes, the prisoners are being treated well, and that no problems crop up during missions.”
“Watch over us? But we already have a military police unit here.”
“An external third party exists in case those MPs go out of control.”
“I see. So it’s unlikely she’ll be kind like a young woman acting as a dorm manager.”
“Those in black uniforms come from an independent agency at the center of the Legitimacy Kingdom military that have the right to carry out their barrier duty within any unit whenever they want. They have the right to take emergency measures if the offender does not obey their restraint order. …What you experienced was one of those emergency measures.”
“…You can clearly take a broad interpretation of that right.”
“However, there is a need for them. Wars are left to Objects these days. The soldiers often have nothing to do, so there is plenty of opportunity for problems to arise in and outside the base. Under certain circumstances, those in the black uniforms have the ridiculous right to restrain anyone regardless of rank, but it only applies to official soldiers and unofficial combat personnel brought into the battlefield. You’re only a safe country student who just so happens to know how to use explosives, so you end up counting as a civilian. You just barely manage to slip out from under their jurisdiction.”
“So I’m a civilian who just so happens to be sent out on to the battlefield and just so happens to destroy Objects, hm?”
“Don’t be like that. I’m jealous. I woke up from a shallow sleep and all of a sudden there are black uniforms everywhere. Those uniforms are blacker than this nasty coffee. We’re all on edge, but you get a free pass. Hey, how about you test it out by going over and flipping up that strait-laced woman’s skirt. If you apologize, I bet she’ll forgive you.”
“Don’t joke. I’d rather not get shot and have it treated as an ‘accident’ in the course of her barrier duty.” Quenser grimaced at the coffee that was so bitter it seemed to close up his throat. “But what did Froleytia do to warrant sending in this unit from the home country?”
“Actually, I wonder if we’re completely blameless when it comes to why they’re here…”
As the two boys spoke, their large-breasted commander headed to the stage up front.
While operating the projector with a remote control, she said, “Soldiers, thank you for filling yourselves with caffeine this late on such a cold night for something other than waiting up for Santa Claus. I will now begin the pre-mission briefing.”
Heivia frowned at Froleytia’s slightly stiff voice.
【“Ahn? What’s with her? She’s started some odd lip service all of a sudden. Her usual sharp edge and impeccable timing are missing. I didn’t take her for the type to get nervous at this kind of briefing.”】
【“Heivia, Heivia. Look over at the back right edge of the room. It’s hard to see because it’s so small, but that’s a CS TV camera.”】
【“What a pain in the ass!! I thought she liked to stand out, so why is she not acting like herself here!?”】
【“The military show this will be part of acts as a form of propaganda to get more recruits and to get the people to understand what their taxes are going to. She would probably rather be doing this as her normal self, but she has to think about the image of the military. Look, you can see the corner of her mouth twitching.”】
【“Well, I’ll admit showing a beauty will probably be more effective than some filthy old man.”】
The fact that Froleytia was at her limit seemed to infect everyone in the area because an unnatural number of hands shot up when she asked “Any questions!?” with a sharp look in her eyes. It looked like a scene from an elementary school math lesson.
With a bitter smile, Heivia whispered, 【“Heh heh. It looks like she’s stuck. Hey, Quenser, how about we show off just how good we are with the ladies by rescuing her here? If we’re lucky, we can get her to tread on us in the good way later.”】
【“You say that, but you’re just going to ask her if she’s on her period or something else that qualifies as sexual harassment to see how she reacts on camera. I’m going to actually save her.”】
After the first round of questions was over, Quenser raised a hand.
“I looked through the given materials, but I would like to make sure we are all on the same page. Any discrepancies in interpretation could lead to unnecessary risks during the mission. It may be a bother for you, but could you explain the mission step by step?”
“Yes,” nodded Froleytia. With the flow of questions cut off, the silver-haired, large-breasted commander regained her usual form. “Our mission is to attack a military coal mine on the east coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula which is run by the Faith Organization.”
With their commander back on her usual form, Heivia asked Quenser a question.
【“What was that about having looked through the given materials?”】
【“Some lies are justified.”】
“Our intelligence department has discovered that this military coal mine is used to mine the fuel used by the JPlevelMHD reactors used in Objects. By destroying it, we can indirectly stop the movements of the entire Faith Organization military to a certain extent.”
The reactors used artificial plasma to generate electricity, but a surprising report said that manufacturing old fashioned coal was more efficient than modern fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas.
“Incidentally, they have begun to notice our presence here and have dispatched a Second Generation Object ahead of time. We had hoped to take out the coal mine before it arrived, but the intelligence agents failed in that regard.”
“What do we know about their Object?” asked Quenser.
Froleytia used the projector’s remote control to display a giant video behind her.
“We managed to secretly get footage of this Faith Organization Object fighting an Information Alliance Object three months ago. We have dubbed it the Wing Balancer. Its main cannon is a coilgun with a small caliber that seems mismatched to its large size. It is most likely the ‘small, sharp, and fast’ type. It has a long range and high accuracy, so it can steadily apply damage. It is a Second Generation Object that is based on an air cushion engine and has full functionality on both water and land without exchanging parts. You can read the specifics of its estimated specs in the documentation, but let me say this: it is powerful. It is not an opponent we can just send the Baby Magnum up against.” The commander used her slender fingers to operate the projector’s remote control and a giant map appeared on the screen behind her. “The battlefield will be on the east coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula. Due to their fourth submarine base construction plan and a large scale earthquake in the Bering Sea, 150 kilometers of the coastline has been transformed into a giant ria coast that stretches about 90 kilometers inland. …Basically, cliffs stretch throughout the battlefield like spider webs. Since our princess needs to put on or take off her float when moving between water and land, this is not good terrain for her. Normal cliffs could be flattened with the Object’s cannons, but this ria coast was created by carving out the ocean surface for submarines, so even destroying the cliffs may not be enough to fill in the area below,” said Froleytia. “Also, the Faith Organization has installed large radars in various places along the ria coast. We believe they are used to greatly improve the targeting accuracy of the Wing Balancer. If the princess challenges them on a terrain she cannot move across easily and when they have targeting assistance, she will likely be destroyed.”
Froleytia changed what the projector was displaying.
Red dots indicating the locations of the radar facilities and other places were added to the map.
“So before the princess battles the Wing Balancer, we will secretly deal with those radars. By adding in a program we have prepared, the targeting correction data sent to the Object will be altered. In other words, we are recalibrating it to make targeting difficult. If this succeeds, the princess should be able to easily defeat the Wing Balancer.”
“What if the Wing Balancer notices the abnormality and switches over to running without the assistance of the radar facilities?” asked Heivia.
Froleytia lightly replied, “The system is on such a great scale that it cannot just be switched on and off like a fluorescent lamp. As long as it takes a minute or two to switch over, we’ll be fine. I can’t have you taking our princess’s accuracy lightly.”
“We’re going to need soldiers moving on foot in secret for this, right?”
“Yes. Two teams.” Froleytia used the remote control to add two arrows to the map. “One will head to the base of the data cable that governs all of the various radar facilities to add in the interference program. On the way there, this team must slip past the surveillance network made up of a group of UAVs swarming around like bees. I’ll be honest. If that was a simple task, this would be a much easier mission.”
“UAVs…Unmanned aerial vehicles…”
“Basically, they are expensive remote control airplanes with cameras attached. That group of UAVs must be neutralized before we can head for the data cable. The UAVs patrolling the east coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula fly autonomously according to a program. However, once every 30 minutes, a trajectory correction program is sent to provide slight alterations for their flight path. It is similar to the calibration of radio clock. This is necessary because a good number of them fly between the cliffs. If left to their own devices, a slight error could lead them to crash into one of the cliff walls. These UAVs cost 50,000 euros each. The enemy’s desire to avoid losing any of them has created an opening for us.”
“So we use a radio signal to send a disruptive program into the UAV control network?”
“Point 2. This is the farthest out point. First, we will infect a single UAV that comes out this far. But you might be noticed if you transmit for longer than 150 seconds, so be careful. The program will then spread to the control facility when the UAV accesses it via radio signal. From there, it will quickly spread to every UAV defending the east coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula. After we have secretly taken control of all their systems, we can alter all their data at once.”
“So will the enemy in the base be stuck watching an endlessly looping recording? That’s the standard method,” said Heivia in amusement.
Froleytia brought a simple chart up onto the screen.
“I will now go over the order of events. First, Interference Program A will be sent to a UAV at Point 2 on the coast, neutralizing the surveillance network. Next, a small unit will head inland to Point 1. There, they will dig up the buried data cable that governs the large radar facilities and add in Interference Program B. This will let us use their targeting assistance against the Wing Balancer. Once the effects show themselves, we will finish by having the princess head out at full speed to attack. If she passes over the hill along the long and narrow Route 3 that lies between two cliffs, she can get within firing range of the Wing Balancer in a straight line. If the enemy’s targeting was working properly, she would definitely be hit by return fire from that position. Once she is within firing range of the target, she will blow away the Faith Organization’s Second Generation Object. Afterwards, we will send a recommendation of surrender to the coal mine. After giving them 900 seconds with which to evacuate all personnel, the Object’s firepower will be used to destroy it. …If all goes according to schedule, we will be shooting each other with water guns filled with champagne by dawn.”
【“Wow, so are the fridges already filled with ice-cold alcohol?”】
“However,” added Froleytia, striking down the excitement that had begun to well up among the soldiers. “If the UAVs spot us before the Wing Balancer’s targeting assistance has been dealt with, it is all over. Even if you shoot it down, the enemy will still learn what is going on. The Faith Organization UAVs each have two free-fall bombs installed, but do not attack them even if they fly right up to you. If anything is detected, the Wing Balancer will head out at once. And you will not be able to call in reinforcements from us. After all, it is highly unlikely the princess can win in a frontal assault. We cannot come to rescue you.”
Froleytia had the projector now display the state of things in the ocean near the Kamchatka Peninsula.
“The 24th Mobile Maintenance Battalion of the Legitimacy Kingdom military and its Second Generation Object, the Indigo Plasma, will be deploying on the ocean east of the peninsula as a dummy force. The Wing Balancer will be sitting there glaring at the Indigo Plasma. We have only one chance at this. If you are spotted, assume that not even your bones will make it back to the home country. When you fail in a surprise attack, odds are good the enemy will ignore the white flag. Their anger tends to get the better of them. Any questions?”
With that clear ending, Froleytia only received silence in response.
Amid that silence, Quenser raised his hand.
“We have two Objects while they have only one, right? …Couldn’t we just overpower them?”
“Not if the link with the radar facilities is working. In this case, it is the special terrain and attached facilities that are providing the Object’s strength rather than the intrinsic abilities of the Object itself. Don’t count on the Indigo Plasma. If it becomes clear we have failed and the situation worsens, it and its battalion will head out to sea to keep losses to a minimum. I doubt they will consider the loss of a valuable Generation Two Object worth buying us time to retreat. It’s one of those ‘wise decisions’ that are such a god damn pain in the ass.”
“This is being recorded,” pointed out Quenser and Froleytia cleared her throat before continuing.
“Do you understand just how dangerous our situation is now?”
The area was covered in pure darkness.
As the operation hinged on a surprise attack, not even a single penlight was allowed.
Out of fears that infrared rays or electromagnetic waves would be detected by the UAVs, the correction features in the rifle scopes had been limited.
Amid it all, a few light footsteps could be heard.
They were from Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers.
They continued through the darkness while occasionally peering through their rifle scopes to check on the terrain with the electronically enhanced images.
“This is wrong. This just isn’t right,” muttered Heivia, one of the soldiers wrapped in heavy coats to protect themselves from the cold of the nighttime blizzard.
However, the usual response did not come as Quenser was not with him. In the other boy’s place, the Asian girl walking next to him spoke with her breath coming out white.
“Well, Myonri, I was sent out to the front lines where it’s most dangerous while that bastard Quenser gets to stay back on standby.”
“It does seem Miss Froleytia Capistrano wanted to send Quenser along with us,” said a large black man.
He was carrying a large piece of communications equipment on his back. The device was being used to send short range radio signals over long distances using directional ultrasonic waves. This was simply so those signals would not be intercepted by the enemy UAVs.
“But those Black Uniforms are hanging around. Quenser is technically a civilian, so she can’t exactly send him to the front lines,” continued the man.
“Cookman’s right. And it isn’t like he is just sitting around at the base,” cut in the Asian girl named Myonri. “He is headed for Point 2 where the Faith Organization UAVs will be neutralized.”
“You just don’t understand how the world works, Myonri. Him having even the slightest bit of a better time than me is criminal,” said Heivia while pouting.
A white girl with a brown ponytail and freckles turned toward him.
“Oh, are you lonely without your usual partner?”
“Shut up, Westy. Why are you always trying to put two guys together? That isn’t the natural way for living things.”
“Heivia, you wouldn’t say no if it was two girls though, would you?”
“It would still be pointless unless they both had a thing for me.”
Those four were the soldiers headed to Point 1 to sabotage the information network made up of large radar facilities.
Heivia, Myonri, Cookman, and Westy. Except for Cookman who was the oldest, they were all teenagers. With a bitter smile, Cookman had called himself the “leading teacher”.
They were walking across a damp rocky area.
A blizzard was blowing around them, but the heat from the coal mine below the ground poured out through exhaust ducts located here and there. Thanks to that, areas of melted snow dotted the terrain. Heivia and the others were travelling from melted area to melted area to avoid as much snow as possible.
“Not leaving any footprints is nothing more than a suggestion,” said Cookman. “If you focus too much on the ground and let your guard down, it will all be for naught. Luckily, the weather will cover up any footprints before long anyway.”
“I’m worried about visibility,” said Westy as she peered across the battlefield that was divided into white areas and black areas. “There’s nothing at all as far as the eye can see. The ups and downs of the ground itself are the only things here to provide cover. Don’t coal mines usually have buildings? This is nothing more than large dumping sites for dirt being carried out.”
“The facility has likely been kept underground as much as possible.”
“This mine was created using a submarine base construction plan. They might have been doubling it as an experiment in constructing military facilities below ground.”
“This terrain is something else,” said Heivia.
It was unclear if Heivia had been listening to Cookman and Westy’s conversation, but he was now staring down into the darkness off of a cliff.
It was 10 meters to the ocean surface and about 20 meters to the opposite cliff. The only trace of the submarine base was the depth of the water.
If they fell off, they would be killed.
And it was not just the height that made Heivia think that. Due to the cold, the ocean surface was covered in thick ice. The ice had cracked apart either due to the waves or ships passing through, but each individual piece of ice looked large enough to allow a polar bear to lie on it without it sinking. The ice was much too thick to simply “soften the blow” of landing in the water.
“Areas like this stretch for 150 kilometers along the coast and 90 kilometers inland. It’s like a giant spider web. Human technology is amazing.”
“A lot of rumors had started after they went through four different outdated submarine base construction plans. Some people claimed the Faith Organization was creating a large scale base to house a supply unit for a supposed submarine Object they could be creating,” said Myonri.
Westy cut in to say, “But what we found was a bunch of coal. No amount of dirt being brought up is suspicious in the construction of a submarine base. And since submarine bases are so outdated, the other world powers did not consider it worth attacking. It functioned as nice camouflage, I’ll give them that.”
“But now the Legitimacy Kingdom is heading out to destroy the mine.”
“That might be thanks to things calming down in Alaska. It is true that being able to construct a steady supply line over the Bering Sea allows us to carry out a large scale invasion on the Kamchatka Peninsula.”
“Which means the higher ups might be intending to stay here awhile even after shutting down that military coal mine. Dammit, so that’s why we had to use such a complicated strategy.”
“Speaking of complicated, won’t this complicated terrain make it difficult for even the Wing Balancer to move around?”
“I don’t know,” replied Cookman as he adjusted the shoulder straps for the communications equipment on his back. “We don’t know any details about the enemy Object. It might have some bridge building device stored in those long legs that it can use to cross between cliffs.”
“Ahn? That wasn’t in the data on its estimated specs.”
“The data from the intelligence department and the results from the electronic simulation department aren’t everything. We must keep in mind that it can always have some hidden ability that defies imagination until we have actually fought it ourselves.”
“Is that so?” muttered Heivia as he looked around. “So what are we going to do, boss? We have to get across to the other cliff to continue on.”
“According to the map, there is a suspension bridge 3 kilometers north of here,” suggested Westy.
“They will have some sort of surveillance set up for the few routes you can use to get through. Just a single camera can provide quite a bit of safety. We are much less likely to be spotted if we head through an area far away from where they expect.”
As he spoke, Cookman gestured toward Myonri. She set down what she was carrying.
“…Are you serious? A deflated rubber boat?”
“Climbing down, crossing the sea, and climbing back up is the simplest method of getting to the other cliff, don’t you think?”
Quenser was walking through an area 5 kilometers away from Heivia and his group.
“Wow, you can see the aurora. Not that it matters to a design student like me. Wouldn’t this be more suited to a student working to be an environmental scientist?”
“Quit complaining about every little thing, you giant-obsessed freak. Learning about the harshness of extreme environments can help you when you’re ‘having fun’ designing. You won’t have to worry about looking stupid when the cold prevents the plasma gas from flowing properly.”
That overly-familiar response came from a black boy. His language could be crass, but his enunciation was oddly precise. Unlike Quenser, he had an interest in smaller machines, and he was carrying an unmanned reconnaissance vehicle (basically a radio-controlled vehicle with a camera attached) on his back.
Quenser replied in disgust, “Nutley, I can learn about extreme environments just fine in a safe country fridge. We had a big one back at my school. We used it for material experiments and raised a seal.”
“You’re just making excuses. The key to happiness in life is to find a way to take in everything you need regardless of the situation.”
“You’re the kind of person that I could see drinking tequila at any time. Hey, Charles, aren’t you sick of trudging through this freezing snow? …Charles?”
Upon receiving no response, Quenser turned around. A skinny white boy was standing there. He was hanging his head down and was not speaking a single word. When he noticed Quenser looking at him, he turned his downward-cast head to the side to further escape.
“Don’t expect anything from him. He’s not usually like this, but this always happens when he gets homesick. It makes me want to hang a chemical dehumidifier from his neck,” said the black boy called Nutley with a shrug. He must have been close to Charles because he did not hesitate to say that. “But he isn’t a bad person. His specialty is Object communications software. He was involved in making this interference program. His hacking skills are better than anyone in the electronic simulation department. He can’t do anything other than that, though. Our victory here is half dependent on that clammy intellectual.”
Quenser, Nutley, and Charles.
Quenser sighed as he recalled the makeup of their team.
“This isn’t normal. Why was the core of this military operation given to some battlefield students?”
“I said this mission is reliant on Charles’s interference program, remember? The team needed to be made up of those who could best let Charles work. The thing is, Charles is clammy and shy. He’ll be less nervous surrounded by students, and that gives us higher odds of success.”
“Yeah, but we’re basically a collection of amateurs, myself included. What is our commander planning to do if we get taken out right away?”
“That’s probably why she sent that cool student council president with us.”
In response to Nutley’s comment, Quenser timidly turned his head to look behind him. A bit away was a woman with brown hair who was wearing a black coat and carrying a large radio.
“…I somehow doubt she’ll bail us out if we get in trouble.”
“She’ll do more than those fat asses lazily guarding the maintenance base zone, I’ll bet. Froleytia’s no idiot. She actually tries to use the right people for the job.”
“Are you sure…?”
Quenser glanced back at the Black Uniform, but Nutley seemed to be enjoying himself.
“The student council president’s name is Charlotte. Once she finishes with her barrier duty, she’ll be leaving. I need to try to get her into bed before then. I hear she’s a commoner, so I don’t have to worry about her being bound by any pain-in-the-ass family issues,” said Nutley, completely at his own pace.
Quenser decided he must be the type who tries hitting on a lot of people in the off chance of succeeding.
“A battlefield student doesn’t have infinite time. If you do things like that, you won’t be able to gain any practical skills,” warned Quenser.
“I can just extend the time I spend here if necessary. Happiness comes first, right? Nothing will stick in my head if I’m not happy. And what are you so impatient about anyway? You’re hoping to become a designer, right? Do you want to be rich that badly?”
“Yes. When I was a kid, a famous noble family lived nearby. The blonde daughter of that family was horribly selfish and annoying,” muttered Quenser. “One day, her family went bankrupt. They had such a great foundation. Their huge mansion had seemed like it would remain unscathed even if the entire city was bombed. And yet seemingly overnight, such a powerful noble family was left with nothing but debt. They were not exactly well-liked. Even their servants tried to hunt that girl’s family down. A strange atmosphere came over the entire city. If my father hadn’t sheltered them, that selfish and annoying girl and her mother could very well have been gang raped.”
“Well, your father sounds like a great guy. I hope to be someone like him.”
“Even a famous noble family completely collapsed,” continued Quenser while ignoring Nutley’s offhand comment. “I can still see it vividly in my mind’s eye. Those nobles who had always been so domineering were gathered together trembling in the cheese storehouse of a small commoner family. …How much money do you need to have a solid foundation? If not even nobles can have a truly solid foundation, can a commoner gain one with normal work? I decided a special route would be necessary. I decided becoming an Object designer was the only route left.”
“I see.” Nutley took a step away from Quenser and gave a sign to Charles with a gesture. “Then let’s all work as battlefield students towards getting rich as soon as possible. Charles! We’re almost at Point 2. I’ll help you set up the transmission antenna.”
Quenser looked at Nutley’s back as the boy headed off, but they really had nothing else to do. Just as Quenser was about to go help Charles too, the Black Uniform named Charlotte called out to him.
“I could not help but overhear what you were just saying.”
“Were we not supposed to be having a private conversation?”
“That is not what I meant.”
“Was the topic unacceptable?”
“I do understand why you would want to quickly build up a solid foundation, but I get the feeling that your father has a different sort of unshakeable quality to him.”
The businesslike stiffness had somewhat left Charlotte’s voice.
As she was human it should have been obvious, but it appeared she did indeed have the ability to just chat.
“That’s because you don’t know the situation he is in. My father is just a white collar worker. Even a slight change in the economic situation could lead to him being fired. He’s always bowing down to his bosses. And it doesn’t matter if he might survive a round of layoffs, if the entire company goes under. That’s how life is for those whose bloodline does not help their social standing.”
“But even in that situation, he reached out his hand to help those bankrupt nobles. He sounds like a wonderful father. If he ever does lose his job, tell him to contact Charlotte Zoom. I know of some lines of work that are suited towards someone of his character.”
(It seems my father has gotten a rare long distance boost in popularity. Unfortunately, he has the double issue of being too old and being a father. As a member of his family, I truly hope he can keep on his feet.)
“What happened to those bankrupt nobles afterwards?”
“They contacted the Lineage Department, had their IDs changed, and got a fresh start. We couldn’t have them living in our cheese storehouse forever, after all. If I recall, that selfish and annoying daughter became an idol.”
“Quenser!” shouted Nutley.
It seemed they had finished setting up the transmission antenna. An antenna as large as an open suitcase was spread out at Charles’s feet.
Quenser and Charlotte approached Nutley and Charles.
“Is there anything for us to do?” asked Quenser.
“Take this,” said Nutley as he tossed a pair of night vision binoculars to Quenser. “We have to transmit the data from a position where the UAV can’t see us. Charles has to use the antenna to transmit the interference program, so he will not be able to tell where the UAV is. That means someone has to follow the location of the flying target.”
“And that’s me?”
“I set up the antenna. Charles will be transmitting the data. So who does that leave for the last job? I think you’d be getting a little too much happiness if you left that to the Black Uniform lady and headed back without doing anything.”
“Fine, fine. Dammit. I’ll be in the place most easily spotted by the UAV. That means I have the most dangerous job.”
“No,” cut in Charlotte. “There is no reason for me to do nothing. I will go with you. …You seem too inexperienced to me. I would prefer not to have a bomb dropped on me because we left this to you and you got spotted.”
【“Quenser, if you two head off and things start getting a little steamy, call me over. It’s cold here, and you’ll keep your warmth better with more people.”】
“If you were a proper soldier, that comment would be enough to get you shot,” commented Charlotte.
They were currently located behind a low hill. The Faith Organization UAV would not be coming that far, so the hill hid them well enough. However, they could not see the UAV’s location from there. To remedy that, Quenser and Charlotte crawled up to the top of the hill to use the binoculars to check on the UAV’s location while remaining as hidden as possible. Charles would transmit the interference program using a direction and output strength based on their information.
If only a portion of the signal arrived, the program could be damaged when it entered the UAV. That would make the entire operation a dud. The location of the UAV was crucial information.
If they were spotted, it was all over as well.
Quenser was incredibly nervous as he stuck his head out on the hill, but Charlotte said, “Do not get so tense. The UAV’s expected route passes by 3 kilometers from here. If we stay still, it will not notice us in this blizzard. And our insulated coats will prevent the infrared sensors from easily spotting us. The UAV’s path here is up in the sky rather than between the cliffs. The sense of distance when looking up from the ground is quite different from when you are looking down from the sky.”
“If you say so.”
“I see something NNW. Check it with the binoculars.”
In shock, Quenser looked through the night vision, but it was just a large bird.
“That’s an eagle, I think.”
“Beyond it. I see something else. Eagles are not nocturnal, so it may have been the noise of the UAV that woke it up.”
Quenser frowned as he looked through the binoculars, and then he spotted it. It was a UAV. It had a cylindrical body about 2 meters long with two straight wings stretching out from the side. It looked a bit like a miniature cruise missile, but the propulsion device at the back was a propeller. It must have been designed for flight time rather than speed.
“I’ve found it. It’s 2900 meters NNW of here. It’s following the edge of the cliff east at a height of 15 meters. …That design looks horrible. I guess that’s what happens when you just focus on functionality.”
“The rumor is that they were given such a simple design so that they could be launched with old launcher vehicles. At any rate, let’s tell them its location and finish up our job here. You are not the only one that would rather not be doing work unrelated to his proper field,” said Charlotte.
“Okay. Charles, the target is at BC9. It is heading towards BF9 at 150 kph. It’s following the edge of the cliff, so we can predict any curves by checking the terrain. Charles?”
While still looking through the binoculars, Quenser assumed he was getting no response due to Charles’s homesickness.
But that was not the case.
In the next instant, a burst of gunfire from an assault rifle rang out.
Something was being fired behind Quenser. It was not a Faith Organization weapon. The noise was exactly the same as when Heivia fired his assault rifle. However, Quenser did not have time to turn around. He only managed to move his shoulders slightly. A sharp impact ran through his back along with the gunshots. All the air in his lungs was forced out. The shooter was sweeping the rifle horizontally as he fired. Quenser’s upper body had been propped up to look through the binoculars, but he was slammed flat onto the ground and his vision wavered. He forced his head to turn and he realized Charlotte had been shot in the back too.
Neither of them had had time to shout out.
Quenser’s consciousness rapidly faded as he tasted blood flowing into his mouth.
That was the sole thought in Charlotte Zoom’s mind until she realized someone was shaking her shoulder. She last recalled collapsing face down, but she was now facing up.
(…I see…I was carrying that large piece of radio equipment on my back…)
The attacker had fired from behind. The equipment on her back had prevented the rifle bullet from piercing her soft flesh. Fortunately, the bullet was an anti-personnel bullet that had been designed to remain within the person it hit. A normal rifle bullet would have had little trouble going straight through a car, much less the communications equipment.
Even so, quite a shock had struck the core of her body.
“Quenser…Are you okay?”
“Yes, thanks to the plastic explosives case I was carrying. But Charles…”
He held a torn off pair of dog tags in his hand. That was enough to tell Charlotte that one of their fellow soldiers had been killed.
“There was one other. He was called Nutley I think… What happened to him?”
“He disappeared,” was Quenser’s short response. “Only one set of footprints leads away from here. The rifle bullet in my explosives case was a Legitimacy Kingdom bullet. And the Faith Organization primarily uses UAVs. I have never heard anything about them sending out foot soldiers.”
“…Tch. I had thought the gunshots sounded oddly nearby. If an enemy soldier had gotten that close, we would have noticed them, and they need not get that close in order to shoot us.”
Charlotte got up and checked on the large radio she had been carrying, but it had been completely destroyed. It had saved her life in the place of a bulletproof vest, so it may have been unfair to expect anything else of it.
Quenser stared out across the snow where the footprints headed away.
“I don’t know whether he simply deserted in fear or was a Faith Organization spy, but I think we should treat Nutley as guilty here,” said Quenser.
“Whatever his circumstances, he appears to have voluntarily fired on Legitimacy Kingdom troops and is trying to flee to the Faith Organization. That is enough to consider him an enemy spy. …Since he went as far as to kill Charles just before he could transmit the virus, it seems unlikely he was just a child soldier who panicked.”
“We have a problem.”
“What is it?”
“When Nutley killed Charles, he also destroyed the transmission antenna and the laptop with the interference program on it. We cannot send the interference program to the UAV, so we cannot continue the mission. We need to contact HQ and the unit headed to Point 1 as soon as possible.”
“…My radio is currently shooting sparks everywhere.”
“My radio can only send long-distance transmissions via yours. That means we have no means of contacting anyone.”
“One other thing.” Charlotte used both hands to grab the assault rifle hanging from her shoulder. “UAVs are headed this way because of that gunfire!! A ton of those annoying models with two free-fall bombs are flying over. We will simply get worn down if we try to take them on!! And no matter how many of them we take out, it won’t eliminate any of their actual manpower!!”
“Where’s that bastard Nutley!? We might be able to find him if we follow his footprints!!”
“No, we need to retreat! We cannot continue this mission. It is too late to chase after him. And even if we think up a way to contact HQ or Point 1, we need to ensure our own safety first! If we are taken out here, we will never be able to report the horrible situation. Also, Nutley might return to the Legitimacy Kingdom military claiming to be the lone survivor! At the very least, we need to report that he is a spy. Do you understand!?”
“Y-yes. But how are we supposed to escape an enemy that is coming from the sky!? Even if these UAVs are low speed, they can still fly at over 100 kph!!”
“Don’t worry about that. Luckily, we have a route the UAVs cannot enter. These UAVs need a trajectory correction program to fly between the cliffs, so I doubt they can pull off this kind of dangerous acrobatics.”
As she spoke, Charlotte pointed with her gun barrel.
300 meters ahead was…
“An entrance…to the coal mine…?”
Heivia and his team conveniently realized that things were not advancing according to plan.
“…Shit, this is bad,” groaned Heivia.
All four people there understood the situation without being told.
Danger was approaching before their eyes.
Its form was a giant shadow noticeable even in the darkness.
The countless points of light they could see must have been light waves emitted by the sensors on the ends of the cannons that changed wavelength periodically. Trying to hide in the darkness was not even considered in that weapon’s plan and the word “weapon” was all you needed to describe it.
“Dammit!! Why is the Wing Balancer coming this way!?”
It was a strange-looking machine.
In the center was the 50 meter spherical main body. The propulsion device at the bottom was made up of two giant concentric circles. Around 20 “legs” connected the sphere to the two concentric circles. The propulsion device was an air cushion that kept the craft afloat with air, so it was unclear what the purpose of the many “legs” was.
For a main cannon, a large coilgun was installed at the front center of the craft. However, its caliber was relatively small. It was likely made to be “small, sharp, and fast” by adding as much acceleration as possible.
In addition to the main cannon powerful enough to pierce through another Object, lasers, rapid fire beam cannons, and other secondary weapons were placed here and there around the sphere. However, with the many “legs” on the lower portion of the sphere, the upper half had a higher concentration of weapons.
Four wing-like objects could be seen on the back of the sphere.
They must have acted as weights to lessen the burden caused during rapid turns.
This was of course not an opponent flesh-and-blood soldiers could hope to defeat.
And the Wing Balancer seemed to realize that. Its many different types of sensors would have located them in an instant, but the Object was not firing on them. It was simply heading straight for them. It was either planning to pass right by them or to crush them as it passed over.
He knew it was pointless, but Heivia leapt behind a nearby rock and then called out to his fellow soldiers.
“Hey, why do you think the Wing Balancer is coming this way!?”
“H-how should I know? Th-the Baby Magnum’s maintenance base zone is behind us. …I-it doesn’t seem concerned with normal soldiers like us, so what if…what if it’s headed for…”
That response had come from the large black man named Cookman. He was hiding behind a different rock.
Myonri had been pulled down to the ground by Westy and she asked a question in a trembling voice
“But wasn’t the Faith Organization Object held in place by our Indigo Plasma!? Could it really leave so easily!?”
“Our allies may have already retreated. They may have seen the operation coming apart, so they left. Their excuse will be that they wanted to reduce the losses as much as possible.”
(…Dammit, Quenser. Did you fuck it up!?)
Heivia tried to use his radio to complain to the other boy, but he received no reply. It was possible they were having to deal with their own trouble on the other side.
But he did not have time to think about it too deeply. The enemy was not going to wait. The Object had approached within 100 meters of them.
“…What do we do?” muttered Cookman, the oldest one there, with his eyes darting about aimlessly. “Where do we run!? Will running even help!? Its range is just too great, not to mention its power. And those sensors won’t let us escape just by hiding behind cover!!”
“Stop it, you idiot!! Don’t panic! This may be an enemy that we can’t fight normally, but panicking will just lose us precious time! It just makes us more likely to die!!” shouted back Heivia in an attempt to hold Cookman’s panic in check.
That large black man was the pillar holding the team together.
If he broke, Myonri and Westy would fall too.
“Think. Let’s think. The enemy isn’t going to overlook us if we tie a white handkerchief to our rifle barrel and wave it around, so we need to think.”
It took a few seconds before Heivia’s words really sunk into Cookman’s head.
Finally, he nodded.
Heivia breathed a sigh of relief.
(God dammit. Encouraging my teammates and bringing back harmony is not the role I was meant to play.)
“That’s right. Let’s go over everything we know.” Cookman leaned his back up against the rock and pointed forward with one of his thick fingers. “We know that cliff is there.”
“What about it? The Object can fire from that distance with perfect accuracy if it tries. Even its smallest cannon can reach us,” replied Heivia.
“It clearly isn’t trying to target foot soldiers. Since it is still headed this way, it must be planning to directly attack the maintenance base zone behind us.”
“It can’t target the base from here. That means the Object has to get across that cliff to approach the target.”
“Get across…?” Heivia repeated in shock, but then a thought entered his mind. “You don’t mean the idea of the Wing Balancer having a bridge building device built in, do you?”
“By bridge building device,” said Myonri, “do you mean something like those large work vehicles that have a retractable bridge that can be used to allow the convoy to cross a river? I heard they are something like priceless treasures for mobile maintenance base zones like ours.”
“Cookman is suggesting that the Wing Balancer has one of those retractable bridges built in. But he has no real proof.”
“Well, I doubt it’s coming straight this way just to fall off the cliff.” Cookman moved his fingers to indicate that Myonri and Westy should get even lower to the ground. “But if it does have a bridge building device, then we just might be able to win.”
“You mean interfere during the bridge building process and knock the Object off the cliff?”
“It seems odd for all those ‘legs’ to be in there so complexly. It’s possible those ‘legs’ themselves are what extend to create the bridge. The bridge building devices we’re familiar with are about 60 meters long and take about 5 minutes to complete their work. And during that time, they are completely defenseless.”
“But I doubt our puny little guns will do much to an Object,” said Westy.
Heivia gave a resigned sigh and said, “While it is extending the bridge building device, its balance will be as bad as someone standing on their tiptoes. He’s suggesting we knock it off balance with concentrated fire during that time.”
“It isn’t viewing us as a threat right now, so this is our last chance. If it finds any reason to be cautious of us, just one shot back at us will finish it.”
Hearing Cookman’s comment, Heivia put the rifle that used a sling belt over his shoulder and grabbed his handheld antitank missile launcher instead.
Myonri was equipped with a similar missile, but she must not have been used to using it. Myonri’s small hands were moving too slowly, so Westy grabbed the missile from her and tossed it to Cookman.
“Pay attention to where its center of gravity is. We both fire on my signal.”
“Dammit. No matter who in this unit I get teamed up with, I end up in this kind of danger.”
The Wing Balancer approached in order to cross the 20 meter long gap between cliffs with a 10 meter drop to the water. A creaking noise came from the legs joining the main body to the floats.
While still hiding behind the rock, Cookman made a quiet countdown by lightly tapping the body of his missile launcher with his finger.
Three, two, one.
Heivia held his breath and stood up from behind his rock just as Cookman did the same.
They never fired their missiles.
Something unexpected happened first.
The Faith Organization Object did not possess a bridge building device
It had the ability to cross the gap using a simpler method.
With the sound of compressed air being expelled, the giant mass of steel jumped about 150 meters into the air.
What Heivia felt first in that instant was an intense blast of wind. A portion of the compressed air expelled at the Object’s feet as it jumped across the gap between cliffs and reached them. Heivia then grimaced as he felt an intense pain like his ear drums were about to burst. It was not just the strength of the wind. He felt like the air pressure itself had greatly changed.
With his mouth hanging open, Heivia removed his head from the missile’s targeting device and simply stared blankly up at the sight. He looked like an outfielder following the path of a ball flying so high it would clearly be a home run.
The 200,000 ton mass flew through a large arc.
The scene was so unrealistic that his thoughts completely stopped.
A change occurred to the airborne Object before his eyes. The propulsion device had looked like two concentric circles, but it was not. The circles were split into about 20 smaller fan-shaped portions similar to pieces of canned pineapple. This truly did split it apart into many different “legs” and each of the countless joints was making slight corrections to match the small ups and downs of the ground.
Cookman was the first to come to his senses.
“Its propulsion device is an air cushion! It uses the power of air!! How much compressed air do you think it needs to use to support something that huge!?”
They did not have time to respond.
Cookman pressed his back against the rock, and Westy and Myonri pressed themselves against the ground. Heivia rolled into a nearby entrance to the coal mine.
Immediately afterwards, the Wing Balancer landed on the other side of the gap…and quite near Heivia and the other three.
Even so, the 200,000 ton mass did not touch the ground. An artificial cushion of air forcibly held it up. However, unlike with a balloon, this air had no walls to contain it. The massive amount of air used in the cushion was crushed down and scattered in every direction.
As a result…
A roaring shockwave-like wind swept away the powerless foot soldiers.
Westy was pressed against the ground, but her body was ripped up and blown 20 meters horizontally. Cookman was hiding behind a rock, but he and the entire rock were dropped off the cliff. Due to hiding in the coal mine, Heivia escaped the main brunt of the violent wind, but a large mass flew into the entrance and struck him, slamming him against the wall. He thought some rock had been torn from the ground, but it turned out to be Myonri.
The Object had not even needed to fire.
The Object was so huge that no offensive weapons had been necessary to kill flesh-and-blood foot soldiers.
Heivia clenched his teeth, but he had no intention of leaving the mine. Those two had taken the violent wind full on and had been blown away. They would have been scraped across the ground and covered all over in scratches. Heivia very much doubted they were alive.
Heivia looked around the area.
He was in the entrance of the coal mine, but he saw no sign of a camera.
After checking to make sure the Wing Balancer was not focused on them, Heivia placed his hand on Myonri’s limp shoulder.
“Myonri, can you move!? Myonri!!”
Myonri shook her head. At first, Heivia assumed she was feeling woozy, but she was actually crying. Even when Heivia helped her stand, she tried to use her unsteady arms and legs to head for the mine’s exit.
She was completely refusing to look at reality.
It was not that she could not understand what was going on. This was not the clean war that the governments of the various countries claimed it to be. Heivia understood the desire to simply cast everything aside and give up out of spite.
But they could not do that.
If they did, only certain death awaited them.
“Please, c’mon. Pull yourself together!! We’re still alive! If we flee deeper into the mine, we might survive!!”
“No…I’ve had enough… We need to go. We need to save everyone.”
Myonri’s still-unfocused eyes were pointed toward the mine’s exit, so Heivia took a bottle of ammonia out of his survival kit. He removed the cap and brought it beneath Myonri’s nose. She coughed and finally turned her now-intelligent eyes toward Heivia.
“What about…What about the other two?”
“Please understand, Myonri. They’re already…”
“I know that!!” shouted Myonri. “I know that. I am not arguing against something as obvious as that. I am asking about their bodies. We need to at least recover their dog tags.”
“If we could, I already would have,” said Heivia like he was spitting out the words. He was surprised at how quiet his own voice was. “They still have belongings back at the base. We can likely find some hairs of theirs in the barracks. We don’t have time to worry about the dead right now. We need to survive ourselves. Cookman was the center of our communications ability, but he’s gone. Our small radios aren’t enough to contact that huge-breasted commander of ours.”
“You said we could flee deeper into the mine, but this is a Faith Organization military facility. Even if they primarily use UAVs, there are sure to be human soldiers in the facility.”
Heivia tried to force his dried lips into the shape of a smile.
He failed spectacularly.
“But that’s 100 times better than heading out to face that Object.”
Heivia and Myonri headed deeper into the coal mine.
Not far past the entrance was a simple inspection area. It held a railway crossing-like gate for bringing in large equipment and a smaller gate next to it for people to pass through. The gate for people was a simple cube-shaped prefab building. It had a single door on the front and the back.
Heivia and Myonri were cautious, but there was no sign of any guards.
Pure white LED lights illuminated the facility.
“Dammit. I’d actually prefer it if it was pitch black in here. Our shadows stretch further than I would like.”
“What is that prefab building?”
“An air curtain facility or something like that, I would assume. Usually, that kind of thing is meant for when you’re leaving more than when you’re entering.”
“To get rid of the dust from the mine?”
“That’s the reason they give, but it also lets them check to see if you’re trying to sneak any coal out.”
“This isn’t a gold mine.”
As they spoke, Heivia and Myonri climbed over the railway crossing-like gate and headed on.
The tunnel beyond was about 2 meters across and 5 meters tall. For a coal mine, the interior was quite clean and the ceiling, walls, and floor were all coated in a brightly-colored plastic.
They did not even need to use their military flashlights.
LED lights for the workers were set up at even intervals, illuminating the entire tunnel in a dim light.
“What is this plastic on the walls?”
“This area must not have any coal left to mine, so they’ve covered it all up to prevent any unnecessary dust from getting in. It can damage people’s lungs and cause dust explosions.”
“How do they know where the deposits are? There could be some other resource sleeping beyond these walls.”
“They can tell by using ultrasonic waves. Also, they’ve made sure they can easily break through and continue mining if a new resource is found. That must be why they used this plastic rather than thick concrete.”
“Maybe that is why we can’t hear any noises.”
“They’ll have dug around wherever it was needed, making this place into a labyrinth. The area near the entrance may only be used to go in and out at starting time and quitting time.”
The two soldiers hoped that was true.
If they ran across Faith Organization soldiers in that narrow area and a firefight began, they had no chance of winning. The gunshots would draw in more and more enemy soldiers until they were surrounded.
“This is odd…”
“Yes, we haven’t seen a single guard.”
“Come to think of it, there wasn’t a single camera at the entrance to the mine either. With set routes in like that, they would be able to vastly reduce the possibility of an intruder just by setting up a camera on those routes.”
“This is a military mine…right?”
“It has to be.”
Heivia and Myonri came to a small room.
No one was inside it.
The area likely functioned as a break room for workers. Even if putting the break room far away from the mining area was a bit inconvenient, it may have provided a more comfortable environment by distancing the workers from the noise and dust.
It contained a simple sofa, a refrigerator, a microwave, and other such amenities.
What stood out the most was the poster attached to one wall.
“…This is in the Legitimacy Kingdom language.”
“Yes, but the grammar is pretty bad.”
“Why would this be in a Faith Organization military coal mine?”
Heivia grabbed something from atop the break room table. It was a dictionary for the Legitimacy Kingdom language. The pages were well worn and the three side edges other than the spine had turned yellow. It had been read again and again. Bookmarks were placed in quite a few pages and a highlighter had been used to highlight passages.
As he flipped through the pages of the dictionary, Heivia said, “So would this be a spy training camp?”
“Do you really think that?”
“…No, you’re right. If their military intelligence department was training spies, they would certainly not teach them to use such broken language.”
As he spoke, Heivia peered inside a cardboard box located next to the sofa. It appeared to have been used for some party. It was neatly filled with various types of plastic decorations and a hand-written banner.
When he spread out the banner, it said the following in the same slightly-grammatically-incorrect Legitimacy Kingdom language:
To future friends in Legitimacy Kingdom.
It may not be much, but we hope this can help pay for construction of drinking water well.
“What the hell is this?”
Heivia was legitimately surprised.
He could see no way that text supporting an enemy nation would be allowed in a military coal mine. If that banner had been made out of actual thought for the other nation rather than out of sarcasm or mockery…
“Is this not a military mine…?”
“It might actually be a facility belonging to an anti-war group.”
Between her thumb and forefinger, Myonri held a publication speaking of peaceful ideas that were far removed from the policy of the Faith Organization military.
“This is no joke. There are three years’ worth of remittance records here.”
There was a discrepancy in all the information they had.
Where had this discrepancy come from and how had it gotten there?
Quenser and Charlotte also displayed puzzled expressions in the underground space.
Charlotte frowned at the LED lights illuminating the tunnel. She did not seem to like how her shadow stretched to the wall.
As they walked along the plastic-covered floor, Quenser asked, “We’ve gone down quite a ways, haven’t we?”
“We have likely descended over 200 meters.”
“Please stop that. Hearing the actual number again just makes me feel all the more exhausted.”
“I merely answered your question.” Charlotte’s expression hardly changed. “Most coal mines are a kilometer deep, but some go down as deep as 4 kilometers. This is still just the entrance, so-…”
She trailed off and suddenly froze in place.
Her assault rifle had been hanging from her shoulder on a strap, but she smoothly removed it as if it was part of a wire puzzle and pulled the cocking lever in the same motion. In no time at all, she held it at the ready in both hands.
Quenser heard a rustling noise at about the same time.
Quenser only had bombs, so he had no way of helping. He had no choice but to immediately press his back against the plastic-covered wall so as not to be hit by any rifle bullets.
Just as he did, someone poked their head around a corner of the tunnel.
It was a woman in her early twenties wearing a thick coat suitable for the freezing land.
She was most likely a worker in the coal mine.
There was fear in her expression, but she slowly approached them.
She held something in her hands, but it was not a gun.
(A first-aid kit…?)
Quenser looked confused, but then heard a small metallic noise.
It was the sound of the metal fasteners of the assault rifle’s shoulder strap clanking together as she altered her grip on the weapon.
The rifle’s barrel was accurately aimed at the center of the female worker’s body.
And Charlotte gave no warning.
Without hesitation, her trigger finger moved!!
An unpleasant trembling ran through Quenser’s fingertips.
Quenser followed that feeling and immediately jumped for Charlotte’s rifle.
“…!! Out of the way, you!!”
With that short command, Quenser’s vision spun. He had fallen prey to a form of close quarters combat meant for enemy soldiers trying to steal one’s weapon. Quenser did not realize this until his back had already struck the ground. The shock of the impact was enough to make him forget how to breathe.
As Quenser gasped on his back, he saw the female worker finally toss the first-aid kit aside and run away. However, Charlotte showed no mercy. She held her rifle up again before the worker could disappear around the corner.
Quenser’s shout must have messed up her timing slightly because a 5.56mm rifle bullet did not strike the worker in the back.
The worker then managed to disappear around the corner.
Charlotte clicked her tongue and pressed her rifle barrel against the tip of Quenser’s nose, pushing him back to the ground just as he had tried to rise.
“…Cough…Th-this may be a military mine, but that worker’s clothes, equipment, and even the way she moved made it clear she was no soldier. She was probably brought in as a civilian laborer. If the mine has 2 or 3 shifts, those types of people would likely be the ones on duty at this time of the night. If she wasn’t a civilian, I don’t see why she would have nothing but a first-aid kit in this situation.”
“Your point? What proof did you have that there was not a gun inside that kit? And even if she is unarmed, she can still call plenty of other workers in if she reports this. Please do not give me some conceited line about not wanting to turn a weapon on a woman on the modern battlefield.”
“Making gunshots and a corpse in this situation will not help us. We would be surrounded in no time at all.”
“Hmph. So that’s your excuse.”
With a look of irritation, Charlotte turned the rifle barrel away from Quenser.
It seemed the fact that students and civilians were not targets of barrier duty had just barely managed to save Quenser’s life.
“But in that case, you should have safely neutralized the worker yourself. We are still left in a dangerous situation. The security for this military mine is primarily carried out by UAVs, but we have no proof that they have no soldiers at all. A few dozen or even hundreds of civilian workers gathered against us in these tunnels is enough of a threat. Our Legitimacy Kingdom uniforms will be enough for them to show no mercy. I do not believe we can make broad statements like that we overlook civilians.”
“…I understand. Sorry.”
“In that case, get up and be quick about it. We need to get far away from here as quickly as we can. These tunnels may extend for over 100 kilometers like an ant nest, but we are still in an enclosed area. It would be best to assume we have no way of winning if they know where we are.”
Quenser stood up while using a hand to steady himself against the plastic wall.
Charlotte then removed her luxurious revolver from its holster at her waist and tossed it to him.
“It seems you do not have a gun. That may be the policy of your unit, but this is an emergency. I will lend you this on my authority.”
“It is not so you can fight. It is for suicide.” Charlotte’s words made the revolver suddenly feel much heavier. “It may be likely that the workers are civilians, but that means they may not have any smart weapons that can kill in a single shot. Having your body slowly smashed by construction tools rather than receiving a quick death is quite horrible. For that reason, you should be prepared.”
“This is the risk you must take on now that you have let that worker escape. This is what decisions on the battlefield are like. Remember that.”
Quenser nodded repeatedly, removed a bullet from the revolver to eliminate the risk of misfire, and stuck the gun in the gap between his boot and his foot.
The two quickly headed through the tunnel.
They wanted to move as fast as possible so as to get as far away as they could, but they had to be on the lookout for surprise attacks from other soldiers or workers.
Quenser looked up at the shiny ceiling covered in plastic.
“200 meters, hm? We might be below the sea that lies between those cliffs.”
“Let us hope that their mining project was based on proper theory. If they did anything wrong, this area could become submerged.”
Quenser took a breath of surprisingly well-ventilated and non-humid air.
He wanted to distract himself from the possibility that they could be surrounded at any second.
“This is a joint operation between the 24th and the 37th. And the Faith Organization has the Wing Balancer here. Doesn’t all that seem a bit much for an attack or defense of a coal mine?”
“Weren’t you told that taking control of this military mine will allow us to lower the supply of Object fuel and therefore help limit the movements of the enemy?”
“But they have plenty of coal mines, right?”
“And damaging them one by one can lead to the lessening of a nation’s overall power.”
“But using 3 Objects if you take both sides into account? And if Nutley really was a Faith Organization spy, they used up a spy who had successfully infiltrated us. Once a spy reveals his true colors, he has to leave no matter how deeply he had infiltrated.” Quenser frowned. “If just one of their many coal mines has this much value, wouldn’t we normally target an easier mine instead? To be blunt, I do not think the resources here are worth deploying all the forces both sides have deployed.”
As he made that comment, they exited into a different tunnel.
Simple rails were installed on the ground and some sort of electric panel was installed on the wall nearby. A small vehicle about the size of a bathtub sat stopped on the rails.
“This must be a type of electric slide lift. And it is meant for coal, not people.”
“What is it?”
“It might not be coal.”
With that comment, Quenser leaned over the edge of the slide lift and reached for a black rock left in the bottom. The mass looked like a large rock broken down to softball size.
Charlotte simply imagined coal as a black rock, so she did not understand what Quenser was getting at as he held it towards her.
Quenser gently stroked a spot on the rough mass and said, “Do you see these clear grains?”
“What is it?”
“A hunk of carbon,” said Quenser at first before rewording his response. “A diamond.”
Charlotte’s shoulders jumped slightly.
However, Quenser was not able to explain further.
A hand shot out from the nearby opening of a narrow tunnel. It grabbed Quenser and slammed his back against the wall.
It took some time for Quenser to realize what had happened.
Charlotte immediately started to bring up her rifle, but she stopped partway through. The attacker pressed a handgun barrel against Quenser such that it pushed his jaw up, but that was not why.
It was because she recognized the attacker.
“Hey, Quenser. What are you doing here?”
“We went through a lot because you fucked up. Cookman and Westy are dead. I won’t blow your brains out here, but I might have to open a few holes in your arms and legs depending on your answer here.”
“It was Nutley.”
It was Charlotte that responded, not Quenser.
In truth, Quenser had been unable to speak with Heivia’s unusually ghastly face that close.
Charlotte’s calm voice continued the explanation.
“There was a Faith Organization spy in your unit. We lost a student named Charles. He may bear some responsibility for not seeing through it beforehand, but it would be an error to blame him and him alone. Someone else is much more responsible.”
“…Are you saying I should laugh and make up just because of that?”
“If you will not change your mind, I have no choice.”
Charlotte held her assault rifle up once more.
This time, she did not hesitate.
“I have barrier duty. My job is to eliminate any elements that break military regulations and threaten the operation as a whole.”
Heivia clicked his tongue.
With an annoyed look, he removed the handgun from Quenser’s jaw and bowed his head towards Charlotte.
“Sorry. I forced the dirty job on you in order to give myself a chance to draw back.”
“I do not think you actually intended to fire.”
Charlotte removed her rifle’s sight from his face and gave a very slight smile.
Upon seeing that, the Asian girl named Myonri finally poked her head out from behind the corner.
Quenser sighed heavily.
“…So only the four of us survived.”
“There’s five if you count the traitor.” Heivia returned his handgun to its holster. “Things must be getting bad up above. They said the princess could not win in a straight fight against the Wing Balancer. Who knows how long she can last. We should probably decide what we plan to do now. Let’s have a strategy meeting, Quenser. Tell me everything you know.”
“Um,” cut in Myonri from the side. “What is that in your hand, Quenser?”
“This?” Quenser held the black softball-sized rock up and repeated the word he had said before. “A diamond.”
Froleytia gave a bitter expression within the maintenance base zone.
A deep rumbling shook below her feet every so often. She could see small bits of dust falling from the ceiling.
They could be in serious trouble.
That was her honest opinion. The Wing Balancer still had support from the large scale radar facilities, and it was using its free range of motion to corner the Baby Magnum. With cliffs running through the area like a net, the Wing Balancer had an overwhelming advantage with its ridiculous ability to jump over the gaps between cliffs. Meanwhile, the Baby Magnum’s range of movement was limited, so the princess could not evade as she wanted.
(So we get nothing but silence from the Indigo Plasma and our other allies who were supposed to be keeping it out at sea. Dammit. The reinforcements we had to ensure we would not lose are acting as if we have already lost.)
If the Baby Magnum was pushed back, the Wing Balancer would then turn its sights on the maintenance base zone.
Should she raise the white flag and retreat before that happened?
If the enemy was gentlemanly enough to respond to the white flag of an enemy that had started a surprise attack (an unlikely event, but she was trying to remain positive), the destruction of the Baby Magnum and the maintenance base zone could be avoided.
However, they would lose any chance to recover the soldiers sent out to carry out the surprise attack.
Since she could not contact them by radio, the odds of doing that were already near zero, but making that a definite zero was something else entirely.
“…This is quite a dilemma.”
There was also an issue of very bad timing.
If the maintenance base zone was destroyed with the CS broadcast staff there, the deaths of the mass media workers could light an unwelcome fire among the general public. It might not reach the Sovereign Parliament, but it could be enough to lead to the resignation of some councilors.
Froleytia looked down at the radio on her desk.
(If the information we just received is true, retreating would leave a bad taste in my mouth. But that is also no reason to make the civilian CS broadcast staff bear the risk of staying along with us.)
Speaking of the CS broadcast staff that was causing such a dilemma…
“Dammit. What is going on…?” said a girl in a low moan.
The battlefield reporter named Monica was sitting by the wall with her arms wrapped around her knees and fidgeting. She was the type of performer for whom quite a lot relied on her face and general external appearance. The safe country TV station, her performance office, and some military officers had held a meeting. As a result, she alone was to be kept in the “safest place”.
Froleytia had wanted to tell them the safest place was in the Object’s cockpit, but her actual opinion was that even where she was, some dangers remained. For instance, if Monica happened to glance at the laptop Froleytia was using, it was possible she would end up being shot.
However, Monica herself seemed unaware of that danger. The reason was simple.
“No, no, no!! I’ve had it!! Railroad, military, internet, or something… That god damn manager said I would sell better if I had some special focus to distinguish me from others!! But I don’t care about these smelly bases!! You’ve gotta be kidding me! If a shell lands here and my face is horribly burned, I won’t just sell poorly! I’ll have to say goodbye to the entire idol business!!”
That was why.
Basically, the entire “battlefield reporter” thing was just a publicity strategy and she had no experience with the military. The majority of her previous jobs had been in bases where complete control of the battlefield had been achieved and nothing but maintenance was being done. She would come in during the relatively safe periods between battles.
It was unclear if she herself had gotten sick of that or if the viewers had, but the next step had been to head to a maintenance base zone during the relatively dangerous time while an actual operation was underway.
“And! And! I went out of my way to choose a military focus despite not caring about it all, and that bastard isn’t even here!! What is going on!? Why did I even come here if I just end up trembling in some freezing base!?”
Still sitting with her arms around her knees, Monica swayed back and forth while continuing her complaints that seemed directed at god for all Froleytia could tell.
“Dammit!! That maid!! I chose the military just so I could show him the return of the great Monica, so why is that bastard Quenser nowhere to be found!?”
Froleytia’s eyebrows formed an expression of confusion.
Above ground, the Object called the Wing Balancer by the Legitimacy Kingdom and the Archangel by the Faith Organization was communicating with the unit defending the mining facility.
First, the control centre for the large radar facilities said, “We can defeat the Legitimacy Kingdom’s Generation One Object now. It has taken the initiative and moved forward not because it has confidence in its ability but in order to buy time for the maintenance base to retreat. For safety reasons, we should take it out here rather than drawing it in further. The other Object that fled offshore could see a chance and approach at any time.”
In response, the Archangel said, “Not yet. Simply defeating it would be easy enough. I’m not about to lose to a Generation One like that. However, simply destroying it will not achieve our goal. We should wait for a chance to invite it in.”
The four exchanged the information they had.
They knew victims had come from each unit. They knew that they had lost both large radios.
“Wait, wait, wait, wait. Do you mean this is a diamond mine rather than a military coal mine? Is that the type of deposits they were looking for with ultrasonic wave devices?”
“No, my guess is that this was originally a coal mine. A new survey just so happened to find an unexpected byproduct.”
“So is that why the Legitimacy Kingdom military suddenly took an interest in the Kamchatka Peninsula and began this operation to take control of the mine? This is nothing but a war of interests.”
“Diamond production used to be dependent on places like South America, Oceania, and Africa,” said Charlotte. “The distribution of power in those areas of production is fairly well set in stone. Problems also often arise in areas that are estimated to have deposits. If a brand new, stable source was discovered, it would be similar to creating a brand new market. Any world power would desperately want to get their hands on it.”
“For us, the real surprise was that this isn’t a military mine,” said Quenser in shock.
He looked through the anti-war publication Myonri had handed him.
It gave details on what causes they supported with their earnings and told how many people were working in the mine. They were of course hiding that it was a diamond mine, so it was referred to as a coal mine.
According to the numbers given, there were 10,500 people working in the mine.
“And these workers are all part of some anti-war group in the Faith Organization. They were working for money they could donate to poor people in the Legitimacy Kingdom for a drinking water well. What the hell are we even fighting for?”
“The coordinates are listed as a military facility,” added Charlotte. Her bitter expression likely came from recalling that she had aimed her rifle at an anti-war worker. “But it seems the workers here do not intend to fight. The reason we have not seen any workers may be that they all evacuated as soon as they heard the commotion from above. There should be refuge rooms scattered about meant for awaiting rescue in the event of a cave-in.”
“So to sum it all up,” said Heivia. “Our higher ups in the Legitimacy Kingdom military somehow learned that the eastern coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula is filled with diamonds, so they quickly sent an Object there to attack a mine filled with pacifists!? That puts the Wing Balancer squarely in the category of ‘ally of justice’ by protecting the diamond mine!!”
War was not like something from a children’s comic. It was almost always driven by murky human interests.
They had known that.
“That’s just too much. That makes us the clear bad guys…” muttered Quenser, hanging his head.
However, Myonri then spoke up for the first time in the discussion.
“It might not be that.”
“What might not be what, Myonri?”
“The reason behind this battle.” As Myonri gathered her thoughts, she looked Heivia in the face and then Quenser and Charlotte in turn. “It might not be the diamonds.”
“What?” Quenser asked.
Myonri gave a single small shake of her head and said, “The Faith Organization’s actions bother me. If they were really trying to protect the diamond mine, would they wait for the enemy Object right above the mine? They should have been able to predict that we would invade from Alaska and over the Bering Sea. So wouldn’t it make more sense to set up a defensive line on the sea?”
“Well…” Quenser trailed off but then began again. “You and Heivia said the Wing Balancer could jump. It’s perfectly matched for this partially manmade ria coast. It also has the large radar facilities here, don’t you think it probably just wanted as much of an advantage as it could get when fighting our princess?”
“There is an even better reason.”
Quenser, Heivia, and Charlotte looked puzzled.
Myonri went on to say, “Listen. This mine is run by pacifists who wish to talk things out with other forces rather than fighting them. That is a rare position within the Faith Organization. As they are carrying out just a few large scale charitable acts, they are probably all from some influential group rather than a gathering of disparate people with similar views. They are probably a thorn in the side of the higher ups of the military who want war to continue. Meaning…” She paused for a second. “Isn’t it possible they want to have them all slaughtered amidst the confusion of an Object vs. Object battle while they are all gathered in one place?”
Quenser could not help but gasp.
“Then the information about diamonds was nothing but bait to draw in the Legitimacy Kingdom military?”
“The Faith Organization is a group of ideologies,” said Charlotte slowly. “It is possible that they would sometimes fear an ideology. Such as one saying not to fight. The higher ups of the Faith Organization undoubtedly want this global war to continue and to achieve victory for themselves in the end. A group spreading an ideology touting peaceful resolution would be in the way of the profit of victory that the higher ups wish for.”
“The Faith Organization military wishes to quickly deal with this anti-war group, but if they slaughtered or purged them themselves, it could lead to anti-war sentiment spreading further. But if the anti-war group is killed by an Object from the very world power they were reaching out to help…”
“The trust they had tried to give us would cause their hatred to grow even greater than normal,” said Charlotte.
In her barrier duty, she had likely seen plenty of the negative emotions that could overcome people. Her voice was quiet, but it held a great weight.
Heivia frantically said, “Wait, wait, wait, wait! This is all speculation. We have no proof that Myonri’s idea is correct.”
“This is just adding speculation atop speculation.” Quenser pointed straight up. “But I thought the princess had no chance of victory if she fought the Wing Balancer in a straight fight. So why haven’t we heard a declaration of victory through the tunnel speakers yet? If they had defeated an Object, the symbol of the military, it should be like a victory parade was going on. That craft’s strength is absolute. There is no room for miracles to play into it. So if the princess hasn’t lost yet, isn’t that a sign that the Faith Organization military is acting oddly?”
“You mean the Wing Balancer isn’t putting up a real fight?”
“It is drawing the Baby Magnum in closer to the true target,” said Charlotte quickly. “It does not matter which Object attacks the mine. If either Object bombards it in the process of the battle, their objective will be achieved.”
“But.” Heivia seemed to be searching for anything to deny that was what was happening. “This mine continues for 150 kilometers along the coast and 90 kilometers inland. Can an Object really destroy the entire thing that easily?”
“The mine is between 1000 and 4000 meters deep. The freezing seawater is probably more of a concern than the earth. If several specific points are shelled, a deluge of seawater will likely drown or freeze anyone inside.”
“Then if they alter the information slightly from it being ‘in the confusion of battle’ to ‘because of the enemy’s movements’, the ignorant Faith Organization civilians will be incited to support the war.”
“Things are going to get ugly at this rate,” said Quenser, voicing his fears. “If we don’t put an end to this before the princess is used, this will get bad. How many people work in this mine? Um…That publication said 10,500 I think. All of them will be slaughtered for the sake of the Faith Organization’s national policy.”
“If this was a normal mine, it would be much more mechanized and have fewer people. But a diamond mine is different. People are needed to sort out the small ores without damaging them,” replied Charlotte immediately.
Heivia then said, “But what exactly are we supposed to do? We know the Faith Organization military is putting together some horrible plan, but how can we stop it? Please don’t tell me you want us to deal with the Wing Balancer on our own.”
“Are you saying you want to just stay here?” Quenser gave a slight sigh. “If the Faith Organization’s ultimate target is this mine, this seems like the most dangerous place to me.”
“Shit,” cursed Heivia.
Myonri raised a small hand.
“So what do you suggest we do?”
“Your unit was headed to Point 1, right? You were going to use an interference program to mess with the large radar facilities’ targeting correction for the Wing Balancer. Is your electronic equipment still functioning?”
“Yes. But you can’t mean…”
“What we need to do hasn’t changed.” Quenser messed with the handheld device proffered by Myonri and copied the interference program to his own device. “The only difference is that they know about us now. But from the vibrations coming from above, the Winger Balancer must be focused on its battle with the princess. We can take that chance to head to Point 1 and use the program.”
“That’s easier said than done,” groaned Heivia. “If that would cut it, our huge-breasted commander wouldn’t have put together that complicated plan in the first place. She held the princess’s appearance to the end because she had no other choice. The princess has now overturned those plans by coming out onto the stage. If we head forward now, we’ll just find a dead end.”
“Since that plan has been overturned, we can’t hope for a perfectly safe plan. …I’d say this is better than charging at a 200,000 ton mass of steel, though.”
“God dammit. Why can you never make the wise decision to just run away!?”
Quenser and the other three ended up heading down the tunnel. They were headed for Point 1, but the above ground route had countless UAVs flying around and two Objects clashing. They decided on the slightly safer path.
(I don’t know where they’re hiding, but it’s fortunate no workers are nearby.)
That thought had nothing to do with humanitarianism or the like. He simply did not want to be crushed by a mass of panicked people in those cramped tunnels.
The interior walls were covered in smooth plastic, but black rock jutted out at various points. The tunnels were poorly made in those places and in some areas they were forced to cross an abyss on a bridge made of damp wood. They were led through the tunnels by Heivia and Myonri who had come from an area near Point 1.
Suddenly, Quenser heard a slight cracking noise.
A thin crack ran down the plastic wall to the side. The Objects were still fighting above their heads. He assumed the vibrations from that had shaken the entire tunnel, causing the crack in the wall.
But he was wrong.
With a sound of destruction that stabbed into his ears, the rock surface crumbled and a giant mass of machinery charged through.
The four of them leaped and rolled away from the mass of machinery either forwards or backwards in the tunnel. Through the dust, Quenser saw the mass of machinery slam into the plastic wall on the opposite side, making a creaking noise.
“A powered suit…!?”
It probably was not a military weapon. The parts for the arms and legs were excessively thick, but it had odd gaps in the armor. The machinery required to move its body was plainly visible. Its design prioritized ease of maintenance over defense.
“Shit, what the hell!? Is that a mining model!?’
Quenser heard Heivia shouting from beyond the powered suit. The path leading to their destination was also on the other side. In other words, Quenser’s path was blocked by the powered suit.
Quenser felt a chill run down his spine.
This was not a worker from the mine.
If the workers were who Quenser and the others predicted they were, they would not do this.
(I know it’s you, you coward.)
Quenser’s eyes met with the inorganic camera lens.
(You goddamn spy. I can tell you’re laughing your ass off beyond that steel!!)
The unrefined arm meant to tear through the bedrock and dig through solid rock aimed for Quenser’s head. A sound like the grinding of heavy gears reverberated through the area.
He had no time to avoid it.
The thick fingers grabbed Quenser’s entire tidy head.
Heivia immediately held up his assault rifle.
But Quenser of all people told him to stop.
“Gah…!? Geh…uuh…Stop, Heivia!!”
“You can’t shoot through that thick armor!! The ricocheting bullets will kill us, not him!!”
Heivia did not remove his eye from the sight.
But it was true that his rifle bullets could not penetrate the powered suit armor.
But if he did nothing, Quenser’s head would be crushed in just a few more seconds.
Suddenly, a dull noise reverberated through the tunnel.
It came from the side.
A new figure appeared from the hole the powered suit had smashed open. She swung a pickaxe down at the gap in the joint between the powered suit’s palm and wrist and the sharp point stabbed in.
Powered suits were used for many tasks and there were many different models, but mining models tended not to worry much about keeping the joints sealed. In fact, gaps helped vent heat.
The tip of the pickaxe that found its way into the gap in the armor dug into the internal machinery, forcibly stopping the movement of the wrist.
The powered suit’s fingers stopped moving.
Quenser, who had been hanging a bit off the ground, fell back down.
“Gah…!?” he groaned, but then someone grabbed his hand off the ground.
It was not a Legitimacy Kingdom soldier.
It was the female worker from the Faith Organization anti-war group that had been carrying the first-aid kit before.
“Hurry!!” Her intonation was a bit off, but the worker spoke in English, a language people of the Legitimacy Kingdom would understand. “This won’t last forever!! You need to get out of here now!!”
At the same time, Quenser heard a dull noise.
The powered suit forcibly moved its arm with the pickaxe still stabbed into the wrist joint. After the sound of something breaking, the destroyed pickaxe fell to the ground. That had not been enough to hold back the horsepower of the powered suit.
The powered suit clenched its giant fist and swung it.
It was aiming for Quenser…
(No, it isn’t!!)
He immediately tackled the female worker.
In the next instant, the fist aimed for the woman flew through empty air and struck the plastic-covered floor of the tunnel.
The plastic shattered, cracks ran through the bedrock, a great vibration emanated out, and dust flew into the air.
“You!!” shouted Charlotte as she pulled Quenser up from the ground. She then dragged him back and away.
“What about the worker!?”
“We’ve got her over here!!” responded Heivia from the other side of the powered suit.
The worker seemed to try to say something, but the dust caused her to cough violently.
“Heivia, Myonri, you head on!! Don’t try to fight back! Do you really think you can do anything with that rifle!?”
“To hell with that!! I have an anti-tank missile, y’know!?”
“Do you want to bury us all alive!? Just get going!! Hurry!!”
“Fine, you goddamn knight!! We’ll release the worker when we find a good place. Don’t you dare get yourself killed, okay!?”
For a bit, it felt like they were hesitating, but Quenser finally heard a few sets of receding footsteps. Heivia and Myonri were heading further on with the civilian worker. Quenser and Charlotte were staying behind.
With the unnerving sound of hydraulic machinery, the powered suit turned to fully face them.
It stood over 3 meters tall, so it almost completely filled the tunnel. Quenser doubted they could manage to slip by or under it.
Charlotte audibly gulped and then spoke to Quenser.
“Now then, what should we do?”
“Just to check, who do you think is in there?”
As she looked at the powered suit that had wordlessly crashed through the wall to attack them, Charlotte gave a blunt reply.
“Only that traitor could have attacked us with such perfect timing.”
“Then I think we need to pay that bastard Nutley back for what he did.”
That said, Quenser and Charlotte were not about to charge straight at the mining powered suit. Even if it was not a military model, it was heavy construction equipment designed to efficiently break through chunks of rock and to protect its pilot from falling rocks and cave-ins. It was not something they could handle with rifle bullets.
The one piece of luck was its slow speed. That was likely to prevent as much unnecessary vibration as possible and therefore avoid the risk of unnecessary cave-ins. When Quenser and Charlotte ran away, they were not caught immediately. And as a mining model, their enemy did not have any projectiles.
“This will not last long,” said Charlotte in a bitter tone. “The issue of stamina will rear its ugly head before long. The harsh slope of this tunnel will eat away our strength in no time. Then the powered suit will catch up. If we do not find a way to defeat it first, we will both be crushed into meatballs.”
“I am not putting distance between us to run away.” As he ran alongside her, Quenser pulled a Hand Axe plastic explosive out of the bag on his back. “It’s to make sure we don’t get hurt when I blow it away.”
“Come to think of it, you said your designation was combat engineer. But the shockwave will spread further in this enclosed tunnel than outside.”
“Yes, if you just used it normally. But if you use your head, that can be reduced.”
As he spoke, Quenser stabbed a fuse into the Hand Axe and threw it at the corner between the wall and the floor. While still running, he threw a smaller amount of Hand Axe at the ceiling. The clay-like explosive stuck to the plastic on the ceiling.
“You don’t mean…”
“Just to be sure, you should cover your ears,” Quenser said as he spun around.
Just as the mining powered suit stepped on the Hand Axe on the ground, Quenser used his thumb to hit the switch on his radio and send a signal to the two fuses.
There was an explosion.
However, it did not come from the bomb at the mining powered suit’s feet. It came from the smaller bomb on the ceiling.
The plastic wall crumbled and a shutter of dirt and rock closed between Quenser and the powered suit.
Then the other fuse activated.
Quenser had thought the wall of dirt and rock might affect the signal, so he had set the bigger bomb to detonate with a time lag.
With a large explosive noise, Quenser and Charlotte were knocked off their feet.
Despite being a good distance away and having a wall of dirt and rock in the way, the shockwave swept through the tunnel and knocked them to the ground. Cracks ran through the plastic walls. A large amount of dust shot through the tunnel like something out of an ad for a bath pipe cleaner.
“…You… Just…a bit more…and it would…have been like…we were hit…by a shrapnel…grenade…”
Charlotte seemed to be trying to complain, but Quenser’s sense of hearing had been temporarily thrown out of order, so he could not hear her properly.
He coughed and looked through the dust.
Suddenly, he felt a great movement of the air on his skin. The dust was split apart. Quenser could see something large approaching from beyond with awkward movements. It was the mining powered suit. Its legs were burned a bit black, but it seemed to be moving just fine. It was tougher than he had expected.
Charlotte grabbed his arm.
Quenser was forced away by someone tugging on his arm.
“That level of explosion wasn’t enough!!”
His hearing had finally recovered. And the first voice he heard was filled with despair.
“But if I had used any more explosive than that, we could easily have been buried alive!!”
“We need to think of a different way to set it,” said Charlotte as she wiped dirt from her face with an arm. “Regulate the destruction by pointing the blast to focus in one direction. If the shockwave heads primarily away from us, the risk of being buried alive will drop as well. We just need some thick piece of steel or…”
She trailed off.
The mining powered suit approaching from behind did something new.
It used its metal glove-like arm to destroy the wall to the side. It then grabbed a mass of rock about the size of a soccer ball.
Quenser did not even have time to cry out.
The powered suit used its strength to its fullest and threw the mass of rock.
As it flew at them with the force of a shell, Charlotte pushed Quenser to the side. The rock slightly grazed Charlotte’s outstretched arm. Her slender body spun unnaturally and was slammed to the ground.
“Tch. I thought it just tugged at my clothing, but it managed to break my arm.” When Charlotte tried to stand up, she grimaced. “And my leg is hurt, too. It is only sprained, but I still cannot continue on.”
“Shit!!” shouted Quenser before grabbed Charlotte’s unbroken arm.
He wrapped it around his shoulders and forced her to stand up. He also took the assault rifle hanging from her shoulder.
“You, stop this. This will only get you killed, too.”
The assault rifle had something like a grenade launcher attached to the bottom. However, when he checked closer, it was not a tool for firing explosives; it was a shotgun-like device made up of many different laser emitters.
While they were lasers, they of course could not tear through metal like the ones used by Objects.
It was a device intended to throw off the targeting device of an enemy’s guided weapon.
(…An IR jammer… It’s not much more than a toy laser pointer. How am I supposed to oppose a powered suit with this!?)
“I am not part of your unit, you are a battlefield student, and the situation is hopeless enough to allow emergency decisions. You will not be punishable under martial law if you abandon me here.”
“You say that, but we’re trying to save enemy civilians here.”
“No, you listen,” said Quenser, cutting her off. The mining power suit was slowly but surely approaching. “The first Object was created in a far east island nation. As someone who wants to become a designer, I have a certain amount of admiration for them. But there is one phrase they have there that I don’t like. Do you know what that is?”
“I do not know much about Eastern culture.”
“The beautiful die young.”
When Quenser said that in a single breath, Charlotte glanced over at his face.
Finally, she sighed and said, “Enough flattery.”
“If it was just flattery, I wouldn’t be risking my life.”
Quenser continued forward while supporting Charlotte’s weight.
But they would eventually be overtaken at that rate.
Quenser looked around and spotted a different path splitting off from the side of the tunnel. He peered in, and found a large area. The space looked large enough for a regulation basketball court and it was about three stories high.
“This must be the area for the work other than the mining itself. You can see a terminal for a number of slide lifts over there.”
Despite how large the area was, the inside was quite complicated. A lot of equipment had been brought in. There were conveyer belts that bent back on themselves again and again, creating a bellows shape, and large devices that looked like the concept of “outdated” in mechanical form. A number of large tanks for throwing away unneeded rock were lined up, and a long, narrow work table was set up for the final detailed sorting.
However, no workers were present.
The devices and table had split black rocks left on them.
Had they been on break? Or had they frantically fled once they heard the sounds of explosions and destruction? It was impossible to tell. However, sounds of activity could be heard from a few of the machines, and some of the devices were warm to the touch.
As she looked over the complexly laid out machinery, Charlotte said, “We might be able to hide in here.”
“If he just destroys everything in here, he’ll find us.”
“If we leave while he is searching and use a bomb to seal the exit…”
“That mining model will be able to dig through the rock blocking the exit.”
“Then what do you suggest we do? Are you going to use the larger space to use more explosives? Or are you going to use a slide lift to escape?”
Before he could continue, a large noise came from the entrance.
The mining powered suit had entered.
They had no time.
Because the work area was large and was filled with lots of large pieces of machinery, they would not be found right away. However, just holding their breath and hiding would not allow them to survive. The longer they hesitated, the closer to being truly cornered they would be.
Quenser whispered to Charlotte.
“(I’ll deal with him somehow. You hide over there.)”
She called out to stop him, but Quenser ignored her and ducked underneath one of the conveyer belts. The conveyer belt was supported by pillars about as thick as his index finger, and he could move along beneath it by crouching.
Quenser pulled out some Hand Axe and approached the long narrow table for the manual work. A number of tools were scattered atop the table, but he clicked his tongue upon seeing them.
(No good. Just what’s here won’t cut it. But if this mine is what we think it is, there has to be some somewhere.)
Quenser looked around, but then suddenly stopped.
He had spotted a steel safe by the wall.
It was about the size of a bookshelf, and the door used an old fashioned dial lock.
“Is that it?” Quenser muttered before heading for the safe.
A toolbox had been carelessly left near the safe. It was likely used to maintain the large pieces of machinery and to create additional shelves or tables out of wood.
He opened the toolbox and pulled out an L-shaped crowbar.
He stuck the metal end into the gap next to the door and forced it open using leverage.
The sound of the metal breaking was louder than he had expected.
Quenser found what he was looking for in the safe and pressed them into the Hand Axe he had flattened in his palm. He grabbed the deformed explosive once more and forced off a maintenance panel on a nearby piece of equipment. The steel panel was half as thick as a notebook. He gave it a large dent by stomping on it, attached the explosive in the dent, and stabbed an electric fuse in.
At that same time, a group of machinery built up like a mountain of children’s building blocks collapsed all at once like a pillar beneath them had been removed. The mining powered suit had plowed through beneath them. It crushed the masses of steel, tore through them, and headed straight toward Quenser.
He had been found.
But given the noise he had made, that was not too surprising.
Quenser placed the explosive at his feet, flipped over a nearby table, and placed it over the explosive. He finished just as the powered suit attacked.
He just barely managed to evade.
Or so he thought. In the next instant, a great shock ran through him.
He had managed to avoid the giant steel powered suit itself, but the remnants of a device it smashed through flew about and a few fragments struck Quenser. He tried to just clench his teeth, but he could not hold back a cry of pain. He could not immediately get back up. He used his arms to drag himself along the ground.
The mining powered suit turned toward him.
Its thick arm slowly stretched out.
It had to know that Quenser had set something up. However, it seemed have determined it was not even worth worrying about. That may have been partially due to the thick armor withstanding one of Quenser’s bombs already.
It was true that Quenser could not defeat the powered suit with just the blast.
“As an intelligence operative, you must have known what that powered suit was being used to mine, right?” Quenser smiled and operated his radio. “Diamonds. The world’s hardest mineral.”
An explosion erupted nearby.
The intentionally bent steel plate directed the blast, and several diamonds embedded in the surface of the Hand Axe plastic explosive scattered like a shotgun blast.
They opened holes in the thick metal of the devices in their path, A few cracks appeared in the smooth plastic wall, and needless to say, the mining powered suit right in front of the blast was hit by a storm of diamonds.
Diamonds were so hard they would shatter, so they were normally ill suited as bullets or shells.
However, while a military model may have been a different story, they had enough destructive power to penetrate the armor of a mining model.
The countless gems found their way in through gaps in the steel plates and became a storm of deadly bullets.
With a great noise and a burst of sparks, the giant mining powered suit seemed to float slightly. The armor split apart. The black oil used for the hydraulic equipment spilled to the ground. That oil was mixed with a liquid of a different color. This other liquid was red and smelled of rusted metal.
The powered suit ceased all movement.
Quenser slowly stood up and took a good look at the powered suit that had been destroyed by a scatter shot at close range.
“…Wow. It’s so shiny. It’s full of diamonds,” he said as if spitting out the words. “You should be glad. You got the world’s most lavish funerary makeup.”
Quenser and Charlotte decided to head above ground.
As Heivia and Myonri had gone on ahead, Quenser and Charlotte did not know what path led to Point 1.
“It seems Heivia and the others made it away.”
“By now, they have likely released that worker you were worried about.”
“…Are you still mad about that?”
“No, you were right this time. But only in hindsight. To be honest, I am glad I did not kill her.”
Quenser was still supporting Charlotte. He was also still carrying her assault rifle.
"It would be better to head up rather than waste time in these labyrinthine tunnels.”
“Will we head to Point 1 aboveground?”
“I would like to contact the maintenance base zone first. They still do not know what is going on. I do not know what we can do, but it would be best to at least get that information across. We cannot transmit long distance with our radios, but we can contact them if we approach the base.”
They headed up a sloping path that turned back on itself again and again until they arrived at an exit to the underground mine.
They stuck their heads out to check on the situation outside.
In the darkness of night, they could see a scene that looked like the end of the world.
Two monstrous weapons over 50 meters tall were firing at each other. The blasts that seemed like physical masses spread across the ground and caused the occasional cliff to crumble like a cookie. High-pitched noises slammed into their eardrums and shockwaves hit their guts like body blows. Coilgun shells drew orange trajectories through the sky, and bluish-white beams flew from low-stability plasma cannons. The Arctic darkness was forcibly ripped apart by manmade weapons.
“I don’t see the UAVs.”
“With all this going on, they would lose control and crash, so they must have called them in. They do cost 50,000 euros each after all.”
Did that at least slightly increase the odds of Heivia and Myonri reaching Point 1 and inserting the interference program?
(But that’s only if Heivia doesn’t decide it isn’t worth it and run away.)
With Quenser and Charlotte still showing no sign of meeting up with them, those two probably thought they had run away. But there was no time to eliminate every misunderstanding.
Quenser went over the situation in his head once more.
The Legitimacy Kingdom had the disadvantage militarily.
The Wing Balancer was a distinctive Object. It had around 20 legs connecting the double concentric circle-shaped propulsion device and the spherical main body. It had a giant coilgun on the center of the front of its main body. And it had “weight wings” to help it keep its balance with its center of gravity and the inertia when it made rapid turns. The video data from the previous naval battle did not show it, but it was now repeatedly jumping over the gaps between cliffs.
“Amazing. Heivia wasn’t kidding. That giant thing really is jumping…”
“They were either hiding it in past battles or it never felt the need to jump on the relatively flat sea. Either way, this is a dangerous enemy.”
Charlotte was not wrong.
The main advantage the Wing Balancer had was its range of movement. The Kamchatka Peninsula was split up by a multitude of cliffs like cracked glass. It was a difficult terrain for the Baby Magnum. The Baby Magnum’s range of movement was limited and this made it much more difficult to take evasive actions. Meanwhile, the Wing Balancer could jump over the gaps between cliffs. By freely jumping around, it could maintain an advantageous distance, evade easily, and otherwise trouble the princess.
The one piece of fortune was that all the focus on the Wing Balancer’s maneuverability had left something lacking in the destructive power of its weapons. The princess’s Object had dents in various places and a few of its 7 main cannons were twisted, but she had no damage on a level beyond that. She had already been struck by the enemy’s main cannon a few times. Normally, that would have been enough to shoot straight through the reactor.
Quenser lowered Charlotte to the ground near the mine’s exit.
“Charlotte, use your radio to contact the base and inform Froleytia of the situation.”
“We are still too far away. Our radios will not reach the maintenance base zone.”
“Contact the base via the Object. The Baby Magnum’s antennae can reach the base.”
“I see.” Charlotte Zoom pulled out a small device. “But the Faith Organization’s interception antennae might pick up on the signal.”
“We just have to trust in our encryption.”
Charlotte used the small communications device and began to explain the Faith Organization’s intention to the maintenance base. The princess must have realized her equipment was being used because she contacted Quenser.
“…Quenser, are you still alive?”
“When I introduce myself to people, I’m beginning to think I should start saying my special skill is stubbornly surviving,” replied Quenser as if spitting out the words. “What’s the situation?”
“Exhausting. The base zone is beginning the process of retreating, but just getting out to sea does not mean they have escaped. The Wing Balancer can head out onto the water without switching out parts.”
“So it can jump and it can go out over the sea… I guess this really is the age of air cushions. It is a pain how you have to exchange parts every time.”
“But its speed is not all that great,” added the princess quickly, sounding a bit miffed. “If this battle was in a normal environment, my Object would definitely have won.”
“Come to think of it, the Information Alliance’s Rush had treads for high speed movement on top of its primary air cushion.”
“…Why are you bringing up that horrible girl?”
The princess’s tone dropped even further.
She seemed to truly detest that “Oh ho ho”.
It was unbelievable that she was continuing to make small movements to evade the Wing Balancer’s weapons' fire.
“I’d love to help out, but I don’t have enough information,” said Quenser. “Have you figured out any characteristics of the Object while fighting it? Like what areas its movements suggest it is more carefully protecting or something like that.”
“It seems everything related to chassis is rather delicate. When I try to aim my main cannon at its lower portion, it makes a large jump over to the other side of the cliffs.”
“Well, from the power of its cannons, it would be pretty much done for if its maneuverability was lost.”
“Also, it put up a violent counterattack when I took out one of the wings on its back. I think it was panicking.”
Quenser looked again and noticed that the Wing Balancer had only 3 wings attached to its back. It was an odd balance. It would have looked more even with four of them.
(I suppose it would be best to start by thinking of a way to target the Wing Balancer’s legs. It has a device that keeps it afloat using massive amounts of compressed air and wings to keep its balance even in midair. Is there any way to counterattack using that?)
Suddenly, the Wing Balancer made a clear change in its movements. Previously, it had been using all of its countless weapons, including its main cannon, to fire at the Baby Magnum, but its aim now changed.
It was targeting Quenser now.
“It noticed me!?”
Its cameras and sensors may have determined his location. Or perhaps it had tracked down the source of the radio signal. In either case, there was nothing he could do when targeted by an Object. Even if he tried to run away, the shockwave and aftereffects of the cannon firing would be enough to blow away his flesh-and-blood body.
The Wing Balancer showed no mercy.
As soon as it lined up its sights, it fired.
The Baby Magnum quickly interposed itself between them. Several loud metallic noises rang out. A 50+ meter Object had acted as a shield for a flesh-and-blood soldier.
In that same moment, the Wing Balancer’s aim suddenly veered off.
Quenser had not done anything. The Baby Magnum had stopped in order to act as a shield. There was no reason for the enemy’s aim to be off in that situation.
(Did Heivia and Myonri input the interference program at Point 1!?)
But the Wing Balancer did not stop.
Quenser heard the sound of compressed air being emitted.
In the next instant, he saw a shadow over the aurora in the night sky. It was the giant form of the Object. Using the same technique it did to jump from cliff to cliff, the Wing Balancer was trying to jump clear over the Baby Magnum.
The lower portion of the Wing Balancer had nothing but the mechanisms related to the chassis and no weapons at all. However, those mechanisms could create a blast of air strong enough to support such a giant machine. A violent wind would blow across the entire area when it landed. If that happened, Quenser’s puny body would be blown dozens of meters away even if he tried to take cover.
The princess immediately aimed her weapons straight up. Around 100 weapons both large and small roared. Unfortunately, the few main cannons that were specially made to attack upwards were malfunctioning. The non-main cannons held enough destructive power to make a tank look like nothing, but they could not do any real damage to another monstrous Object.
As Quenser looked up, he saw the two concentric circles of the propulsion device split apart into around 20 pieces. The many fan-shaped pieces looked like canned pineapple slices. To Quenser, they looked like spears preparing to stab down at him. The part he was seeing was analogous to the bottom of a human’s foot. Quenser spotted many large lenses there.
That became the small beginning of an idea.
Quenser instinctually grabbed the assault rifle hanging from his shoulder on a sling belt and aimed it straight up.
(I don’t have enough time!!)
The Wing Balancer fell down nearby.
Immediately before it did, the Baby Magnum fired its smallest coilgun. It was not firing at the Wing Balancer. It was firing at a large stone a bit away from Quenser.
The broken stone was moved to a position where it shielded Quenser.
Just as Quenser was knocked off his feet by the shockwave, the Wing Balancer landed. A violent wind spread out in every direction from where it landed.
Despite being protected by a large stone and lying down in the snow, Quenser’s body was lifted a few meters up into the air. But that was better than the alternative. Without the cover he had, he would have been blasted dozens of meters away.
The Wing Balancer’s main cannon roared twice.
The princess immediately took evasive actions, but the very right edge of the spherical body was torn away.
Just as the seven main cannon arms moved into place for a counterattack, the Wing Balancer’s split legs portion began creaking once more.
It leaped over the Baby Magnum to maintain its position in the blind spot of the other Object’s main cannons.
That position was dangerous.
Quenser immediately realized that fact.
The previous two main cannon shots had been nothing more than preparations driving the Baby Magnum into checkmate.
The first shot after it landed would be a direct hit on the princess.
As Quenser rolled across the ground, he opened the cover to the rifle’s targeting assistance device. Currently, he did not have enough output.
He was not planning to use the destructive power of the rifle bullets.
Those would never have any effect on an Object.
(An air cushion that uses compressed air as a cushion should work best with a large bottom surface area. So why does the Wing Balancer split apart its chassis and negate the advantage of that large bottom surface area?)
The Wing Balancer passed by over Quenser’s head.
He saw the glittering of the many lenses installed in addition to the compressed air ejection points.
(It must be to match the ups and downs of the terrain. With an air cushion, it is important to ensure the bottom surface of the craft and the ground are parallel while emitting the compressed air. That’s why air cushions are more often used over water rather than the land. A piece of the terrain bulging up could cause problems. The Wing Balancer solves that problem by having the chassis split into around 20 pieces. The ups and downs of the terrain are calculated and those pieces are arranged to match it. And the means to calculate that would be…)
Quenser used the tip of the cooking knife from his survival kit to turn a small screw in the targeting assistance device. It functioned as a dial to set the output of the laser.
He then aimed the assault rifle straight up without bothering to close the cover.
(…Those lenses!! It uses infrared!!)
He moved his finger.
The targeting assistance infrared laser was emitted straight up.
It hit the lenses on the Wing Balancer’s legs meant to calculate the makeup of the terrain.
By using the same type of infrared rays used to do the calculations, he would cause malfunctions.
“Give up, you piece of shit!! Come crashing down right here!!” shouted Quenser.
But that was not enough.
The bottom of the Wing Balancer was covered with hundreds or even thousands of infrared sensors, while Quenser just had a puny targeting device on the end of the rifle in his hands. He could not completely throw off the enemy’s sensors with that.
(Is this still not enough!? Shit! Is there nothing else!?)
Quenser’s assault rifle had a special additional device attached.
An IR jammer.
That special device emitted a number of laser pointer-like infrared lasers like a shotgun in order to mess with the targeting of guided weapons.
He pulled the trigger.
It was invisible to the human eye, but the density of beams increased all at once.
The numerous lenses on the Wing Balancer trembled as if convulsing. They could no longer detect the ground.
The Wing Balancer had lost its basis for landing.
But the 200,000 ton mass continued to fall.
“Get out of the way!!” needlessly shouted the princess.
Quenser had already started moving to the side as quickly as he could.
Immediately afterwards, a great crater was created on the Kamchatka Peninsula.
A shockwave roared.
Quenser’s body was thrown farther than he had expected. He rolled across the hard ground, receiving cuts and scrapes all over his body. But it was nowhere near as bad as when the air cushion had been functioning. The malfunction had been successful.
“Shit…What happened to that damn thing…?”
Quenser forced his aching body to get up.
The Wing Balancer had been unable to stop its fall, so over half of its around 20 legs had directly struck the ground and been destroyed. The remaining legs had been unable to support its giant weight. The Wing Balancer sank down and stopped moving.
It must have not yet given up the fight because it tried to move its main cannon. However, the Wing Balancer could not turn itself around, so the Baby Magnum was easily able to move out of range by circling around. The Baby Magnum could fire its main cannon at any time. It was checkmate.
Quenser sent a short transmission to the princess.
“Ask them to surrender.”
“First, I will fire from the side and destroy the Wing Balancer’s main cannon.”
With a great roar, the Faith Organization’s last hope of resistance was suppressed. The shockwave sent Quenser rolling once more.
Quenser spat out the snow that had entered his mouth and looked over at Charlotte where he had left her at the entrance to the mine. She was waving at him with her back still leaning against the rock face. She seemed to be uninjured.
With that, the battle surrounding the Kamchatka Peninsula was over.
The Faith Organization’s planned slaughter of the anti-war group and national policy of heightened war against the Legitimacy Kingdom had failed.
As Quenser reflected on that fact, he received a transmission from Froleytia.
“Point 1, Point 2, are you still alive!? We couldn’t reach your radios, so we assumed you had been wiped out! How many of you were fortunate enough to survive!? At any rate, get out of there now!!”
Quenser sent a transmission to the maintenance base zone via the large scale antennae equipped on the princess’s Object.
He received a response almost immediately.
“We know what those behind this were after. They wanted to use the confusion of the battle to slaughter the Faith Organization civilians working in the mine on the eastern coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula!! That way they could continue the war between the Legitimacy Kingdom and the Faith Organization and gain more power!! They wanted the credit for victory, but if the war ended according to the plan, the victory would not be theirs. That was why they created circumstances where they could cause the war to continue!! They used the mine to that end. Anyone who can move needs to get as far away from the mine as possible!! You will get caught in the bombardment if you do not!!”
“You don’t need to worry about that,” said Quenser, relaxing.
Something seemed to have led to a delay in the information arriving at the base, so Froleytia’s fears were needless.
“The Faith Organization Object can no longer move. The Wing Balancer has lost all ability to harm the civilians in the mine.”
“…Yes. The Wing Balancer has.”
There was an ominous tone to her voice.
Quenser felt the same kind of unease as when a time bomb’s counter continued to countdown despite the cord having been cut.
Froleytia continued, “But the Wing Balancer is not the only one that wants to exacerbate this war.”
“You don’t mean…”
How many Objects were deployed to the Kamchatka Peninsula?
1. The Legitimacy Kingdom’s Baby Magnum.
2. The Faith Organization’s Wing Balancer.
3. The Legitimacy Kingdom’s Indigo Plasma that had withdrawn out to sea.
A few facts suddenly hit Quenser.
Nutley had not been a Faith Organization spy.
The Faith Organization military was not the only group that wished for the war to grow larger and fiercer.
In other words…
Nutley had been a spy sent by the 24th Mobile Maintenance Battalion of the Legitimacy Kingdom.
Quenser heard a low rumbling. At some point the Object that had supposedly fled beyond the horizon had approached the Kamchatka Peninsula once more. Its main cannon slowly moved as it aimed.
It was not aiming at the Wing Balancer. The Faith Organization Object was no longer functioning. It was not aiming at the Baby Magnum. It had no reason to fire on another Legitimacy Kingdom Object.
The Indigo Plasma’s main cannon was creaking in the direction of empty terrain.
The terrain may have appeared empty at first glance, but the Object was aiming at the diamond mine located underground.
The anti-war group’s publication and the face of the worker with the first aid kit entered the back of Quenser’s mind.
The statistic of 10,500 people came back to him.
The princess’s Baby Magnum moved before his eyes. However, it was not moving to attack the Indigo Plasma. It was too far away and there was the issue of military regulations. She could not decide whether she was allowed to fire on the Object or not.
Instead, the princess was moving to protect Quenser and Charlotte as she had before. She had foreseen the destruction and tragedy that was about to occur.
The puny battlefield student’s voice echoed through the battlefield.
Immediately afterwards, the Indigo Plasma opened fire.
The bluish-white beams of light of a low-stability plasma cannon tore through the dark night of the Kamchatka Peninsula. Explosion after explosion erupted. This was more than just a couple of shots. The areas hit had been carefully calculated to ensure that the holes would allow freezing seawater to fill the entire mine. The overwhelming destruction became a maelstrom that swept through the mine. The underground area caved-in and the terrain itself changed. A portion of the bedrock melted into lava which mixed with the seawater and created cumulonimbus cloud-like masses of steam. The mine became more than just a hell of being buried alive. A deluge of seawater poured in to completely finish off the people trapped inside.
Quenser did not have the leeway to just watch that utter massacre. Even with the Baby Magnum acting as a shield, the shockwave came around the Object and assaulted his ears. In an instant, his body lost all strength and he collapsed to the ground. His fingertips trembled. He forced them to stop and tried to stand up.
The bombardment continued for more than 10 minutes.
An Object held enough destructive power to roast the insides of an aircraft carrier in an instant, but this one continued firing on civilians for 10 minutes.
After that nightmarish bombardment came silence. Quenser was at a complete loss for words. He did not even wipe the dirt and soot from his face. In the scene before his eyes, absolutely everything had been destroyed. Red flames, black smoke, orange molten rock, and white steam. It had all the colors of a painting of hell. The one thing that would have made it worse was if the color of human flesh or the red of fresh blood had been visible from that distance. Either way, everyone in the mine had surely been killed.
The Indigo Plasma turned around.
The slaughterer calmly moved out to sea as if it was the true victor.
Quenser did not have the willpower to even think about pursuing it.
His conditions for victory would not be achieved by simply destroying it.
“Point 1, Point 2, any survivors report in,” said Froleytia over the radio. Quenser honestly wanted to reply that he was dead, but then his silver-haired commander said something else. “Do not worry. The 10,500 members of the Faith Organization anti-war group are unharmed. Fortunately, that coal mine was secretly a diamond mine. They had an escape route prepared.”
“I explained that the eastern coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula has been turned into a terrain similar to a complex ria coast by an earthquake in the Bering Sea and their fourth submarine base construction plan, right? Well, there really was a submarine base there. Normally, costs prevent submarines from being used for transport. However, the Kamchatka Peninsula was producing ores valuable enough to make up for those costs.”
“They were using submarines to transport the diamonds…?”
“And it wasn’t just 1 or 2 hundred of them. Well, they wanted to prevent such expensive military funds from being stolen in transit. They needed enough to cover the actual group and a diversion. To use them here, they must have really wanted to hide the existence of the diamond mine. Those working in the mine managed to use them for themselves. This plan was calculated to efficiently destroy the mine. But that means you can get by if you find an oversight in the plan. The Indigo Plasma used seawater, so I was a bit worried the submarines would be swept into some hole.”
“But,” said Quenser in denial. He still did not believe it. “But how?”
“Those in the mine contacted us via radio. It seems someone from the anti-war group recovered the equipment from one of our dead. Using the frequency data in that equipment, they used the mine’s large-scale antenna to contact us. We are the Legitimacy Kingdom and they are the Faith Organization. I honestly had no proof they were telling the truth, but they actually listened to what I had to say. Also, they explained everything they knew about the equipment in the mine. That was why we were able to tell them how to take shelter. But it was still quite close. After all, there were over 10,000 of them. They began moving 2 hours ago, but they still just barely finished taking refuge. They are currently asking about the process required to defect to the Legitimacy Kingdom.”
It was around that point that it all started to feel real to Quenser.
(I see. The worker we first ran across in the tunnel had a first aid kit because of those communications.)
“As I said before, we thought Point 1 and Point 2 had been wiped out because we could not contact you via radio. That is why your view of the situation is inconsistent with ours. Honestly, I almost panicked when you suddenly appeared right in the middle of the battlefield.”
The Indigo Plasma’s plan had not come to fruition.
The people in the mine had not been meaninglessly slaughtered.
“We were just contacted by Heivia and Myonri. It seems they are sheltering a single civilian worker and are unharmed.”
There had been no civilian sacrifices.
Not even one.
“We were victorious here because we all trusted the words of strangers,” said Froleytia in conclusion.
Quenser helped support the Black Uniform named Charlotte. She had a broken arm and a sprained ankle. Quenser had a few choice words for whoever it was that had said Objects fought clean wars.
“Did you hear?” asked Heivia as he walked up. “The Indigo Plasma’s 24th Mobile Maintenance Battalion has made an official declaration. The Councilors and the Sovereign Parliament are still arguing, but it’s more or less decided. Our next enemies are fellow Legitimacy Kingdomers.”
“…I don’t like that. It reminds me of Councilor Flide.”
“Oh, oh. That damn old man who used an Elite little girl as his pawn? I remember him.”
As Quenser and Heivia casually gave out insults, Myonri cut in from the side.
“D-don’t be so calm about this. Don’t you understand? This is a civil war.”
The shadow over Myonri’s face may have been because she was recalling Cookman and Westy, her two lost comrades.
Charlotte remained silent.
She did not say a single word.
As a Black Uniform in charge of barrier duty wherein she investigated the military and gave out punishment where needed, she may have been ashamed of the current situation.
As Quenser continued to help her along, he said, “What are we even fighting for?”
“It isn’t for peace or justice, that’s for sure,” spat out Heivia. “I’m fighting to inherit my noble family and you’re fighting to become an Object designer. That hasn’t changed. We know the 24th is our enemy, so let’s use them as a stepping stone to our goals.”
A distant middle-aged lieutenant shouted over at Heivia in a deep voice. He was being called over to help with some kind of work.
“Damn. Snow shoveling again? Now I wish I had lent my shoulder to the beauty.”
“It’s first come first serve.”
“I know that, dammit. Hey, let’s go, Myonri. I can at least have a cute young lady working with me.”
Myonri blinked as Heivia half-dragged her over toward the middle-aged lieutenant. Quenser focused on getting Charlotte to the large rescue helicopter.
Charlotte had remained silent up to that point, but now she sighed with her arm wrapped around Quenser’s neck.
“…Honestly. This is not my job. I am a Black Uniform in charge of barrier duty.”
“True, but I’m a battlefield student.”
“You are the one that destroyed the Wing Balancer.”
“You give me too much credit. Without the Baby Magnum, I would have been blown away when the Wing Balancer landed. And against a foot soldier like me, the Wing Balancer’s many cannons would have been enough even after the legs were taken out.”
“Still,” said Charlotte after a pause. “You contributed to the unit’s victory in that emergency situation. You might be awarded for this. I would think you will be given the Special Individual Medal for Victory.”
“Eh? I thought that was only for official members of the military?”
“That one can be given to civilians as well. You received a public commendation after the destruction of the Water Strider, remember? It is the same as that.”
“Really.” Charlotte’s lips relaxed slightly. “To be honest, I was a fan of yours. So I would not lie about this.”
“At a bar I frequent, the bartender creates a new celebratory cocktail for every Object you and your partner destroy. Due to that, I cannot help but be interested in your actions.”
“I’m not sure you could call that being a ‘fan’…” said Quenser in shock.
But then he heard the sound of something small falling to the ground. It seemed something had fallen from a pocket of his uniform and onto the snow. Quenser looked down at his feet and froze in place.
It was a rubber box about the size of a cigarette carton.
The latch on the cover came off and some of the contents spilled out.
They were clear grains.
They were the ores commonly referred to as diamonds.
The voice of Charlotte Zoom, a Black Uniform in charge of barrier duty, grew ultra icy.
Quenser’s immediate thought was: Laughing is my only option.
“Ha…ha ha. Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ah ha ha ha ha ha! Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!”
“Did you know that there is a means of immobilizing the neck with just this arm I have around your shoulders?”
“I give! I give! I bgh-!! St-stop! Squeezing like that only presses your tits into my face!! And I happen to like the armpits of beautiful women, so keep this up if you want my inner self to awaken!!”
Charlotte had grabbed the collar of his uniform and begun to constrict his carotid artery, but she loosened her grip just before Quenser lost consciousness.
“This injury gives me a serious disadvantage.”
“A-are you overlooking this…?”
“I have no choice,” said Charlotte in annoyance. Her shoulders relaxed even further and she placed even more weight on Quenser. “I only have jurisdiction over official soldiers and other combat elements cooperating on the battlefield. I have no authority over a civilian student.”