HEAVY OBJECT:Volume3 Chapter 3
Chapter 3: Honor is Priceless >> Emergency Interception at Victoria Island
Froleytia stood within a cargo plane.
There were a few dozen of them in all and they were all filled with various vehicles and equipment. The one Froleytia was on had nothing but high quality furnishings that were privately owned by a certain officer. In fact, the entire plane had been added specifically for her things.
Froleytia felt there was no need to split it apart like that, but the air force group that had supplied the cargo planes seemed to enjoy providing that kind of hospitality. As flashy dogfights had fallen out of fashion, they had learned the etiquette of making deliveries.
"The Legitimacy Kingdom military's 24th Mobile Maintenance Battalion and the Second Generation Indigo Plasma it controls seem to be trying to return to Europe by passing through Alaska and heading over the Atlantic Ocean. Currently, they are headed east while breaking through the thick ice in the ocean around the Queen Elizabeth Islands in the Arctic. They should soon realize that is inefficient and head up onto land. The nearby Victoria Island seems the most likely landing point."
As Froleytia listened to the female operator from the electronic simulation department, she quietly exhaled some tobacco smoke.
"...I can't believe it is taking us so long to attack. If we had just blockaded the Bering Sea, we could have cut off the Indigo Plasma and the 24th. Then they would surely have run out of material. Due to our slow response, they were able to meet up with the unit hidden in Alaska and resupply. They might very well be throwing a victory party right this very instant. ...I wonder if the higher ups in the Sovereign Parliament are secretly negotiating with both sides."
"This is a rare occurrence even in historical terms. The 24th may have taken that into account when they made their plan."
"Fortunately, we had the CS broadcast team here for the interviews. That gives us video evidence for the entire thing from beginning to end. I doubt the production staff for a variety program thought the footage they were taking would ever reach scowling top-level military officers, nobles, or royals."
"The coast guards who could only sit idly by and watch as a clear enemy passed by might be seeing the scene again and again in their nightmares for months."
"Soldiers zealous enough to do that are rare these days. And I am not one of them." Froleytia gave a mocking smile. "But the 24th are finally officially considered our enemy. We can now blow them away with impunity. Even if they are an entire battalion with an Object of their own, they only have one."
"Yes. At the very least, I do not think they have enough strength to handle the entire Legitimacy Kingdom military."
"What about our strength? How many Objects can we use?"
"Three are currently deployed to the Alaska district. Our Baby Magnum, the Snow Quake, and the Active Sledge. In a week's time, it seems 5 more in Europe should be able to cross the Atlantic and reach us."
"...I'm sure those 5 are primarily there because the VIPs on the Council put self-preservation above all else so they want to build a defensive line across the Atlantic. They will not be cooperating with us. Even if our Objects are destroyed, they will be ordered to not take a step in our direction."
Also, it did not take an entire week for Objects that moved at around 500 kph to cross the Atlantic Ocean. They would claim that transporting the equipment needed for the maintenance bases was what was taking so much time, but it was clear what their real reason was. They wanted to keep that large force in the Atlantic Ocean.
"More importantly, the Snow Quake or the Active Sledge are not going to join the 24th's side, are they? We could easily be shot in the back in this situation. Just because they see this disorder in our ranks does not necessarily mean the other forces will take action."
"I am sorry, but do you really think anyone else would agree with the 24th's radical views? Black Uniforms are being sent to those other units for barrier duty, but it is likely a waste of tax money."
"Yes, I guess this is just the crazy ideas of a noble."
"So how shall we carry out the interception of the 24th?"
Froleytia looked over at the giant map attached to the whiteboard. She took the quill sitting on the table and forcefully stabbed the tip into a point on the map as if she was throwing a dart.
"If they continue on, they should end up at Victoria Island. That is where we will blow the Indigo Plasma to pieces."
Quenser and Heivia stepped down from the open back of a cargo plane and onto icy land.
They were at a hastily constructed airfield on the Arctic Victoria Island in the northern portion of the Alaska district.
"I can't believe they can land somewhere this frozen. Is this supposed to be a runway? You could play ice hockey on it," said Heivia in shock, but he frantically moved out of the way when a truck horn blared.
Several large military vehicles were driving down the lowered cargo door and onto the runway.
Quenser held his arms around his body for warmth even with his heavy coat on.
"Where's the princess?"
"She got here long ago. We came later to construct the maintenance base. We don't get sent to the front lines every time," said Heivia before bringing a hand to his forehead and staring straight up. "I thought the Indigo Plasma was doing some crazy things, but I never thought that was the infamous Prizewell City Slicker's unit. I hadn't heard much about him for 2 or 3 years now. I wonder when he was scouted and secretly started heading down the path of an Elite."
"Who is he?"
"A hardcore lineage advocate. Basically, he's the stereotypical example of the kind of noble you don't want to have to deal with," cut in Froleytia from the side with her long, thin kiseru in her mouth. She must not have had much to do until the maintenance base was constructed because she looked bored. "Basically, he's an idiot who has mistakenly decided his ultimate objective should be to ensure a set group of people centered around him controls the wars and government. He advocates reinstating the slave class that was utterly abolished a few decades back. He claims the stagnation of the Legitimacy Kingdom economy is due to a lack of a working force."
"He is trying to use language to bring about this reform in social classes. City Slicker is an ardent language preservation activist."
"You mean he discriminates based on whether you can speak the language or not?"
"Yes. City Slicker fears the decay of the Legitimacy Kingdom's official language more than anything else. He is rumored to have been behind a few terrorist attacks involving things such as assassinations of foreign language band members and bombings of foreign language schools. There was never enough evidence, though," said Heivia.
Quenser frowned and said, "It is true that you occasionally hear about languages dying out because not enough people used it and it was not passed on to enough people, but this is the Legitimacy Kingdom's official language City Slicker is talking about, right? It's the official language of one of the major world powers. It isn't going to die out so easily."
"The Legitimacy Kingdom's official language is primarily based on French with influences from the languages of the other European cultures added in. You know that much, right, Quenser?" With a smile, Froleytia tapped her shoulder. A few letters were written on the unit insignia there. "But what language is used on the military's unit insignias?"
"Things like military jargon, internet tags, and programming languages are often based around English even now. It is a relic of an age before the arrival of Objects, but I would be lying if I said it wasn't easier to just keep using the existing terminology. But City Slicker will not allow that. Unless everything down to the last restaurant menu is in the Legitimacy Kingdom's official language, he will not be satisfied."
"It sounds more like he's the one destroying a linguistic culture. So did that bastard Nutley shoot us in the back over that?"
"If you add in some clever seasoning, language preservation activism can seem like quite a beautiful thing," Heivia said, grinning. "If nobles and commoners spoke the same language, everyone could get along. Men could get along with women, adults could get along with children, and people of every skin color could get along. If we could just speak to each other in the same language, everyone could smile together. Isn't that just wonderful!? ...Their sales pitch is something like that."
"Of course, they don't bring up the reverse side of the coin. That worldview shows that you have no intention of smiling together with those who cannot speak your language. In fact, it shows you do not even intend to treat them like fellow human beings."
"Nutley was black."
"True, but Cookman was black, too. And Myonri was Asian. The Legitimacy Kingdom may be based on the culture of a bygone era of kings and knights, but black nobles are not exactly rare these days. There doesn't really seem to be a foundation for those words to work off of and lead him astray."
"It does not matter if the foundation actually exists or not. As long as Nutley had even the slightest doubts along those lines, Prizewell City Slicker just had to find them and use them."
"But you also said City Slicker was a lineage advocate..."
"Yes. Just like with the mafia, he surrounds himself with blood relatives. Deep down, he will never trust a stranger. He uses language when choosing his 'pawns'."
That talk left a bitter taste in Quenser's mouth.
City Slicker may have seen it as nothing more than using tactics from his field of expertise.
"He does not care about anyone besides himself," muttered Froleytia in an evaluation of the leader of the 24th. She gently blew out some smoke. "That is why he did not fit in even among the nobles. That made him feel the need to rush things. This entire incident seems to be his attempt to gain more of a right to speak within the Legitimacy Kingdom through his military contributions. Then, he can continue with his language preservation activism. ...But you saw what happened. His slaughter of the Faith Organization civilians was stopped and he failed to create the spark he wanted. His information manipulation that was meant to take advantage of the confusion also failed. His political maneuvering was exposed and his influence has plummeted. Before long, his position as a noble will likely be officially revoked and will be treated as a pitiable 'fallen noble'."
"But he took action before that could happen," muttered Quenser.
Froleytia shrugged lightly and said, "He might be hoping to cross the Atlantic, threaten the Sovereign Parliament, and correct his political trajectory, or he might be hoping to attack an Information Alliance city in eastern America to restore his influence. Whatever he plans to do, it is nothing but a nuisance and the higher ups of the military do not want any of it to happen. After he came so far, I almost feel sorry for him. Not that I intend to hold back," she said offhandedly. "Prizewell City Slicker's goal is not to overthrow the Legitimacy Kingdom. He simply wants to retain his position within the current system. From there, he wants to obtain a position that gives him overwhelming military force that he can use to prod the Sovereign Parliament in the direction of his own views."
"They only have the Indigo Plasma, right?"
"Yes, but this area is something like Prizewell City Slicker's manor. Rumor has it he privately owns an unofficially operated weapons factory somewhere around here. It is possible they were resupplied while on the move and that the Object is now equipped with weapons not in the diagrams we have. If we let our guard down, we could run into a most unwelcome surprise."
"But we have three Objects while they have just the one," said Heivia to Quenser in a joking tone. "Whatever equipment they may have gained, the numbers are just too different. Our victory is ensured. The only real problem is the bad taste shooting fellow Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers will leave in our mouths."
"Yes, we will almost assuredly achieve victory in the end," agreed Froleytia. "But do not forget that we could take damages in the process. The son of the Winchell family does not intend to get killed by a stray bullet with victory before his eyes, does he?"
Heivia's jocular expression froze in place at Froleytia's cold tone.
A few hours later, the maintenance base zone made up of a convoy of large vehicles had been constructed. Froleytia gathered the members of the unit and began the pre-mission briefing.
"The enemy will be here soon." She used a projector to display a map on the screen behind her. "We are up against the 24th Mobile Maintenance Battalion and the Indigo Plasma. There is no need to think of them as fellow Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers. They sullied the name of the Legitimacy Kingdom enough for the Sovereign Parliament to officially declare them an enemy force. To prevent any unnecessary damages such as any to civilians, we must eliminate the unit and its leader Prizewell City Slicker."
This did not cause a stir in the crowd.
They had all clearly seen the true nature of the Indigo Plasma when it tried to slaughter civilians on the Kamchatka Peninsula, even if those civilians were from an enemy nation. Modern war made a clear distinction between safe countries and battlefields. The true nature of Froleytia and the 37th she commanded had also been made clear when they had led the civilians to the submarines even when doing so had no real merit for her unit. A force that crossed that line had to be destroyed before it could grow any more powerful.
"As its name would suggest, the Indigo Plasma is a Second Generation Object that specializes in the use of low-stability plasma cannons. It is quite powerful on its own, but it seems tactics have been put together for it that include working together with a unit of foot soldiers. ...That is because they were part of the Legitimacy Kingdom military. They analyzed our victories and tried to add that into their own force."
A few people in the crowd gave some sarcastic applause, but Quenser was taken aback. He had not been fighting Objects in order to help slaughterers grow more powerful.
To get rid of the heavy atmosphere, Quenser asked, "What exactly will we be doing?"
"Basically, we will take them out here on the coast of Victoria Island. The Baby Magnum and the Snow Quake will obstruct their path on land while the Active Sledge will cut off their retreat on the sea. The 24th will not try to take us on in a straight fight. Their foot soldier unit will likely try something. They have no chance while it is 3 to 1, so they will enact a strategy meant to destroy our unity."
"Is there any information that needs special attention?"
"The 24th is taking this action because they believe they will end up with better odds even than 1 on 1 if we sabotage each other. I doubt the battle will go exactly as they wish it to, but there is a real danger of unnecessary confusion causing damages to spread farther than necessary. If you do not wish to die needlessly in a battle we end up winning, make sure to stay on your guard."
After that, she explained specifically what different units would be doing. More foot soldiers were being deployed than usual. The fact that Froleytia was sending out over 100 foot soldiers showed just how worried she was about the 24th Mobile Maintenance Battalion's foot soldier unit.
When the pre-mission briefing was over, Heivia slipped into the group of soldiers heading for the exit and worked his way over toward Quenser.
"Hey, hero. What area are you headed to?"
"Then we'll be together."
"We're setting bombs along the 24th's route to stop their foot soldiers and vehicles, right?"
"C'mon now, stop that. Reconfirming what we're doing right before we head out is just going to make us more nervous. When did you get to be so smart?"
"I don't want to be treating this like I'm cramming before the night of an entrance exam. Hating things like that was what led me to becoming a battlefield student. But I might die if I don't do it. Rumor has it the Indigo Plasma has had additions using private funds. If that's true, the Legitimacy Kingdom military's blueprint won't be reliable. Just the other day with the Wing Balancer, we saw how dangerous misreading an Object's abilities is."
"...Yeah, no one expected to find an Object that could actually jump," said Heivia in disgust.
As they left the assembly room, they spotted a few unfamiliar men sitting with their backs against the corridor wall. Their clothes made it clear they were not military men. They could only be described as dirty middle-aged men.
As they passed the men, Quenser asked Heivia, "Who are they?"
"The CS broadcast staff I would assume. The one for that military show. We came straight here from the Kamchatka Peninsula. The Black Uniforms withdrew to help with the mission, but there was no time to deal with the TV crew. They have to stick around here until the cargo planes head back to a safe country."
"I'm surprised the media isn't restricted from coming outside while a scandal like this is going on."
"Normally, they would be thrown into detention cells in the name of intelligence preservation. Our huge-breasted commander may be generally frightening, but one of her good points is her ability to be oddly allowing about these kinds of things."
"...But a battle is about to start, right? Is that really okay?"
"How should I know? But they came to a maintenance base on the front lines, so they had to have been prepared for some kind of trouble to occur. At the very least, it would have been written in tiny letters at the bottom of whatever paperwork they signed. Otherwise, that huge-breasted commander would never have allowed it."
So is she kind or is she not...?)
Quenser turned around once and looked at a cameraman who looked entirely exhausted. Had they been expecting a clean battle between Objects that was like an official sports competition?
However, there would be no point in speaking to them.
Quenser did not have the authority to send them back to a safe country and he could not pilot a cargo plane.
"...Does that mean their star is still here too?" wondered Quenser.
"Oh, she was amazing. She reminded me of a nostalgic idol from the old days. She had white and pink camouflage on. She must have been preparing for a firefight in a glass of strawberry milk."
"I wonder if it would be inconsiderate of me to ask for her signature in this situation."
"You can probably manage it during the confusion of the victory party."
Suddenly, the princess walked around a corner of the corridor while holding a few ration packages. She spotted Quenser and Heivia and approached them.
"Oh, are you on your way to board the Baby Magnum?"
"Ugh, those rations look as disgusting as ever. Hey, how about we go on strike when things are a little more peaceful?"
The princess ignored Heivia's suggestion that could have been interpreted as treason and looked over at Quenser.
"...The old lady was acting oddly."
"I guess you do not know what is happening either."
The princess gave a heavy sigh. She must have been worried.
Heivia must have overlooked how serious she was taking it because he said, "Everyone gets a little nervous just before a mission. This time there will be a lot of foot soldiers on the front lines in addition to the Objects. Maybe she's worried about us like we're her family."
"Could it really just be that?" said the princess with a puzzled look as she headed to the Object maintenance area.
Quenser stared at her back as she left, but then...
"Ahn? Hey, Quenser, where are you going? We'll be heading out soon."
"I'm taking a detour."
"I see. Go off and hear out that old lady's worries if you like, but be quick about it."
"I'm not that softhearted. It's just that all these battles have left me with little time to study Object design. I have enough time to make a quick visit to the maintenance area. I need to cram my head full of as much knowledge as I can."
"Enough with the excuses, lady killer. Go make that old woman's heart go all aflutter."
Ignoring Heivia's one-sided conclusion, Quenser headed for the maintenance area. The princess must have headed for the Object as quickly as she could because he did not catch up to her on the way.
The flow of time felt different inside.
Everything was much, much faster.
The speed at which things and people moved was much greater than normal.
A fair amount of damage had been taken in the battle with the Wing Balancer on the Kamchatka Peninsula. And now they had another battle coming up. They wanted to repair that damage as much as possible. After all...
We are up against a traitor that has left the Legitimacy Kingdom. The normal rules of war no longer apply. We cannot use the white flag, so a loss means a slaughter.
It was like there was a cliff one step behind them. The desire to get as much done as possible was understandable.
"Boy," said a voice from behind him.
He turned around and found the old maintenance lady approaching with a toolbox.
"This is an emergency battle preparation. I do not have time to lecture an amateur."
"You're always telling me to steal as much information as I can using my eyes. I came here to test just how much I can absorb during the real deal."
"Hmph," said the old lady before making a motion telling Quenser to follow her and then beginning to walk once more.
As the princess had said, she was not being very talkative. Also, it seemed to be more than just pre-battle jitters. The other maintenance soldiers were in oddly high spirits as they forced themselves into an explosion of activity. Their attitude was the more common one for maintenance soldiers.
The old maintenance lady did not head for the metal framework of scaffolding around the Object's main body. Instead, she headed for a crane a bit away from the Object. It was one of the types used at ports and shipyards that had the operator's seat located a few dozen meters up into the air.
Instead of lowering the crane's operator's seat to the ground, the two of them jumped from scaffolding sticking out into empty air and onto the open area attached around the operator's seat. The method was not exactly good to Quenser's heart.
"Th-this isn't the usual type of crane we use."
"It is a Legitimacy Kingdom military format, but it is one of the pieces of equipment we borrowed from the unit already on Victoria Island. We could hardly fit everything aboard the cargo planes."
That meant a few of the 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion's proper vehicles had been left behind on the Kamchatka Peninsula.
As Quenser thought about that, the old maintenance lady tossed him a pair of binoculars.
"You can steal with your eyes best if you're high up, right? Also, we can't have someone who doesn't understand the rhythm of things wandering around down there."
"You sure are harsh..."
Quenser entered the enclosed area that contained the crane's operator's seat.
It was a large area. He felt like an entire 10-person van could fit inside. A single seat was installed in the center and various buttons and levers were installed around it. Also...
"Wow, the floor's transparent. If you threw someone who was afraid of heights in here, they'd probably tell you anything to be let out."
"Cranes like this need some way to see what is going on down below."
"But is this crane really being used? I see an electric hot water dispenser, magazines, sleeping bags, and other small things in here. It looks like people are living in here."
"As I said, we borrowed it. A lot of the equipment they use is not all that useful here. We thought it could at least function as a break room."
"Hmm," said Quenser as he looked around.
There were a lot of tools to kill time scattered about. A few board games were spread out on the floor. He saw a few mechanically-focused magazines he did not recognize strewn about. He also saw a horseracing magazine that let you buy tickets online. It had things highlighted throughout. Amid it all was a digital picture frame. It showed an ephemeral-looking girl with black hair.
Quenser picked it up and asked the old lady, "Whose is this?"
"Hehh. So is this your daughter? Or your granddaughter?"
Quenser quickly looked up from the digital picture frame and then back down at the image data.
"...D-do you have the special ability to turn young again on nights with a full moon?"
"You idiot. This was taken a long time ago. You should be able to tell that from the cityscape in the background. That kind of scenery no longer exists on the Japanese Islands."
"Eh...?" Quenser froze in place. "The Japanese Islands?"
The old lady clicked her tongue at that question. She seemed to regret letting that slip out.
Finally, she sighed and said, "I am an immigrant from the Capitalist Corporations. You could even say I was a refugee."
Yes, the Japanese Islands were Capitalist Corporations territory.
They were actually divided between east and west. The western portion of the islands was controlled by a power that wished for a revival of the Imperial Court system and they had made a large-scale secession to the Faith Organization. The Faith Organization and the Legitimacy Kingdom were in conflict over whose power the Imperial Court system should be reinstated under. Also, the Capitalist Corporations side had their values change whenever maintenance was done to their advanced information infrastructure and they were mocked as beginning to transfer over to a more Information Alliance-like system. All in all, it was a very unclear and possibly explosive situation. However, the Japanese Islands were officially known as belonging to the Capitalist Corporations.
"But as you can clearly see, I am not a pure Asian."
"Well, they did start letting in a lot of immigrants to combat the effects of the low birthrates and high age of the population."
"Historically, that is what helped allow the technological information on Objects to spread so widely."
"So what was this about being a refugee?"
"It was due to my daughter and her husband." Quenser had expected her to refuse, but she answered quite readily. "They did some charitable work. Specifically, they worked to bring steady agricultural technology to areas short of food. They advertised their work with the phrase 'We can save people suffering due to a lack of crops simply by lowering the grade of the convenience store bentos we eat for lunch'. That was what led to us becoming refugees."
"Why? There's nothing wrong with that."
"Oh, yes there is. The Capitalist Corporations is a world power where the economy and the corporations control the government and the wars. A large convenience store group grew angry. They treated it as information terrorism that was applying serious damage to the economy using words. My daughter and her husband were very nearly shot by the police's anti-terror suppression unit."
"We were left with no option but to move somewhere where the Capitalist Corporations could not reach us. Even so, the Legitimacy Kingdom was hardly a paradise given the importance it puts on lineage. Immigrants with no established lineage are at a disadvantage in everything. To live a proper life, you must have some kind of necessary skills that are enough to blow away those disadvantages."
If she said she had no regrets about leaving the Capitalist Corporations or the Japanese Islands behind, she would probably have been lying. The look on her face made that clear enough. However, she had abandoned it all in order to protect her family. It was possible her life had been a path covered in fights more dangerous than the battle that lay ahead.
"So where did your daughter and her husband end up? The South Great Britain district?"
"...An immigrant residential city on the eastern end of Victoria Island."
As that was right in the middle of the current battlefield, Quenser regretted asking that question.
That must have been why the old lady was acting so oddly.
"During the battles with the Water Strider and the Rush, the city was temporarily evacuated to Europe. They had only just returned after things had calmed down."
"I'm afraid to ask, but how is the evacuation going?"
"Right now, not even the CS staff in the maintenance base have had time to leave. Do you really think there was enough time for an entire city to evacuate?"
Quenser was excitedly watching on as the special gas used in the low-stability plasma cannons was loaded into the main cannons, but he got a little too heated up and none of the crucial technological information made it into his head. Wondering why his studying was not going well, Quenser left the maintenance area and met up with Heivia who had just finished cleaning the inside of his rifle's barrel.
"Hey, Quenser, did you get the old lady to fall for you?"
"It seems that old lady has lived a fairly heavy life. But with how much Froleytia is obsessed with Japan, her eyes would probably light up with excitement hearing that story."
Heivia looked puzzled, but there was no time to explain further. He and Quenser could not take things easy any longer.
They had used the cargo planes to circle around ahead of the expected path for the Indigo Plasma, so the enemy would surely be coming. Lazing around would leave them at a serious disadvantage.
When they left the barracks that were constructed from those large vehicles, a middle-aged lieutenant was allocating the troops. They were being split into teams which then boarded different vehicles.
"Teams A through D will use the helicopters, and Teams E through H will use the trucks! Team I, you have a covert mission, so you use the electric snowmobiles! Before leaving, make sure to check the chains as well as the decibels they produce while running!!"
"Oh, god. We're stuck with the trucks. That's the most unrefined option. They treat us like we're potatoes."
"We're fighting an Object that's equipped with tons of anti-air lasers, so I'd say the trucks are better than the transport helicopters."
"True. And they fly too low for parachutes to be of any use."
"I heard a rumor that they were developing a unit that lowered your fall speed by ejecting water using compressed air. Do you know if that's true?"
The middle-aged lieutenant yelled at them for chatting, so Quenser and Heivia frantically ran over to climb into the back of the military truck headed to Area F. Over 20 soldiers climbed aboard the covered bay of the truck.
"Quenser, a guy over here has a deck of cards. Let's play poker to kill time."
"I have no interest in playing when I have nothing to bet."
"But you suck at poker," spat out Heivia before joining the poker group.
Quenser blankly thought while watching the frozen landscape through a gap in the cloth covering the back of the truck.
If I tried to keep track of numbers with this truck shaking so much, I think I'd get carsick in no time.
"Shut up. I don't care about your situation. Continue the mission like normal!!"
Twenty minutes later, the soldiers were close to vomiting thanks to carsickness. The response they got from Froleytia was more or less what Quenser had expected.
"...Dammit. I didn't need another reminder that our huge-breasted commander is a real sadist," said Heivia.
"This was your own fault."
"Don't act so blameless. If you knew this would happen, you could have warned us."
"I am not one to speak out against how others use their personal time."
Almost half of those getting out of the stopped military truck were carsick. Those who had not taken part in the card game and those with a higher endurance were fine.
Quenser pulled some Hand Axe plastic explosive out of his bag and said, "I'll set up the explosives along the road here. You go take some deep breaths while keeping watch."
The higher ups seemed to have learned their lesson at the Kamchatka Peninsula because the radios they had been issued this time were much more powerful. Just the one Quenser had could cover a wide area.
Quenser was setting up explosives along a single small road cutting a line down the vast snowy plain. The road was not paved. It was nothing more than hard-packed dirt.
In vast areas of nothingness like that, people had a great tendency to head along roads or other paths. Fallen trees and sharp rocks threatened to puncture a tire and the tires could get stuck in a muddy patch.
In a freezing Arctic area with nothing as far as the eye could see, the risk brought by such troubles was unimaginable.
"If you're so clever, what do you plan to do if they jam the signal, making those useless?"
"The point of the bombs is not to blow up all of the targets," replied Quenser. "The trick is to throw doubt into their minds so they do not know where explosives might be set up. The more fearful they are of bombs, the less freedom they have in their actions. As that continues, we can keep getting the first attack. These just need to stop them from moving. Naturally, the battle will be ended by the princess."
"I see. Ugh... Damn. Maybe I'd feel better if I just vomited once."
Heivia crouched down groaning, but Quenser ignored him and got back to his work. He stabbed electric fuses into the Hand Axe and buried it in the unpaved road. As the purpose was to frighten the 24th's foot soldier unit and then retrieve them later to ensure a clean battlefield, it was most effective to purposefully cover it up with dirt and snow.
"A clean battlefield, hm? That really is a phrase for the ones with all the power. It wasn't too long ago that we were fighting Objects."
"Are you in such a bad mood because you feel like vomiting? The times change from moment to moment. I hear the evacuated residents have already returned to the prefab city to the east."
"Is this really okay? There are rumors that the soldiers abandoned when the Capitalist Corporations and Information Alliance militaries evacuated from the Alaska district have built igloos out in the snowy plain...Ugh."
What they were preparing was not exactly meant to finish off the front line soldiers. If they saw any sign that the enemy foot soldier unit was coming to directly attack the maintenance base zone, the enemy vehicles on the road would be blown away or stopped. In the time that this bought, they could build up their defenses further.
"Let's go. We need to seal up another route."
"What if the 24th gets scared and decides to avoid the road?"
"There are fallen trees, sharp rocks, holes hidden by snow, and muddy patches. We just have to pray they get caught in those natural traps. Also, they have no idea what rules we used when setting up these bombs. They will be afraid regardless of which route they take, and that will slow them down."
The carsick group was reluctant to get back on the military truck, but they were forced back on. Quenser and the others then headed out along the unpaved road once more. Each time they stopped at an intersection that connected multiple routes, they would set up explosives.
"It's the princess."
Heivia was staring off into the distance. Quenser looked over and saw the 50+ meter mass of metal heading their way. It had been forced into a harsh battle against the Wing Balancer on the Kamchatka Peninsula, but its maintenance seemed to have been completed en route. It looked as good as new.
Quenser and the others waved and the princess must have picked it up on the cameras because she waved a main cannon back at them. She headed on to the coast in order to wait for the Indigo Plasma.
Quenser lowered his raised hand and said, "Where are the other Objects. If I recall, the Snow Quake is going to attack the traitor from land."
Quenser looked in the direction Heivia was pointing and spotted a giant form passing by on higher ground a few kilometers away. There was not much something that large could do about it, but it seemed to be giving no thought whatsoever to hiding from enemy eyes as it moved. As a foot soldier who could be killed by a single bullet, Quenser was jealous.
"The Active Sledge is likely approaching along the sea route the Indigo Plasma is thought to have used. I don't see how this can go wrong."
"We've set up all the bombs, so what do we do now?"
"We join Teams A through D. That means exterminating the 24th's foot soldier unit that is hiding around the Indigo Plasma in the hopes of sabotaging us in some way. It'll be a lively firefight filled with mud and soot."
"In that case, I kind of wish someone would give me a gun. I'm a student; I don't have anything to protect myself with."
"Yeah, well, I'm a radar analyst. Radar! Do you see any radars around here!? And yet that huge-breasted commander of ours is probably getting pizza delivered right about now!!"
Quenser and Heivia continued complaining as they began moving. They were only a few kilometers away from the front line on the coast. Once that close, it would be more dangerous to use the trucks which would show up as large metal objects on an Object's radar. The 20+ soldiers of Team F split into 2-4 man groups and headed toward the coast with each group waiting to head out until some time had passed from the last group heading out.
"Wait, why are we the first group to head out?"
"Let's just assume it means they think we're reliable. The ones coming up behind us are the ducklings."
"And that brings me back to wishing I had a gun. If I just had two handguns, I bet I could start shooting enemy soldiers 360 degrees around me."
"Quenser, Heivia," said Froleytia over their radios. "Cut the pointless chatter and get going. Team B has engaged the 24th's foot soldiers."
Why do our radios have bidirectional mode on!?
With that thought, Quenser and Heivia grimaced. That meant she had heard all of their complaining. Froleytia's tone seemed colder than usual.
"Team B is having a bit of trouble, so go help them to earn some battlefield friendship."
"What a pain."
"Tell those side characters not to die before the protagonists arrive."
A low rumble reverberated across the snowy land of Victoria Island. The Baby Magnum had likely begun fighting the Indigo Plasma at the coast.
"Hey, Quenser. This battle'll be over before long anyway, so don't you think it would be wisest to dig a random hole somewhere and hide until then?"
"Afterwards, Froleytia would probably beat the shit out of you, so I can hardly call that a safe plan."
As they were about to pass over a low hill, Quenser and Heivia slowly got down on the ground. The coast lay directly ahead. Beyond about 300 meters of gently-sloping land was the white, frozen sea.
And on the coast, they saw...
"There they are. It looks like 20 of ours against 20 enemies."
The sounds of the Objects firing almost drowned it out, but Heivia was watching a firefight. Team B must have had its helicopters shot down just before they landed, because they were holding rifles while hiding behind a few helicopters that were lying on their side. The soldiers from the 24th were using 4WD vehicles and armored vehicles for cover.
The 24th's foot soldiers' uniforms were not the standard Legitimacy Kingdom uniforms. They wore octopus-like protective masks and short but wide suits that made the contours of their bodies unclear.
As Quenser watched the firefight from the side like a tennis umpire, he said, "What are those? Powered suits?"
"If so, they wouldn't be using cover. They'd be headed straight towards Team B. They're probably just some kind of protective suit."
"...They aren't going to use germs or poison gas, are they?"
"Those suits don't look airtight enough for that. It might be for some kind of flamethrower. They look a lot like firefighters."
Quenser then noticed large gas cylinders on their backs. A hose was attached to the back of their large rifles. If it was not oxygen, it must have had something like naphtha for a flamethrower. Quenser did not want to think about the possibility, but it was possible the gun barrel doubled as a flamethrower nozzle.
Heivia adjusted his grip on his rifle as he lay on the ground, switched on the various sensors he needed for midrange sniping, and attached a suppressor that was about as large as a 500 milliliter bottle.
"Time to get to work. Let's work hard so we can get that large-breasted commander to kindly tread on us later."
"There's nothing for me to do."
"Use your binoculars to confirm where my bullets hit."
"You don't seem too bothered by the fact that this is a fight with the Legitimacy Kingdom on both sides."
"This is a fight between our enemies and our allies. I can't speak for everyone, but I certainly feel no sympathy for them. It's the same as when we fought Flide."
"We sure have gotten stronger. I miss when you were trembling as you looked through the scope in Alaska."
Heivia ignored him and pulled the trigger.
The 24th's cover was a line of vehicles parallel to the coast, so it only functioned as a shield against the soldiers beyond it. It had no effect against Heivia's sniper shot from the side.
With the muffled sound of firing, one of the protective-suit-wearing soldiers was knocked to the side as he hid behind an armored vehicle.
"What the hell?" Heivia frowned and looked at the barrel of his rifle. "This cheap piece of junk. It let out too much noise."
The counterattack came immediately thereafter.
A great roar of gunfire rang out. Quenser and Heivia frantically crawled backwards to use the hill as cover. The 24th knew exactly where they were. However, if they tried to escape Heivia's sharpshooting by heading to the other side of the vehicles they were using as cover, they would expose themselves to fire from Team B.
It was a stereotypical example of crossfire.
With nowhere to run, the 24th's soldiers were sinking into the snow-covered earth in no time at all. With Heivia continuing his sharpshooting, it took less than 5 minutes to suppress them.
Heivia removed the suppressor from his rifle barrel and said, "Suppression complete. I will commend them for not having a single person raise their hands to surrender."
"Let's go check their radios. They use the same type as we do, so we can intercept their transmissions if we know the frequency and encryption method they use."
"Digging through their corpses right after a firefight? You've come a long way, too."
While remaining on the lookout for any remaining snipers, Quenser and Heivia headed down to Team B. They then checked the defeated 24th foot soldiers and the vehicles they had been using for cover. However, they were not able to obtain what they needed to intercept the enemy's transmissions. The radios were locked with a passcode.
"These gas cylinders still bother me."
Quenser looked over at the gas cylinders on the backs of the 24th's foot soldiers. The hose connected to their rifles and the gun barrel seemed to double as the nozzle. It really did seem to be some kind of flamethrower.
"There were similar tanks in the vehicles. And they weren't just to refill the ones the soldiers have. There's a turret on the roof like a water truck used for riot control. The vehicles were clearly made to spray whatever's inside."
"But why?" Quenser frowned. "It wouldn't have any effect against an Object that can withstand a nuclear explosion. Or were they trying to directly attack our maintenance base zone?"
"How should I know? Technically, we don't even know if it's really a flamethrower."
A great roar rang out.
As the Baby Magnum, Snow Quake, and Indigo Plasma continued to battle, they were moving slowly closer.
The Indigo Plasma.
As its name suggested, that Second Generation Object had been developed to draw out as much power from low-stability plasma cannons as possible. All of its 100+ weapons were a threat, but the two main cannons sticking out parallel to each other from the front of the Object were the most characteristic aspect of the machine. What seemed to be spare tanks to supply the special gas required were lined up on the side.
Its propulsion device used static electricity just like the princess. It used two ski-like parts on the front and five on the back to move as if sliding across the ground.
However, there was an overwhelming difference in speed. Even while trapped between the Baby Magnum and the Snow Quake, the Indigo Plasma seemed to dance around the other two Objects.
"What the hell? Its output must be insanely high."
"It uses static electricity to keep afloat like the princess, but it uses a different method to detonate the air and move forward. It uses low-stability plasma cannon tech for that," said Quenser as he checked on his handheld device.
The Indigo Plasma was a Legitimacy Kingdom Object. Its basic design was stored in the database.
Heivia frowned and said, "If it's that useful, I wish they'd let our princess use it."
"It gives excellent speed, but it brings up heat-resistance issues. Basically, it produces too much heat. The Indigo Plasma seems to get over that with some electronic control, but it would normally result in melting the bottom of the Object."
"...Wait, I thought it specialized in working alongside foot soldiers. It looks like it's sending out some tremendous blasts of blazing wind. The foot soldiers would be wiped out by that."
They were only able to speak so calmly about it because they had two Objects on their side. The Indigo Plasma was indeed powerful. The princess could not keep up when it came to speed. However, the Indigo Plasma would not be able to keep fighting unless it kept up that high speed constantly.
Keeping up that extremely high speed would cause the Elite piloting the Object to suffer. Other than some rare exceptions like the Information Alliance's Rush, those monstrous weapons were piloted by humans. If the pilot was worn down via physical exhaustion, the movements of the Object would dull. Once the Indigo Plasma's movements fell below an acceptable level, the princess and the Snow Quake would not hesitate to destroy the traitor with their main cannons.
Just as Quenser and Heivia were thinking that, they heard an electronic beep.
Before they could check to see where it was coming from, they heard a noise similar to a gas line being twisted open. The noise seemed to come from all around them and a strange smell reached their noses. It was a stink similar to melting plastic.
"Cough cough!? Hey, Quenser, what is this!?"
"Shit, it's the corpses of the 24th's foot soldiers!! Something's coming out of the rifle barrels acting as nozzles for the gas cylinders! And from the vehicles!!"
"How!? Corpses can't operate nozzles!!"
"How should I know!? Maybe someone opened them via remote control!!"
The air at Quenser's feet wavered like sugar water being mixed. It seemed to be some kind of colorless and transparent gas.
"Dammit, is this some kind of chemical weapon!?"
"If they were using some kind of special gas, just a condom's worth would kill us ten times over! This is something else! It seems to be heavier than the air, so let's run up onto that hill over there!!"
Hearing Quenser's words, Heivia gestured to tell the other soldiers to get to the hill. Then the two boys began to run. The 40+ soldiers of Teams B and F followed. They were about 300 meters from the top of the hill.
Quenser grimaced as he tried to shake off the horrible smell that was clinging to his uniform.
It can't be...
Those gas cylinders had not contained poison gas or flammable gas.
The Indigo Plasma used low-stability plasma cannons for its main cannons.
That weapon used the massive amounts of electricity produced by the reactor to artificially create high temperature plasma out of a special gas.
You've gotta be kidding me!!
Due to a difference in muscular strength, Heivia reached the top of the hill first. He turned around and looked at Quenser with a relieved expression as he gasped for breath.
Quenser shoved the other boy down with all his strength.
Quenser then leapt over to the other side of the hill.
"Gweh!? Dammit, what're you-...!?"
"Get down!!" Quenser shouted to the other soldiers while ignoring Heivia's complaint. "The 24th's foot soldiers were scattering the special gas for a low-stability plasma cannon!! It will detonate in response to the Object firing its cannons!!"
One of the Indigo Plasma's cannons moved slightly as it continued to fight.
It was one of the smallest cannons it had.
It was being used almost as an afterthought in a gap in the main fight.
An explosive beam of light shot towards the coast.
When the low-stability plasma cannon struck, the entire area the gas had been spread over blew up all at once.
Had it been 100 meters? 200 meters? 300 meters?
Quenser was not sure how far the blast had spread. He had more pressing issues. Painful shocks stabbed into his eyeballs and eardrums simultaneously. His arms and legs convulsed, preventing him from even writhing around. His back bent of its own accord and it took him a while to remember how to straighten it out. He even lost track of which way was up.
And yet it could have been worse. Given the wind, the special gas should have covered a larger area. There must have been an ideal concentration for an explosion.
He could not speak properly. His throat was dry.
Quenser forced his throat to move and just barely managed to suck in some air. He looked around. The snow on top of the hill had been blown away and some of the ground hidden below it had melted slightly. He could not imagine what it must have been like on the other side of the hill. There had definitely been enough energy to turn the dirt and sand into another material altogether.
"Heivia. Hey, Heivia. Are you alive?"
"...God dammit. I think that Elite is the type who scorches the meat black when grilling."
"Please stop talking about food when we have nothing but those flavorless rations."
With that annoyed comment, Quenser grabbed Heivia's arm and helped him up. None of the other soldiers from Teams B or F stood up.
"Don't tell me they were all taken out..." muttered Quenser blankly, but Heivia approached one of the collapsed soldiers and checked on his condition.
"He wasn't taken out by the heat. The shockwave just knocked him unconscious. He does look a bit burned, but it isn't even enough to leave a scar."
"Heivia, can you take care of first aid? I'm going to contact the princess. If I don't tell her how the 24th's foot soldiers are being used, she could be hit by low-stability plasma from a blind spot!!"
"Wait, that was targeting the princess!?"
"I'm sure that's what the equipment is for. The Indigo Plasma holds the enemy's attention while the foot soldiers spread around the special gas. Once an area has been regulated to the proper concentration, it can be detonated as an invisible bomb to bare its fangs against the Object from an unexpected direction. That is how the 24th uses its foot soldiers!!"
At the same time, another giant explosion occurred beyond the hill. A flash of light and explosive noise blasted out, and Quenser and Heivia were knocked down by the shockwave that swept across the ground. They had the hill to act as a wall and were still quite a distance away from the Objects. Nevertheless, those shockwaves that were nothing more than side effects squeezed painfully at Quenser and Heivia's bodies.
"Shit...Were we too late!?"
Quenser stood up on unsteady legs and headed for the top of the hill.
A large area hundreds of meters across had been torn up on the other side of the hill. The area was glowing orange. Once it cooled, the ground could very well turn to glass. Walking over to that area would be a good way to get oneself burned to death.
Quenser stood still and looked through his binoculars. A few kilometers ahead, the three Objects were battling. A similar orange crater existed below the Snow Quake. Serious damage must have been done to the Snow Quake's propulsion device because its movements were dulled. The Indigo Plasma's two main cannons were accurately aimed at it.
The Baby Magnum slammed into the side of the Snow Quake.
The Snow Quake's static electricity device that kept it afloat must have still been functioning because its 200,000 ton mass slid to the side without resistance. The dynamic scene was almost humorous in how it looked like a giant game of billiards.
The Indigo Plasma's main cannons moved slightly in the next instant.
In the instant after Quenser frantically took his eyes away from the binoculars, a flash of light stabbed into his retinas. Having immediately taken evasive actions, the Baby Magnum was merely scratched. Some of its armor was blown away and one of its seven main cannons melted like a sugar sculpture.
"Dammit!! Why is she so softhearted!?"
Quenser used both hands to protect his face from the shockwave that arrived belatedly.
Compared to the explosions from before, it was nothing much. He was not knocked from his feet. There was a difference in the strength of shockwave and heat between an explosion that spread out evenly in every direction and one that was focused in a different direction by a cannon.
The Indigo Plasma's special combo had failed.
And the Baby Magnum and the Snow Quake were not going to take it sitting down.
The Indigo Plasma frantically resumed its high speed movements, but it was receiving fire from the other two Objects' main cannons. It just barely managed to avoid having its central reactor hit, but a large portion was gouged out of the side of the spherical main body.
Are they going to pull it off...?
The severe damage to the Snow Quake's propulsion device was a problem, but the Active Sledge was approaching from the sea to help. The two Objects used all their installed cannons and the princess was gaining the upper hand in the battle. The Indigo Plasma would soon be destroyed.
Or so Quenser thought.
He then heard some unbelievable words over his radio coming from a controller back at the base.
"The Active Sledge has been destroyed!!"
"I repeat, the Active Sledge has been greatly damaged and has sunk!! The pilot Elite is confirmed to have escaped. The Object cannot continue fighting!!"
"How!?" shouted Quenser as he grabbed at his radio. "The Indigo Plasma was supposed to be the 24th's only Object!! So how was the Active Sledge sunk!?"
"I do not know. It was suddenly blown away. We are checking the satellite imagery as we speak!!"
"Shit," swore Quenser as he pulled out his handheld device.
He could view the GPS map, too. He called up the data on the area of sea the Active Sledge had been passing through. Sure enough, the friendly Object had disappeared. It had sunk to the bottom of the ocean.
What Quenser could see was something he simply could not understand.
He saw 6 giant forms.
As if to replace the Active Sledge, six shapes just as large as the Active Sledge could be seen.
That was what had blown away the friendly Object.
Quenser could not believe it, but they could only be...
"Are all these 6 things...Objects...?" gasped Quenser.
He then heard the controller speaking from his radio.
"We went back through the footage and checked. They came from the sea. They rose up from within the sea!! Radar signals on the sea are attenuated by the thick ice, so they have difficulty reaching the waters below. The satellite and radar have difficulty staying in focus when trying to target an Object in the sea. We should have been on our guard for submarines coming from the sea!!"
"From the sea?" Heivia looked like he had just heard a really bad joke. "What do you mean from the sea!? Did these Objects take a replicant inspiration from orcas or dolphins!?"
As he stood atop the hill, Quenser looked blankly off into the distance.
He could see something gigantic approaching beyond the white horizon.
"I can see them!? They really are Objects. The 24th really does have 6 more Objects in addition to the Indigo Plasma!!"
The overall silhouette was similar to the Indigo Plasma's. The two main cannons had been reduced to one and the 5 ski-like parts on the back had been reduced to two, but the design was still basically the same.
And an Object was an Object.
No one could stop their advance.
The six Objects forcefully broke through the ice covering the ocean surface in a straight path for Victoria Island. They had isosceles triangle-shaped floats for moving along the sea, but they automatically detached when they approached the beach. With a thick metallic noise, the six Objects separated from the floats and smoothly moved up onto land and to the front line of the battlefield.
Quenser and the others could not do anything.
There was nothing they could even hope to do.
As the Objects approached, Quenser leaped to the side. He lay flat on the ground and placed his hands over the back of his head. The 50+ meter machine passed by relatively nearby. It paid him no heed whatsoever.
"Heivia? Hey, what is it? Pull yourself together!!" shouted Quenser.
Heivia remained on the ground, refusing to stand up. His arms and legs were trembling eerily. Six new Objects had joined the battle. Heivia was in a state of shock at the new development.
Even as he shook Heivia's shoulder, Quenser's mental state was pushed to its limits.
He had no idea what had happened.
He could not understand what they had done wrong to end up in that situation.
He started having trouble breathing and it felt like the connections between thoughts in his mind started to snap.
The seven Objects of the 24th Mobile Maintenance Battalion took action to end the battle before anyone had time to think.
First, they fired through the Snow Quake that's movements had dulled due to its damaged propulsion device.
Now that it was isolated after losing its two friendly Objects, the Baby Magnum was attacked.
Even with the power of an Object, it was left helpless while on its own.
Low-stability plasma cannons fired from multiple directions at staggered intervals ripped away piece after piece of the princess's armor. It lost all ability to function in less than 60 seconds.
This is insane...
Quenser could not even force out his voice.
The Objects had been destroyed before he could even think about assisting.
The destruction had not had the same impression of overwhelming and savage violence that Objects had had up until then. It was pure division of labor. It had even had a bit of the same empty feeling as when a giant cake is evenly sliced up so that a single slice can be brought to your table.
So this is how the 24th fights. It's just too fast. It's so over-optimized that you can't read any human emotion in it at all.
After having turned the two Objects to scrap metal scattered across the snowy plain, the seven Objects of the 24th Mobile Maintenance Battalion calmly left the battlefield.
"What...?" muttered Quenser blankly. "Why didn't they finish off the princess?"
The seven Objects of the 24th had thoroughly stripped away the Baby Magnum's outer shell, but they had not destroyed the reactor or cockpit in the center. They could have easily destroyed it if they had wanted to, but they had spared her.
Quenser could see no logical reason for doing so.
However, the answer came to him from a surprising source.
It came from Quenser's radio.
A staticky voice came over the radio.
However, the joy in the deep, male voice could be heard even through the static.
"To all my respected allies in the Legitimacy Kingdom military. This is Prizewell City Slicker, the Elite of the Legitimacy Kingdom military's 24th Mobile Maintenance Battalion."
In her officer's room back in the maintenance base zone, Froleytia grimaced.
"It seems there has been a bit of a misunderstanding, so allow me to make an announcement that should clear everything up. We are not enemies of the Legitimacy Kingdom. We have taken action to ensure the victory of the Legitimacy Kingdom in this worldwide war."
As the CS broadcast reporter girl ate canned lasagna in the passageway, she looked over at the radios of the soldiers heading around on patrol.
"Needless to say, the driving force behind war is the economy. And the Legitimacy Kingdom's economy has stagnated. Why is that? It is caused by a lack of speed at which information spreads throughout the Legitimacy Kingdom."
The old maintenance lady stopped working on her preparations for a pit stop in the Object maintenance area.
"The Legitimacy Kingdom has an official language, and yet we continue to use a great diversity of languages at once. That is lowering the speed at which information spreads. The world economy changes minute by minute and second by second, so that slight delay causes vital losses. If the Legitimacy Kingdom is to continue fighting and to achieve victory in the end, we must do something about this problem."
The 24th had 7 Objects and had destroyed the Baby Magnum, Snow Quake, and Active Sledge.
Prizewell spoke with great strength as if to emphasize that advantage.
"In other words, we must exterminate those other languages."
His tone seemed to declare that there was no one who could argue with him.
It was a proud declaration that his 7 Objects could breach the 5 Objects protecting the Atlantic Ocean as the Legitimacy Kingdom's second line of defense.
"The proper language will bring about the proper economy. The speed at which information spreads will improve and we will be able to keep up with the ever-changing world economy. ...This also means that those who do not speak the proper language have no right to take part in the economy."
His were the words of a ruling class.
No matter what would happen, his position could not waver. It did not matter what troubles that caused for those around him. His was the tone of a man who felt that way.
"And that is why I must act. I must redistribute the proper citizens of the Legitimacy Kingdom to their proper place while putting the others in their proper place as well."
However, he could not be stopped.
The overwhelming military might that 7 Objects gave him meant he could get away with any atrocity he wished.
"This redistribution will be carried out based upon the bare minimum of what is needed for the Legitimacy Kingdom: a proper language."
Froleytia heard a controller say something about the Objects approaching.
"All units evacuate!! The enemy is after the ability to maintain the Object. They did not care about our flesh-and-blood soldiers from the very beginning!! Everyone is to leave the buildings and the base zone ASAP!!"
"Those who speak the proper language will be accepted as citizens. Those who cannot speak it but are putting all their efforts into learning it will be granted the right to live as slave laborers. ...However, those who cannot speak it and make no effort to learn it are not worth wasting the Legitimacy Kingdom's resources on. I have no intention of allowing such parasites to exist."
Numerous low-stability plasma cannons fired on the maintenance base zone.
The bombardment had been given after a plentiful delay.
He did not intend to kill those inside.
After all, they were all from the Legitimacy Kingdom military.
Did he give us time to escape in order to prove he is just!?
Froleytia gritted her teeth as she watched the base zone erupt into a sea of flames.
"I have already transmitted the necessary report to the highest institution in the Legitimacy Kingdom, the Sovereign Parliament. The sovereigns who rule the people need only do as the report says and carry out a language test in schools all across the Legitimacy Kingdom. If they do so, we will have no need to cross the Atlantic Ocean to have direct talks in the European home country."
The giant forms of the 7 Objects passed by the remains of the ruined base zone. Afterwards, the trucks transporting the 24th's foot soldiers and the bare minimum of maintenance vehicles met up with them. It looked like a victory parade.
They were all smiling.
Some of them aimed their guns at Froleytia and the other helpless people from the 37th and then jokingly pretended to pull the trigger.
They were no longer the 24th Mobile Maintenance Battalion from the Legitimacy Kingdom's military database.
The size of the force and the morals of the troops were simply not the same.
It was simply not normal for a single battalion to have 7 Objects.
"However, we have a plan in case you refuse," continued the enemy as they passed by. "We will carry out a small military exercise to ensure you understand just how serious we are and just how powerful we are."
A military exercise.
That term had a truly horrible ring to it.
The traitors made it very clear who they would be targeting with their 7 Objects.
"There is an immigrant residential city located on the eastern end of Victoria Island in the Alaska district. As those living there have come from lands under the control of other world powers, they are merely a burden that has no intention of becoming a part of our culture. We will begin by carrying out an exercise using them so that you may understand the vision we strive for. Depending on your answer, the same thing may happen in Europe. We beg the Sovereign Parliament to take the results of these actions into account when deciding on their answer to us."
Prizewell City Slicker stated his goal.
It was not a war.
The other side did not possess the military strength needed to resist.
And he was well aware of that fact.
"We will now carry out this exercise using our seven Objects to demonstrate the power of an attack performed using multiple Objects. Also, these seven are not our only force. A second group is nearing completion in manufacturing plants."
They held an overwhelming military force.
They exhibited more power than any individual should possess.
"We have also developed a system to efficiently mass produce Elites. The proper language will provide proper knowledge. These results are a clear demonstration of our ideals."
It was quite the demonstration.
And Prizewell City Slicker summed it all up in his next statement.
"Those who use the proper language shall be citizens, those who cannot use it but work towards learning it shall be slaves, and those who cannot use it and have no intention of learning it shall receive death. That is the only way for the Legitimacy Kingdom economy to grow and lead us to victory."
The transmission ended there.
All that was left now was a large-scale slaughter.
Most of those who came from other cultures would be unable to speak the official Legitimacy Kingdom language. That was to be expected and it was no real problem. However, a language preservation activist like Prizewell would not allow it. His love for the "proper language" would lead him to mercilessly fire the Object's cannons at just a slight error in intonation.
And he was also a lineage advocate. He would never accept immigrants who had come from elsewhere. In his vision, those people would be forced to choose between being subordinates, slaves, or dead.
Can we get reinforcements from the home country...?
For a split second, Froleytia considered that, but she then shook her head. In all likelihood no additional Objects would come. Now that all of the Objects in the Alaska district had been taken out, the higher ups in the home country would definitely put their own safety above all else. The current situation left the efficacy of the defensive line on the Atlantic in doubt. No matter how many Objects the home country had, they would all be sent to defend the Atlantic. They would never be sent to the Alaska district.
But we cannot allow the 24th to carry out this atrocity.
The situation looked grim, but Froleytia grabbed her radio. She set the frequency and contacted her subordinates who were scattered around the area.
"Quenser, Heivia!! Can you tell how much damage was done to the Objects!?"
"It seems the Elite ejected from the Snow Quake. The princess was able to stick with it. Her armor is in pieces, but it seems she can still move."
"Understood. If our control equipment is still functioning, we can monitor the data. Maintenance soldiers!! Dig up as much usable equipment as you can find in the rubble!!"
A flustered maintenance soldier replied to Froleytia's command.
"Eh? Wait a second. Eh?"
"Load up as many vehicles as you can and carry out the pit stop directly on the front line!! No matter how much of an advantage they have, only the Baby Magnum has a chance of stopping the 24th's Objects!! We need to repair the Baby Magnum to as close as working as possible before those nutjobs attack the city!!"
"No, no!! Please wait. ...Hey, what is going on!? Where did the chief go!?"
That last bit seemed to be directed at someone other than Froleytia.
Froleytia frowned and asked, "What happened?"
"I'm sorry, but we can't seem to find the chief!!"
Froleytia looked over at the surrounding sea of flames with a bitter expression.
"...Did she not get away in time?"
"N-no, she did!! She was here just a second ago!! We were all listening to City Slicker's transmission...or rather, declaration of war together!! But we looked away for an instant and-...!!"
Froleytia narrowed her eyes slightly when she heard that.
"That old lady wasn't originally from the Legitimacy Kingdom, was she? I recall hearing that she is an immigrant from the Capitalist Corporations' Japanese Islands."
"Y-yes. What about it?"
"What about her daughter and son-in-law?"
The maintenance soldier did not respond to Froleytia's question.
She asked again.
"She didn't come alone, right? She had her daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter with her. Where do they live? Where in the vast Legitimacy Kingdom do they live!?"
The maintenance soldier still did not respond.
However, it seemed Froleytia's fears got across to him.
"It can't be..." he said.
"The immigrant residential city. This is an unpleasant coincidence." Froleytia took a deep breath and scratched at her head with one hand. "What does that old lady hope to do against 7 Objects!?"
Quenser's face paled when he heard the transmission from Froleytia.
"So that old lady headed off to save her family in the immigrant residential city!?"
"Yes. Honestly, she's lucky the Black Uniforms are elsewhere. If they had caught her, she would have been shot on sight."
From the sound of her voice, Froleytia must have been utterly shocked. She seemed to have thought she only had two people in her unit stupid enough to do something like that.
"I will be sending the maintenance unit's vehicles to where you are. Help treat the wounded and make the necessary preparations. Check for any remaining enemy soldiers and use explosives to blow away any obstacles that will get in the vehicles' way. Understand?"
"Will we make it in time?"
"It won't be easy, but luckily the 24th's Objects are travelling along with the foot soldiers. They have to match the speed of the military trucks and armored vehicles. If we can repair the princess's propulsion device, she might be able to catch up. That is why we need to keep the time loss to an absolute minimum. Do not cut corners in these preliminary preparations."
The transmission ended there.
However, Quenser and the others had nothing more to do. The wounded had already been treated, and they could see no obstacles across the vast snowy plain. All they could do was stay put.
"Hey, Quenser!! I heard that transmission. What do you think about what our giant-breasted commander said!?"
"Does it matter!? We're the only ones that can move right now. If we're going to save that old lady or protect the immigrant residential city, we have to act now!!"
"Wait. Sorry, but I was kind of hoping you would take this more in the direction of 'Froleytia ordered us to wait here, so we have no choice but to give up this time'! Ah, what!? Hey, stop that! What are you doing!?"
"Just listen, Heivia," said Quenser as he grabbed at the collar of the idiot who always seemed to chicken out when it mattered. "The 24th is approaching the immigrant residential city as we speak. Nothing says the Objects have to stay with the foot soldiers. If they head out at full speed on a whim, they will be there in no time at all. ...Do you really think we have time to think about this? We need to act now. And you are the only one who can drive."
"Don't be stupid! Don't get caught up in the situation!! You don't seem to get this, so let me explain it to you. Seven Objects. The enemy has seven Objects!! How are we supposed to stand up to that with just the two of us!? We wouldn't be able to do anything even if it was just one of them!!"
Heivia shook Quenser's hand off of his collar and shook his head. He seemed to be letting out the trembling that he had been forcing down until then and his expression looked like that of a frightened child.
"What is our purpose in this war!? I'm working to gain the honor I need to inherit my noble family and you are working to become an Object designer as quickly as possible, right!? We're not running around out here with rifles just to get killed!! We don't need to do this! We've done plenty already!! Why are we the ones that have to head down into hell every single goddamn time!?"
That was the overwhelming fear people had of Objects.
That unreasonable situation held the underlying assumption that it could never be overturned.
What Heivia was saying was perfectly natural for anyone of that day and age. It was the people who felt nothing when suggesting they stand before those monstrous weapons that had something wrong with them.
Quenser understood that.
"Calm down and think, Heivia."
"How the hell am I supposed to do that!? Do you have any idea what you're saying!?"
"Heivia, do you really think they have 7 Objects!?" shouted Quenser.
Hearing that, Heivia suddenly stopped speaking. It was not that his emotions had cooled down. He was simply so confused he could not figure out what to say.
"How many people does it take to keep the Baby Magnum running? It takes an entire battalion. That's 800 people. You need 800 people for a single Object. If they are using 7 of them, how many people, how much equipment, and how much money would they need? And how much time do you think it takes to raise a single Elite? There is no way they have been spending that much money this whole time!!"
"Then what are you suggesting!?"
"The Oceanian military nation!!"
Quenser suddenly spoke an unrelated term.
But it was not actually unrelated.
He continued, "They used gas tanks to look like nonexistent Objects!! Operations that attempt to throw the enemy into disarray with misleading appearances are hardly rare!!"
"That can't be... They shot off the princess's armor."
"I didn't say it was gas tanks this time." Quenser shook his head. "But I doubt these are cutting edge Objects as that would require too great a constant expenditure. They are likely a budget model. Something lower than a Generation 0.5. The armor does not have proper craftsmanship, so it is much thinner and more brittle than a normal Object's. Who knows if any of the non-main cannons are functional. They prepared a number of low-cost dummies to confuse the princess!!"
"We can't know that!! What you're saying makes sense. It isn't normal for seven Objects to suddenly appear. But we have no proof! This is just speculation!! If they turn out to really be cutting edge Objects, our odds of survival are 0%! This is too much of a risk to base off of conjecture and speculation!!"
"Then I'll prove it."
"Hey, wait. Where are you going!! Hey!!"
Quenser headed for the coast while avoiding the areas heated by the low-stability plasma cannons. On the beach were the abandoned floats used by the six Objects that had come from the sea. As a designer, he was a bit interested in the device that allowed it to be easily attached or removed, but that was not the time to be caught up in that kind of thing.
"...Their basic form is that of an isosceles triangle. The sides are 50 meters and 20 meters. They're 3 meters tall. The thickness is probably...and the material used is..."
"What is it? What are you checking on, Quenser?"
"I think the area inside the armor is filled with a gas lighter than air. By using something like AB-22 kept in liquid form, it could gain the buoyancy it needs by vaporizing the amount needed. But that doesn't make sense."
"It's an issue of volume. Floats this size cannot allow a 200,000 ton mass to float even if filled with AB-22. 50,000 tons would be its limit. Do you understand what I'm getting at here?"
"These floats can only carry 50,000 tons, so do you think they were attached to 200,000 ton Objects!? If a real Object sank down into the ocean with floats this small, it would never come back up! Their formation is a bluff!! They don't actually have 7 Objects' worth of military power!!" said Quenser as he lightly tapped on the side of the float with the back of his hand. "The armor must be less than a quarter as thick! And if they're going to cut corners there, it won't have the artisan-made high-level heat resistance!! The flexibility of the onion armor must be much lower than normal! Who knows if the reactor provides a proper output! They may be travelling with the foot soldiers to mask the fact that they can't move any faster than that! If so, the non-main cannons may not be able to fire properly!! It's possible we can penetrate its armor without using an Object!!"
Heivia remained silent for a bit.
He must have been thinking over what Quenser had said. Some of his thoughts were likely focused on the uglier side of the debate such as 'what do I do to survive this?' and 'what choice do I get the most out of?'
Heivia finally slowly opened his mouth to speak.
"If we ended up blowing up 7 Objects at once, we would get quite a reward, wouldn't we?"
"And I need to do something that leaves quite an impact if I want to hurry up and take over my noble family rather than smoldering out here, don't I?"
"If the alternative is moving from battlefield to battlefield facing Objects, wouldn't your highest odds of surviving in the end lie in finishing things here once and for all?" Quenser shrugged. "And if we don't do anything about City Slicker, he might cross the Atlantic Ocean and arrive at Europe. I doubt the home country would fall, but a conflict that escapes the boundaries of a 'clean war' could create an economic crisis. Commoners would not be the only ones to suffer from that. How would your family fare? Can you be certain it wouldn't decline greatly before you could even inherit it?"
"Damn you," swore Heivia. "Fine. I'll go along with this!! But this is the last time!! This time, I will do enough to become the head of the Winchell family! This is the end! I've had it with war!! I'm never going to make a gamble with my life again!!"
"We need a vehicle. We should be able to figure out their route using the GPS map."
"Hey, Quenser. The dummies left their floats here, right? So how are they planning to cross the Atlantic?"
"City Slicker supposedly has a weapons factory somewhere around here. There might be another unit waiting to attach the floats on the eastern end of Victoria Island." Quenser lightly tapped on the side of the abandoned float with the back of his hand. "I have no intention of giving them a chance to use anything like that or to attack the immigrant residential city. That's why I need a vehicle, Heivia. We need to head after the Indigo Plasma as quickly as possible."
"Dammit. Where are the drivers? I need the key. Don't tell me the key was melted by those low-stability plasma cannon blasts."
"Can't you just hotwire one like in movies?"
"I could if I wanted to, but it's all over if I mess up. It would be easier to just use the key."
As they spoke, Quenser and Heivia started back in the direction of the hill where the injured soldiers were resting.
Suddenly, gunshots rang out.
Sparks flew from the side of the float just ahead of where they were.
...Are there still some of the 24th's foot soldiers left!?
"Get down, Quenser!!"
But before they could search for cover, more bullets were fired accurately at the ground just in front of them. It was an obvious warning. And it did not come from just one direction. They could not escape just by crouching down.
Quenser stubbornly looked around while halfway crouched down to the ground. It was unclear if the key was in it, but there was a 4WD off-road vehicle stopped a bit away.
In the next instant, the off-road vehicle exploded, sending out flames and a shockwave.
Despite how far away he was, Quenser instinctually brought both hands up to protect his face. He belatedly realized a portable antitank missile had been fired at it.
The battle formation was already complete.
Quenser saw no way for them to fight back.
The two boys slowly put their hands up. The ground looked level at first, but it actually had small undulations like the waves on the ocean surface. A group of five foot soldiers were hiding behind those undulations.
"They have midrange sniper rifles and a portable antitank missile launcher. This is bad, Quenser. If we make any odd moves, we'll be in heaven the next thing we know. We need to get permission before even sneezing to ensure there are no misunderstandings.
"What's with those ridiculous uniforms? And more importantly, the model of gun they're using.
"I know. It makes no sense. Why would the Capitalist Corporations show up here?
"Okay, enough whispering, you two," said one of the Capitalist Corporation attackers in an oddly cheerful voice.
She was a girl with blonde hair and brown skin. She appeared to be a bit older than Quenser. Her outfit...was strange. The materials it was made out of were the same as a military uniform. However, its design was similar to that of a maid uniform. She even had cat ears on. Quenser could only think that it was meant to mock the enemy much like the faces painted on the noses of fighter planes.
All 5 enemies were girls of the same age. Paying no heed to Quenser or Heivia, they spoke among themselves.
"Will this be enough of a present?"
"It should be fine. At least I hope it is."
"We're almost out of rations, so we need to get a hit here."
"Yes. At any rate, we need rescue to come for them."
Quenser had a very bad feeling about what was to come, so he spoke with his hands still in the air.
"Hey, what is going on? Who are you people? What are you trying to do?"
"We are a battlefield cleanup service," replied the blonde-haired, brown-skinned girl with a smile. "We are a type of PMC. You know what those are, right? They are mercenary companies. These outfits are...well, they were a request. That is one of the downsides of the service industry. We are out of business cards, so don't ask for one. ...However, we are not a big enough PMC to take over the maintenance of an Object. We are basically employees dispatched to help out a little."
"So you're money-obsessed freaks from the Capitalist Corporations..." spat out Heivia, but the brown girl did not seem to mind.
"Really, we ended up in a lot of trouble thanks to your Legitimacy Kingdom military taking control of the Alaska district. The Legitimacy Kingdom and the Information Alliance were supposed to wear each other down enough that we in the Capitalist Corporations could send in our Object. But instead you easily defeated the Information Alliance and took control of Alaska."
"You mean when our princess was fighting the Rush's 'Oh ho ho'?"
"Hm? You use boring names like that in the Legitimacy Kingdom? ...At any rate, the Capitalist Corporations forces here were left in quite the panic. Some communications mistake in the confusion of the large-scale withdrawal operation resulted in the transport plane we were supposed to be on taking off without us. Do you understand? We were left behind!! We had to risk our lives living out here with enemies everywhere and days that never got above freezing. This was no laughing matter. We have no choice but to make our way back to the home country on our own. ...Anyway, we were in a bit of trouble because our armored vehicle's fuel did not seem like it would last until the border. Western America is just too far away."
Quenser clicked his tongue.
He had heard the stories of soldiers left wandering the Alaska district after a failed withdrawal operation. It seemed those five were some of those.
Heivia spoke while choosing his words carefully.
"...If you would like some hot soup and a blanket, just surrender. You will be temporarily treated as prisoners of war, but a deal can then be made between governments to have you returned to the Capitalist Corporations."
"Doing that would affect people's trust in the company. We decide people's human rights based on the size of their bank account, remember? We wouldn't be able to advertise after that."
"Then what do you plan to do?"
"Deal with that," said the brown girl as she pointed at the distant Baby Magnum. Even if the details were unclear, it was obvious even from that distance that it was damaged and unable to move. "We can probably get the Elite to eject by pretending to be maintenance soldiers, don't you think? We just have to say the reactor has been damaged and is about to go critical. Then we can capture the Elite."
"We know the current situation in the Alaska district. That is the Legitimacy Kingdom's last Object. The seven owned by the traitors will soon head out into the Atlantic Ocean. What happens then? The Alaska district will be empty. The Capitalist Corporations will be free to return. The sooner that happens, the better for us. Every day and every hour counts. ...Our rations are just about gone, and we have no guarantee we can kill a deer or reindeer whenever we need one."
This is bad.
They were from the Capitalist Corporations. They did not care in the slightest about the Legitimacy Kingdom's situation.
"...Just to double check, but you said you knew the current situation, right?"
"Yes. It was announced in an unencrypted transmission. But that does not matter. There may be some from the Capitalist Corporations among those immigrants, but they changed nationality of their own will. We have no reason to worry about them. ...And most importantly, worrying about them will not make us any money."
That last comment was likely the true reason.
That mercenary logic that took only money and profit into account made Quenser want to struggle. However, he just barely managed to hold himself back.
Instead, he said, "You're mercenaries, right?"
"We are a PMC, so yes. If you have a request, please use the form on our official website. The payment plans are a tad complex, but do not worry. It is programmed to automatically calculate it all out for you."
"We have no time. I will hire you right here. If I do, you'll fight for us, right? That's all we need."
Quenser responded seriously to her joking words.
"Quenser!!" shouted the noble named Heivia in an attempt to stop the other boy, but Quenser paid him no heed. He merely stared the brown girl straight in the eye.
In response the girl sneered at him.
"Ha ha ha!! Are you stupid!? It seems you don't know what prices this kind of thing goes for, boy!! Your allowance is not enough to hire us!!"
As she smiled, the girl grabbed Quenser's collar.
She drew him in close and some anger filled her smile.
"We view wealth and economics as above all else, so we hate it when people make a mockery of money. Our fee is a sincere reward given in exchange for the work we perform. The mere thought that we would lower it in a time of crisis out of a sense of charity or justice is an insult. You are essentially saying the value of our lives can change based on your own convenience."
"I never said that," replied Quenser as he stuck a hand into the pants pocket of his military uniform.
The brown girl overlooked it because she had gotten too close to him. The other mercenaries responded by raising the barrels of their guns, but Quenser ignored them and pulled out the contents of his pocket and threw it at the brown girl's face. It was a small rubber box.
The next thing he knew, he had been punched.
While looking down at Quenser as he lay collapsed on the snow, the brown girl spat out, "It seems you still do not understand where your place is."
"You're the one that still does not understand," replied Quenser with a smile. He pointed at the small rubber box that's latch had come undone when it had fallen to the ground. "I am an important customer."
"Wait. This is..."
"I would assume someone from the Capitalist Corporations like you would be more knowledgeable about this kind of thing than me. Or do you use too much cash and electronic money, so you know nothing of jewels?" said Quenser to the brown girl who was staring at the clear beads scattered across the snow. "They're diamonds. They are from a military mine on the Kamchatka Peninsula. The Faith Organization hid the existence of the diamonds while mining them to fund their military."
The brown girl called out someone's name and one of the mercenaries pulled out a special loupe. She picked up the clear beads, rolled them around in her gloved hand, and looked at them through the lens.
"They look real. And it does not seem any fakes are mixed in. I believe there are 15 carats here. Their grade is not bad either. The lack of a certificate is a major point against them, but by laundering them, we could likely get 80% market value on them."
"That's what I'll pay you up front. You could always just shoot us and take them, but there are two more identical rubber boxes hidden below a rock near our maintenance base. If you help us, I will give you the remaining two regardless of the outcome of the operation. ...What is the market value of a mercenary? How many years would it take you to make this much? Actually, would you even be able to make this much before you died?"
The brown girl started trembling.
The trembling was clearly caused by a positive feeling such as joy. It was true that their trustworthiness as mercenaries would lower by helping an enemy nation. However, it would not matter if they received fewer jobs afterwards if they made two or three times the amount they could hope to make in their entire lives otherwise. In the Capitalist Corporations, people's human rights were decided by the size of their bank accounts, so how much money was needed to simply retire and live an enjoyable life?
"You said before that your fee is a sincere reward given in exchange for the work you perform. That is exactly right. And that is why we are prepared to pay this much. What will you do? Will you accept our request?"
After Quenser uttered those final words, the brown girl knelt down, clasped her hands before her face, and gave her response with her eyes sparkling.
"You should have said so sooner, master!!"
The small Capitalist Corporations PMC that specialized in battlefield cleanup used a 10-wheeled armored vehicle. It had quite a bit of space inside, but it could not take sharp turns. The model seemed to prioritize transporting troops more than suppressing an enemy with installed firearms.
Quenser frowned slightly when he entered.
"...It smells like a girl's room."
"Come in, come in!! I apologize that it is so cramped, but we will show you our best hospitality!! Charm! Do we have any tea left!?"
"Nothing that hasn't been used twice already. We do have drinking water made from melted snow and enough rations to make chazuke."
"You're useless. Oh, excuse me. I forgot to mention, but my name is Wydine Uptown! We will do anything from reconnaissance and bombardment support to shoulder massages and ear cleanings!!"
"I-I see. Well, we mostly just need you to get us to the immigrant residential city."
Wydine's excessively wide smile made Quenser draw back a bit. As per his request, Wydine called out to the driver and the vehicle was off. Heivia then cut in from the side with a big grin.
"Hey, Quenser. If they're willing to do anything, we might as well get what we can. I think I'd like an ear cleaning while resting my head on her lap!!"
The smile disappeared from Wydine's face
"I don't want to hear anything from you. Go sit over in the corner."
"...Why are you treating me differently?"
"Because he is a customer who has properly paid us while you are a piece of shit that hasn't given us a single cent☆ You should be grateful we even let you aboard."
"Fine then! I won't expect anything from you!! But know this: I'm the type of guy that gets excited when a girl looks down at him with cold eyes!!" As Heivia started sulking, he suddenly realized something. "Wait, couldn't we have used the Hand Axe rather than the diamonds to make a contract with this PMC? Each gram is supposed to be worth more than a gram of platinum."
"It's the catalyst used in its production that costs so much. The completed explosive isn't worth that much," said Quenser offhandedly before changing his train of thought.
His thoughts turned to the 24th Mobile Maintenance Battalion and its 7 Objects.
"What is it?"
"I know it's a bit late, but I was thinking about the situation here. I may have hired you with those diamonds, but this will likely be a difficult battle." Quenser sighed. "Six of the seven Objects are likely dummies that are lower than a Generation 0.5, but they can still use their main cannons. And the Indigo Plasma is a real Second Generation Object. That is a true monstrous weapon."
"Come to think of it," cut in Heivia as he glanced over at Wydine. "Even if those are budget dummy models, how did they get the Elites to pilot them? Or are they forcing regular soldiers to pilot them?"
"Hmm? Those are probably strategic AIs, not Elites," said Wydine.
Quenser frowned and Wydine called out to one of her fellow mercenaries.
"Lemish, explain it to our customer. Use the screen to make it simpler."
"Okay." A pigtailed mercenary girl sat next to Quenser and showed him a handheld device. "These red arrows indicate the actions taken by the six Objects as they came ashore. Can you see the common trait among all of them?"
"They move in unnaturally straight lines... Although, that could just be them staying in formation."
"And this is their leader, the Lily Maria...or the Indigo Plasma as I believe you call it. Look at the ring around it. Once the six dummy models enter a circle with a radius of 5 kilometers around the leader..."
"They switch over to the much more flowing movements of a living being. Likely, they are normally piloted by strategic AIs but the leader can manually control them to make corrections. ...If it had not been a surprise attack, the Object on the sea may not have been destroyed so easily."
"So they can switch back and forth between auto and manual. First the Information Alliance and now the Objects of the 24th. Strategic AI development sure has gotten popular of late." Quenser looked over at Heivia. "If the dummies really are using strategic AIs, can we use the Angelina List to stop them like we did with the Information Alliance's Rush?"
"There are too many problems," was Heivia's negative response. "The Rush's Elite was focused solely on the princess. That was why we were able to move freely. But that isn't the case here. If we ran around the area, their main cannons would blow us away. Also, we got lucky with the Object remains scattered about last time."
"The Active Sledge sank into the sea, but what about the Snow Quake?"
"The numbers are just too different," spat out Heivia in annoyance. "The Water Strider had 8 main cannons. I actually used 3 of those. We had three pieces of wreckage for the one Object. The wreckage outnumbered the Objects. ...On the other hand, we have just the one piece of wreckage to use against 6 dummies and the Indigo Plasma. Even if we managed to get full usage of the Snow Quake wreckage, their AI would not consider it a threat. They would just surround the wreckage and blow it to pieces to make sure it could no longer function."
"Now, now," cut in Lemish out of nowhere to cut off Quenser and Heivia's negative thoughts.
She then turned the conversation in the direction she wanted it to go.
"What matters is the 5 kilometer range in which the AI can be manually corrected. Most likely, infrared or electromagnetic signals are used for the remote control. And if so..."
"...I get it. That means we might be able to use that to our advantage if we get that close."
"Sir, our PMC has a full assortment, of weapons, ammunition, provisions, communications equipment, and electronic jamming equipment."
Wydine kicked over a large plastic box and a large number of firearms spilled out.
She smiled and said, "If you need anything, just tell us."
"Even if most of them are dummy models, this is still a formation of 7 Objects where one is Generation Two. Also, Prizewell City Slicker is crazy. He will not hold back even if we raise the white flag. Once we head out, we can't give up partway through."
"We will do anything as long as you pay us. And you have already given us plenty."
Ayami Cherryblossom, the Object maintenance chief of the 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion, stopped her off-road vehicle and jumped out onto the ground.
Ayami was commonly referred to as the old maintenance lady.
She had originally been from the Capitalist Corporations.
The mindset of all value being based on economics and money had deeply dyed her heart and she saw nothing wrong with the preference of human rights being based on the size of people's bank accounts. Even when she had trained in Object maintenance, she had held no pride in the actions themselves. She had held pride in the profit she gained from the actions.
When she had first learned of the actions of her daughter and son-in-law, she had simply thought they were being stupid. Talk of providing agricultural support for areas that did not have enough food may have brought tears to people's eyes, but it had no more value than that. Going through with it was nothing more than spending actual money on something that would bring no profit. In the Capitalist Corporations, even a young child who had yet to start school would tell you that was a waste of money.
When her daughter and son-in-law's actions had led to them being chased out of the Capitalist Corporations, Ayami had punched her own daughter. But then she had grabbed her hand. She had been unable to abandon them. She had realized that attachment that went beyond economics or money may have been a part of what led that couple to provide that agricultural support.
They could not stay in the Capitalist Corporations. They had to flee to some other land. During that flight, she had become intensely aware of the presence of the giants that were the world powers.
And this went beyond realizing just how great a shadow the Capitalist Corporations cast.
She also realized that the Legitimacy Kingdom they were fleeing to cast just as great of a shadow.
Even once they reached that goal, it would not be a happy life awaiting them.
Whether they turned back or continued on, nothing but hardships awaited them.
The more she was trampled on by those giants, the stronger one feeling grew within her.
She was determined to protect her family from those large shadows no matter what.
And she would even use the military or Objects to do that.
"Shikibu!! Iekazu!! Are you in there!?"
The old lady shouted some names in front of a family apartment building. Even in that peculiar area of the city, that apartment building was different than those around it. It was a pale prefab building just like the others, but it was a proper high rise building. It was fully equipped with elevators and self-locking doors. The walls and floors had the same double-layer insulation usually used in windows. The building was not made of prefab because of a lack of resources. The entire city was made that way out of choice. The nameplates and signs were a mix of hiragana, katakana, kanji, and other scripts, all of which were a strange sight in the Legitimacy Kingdom. It was just the type of thing that would irritate Prizewell City Slicker.
The old lady called the names of her daughter and son-in-law, but received no response. However, she had no time to wait around. She climbed the stairs to the third floor and headed for a specific door.
At the same time, her daughter, Shikibu, opened the front door.
The black-haired woman in her late twenties looked utterly shocked when she saw the old lady.
"What are you doing here, mother? I thought you didn't get time off until-..."
"Is Iekazu here? And what about Orihime, my granddaughter!?"
"Of course not. This is a weekday. Papa is at work and our daughter is at elementary school. Honestly, has the military left you unable to tell what day of the week it is?"
"Contact them," said the old lady, sounding at her wits' end. "Hurry!!"
"What? What? Ehh? If you're coming over to play, you should call ahead, mother."
The old lady forced her way in the front door and picked up the receiver of the landline phone located near the entrance. She called the number she had memorized beforehand, but...
"No good. The phone isn't going through."
For an instant, she thought the 24th had cut the phone lines, but that was not it. Things were getting noisy out front. Objects were over 50 meters tall, so their advance would be visible even from afar.
"The phone lines must be congested..."
"What is going on?" asked Shikibu while blinking. "The TV suddenly switched over to a test broadcast and then the internet wouldn't connect no matter what page I tried to go to. And I needed to check a recipe for lunch."
"The home country must have cut it off to prevent a panic. They're cutting everything off starting with the thickest lines. Even if it wasn't congested, we probably couldn't use the phone."
"Shikibu, remain calm and listen to what I have to say."
"You're the one that seems to be panicking."
"Some Objects will be arriving here soon," said the old maintenance lady as slowly as she could manage. "It is a formation made up of the Indigo Plasma and 6 others. The Legitimacy Kingdom military cannot stop them!! We need to get out of here as quickly as possible! Those monstrous national level weapons will soon turn this city into a sea of flames!!"
"Eh? Wait..." Shikibu put on a smile. She had yet to fix her bad habit from the Japanese Islands. "What do you mean Objects will be arriving? I didn't hear anything about a parade."
The old lady ignored her and pulled out her radio.
She set it to a military frequency and simply turned up the volume.
"Hurry up the repairs on the Baby Magnum!! No one expects you to completely fix it! At the very least, we need a single main cannon functioning. The Indigo Plasma's formation is headed toward the immigrant residential city as we speak. If we take too long, we can't catch up!!"
Shikibu's smile remained.
But she started trembling while still smiling.
"Where are Iekazu and Orihime?" asked the old lady with a serious expression. "We need to get them and leave the city before those 7 Objects arrive!! You need to make your preparations. You have 10 minutes!!"
"Wait. What is going on!? What is going on!? What is going on!?"
"Do you really think I have time to explain everything!?"
"We need to tell the neighbors... No, not just them!! We need to tell everyone in the apartments...no, everyone in the city to escape!!"
Shikibu suddenly stopped speaking after that.
The old lady had slapped her.
"We can't. We would never make it in time. Even if they took us seriously, that would just lead to widespread panic and traffic congestion. All forms of transportation would grind to a halt and no one would be able to escape."
"So you're saying we should abandon them!?"
"Curse me all you want." With her daughter glaring at her like that, the old lady took a challenging step forward. "But I will protect my family. I will do anything to do so. If it will make it more difficult for you to escape, I am prepared to leave this entire city to die."
"Then are you willing to abandon Iekazu and Orihime? If they learn the truth, everyone living around here will fight to take any vehicle they can find. Once that happens, no one will be able to collect those two. Nor would we be able to escape ourselves!! Are you fine with that!? Are you willing to sacrifice your own family to rescue some complete strangers!?"
"I am not. That is why I went as far as to run away from my unit to come here. What about you? Are you fine with letting Iekazau and Orihime be burnt away to nothing? I know what Objects can do. Believe me when I tell you this: Object bombardments are relentless. They do not even leave a corpse to be buried."
Without speaking a word, Shikibu struck the wall once.
The loud noise silenced the old lady and Shikibu quickly headed further into the room. She was likely headed to pull a suitcase from a closet.
They had no time.
A panic was already beginning within the city.
If they did not act before it had a serious effect on transportation, they would be trapped within the city. If that happened, they would be on the receiving end of a bombardment from 7 Objects.
After about 5 minutes, Shikibu returned to the entranceway.
"I think I am doing something horrible."
"Do not bear that weight. This is my sin. Those 7 Objects should have been stopped by my unit."
They had no time to wait for the elevator. They used the stairs to head quickly down to the first floor where they climbed aboard the military off-road vehicle. The rubber of the tires screeched across the road surface as they took off.
"Who's closer, Iekazu or Orihime?"
"Papa would be closer. But it isn't that different. They're both within 5 kilometers of here."
"Then we'll start with Iekazu. Tell me how to get to his company."
She drove the off road vehicle while ignoring traffic lights and one-way signs. However, no one seemed to care. They had their own things to worry about. A panic was already beginning. If they had stopped at a red light, people would likely have tried to jump in through the windows.
"How could this be happening?" muttered Shikibu.
The old lady ignored her and continued pressing down on the accelerator.
Iekazu worked at a mid-size menswear company. The company rented out a portion of a double-layer prefab building.
"How do we call for him?"
"Even if the external lines are down, the internal lines should still work. Where is the company's reception desk?"
"There is a general reception desk on the first floor. Visitors for any of the tenants make a request to the external operator and..."
"Then head there. Make something up about forgetting to give him his bento or whatever. Just get them to let you use the internal phone. Have Iekazu come down to the first floor and then bring him out here."
"What about you, mother?"
"If we both left, the off-road vehicle would be stolen. You go. Or do you have the guts to use this to keep any thieves away?"
As she spoke, the old lady pulled something out from the area next to the gear stick. It was a Legitimacy Kingdom military submachine gun.
Shikibu paled and nodded repeatedly before getting out of the vehicle and running toward the general reception desk on the first floor.
The old lady watched Shikibu through the clear automatic door for a while.
Finally, Shikibu returned with a man wearing a suit. Like a proper employee, he was wearing the menswear made by his own company. The old lady clicked her tongue lightly when she saw the timid-looking man.
"You took too much time."
"I have heard the general situation, but..." started the man.
"We don't have time to discuss this," said the old lady as she slammed down the accelerator, sending the vehicle off once more. "I can think of no reason why it is okay to let Orihime die."
The spread of confusion in the city accelerated as time passed. The old lady had no idea what they were thinking, but it seemed some idiots had even set fire to some buildings. She could see black smoke in the distance. She doubted there was much worth stealing in Orihime's elementary school, but she still felt an unpleasant pressure in her chest. There was no longer any safe place in the city.
"You're going too fast!! Slow down! You're going to hit someone!!" shouted the man.
"Shut it, you fool!!"
"Waah!! That man is shouting something. Wait, what is that he's pointing this way? That's a gun!"
The old lady ignored him and pressed down even harder on the accelerator. The needle on the speedometer made a large jump. A few dry gunshots rang out, but the vehicle was not so much as scratched. The man out there had likely not actually been willing to shoot someone.
They arrived at the elementary school.
They drove right in through the front gate, made a sharp turn into the faculty parking lot, and came to a quick stop. It seemed classes had already been called off, but the children were not being let out. They could see a lot of faces peering out through the windows. They were all filled with worry.
Given the confusion in the city, the faculty had made the right decision. But it was not enough. That would not save the children from the seven Objects led by City Slicker.
"Shikibu, Iekazu. Go get Orihime. If the teachers try to get in the way, use this." The old lady held a submachine gun out toward Iekazu. "But don't pull the cocking lever. I've emptied the chamber. As long as you don't do that, there is no way for it to fire."
"Please, no. This has nothing to do with if it can actually fire."
"Hmph. Just hurry it up. Otherwise those 7 Objects will get here first."
Iekazu trailed off as he got out of the off-road vehicle.
"I know," said the old lady, cutting him off.
Iekazu seemed unable to stand the worried gazes of the other children. The old lady felt the same. She would be leaving those children to die in order to allow her family to escape.
"I know!! But there is no perfect choice here!! Hurry up. We need to get Orihime out of here!!" she shouted.
Iekazu frantically ran off toward the door to the school. Shikibu followed him.
Suddenly, the old lady heard an ominous thundercloud-like rumbling in the distance. She grimaced. She recognized the noise. It was static electricity. That was the sound of the massive amounts of artificially produced static electricity that was used to float the giant form of an Object.
It was not coming from the Baby Magnum.
That left only one other option.
Did we not make it in time...!?
If she could hear it from where she was, the 7 Objects must have already arrived at the outskirts of the city. They could fire at any moment. The great slaughter in the name of language preservation activism would begin. Once it started, no one would be able to escape. Buildings would fall, overpasses would crumble, and all forms of transportation would be cut off. The off-road vehicle would be of no use whatsoever.
The old maintenance lady gritted her teeth.
"Hey, old lady! Are you still alive? The knights in shining armor have arrived!!"
The familiar voices of two boys came in over her radio.
"Hey, Quenser. This really is a horrible part to play!! No matter how you rationalize it, fighting seven Objects just isn't normal!!"
"Shut up, Heivia. This is our big moment. Let's finish this in some flashy way and become the heroes once again."
"You always act like this! The nobles doing nothing but eating snacks back in the safe countries could learn a thing or two from you!!"
"Heivia, you always complain, but you always pull through in the end."
How can they do this?
The situation was about as bad as it could get. Fighting even a single Object was considered out of the question, and this time there were seven. So how could they possibly choose to stand up to them? It did not help Quenser's dream of becoming an Object designer in the slightest.
"Old lady, I can't have you dying," said Quenser. "There's still so much I need to steal from you with my eyes. Losing such an excellent technician would get in the way of my dream. Not to mention..."
"Our princess is in a bad mood. She says she can't get motivated if you aren't doing her maintenance. If the Baby Magnum can't fight, we're done for. That's why we need your help."
"You..." muttered the old woman.
When she had seen the destroyed unit, the old lady had abandoned them all. She had violated military regulations to protect her family. But they were different. Froleytia's 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion was still functioning.
They had not given up.
They were still working to save everyone in the city.
"We are about to engage the 24th Mobile Maintenance Battalion. Our objective is to defend the immigrant residential city! And it isn't just us. The Baby Magnum will be running before long. So don't you dare die until we blow away that bastard Prizewell City Slicker."
The battle was about to begin.
A battle between seven cutting edge Objects and some puny flesh-and-blood soldiers.
"Oh, how passionate."
It was obvious it was an act, but the brown mercenary named Wydine rubbed at her eyes as the armored vehicle came to a sudden stop.
"Your hot-bloodedness has moved me."
"I'm sure that's just part of the service you provide, but it kind of annoys me," replied Quenser as he leapt out onto the snowy plain from the rear hatch of the armored vehicle. "What do we do?"
"First, we must bring them to a stop. We will draw their attention so the Objects aim their cannons this way. At the very least, we need to make sure the battle occurs outside the city."
"Wait, wait, wait, wait!!" frantically cut in Heivia. "Are you stupid!? What do you mean draw their attention!? Are you going to shoot them with a portable antitank missile!? Once they know where we are, they'll turn us all to ash in a single shot!!"
"Shut up, you mooching bastard. I never said we would be firing it. We can manage by using a Bird or Animal."
"What are those?" asked Quenser and Wydine's face lit up.
"The specialty unmanned vehicles of our battlefield cleanup service!! Bird is an aerial vehicle and Animal is a 6-wheel ground vehicle. They are primarily used as radio-controlled reconnaissance devices, but they can be equipped with a single-shot rocket launcher. Think of them as mobile mortars. The shock caused by firing the rocket does sometimes destroy the machine, though."
The mercenaries named Charm and Lemish pulled two small units out from the back of the armored vehicle. One was an aerial vehicle with wings about 50 cm long and the other was a flat ground vehicle about 40 cm long. The ground vehicle must have had a few optional parts because it had something like a sled forcibly attached to the bottom.
"How many do you have in total?"
"One Bird and 10 Animals. The radio signal can be used to determine our location, so we also need to set up a few dummy antennae. That way, we will not be blown away when we perform a surprise attack."
"Then let's get started." Quenser approached the unmanned vehicles lined up on the snow. "What can we do to help?"
"They use a Capitalist Corporations format, so we will take care of setting them up. Could you perhaps set up the dummy antennae? It would help a lot if you set them up at random locations within a radius of 500 meters of here."
Wydine gave a look to Lemish and the other mercenary girl brought out a few cases. They were something like attaché cases 30cm by 30 cm and 5 cm thick.
"You do not need to open the cases. When you place them, make sure this gray side is facing down. If you then use your thumb to flip the switch near the handle, you are done. The frequency is already set, so you do not need to do anything else."
"Heivia, let's get to it."
"Fine, fine. But do you think you could pay me with some jewels, too?"
"When will we begin? If we don't hurry, the Indigo Plasma will start attacking the city."
"Setting up the antennae will take 5 minutes. It will take another 5 minutes for Bird to make it in range. The Animals will be travelling along the snow, so it will take even longer for them. They will be used to deal with the foot soldiers after they have noticed us."
"So 10 minutes at the soonest." Quenser divided up the dummy antenna cases between Heivia and himself. "This is cutting it close."
"Yes, but we must do it."
"Exactly right. Let's go, Heivia. I'll head to the east and you head to the southwest."
"God dammit. I've really had enough of making full speed dashes through the snow."
Quenser and Heivia then ran off in different directions. Even then, the seven Objects accompanying the foot solider unit were approaching the immigrant residential city. They had no time.
Quenser had three dummy antennae. It would be meaningless to put them all in almost the same place. But simply spreading them out in a circle around their actual location would tell the enemy where they were at first glance. What was important was to set them in random locations to make it impossible to tell which was the real one.
Shit. Are we going to make it in time!?
The thick snow slowed Quenser down more than he had expected and it wore down his stamina. He flipped the switch near the case's handle and set the dummy antenna by practically throwing it.
This isn't going to cut it. At this rate, the Indigo Plasma will fire on the city before the Bird can fire its rocket! We don't have time to keep this completely safe!!
As Quenser ran toward the location to put the next dummy antenna, he pulled out his radio and contacted Wydine.
"Don't wait. Send out the Bird now!!"
"Eh!? We can't. They will detect our location from the radio signal. They will aim for the dummy antennae first, but if you are not yet far enough away from them..."
"It doesn't matter!! If they start the bombardment while we wait, this is all for naught!! Hurry!!"
"Don't blame me if something happens to you!! I doubt your life insurance company would be happy about this!!"
"Hey, Quenser! Don't tell me you're forgetting that this puts me in the same danger!!" added Heivia.
Quenser flipped the switch of the second dummy antenna and threw it. He looked into the distance and saw Lemish aim a bow gun-like launching device diagonally up and pull the trigger. The Bird shot smoothly up, propellers meant for models began to spin, and it flew along at only 15 meters up. After its altitude stabilized, it headed straight for the Indigo Plasma.
"What is its top speed?" asked Quenser.
"170 kph. Once it gets up to speed and stabilizes, it will be there in no time. There is a danger of a powerful crosswind causing it to lose speed, though," said Wydine. "You two need to quickly get away from the dummy antennae!! Once the rocket is fired, the Objects will counterattack!!"
When he heard that, Quenser flipped the switch on the third and final dummy antenna and threw it to the side. It seemed less like he was placing it in an optimal place and more like he was throwing away an obtrusive weight.
He heard a sound like a champagne cork being removed.
It was the sound of the explosive being fired from the rocket launcher attached to the bottom of the Bird. However, the 40 millimeter shell never struck the Object's armor. Before it could, the Indigo Plasma fired a small laser. With an orange beam of light, the rocket exploded in midair. The vehicles of the infantry unit accompanying the Objects suddenly braked, but the entire unit did not come to a stop. There had been no actual damage done.
No matter how small it was, an Object would naturally react to anything that tried to attack it. With the slight damage from the previous battle still intact, the Indigo Plasma immediately turned around.
Several of its cannons moved slightly. It was clearly searching the area. In the meantime, Quenser continued to run. The thick snow slowed him down and he almost tripped several times, but he continued running as quickly as he could away from the dummy antennae.
And then the Indigo Plasma fired.
With a deep noise as if from a large drum, a giant shell flew at over the speed of sound, scattering shockwaves as it went.
"Was that a railgun!?"
He had heard the sound first because of the trajectory of the shell. It was not aimed at the ground. It was aimed up in a large arc similar to a long throw in baseball. It flew about 100 meters above Quenser's head.
The railgun shell suddenly stopped.
A parachute had opened.
Wydine must have been using binoculars or a scope to check on it from afar because her voice came in over the radio.
"I'm checking on the shell!! It is something like a cylindrical metal drum!! Its diameter is 70 cm and its length is 150 cm!! There appear to be countless holes along the sides!!"
"What is it...?"
As Quenser ran, he heard a sound like steam being sprayed out from somewhere. It was coming from the metal drum hanging down from the parachute. The air distorted like sugar water being mixed.
"A gas...Is that the gas for the low-stability plasma cannon!?"
After their fight with the 24th's foot soldiers, Quenser and Heivia knew what that special gas could do. It was heavier than air. When disseminated up in the air like that, gravity and wind would spread it over a large area.
That would create a field that could be turned into a hell of light and heat from a single shot of a low-stability plasma cannon.
The main cannons of the six dummy models creaked as they aimed in that direction.
"Quenser!! They're clearly aiming for the dummy antennae in your direction!! You need to find a hill or whatever kind of cover you can find and get down!!"
I can't escape gas pouring down from above by doing that!!
The area covered by the special gas had exceeded 100 meters. It would be difficult to get out of the range with all the thick snow around. Quenser pulled a Hand Axe plastic explosive out of his bag. He stabbed in the electric fuse and threw it as far above his head as he could manage.
When it reached its highest point, Quenser hit the button on his radio.
With an explosive noise, a shockwave spread out above his head.
The shockwave blasted the gas away from the area.
In the next instant, the 6 dummy models fired their low-stability plasma cannons. They fired them at the point 50 meters up where the special gas was the most concentrated.
A flash of light burned into Quenser's eyes and a great noise stabbed into his brain.
He was slammed down to the ground like he was being crushed from above. Despite wearing a thick coat for the cold climate, he could feel a stinging pain on his skin. That pain told him that he was lightly burned. Despite being burned, he never did feel the normal sensation of heat.
His vision was partially impaired so that it looked like a white film had been placed over his eyes. Quenser writhed around on the ground as pain assaulted him from all over. He felt like he was lying in a giant mud puddle. The snow around the area had been completely transformed into lukewarm water.
But it could have been much worse.
If he had not used that bomb to blow away most of the special gas from the area, that "misfire" would not have occurred. The surface of the ground would have turned to glass and Quenser himself may have been turned to ash.
And all of that was just from the first shot.
Naturally, the enemy would not stop there.
"Quenser!! Get out of there! That Hand Axe told them where you are!!" shouted Heivia over the radio.
Quenser got up from the unpleasant mud and rolled down the slope of one of the nearby rolling hills.
He just barely made it in time.
A large number of dry, firecracker-like noises filled the battlefield.
It was not coming from the Objects.
The 24th's foot soldiers had gotten down from their military trucks and had begun to fire their assault rifles. 5.56mm pointed rifle bullets scattered from 70-80 rifle barrels which shot dirt into the air from the hill Quenser was using as a shield.
A second round did not immediately come from the Objects because the scale of their attack was so large they must have decided it was too much of a pain to aim at such a small target.
With 7 Objects, they have a total of over 700 cannons. If they fired with all of them, it would be over for me. That must mean the dummy models' reactors are not perfect. They can only just barely fire their main cannons, so the secondary weapons are just decorations.
The foot soldiers continued to fire so Quenser could not move from where he was. At that rate, the Objects would fire and it would all be over. But he simply could not carelessly poke his head out amid that shower of bullets.
Suddenly, the Indigo Plasma moved.
"Dammit! It's that railgun again!!"
As Quenser watched, the drum-like shell arced up into the air. The foot soldiers had only been meant to keep him in place. They were working together, but it was clear who was in charge. Even while piloting the Indigo Plasma, Prizewell's personality could be seen.
However, the metal drum fired by the railgun never reached its place far above Quenser's head.
Before it could, a portable anti-tank missile was fired from the ground. The missile was shot by a laser before it could reach the railgun shell, but the effects of the blast could not be ignored. The metal drum's trajectory sharply changed angle and its parachute did not open. It landed halfway between the foot soldiers and Quenser.
"Sir! We cannot have you dying before you pay us the rest of our fee!!"
"Thanks, Wydine. I respect that honest-to-a-fault way of living."
The fallen metal drum would likely disseminate the special gas from its place on the ground, but its effective range would be much smaller than from in the air. Also, it was downwind of Quenser.
"Hey, Quenser!! The Indigo Plasma's main cannon is moving!!"
The low-stability plasma cannon fired the instant after Quenser shouted that.
It caused a white explosion.
Quenser's body was blown directly backwards. He flew several meters through the air before hitting the ground. He felt a pain like his internal organs were being squeezed. The flash of light was so bright he was amazed he did not go blind.
"...That bastard," said Quenser as he lay on his back. "He didn't even hesitate to blow up his own subordinates, did he!?"
Quenser did not have the heart to see what things were like on the other side of the hill. That had been an overwhelming low-stability plasma explosion, a blast that created enough heat and force to shoot through an Object's armor when concentrated. The destruction had to go beyond what the word "catastrophe" could express.
"He's insane. Why would the 24th follow a despot like him!?"
"Because they have no other choice now. If they surrendered, they would still be charged with the crime of treason. Whatever happens now, their only path to victory is to prevent the 24th from losing no matter what."
"Here they come. It's all 7 Objects this time!! That bastard is planning to crush the corpses of his comrades as he advances!!"
Hearing Heivia's cry, Quenser slowly stood up. He could not stop where he was. The seven Objects had to know where he was.
"The enemy is sending the six dummy models along in a horizontal line with the Lily Maria following behind!!"
"That bastard doesn't hesitate to treat his subordinates as expendable, but he's damn careful when it comes to his own life!! This pretty much confirms that the dummy models are running on a strategic AI!!"
In Quenser's estimation, the dummy models' reactors had a low output so all weapons but the main cannon were mere decorations. That was most likely correct. And those main cannons were not suited for targeting a puny flesh-and-blood soldier.
"Oh, shit. He's heading forward to crush me!!"
"Those monstrous weapons keep their 200,000 ton weight afloat using static electricity. The massive amount of electricity creates a tremendous force!! And a portion of the propulsion device is supposed to use plasma!!"
With the Objects lined up horizontally, Quenser was reminded of a giant piece of agricultural equipment leveling the ground. It was like a tractor that was 300 meters wide. There was no way he could escape by running to the left or right.
And then a rocket was fired from the ground.
The explosive was fired from so close that the dummy model had no time to react. The dummy model closest to Quenser was targeted. The fact that the explosive directly hit the spherical main body could only mean that the non-main cannons truly were not functioning. Thin pieces of the armor peeled off and stabbed into the ground.
The dummy model that had been attacked stopped moving and its main cannon started to aim. In the next instant, the area the rocket had been fired from turned pure white. The low-stability plasma cannon had been fired.
"You've gotta be kidding me!"
"That was an Animal! Do not worry!!"
Immediately afterwards, five dummy models and the Indigo Plasma passed by Quenser. Due to the hole opened by the one that had stopped to shoot the Animal, Quenser's body was not blown to pieces by a massive amount of static electricity.
"I guess the strategic AI really is just a massive collection of prioritizing routines."
The Indigo Plasma was directly controlled by Prizewell, so he should have been able to manually change course to kill Quenser.
He was either playing around or he was testing the AI.
"There is a cave 20 meters to your WSW! Run to there for now!! If they cannot use anything but their main cannons, it is possible the strategic AI will be unable to deal with the situation!!"
"Okay! I'll just pray I'm not blown to pieces by some misbehaving cannon!!"
At the same time, Quenser spotted a torn metal plate lying on the ground. It was a fragment of armor torn off of the dummy model when it had been hit by the rocket. It was about 30 cm square and 12 cm thick. It was heavy, but not so heavy that he could not pick it up with both hands.
This is surprisingly light. This isn't just not up to the standards of an Object. Even regular steel would be denser than this.
He looked closer and noticed that the actual steel plate was only about 5 cm thick. The rest was made up of some pale gray substance. The edge where it had broken off looked more like crumbled stone than metal.
Normally, someone like Quenser who did not weight train would have been unable to pick something like that up. Normally, a rocket would have been unable to destroy a metal plate that thick. And yet Quenser was holding the fragment.
There could be some secret hidden there.
"Quenser, hurry!! The dummy models are regrouping!! They're headed your way again!!"
"Understood. And don't think you're safe either!! Don't do anything that will let them know where you are!!"
Urged on by Heivia, Quenser started running while carrying the fragment. The thick snow, the damage he had taken, and the fragment of armor all lowered his speed. A dull pain ran through his elbow. Again and again, he heard whisperings in his heart telling him to throw away that piece of junk.
But he ignored it and continued moving his legs.
He heard a sound like approaching thunderclouds. Quenser's heart wanted him to move faster than his physical body could manage. This created a gap between his ideal and reality. Where he wanted his legs to be and where they actually were grew confused in his head and he almost tripped. He was just about at his limit. He could not continue on much further. Some armor fragment of dubious usefulness was not worth dying over. He was just about to let go of it.
But then he finally arrived at the cave entrance.
Despite the hard ground within, Quenser dove inside. He rolled down a gentle slope. He continued rolling for around 20 meters.
He had scrapes all over his body and he had light burns covering his skin. But those things hardly bothered him at the moment.
Dammit. The Indigo Plasma and the 6 dummy models will be here soon!!
Quenser pulled some Hand Axe from the bag on his back, stabbed in a fuse, and threw it in the direction he had come. He did not have time to hesitate. He pressed the switch on his radio almost immediately.
An explosive blast roared through the closed space.
Quenser was sent rolling around the cave, but that was better than the alternative.
The plastic explosive had lowered a shutter of stone.
He could feel a heavy vibration come from beyond that shutter. The Indigo Plasma had likely fired near the entrance of the cave. If he had not crumbled the bedrock to cut off the path, a great blast of heat would have swept through the cave and roasted Quenser.
That didn't feel big enough to be a main cannon.
Quenser analyzed the situation as he felt a chill run down his spine.
He had been fortunate that one of the Indigo Plasma's anti-personnel cannons had been used rather than the main cannons of the other 6 Objects. This was not due to any kind of decency on the enemy's side. Prizewell had likely just decided the main cannons were too difficult to use against a single person. If he had used a main cannon, the inside of the cave would likely have been completely roasted.
Quenser tried to use his radio, but he could not connect. The bedrock was cutting off the signal. He had no choice but to search for a different exit. He could also try to use explosives to blow a hole in the collapsed entrance, but the odds were good the shockwave would injure him in the enclosed cave.
Quenser picked back up the fragment of armor and used the backlight of his radio's LCD screen as a light.
He moved the faint light around to investigate the cave.
The battle was still continuing.
There was plenty he still had to do.
The cave appeared to have been slowly carved out by the power of water. A slight trickle of water ran down a slope at Quenser's feet. He could keep his feet perfectly dry by walking by the wall. That was how little water there was.
Quenser had been quite worried at first, but he easily found an exit after travelling about 2 kilometers. The trickle of water met up with a river. By the time Quenser made it to the bank of the river, his arms were beginning to go numb, so he dropped the armor fragment to the ground. It almost fell over onto his feet, so he frantically jumped back. Even if it was strangely light for steel, it was still heavy enough to shatter the rocks on the river bank.
There was something about that armor. It was made of a steel plate and that mysterious gray material, and it was clearly different from normal Object armor.
However, Quenser was only a battlefield student. He did not know how to properly examine the armor plate under normal circumstances and here he had to make do with the equipment he had on him.
He could not manage it on his own.
After thinking for a bit, Quenser changed the frequency on his radio. He was not contacting Heivia or Wydine.
The person he needed to speak with was...
"Old lady!! Can you hear me? It's Quenser! I need your help!!"
He received a reply.
That must have meant the Indigo Plasma and the dummy models had yet to attack the immigrant residential city.
"I think I may have a clue to new information related to the Indigo Plasma! But it's too much for a student like me!! I need the help of a pro like you!!"
"You idiot. Don't say any more! I am not with the military right now. If you tell me the situation on the battlefield, you could be charged with a crime as well!!"
"Then we can spend time in the detention barracks together!! Just help me!! We're the only ones who can protect the city!!"
Protect the city.
Quenser heard the old lady's breath catch in her throat when he said that.
"Six of the seven Objects are dummy models. I have a fragment of armor that was blown off of one of those dummies. It has two layers: steel and...some kind of gray material. At any rate, it's unusually light. And not just lighter than proper Object armor, it's lighter than normal steel. I think they have done something to cut down on costs. Please tell me how to examine what kind of material this is!!"
"Wait, let's go through this in order. Dummy models? Material examination?"
"This might be necessary to turn the situation around!! So hurry!!"
The old maintenance lady fell silent for a moment, but she then started giving Quenser instructions. First she asked Quenser what equipment he had to see what was available to perform the material examination.
"Okay, you have your handheld device and radio, right? Then you can use the electromagnetic method. First, dig a hole underneath the armor plate fragment. Just something like digging a small tunnel in a sandbox. After that, open up your handheld device's wireless LAN and place it underneath the fragment from the side."
Quenser was on the rocky bank of a river, so he stuck the handheld device in the gap between two large rocks underneath the fragment.
"Next, set the frequency on your radio. Set it to the same frequency the wireless LAN uses. Then place the radio on top of the fragment and send some arbitrary signal for 10 seconds."
Quenser could hear a distant rumbling. Heivia and the others were still in a desperate situation. Quenser felt the desire to rush things, but he kept telling himself that carrying this task out accurately would lead to the quickest path to the solution.
"Done. What next!?"
"Pull out the handheld device, call up the system screen, and check the signal reception. That should give you a broad percentage."
"Just get to it!! I thought you were in a hurry!!"
Quenser frantically looked down at the screen and read the number displayed there.
"It says 34.2!!"
"Hm. With the proper heat resistance, that much of the signal would never have gotten through. That is an inferior product that lacks proper craftsmanship," calmly analyzed the old lady over the radio. "But with the two different layers, it is hard to say anything for sure. Boy, can you tear apart the two materials?"
"It may be a dummy model, but it's still Object armor."
"Then all I can give you is speculation that may be horribly inaccurate." The old lady gave a slow sigh. "The gray material is likely ceramic. The spherical main body is formed from ceramic and then thin metal plates are used to make it look 'Object-like'."
Ceramics had both strength and a certain amount of flexibility. They may have been trying to use that to provide the same ability to absorb and distribute impacts that onion armor provided.
"If that was all it took to reproduce Object armor, things would be a lot easier for us. The dummy models are nothing but inferior models that could be destroyed by a nuke," said the old lady.
"I analyzed the floats they used and I estimate the 6 dummy models each weigh less than 50,000 tons. ...From the weight of this armor fragment and the ratio of steel to ceramic, the dummy models' armor is likely a third the thickness of normal Object armor. And it is not steel with the proper heat resistant reactive materials. If they are made out of nothing but cheap ceramics, then their actual strength would be..."
"They got us," groaned the old lady. "We were tricked by the initial impact of their appearance. If she had calmly responded and dealt with one at a time, our princess's main cannons could have stabbed straight through them. Their victory came from the idea of seven Objects causing us to completely lose our cool." The old lady paused for a second. "Do you understand what this means, boy?"
"Eh? That the armor is a lot thinner than normal Object armor, right?"
"Not just that."
Some static then entered the transmission.
It did not sound like naturally occurring interference. The static grew louder and louder.
"It is an issue...of heat resistance. ...Their main cannons...are low-stability plasma cannons. And...this is...the Arctic...Alaska...district... They...are acting...like the...ulti...mate...weapons...but...they came here...with their...greatest...weak...ness already..."
"Old lady? Old lady!? Wait...damn!!"
The static grew louder and Quenser could no longer hear her voice. It was hurting his ears, so Quenser pulled the radio away from his face.
"Did they start jamming radio signals to stop the rockets from unmanned vehicles? I thought the Indigo Plasma manually corrected the dummy models using a radio signal!!"
Quenser headed away from the river bank and into the snowy plain once more. As he approached the battlefield, he operated his radio. This time he tried to contact Heivia and the others. But first he set the output to maximum.
"Heivia, Wydine!! Can you hear me!?"
"Ksshhh...I would really prefer not to respond!! Those monstrous weapons are...searching for us by using microphones and...tracking radio signals!!"
"Sir!! Thank goodness you...are okay! That means we will...get the rest of our fee!!"
Despite the static, the transmissions were still making it through. The immigrant residential city was much farther away. That may have been why he had been unable to contact the old lady there.
Heat resistance. Low-stability plasma cannons. The Arctic Alaska district. Ceramic armor plates that use no high heat resistant reactive materials and do not properly function as onion armor. Where did the dummy models come from? What route did they make their surprise attack from?
"Wydine, how many of the unmanned vehicles are left!?"
"The Bird was...shot down. I can...still detect...three Animals. But the Objects...have begun...wide range jamming. The radio...signal is...receiving a lot of...interference!!"
"I need you to find a way to carry out another rocket attack. I'll send you the location using my handheld device. Tell me your address!!"
"Wow. A chance to get...personal information from...such an excellent customer!! Today is...my lucky day!!"
"I'll be encrypting it when I send it of course."
Using the address he was given, Quenser sent map data with a mark on it to Wydine.
"If you do as I say, they will get caught up in it. This plan only works because the small unmanned vehicles don't show up on the anti-personnel sensors. Do you think you can manage it?"
"A half-destroyed...Animal is...right nearby. They think...they have destroyed it...so I can target...whatever I want. I will have to...send out quite...a powerful signal...to force through...the jamming...so there is more of a...risk...of them determining...our location."
"Please do this. Also, the Indigo Plasma's jamming probably has a hole. That way the frequency used to manually correct the dummy models is not interfered with. Analyze the jamming signal and find that hole. That will be the line that connects the leader with the dummies. If we use it well, we might be able to cause some interference of our own."
"Ksshh...As you wish...sir☆ ...C'mon get to work, you moocher!!"
"Quenser, once this...battle is over...I have some choice words for you."
About 2 kilometers away, the 7 Objects were moving. The Animal was located right in the middle of the group of Objects. Heivia and the others seemed to be hiding about a kilometer to the west of the center. If they were found, it would all be over, but they still had a chance. The 24th's strategic AI that was controlling the dummy models was not that advanced.
"So basically the plan is to...ksshh...provoke them to accidentally fire their...low-stability plasma cannons into the center of their formation. That way, the ones with...thin armor will be blown away," said Wydine.
"But the Indigo Plasma is a Second Generation...Object. Ksshhh...Just having it left is enough of a threat," warned Heivia.
"We'll manage somehow. Just do as I tell you for now. If they change their formation, this will all be for naught!!"
Quenser urged them on while checking the situation on his handheld device's GPS map.
At that moment, one of the dummy models suddenly changed direction. It was aiming its main cannon at the hill Heivia and the others were hiding behind.
Not good. They were located from the upped output on the radio signal!!
But the dummy model stopped moving. Intense static came from the radio and the GPS map stopped updating.
Did they find the hole in the jamming signal and blocked the line connecting the Indigo Plasma to the dummies!?
An explosive noise rang out.
However, it did not come from the Objects. It was much too small for that. The Animal at the center of the 6 dummy models had fired its rocket. The rocket had struck the armor of one of the dummies and exploded.
The strategic AI immediately reacted.
The program made a decision from its list of priorities and began a counterattack against what had attacked it.
It used its one functioning weapon, the low-stability plasma cannon it used as a main cannon.
A pure white explosion occurred.
The explosion grew so large it swallowed up the 6 dummy models. Despite his great distance, Quenser was temporarily blinded as if he had looked directly at a magnesium ignition. It was not simply the power of the low-stability plasma cannon fired at the ground near the dummy models. The 24th's foot soldiers had already been roasted, but they had been equipped with gas cylinders and tanks of the special gas in order to work in conjunction with the Objects. Those had caused the explosion to grow even larger.
The jamming from both sides was gone.
Heivia's curse of despair came through clearly.
The reason for his despair was the seven giant forms he could see.
Their surfaces had melted slightly, but their overall silhouettes were still intact.
The enemy could still move.
"It was no good. It didn't work!! It's not just the Indigo Plasma left! The six dummy models weren't destroyed either! Even if their armor was thinner than normal, they still aren't something flesh-and-blood soldiers can deal with!!"
"No," Quenser said into the radio. "Those 6 were enveloped by the explosion as planned. This is checkmate."
"How is this checkmate!? The surface of the armor was melted a bit, but they can still move!! ...C'mon, let's get out of here. What does the reward matter if you die, right!?"
That last bit seemed to have been spoken to Wydine and the others, but the mercenaries did not seem to agree. A PMC focused on profit took that kind of thing seriously.
"They had a major weakness this entire time," said Quenser slowly in an attempt to calm down Heivia who was about to panic. "The armor has no high heat resistant reactive material in it. Nor does it function as onion armor. It's just a mass of cheap ceramic. In other words, it has a poor resistance to extreme changes in temperature."
"What are you talking about!?"
"Their main cannons are low-stability plasma cannons. Those create a lot of heat. And this is the Alaska district. Being below the freezing point is normal here. And to top it all off, the dummy models made their surprise attack from the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. They would have been completely cooled down. The heat caused by their low-stability plasma cannons would have sent their temperature skyrocketing. And that means..."
Quenser stopped and took a deep breath.
He then began speaking again.
"The properties of the ceramic would have changed greatly! Once that distortion grows large enough, they should collapse under their own weight!!"
A loud noise like a metal joint coming out of place could be heard.
Cracks started running through the 6 dummy models like a glass sculpture that had been dropped on the floor. They shattered in in a way that ignored how the original pieces were joined together.
Quenser glanced down at his handheld device
He could hear his fellow soldiers speaking.
"I have heard that when forged blades are made, the heating of a furnace and the cooling of water are used to alter the properties of the metal in order to make it stronger. The most famous example is the katana from the Japanese Islands," said Wydine in admiration. "But it has the exact opposite effect when not carried out by a skilled craftsman. I believe just opening and closing the door to the workshop can create enough of a temperature difference to cause the metal to be too brittle, making the sword a failure."
"Normally, an Object designed to operate in these conditions would have heating elements in between the armor plates to ensure it does not cool down too much, but I doubt they went that far after cutting so many corners on the armor's thickness."
"Sorry to interrupt your celebration," cut in Heivia. "But the Indigo Plasma is still doing just fine!! That thing is a legit Second Generation Object that cost 5 billion dollars! It isn't going to shatter from that!!"
Quenser could hear an ominous creaking.
Two kilometers away, the slightly damaged Indigo Plasma was moving its main cannon. Even if they had been dummies, it had lost a large portion of its military power with the loss of those 6 Objects. Its Elite, Prizewell City Slicker, must have been quite angry.
As if to display that emotion, the low-stability plasma cannon aimed at a puny flesh-and-blood soldier.
Yes, it aimed at Quenser.
I guess he finally managed to track me from my radio signal.
"Heivia. Wydine, and the rest of your mercenaries, he's done for. Cover your ears and get down on the ground if you don't want to go blind or deaf due to a simple explosive blast."
Quenser ignored the shouts trying to stop him. Running would hardly help him at that point.
Quenser then heard what sounded like thunderclouds approaching.
Approaching from behind him.
"I was waiting for you, princess," he muttered.
When he had checked his handheld device after the six dummy models blew up, he had been checking on the location of the Baby Magnum.
He had known the princess would make her move when such a large change occurred to the situation.
"No, Quenser..." said Heivia in dull surprise. "The Indigo Plasma is a true Second Generation Object! Even if the princess had all 7 of her main cannons functioning, she would have trouble destroying that monster!! Right now, she only has one. And it's not at full power either!! Even a direct hit isn't going to stop Indigo Plasma here!!"
And when that first strike did not finish things, they would be blown away by a counterattack.
However, Quenser's expression did not change.
"This is enough."
Quenser held his radio in one hand and used the other to hold his handheld device straight out like a handgun. He was not sure if it would actually aid in targeting any, but he aimed the communications infrared signal coming out the end toward the Indigo Plasma.
It looked like he was stabbing at an enemy with the point of a rapier.
"Get him, princess. Finish off that discriminatory bastard."
Immediately afterwards, the two Objects fired their main cannons at exactly the same moment.
They both fired low-stability plasma cannons.
The six dummy models had "shattered" around where the Indigo Plasma was and the special gas for their low-stability plasma cannons had filled the area.
The result was obvious.
The Indigo Plasma was swallowed up by a pure white flash of light.
Even if they had been dummies, their main cannons had still functioned. Enough special gas to power six main cannons had surrounded the Indigo Plasma. In response to the Indigo Plasma firing its own main cannon, the special gas had immediately exploded. The explosion may not have had the directionality provided by a cannon, but the scope of the explosion was simply too great. Even without the temperature being intentionally regulated to the optimal point, natural fluctuations and diffusion caused enough of it to be at the proper concentration to be ignited.
The armor could not withstand the tremendous blast.
Object armor was said to be able to withstand a nuclear weapon or two, but it melted like a sugar sculpture here. And once it had grown soft, the princess's low-stability plasma cannon blast stabbed into it. This caused critical damage to the reactor that produced such tremendous amounts of electricity, which led to an even larger explosion.
Quenser was quite distant from it all, but his vision and hearing were not working properly.
However, he realized soon thereafter that it could have been worse.
At some point, a giant wall had interposed itself between Quenser and the explosion. That wall was an Object. The battered Baby Magnum had acted as a shield for him.
"Hello, are you still alive?" asked the princess.
"I feel like I'm about to die..."
"How about you worry about us!?" shouted Heivia. "We only had half the distance from that explosion than you did!!"
The princess seemed to have decided to simply ignore Heivia's complaints.
"Where is City Slicker?" she asked.
"Dead, I'd think. You saw that explosion. Even if he ejected, he would have been roasted in midair."
"Then we have just one more thing to do."
"Yes," said Quenser into the radio. "We need to tell that old lady everything's okay."
Chaos had begun within the immigrant residential city.
It started with the TVs. The normal stations had stopped their broadcasts, but a military antenna on the Baby Magnum was used to force a pirate broadcast through. The wreckage of the seven monstrous weapons was displayed on the screens. After a bit, it switched over to footage of the 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion's soldiers letting out a cry of victory. The CS broadcast staff helped film it all.
At first, some people thought it had been faked.
But the Object wreckage could be seen from the edges of the city with binoculars, so fear began to leave the atmosphere of the city. The dark enthusiasm faded away to the point that it was hard to believe how frantic everyone had been just moments before.
"Hey, old lady. Your chauffeured ride is here," said Heivia as he stopped the off-road vehicle within the immigrant residential city. The old lady caught Quenser's eye where he sat in the passenger seat, but the student just shrugged.
The old lady was with her daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter.
She walked away from her family and toward the vehicle.
"I am prepared. What is my punishment?"
"That will be determined later," said Quenser, passing on information from their commander. "As the emergency caused control of the unit to be lost temporarily, Froleytia has a lot of reports to write, but she told me to pass on a message to you: any failures can be overwritten by results, and you are fortunate enough to have the technical skills needed to make her hesitant to get rid of you."
"...I see," was all the old lady said.
Her heart was likely filled with various emotions she could find no way to express in words.
"Grandma," called out the girl who seemed to be her granddaughter. The girl pointed at something in the distance and asked, "Did you make that, grandma?"
She was pointing at the Baby Magnum as it travelled along outside the city. One of the princess's telephoto lenses must have picked up the girl pointing because one of the main cannons waved back at the girl.
The old maintenance lady remained silent for a bit.
"...Yes," she finally replied. "That is the robot of justice I made and these are my wonderful comrades."
As he lightly stroked the steering wheel, Heivia whispered to Quenser in the passenger seat.
"Aren't you going to make a joke about that?
"I think we can let this one slide.
The old maintenance lady climbed aboard and the off-road vehicle left.
It headed outside the immigrant residential city.
It headed for the maintenance base zone where the princess waited.