HEAVY OBJECT:Volume6 Chapter 1
Chapter 1: The War Broker Closest to Heaven >> Intelligence Battle in the Cook District
“I can’t cover for you two anymore. Go off for a bit to cool your heads.”
The blazing sun made it easy to forget it was January.
Quenser used the sleeve of his military uniform to wipe away the sweat on his face on a solitary island in the southern hemisphere of the Pacific Ocean.
“Why have we just been shooting and shooting for so long? Are we feeding the fish lead food?”
“We’re using brand new bullets for shooting practice. It’s about time for the accounts to be settled. If we don’t use up the excess bullets now, the defense budget will be cut down for the next fiscal year,” said Heivia sounding a bit bored as he fired a rifle next to Quenser in a decent-looking pose.
“Are you making things up with no proof again?”
“The fact that they gave an amateur like you a rifle is proof enough. That means this ‘homework’ is the only thing left for us to do. Shit, how many tens of thousands was our quota today?”
The Cook Addition Islands.
It was a part of Legitimacy Kingdom territory. It fell into the category of a small safe country.
It was actually made up of a number of islands floating in the Pacific Ocean, but only the small island in the center was natural land. Or rather, the area around one of the small islands on the edge of the archipelago had been thoroughly developed. Artificial land similar to offshore oil platforms dotted the area around that island. The individual islands were connected by giant bridges like the Information Alliance’s Miami. Most of the islands were used as testing grounds for Objects and storage areas for supercomputers, so all of the soldiers lived on a single island.
Quenser, Heivia, and the others were on land made of steel. They were leaning over the handrail and firing rifles at targets attached to boats that moved around by radio control.
They had made small but repeated mistakes.
They had accomplished many great achievements that put bitter expressions on faces of the higher ups in the military.
It seemed that had all exceeded what their sexy commander (as they called her) Froleytia could handle and so they had been “transferred” away from the 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion.
This was conventionally called being demoted, being sent to sit by the window, or being kept out of the way.
“Welcome to the peace humanity has won,” said a blonde woman firing a carbine with zero motivation.
She had completed removed the top of her camouflage uniform, leaving only a tank top on her upper body. The top she did not need in that heat was tied around her waist. The two boys enjoyed watching her thanks to all the jiggling caused when she fired her weapon.
“So what did you two do to get yourselves sent out here?”
“We showed off our good looks and skills too much and made some people jealous.”
“That’s dangerous. That’s the fastest way to earn yourself an early grave.”
He received a serious reply to his joke.
Quenser gulped, but Heivia’s rifle had jammed, so he shouted out like someone tossing a video game controller to the side.
“Dammit!! Shooting each individual bullet like this is such a pain in the ass! At this rate, the year will be over before we finish. Someone bring out the Crocodile!! We need to use a Gatling gun!!”
“But the Crocodile is 30 mm, right?” said the blonde tank-topped woman with a grin.
She must have been used to seeing soldiers have their spirit worn down like this.
With a puzzled look, Quenser asked, “So why are you here?”
“I’m Genelia, a marriage scam artist. Nice to meet you!”
“I pretend to have noble blood to make money. I never thought that the money box I met in that bar would be the idiotic son of some high ranking member of the military. I got in a lot of trouble for that. As a result, I’ve been moved around among the harshest battlefields in the world.”
“Wait, wait, wait! This is one of the harshest battlefields in the world?” cut in Heivia as he tried to take apart the assault rifle to fix the jam and ended up burning his fingers on the hot barrel. “I thought they would gather a team of people they want to get rid of and send them out into the mountains on what is supposed to be an anti-terror mission. But the team would intentionally be given the wrong information so they would attack some villain’s hideout. That way the higher ups can eliminate any allies they want without worrying about how skilled they are.”
“When you do that, you have to pay a pension to the families. These days, the higher ups pay close attention to how much tax money they spend. Other than what they waste on themselves, of course.”
“This island is surrounded by the blue ocean and summer lasts year round. Genius Object designers live here. It is protected by 4 second generation Objects. This is heaven on earth and quite possibly the safest place in the world. What about it is harsh?”
“Because it is so peaceful, there is nothing to do.” Genelia fired repeatedly out towards the ocean to fill her quota. “When people earn the ire of the military, it is usually because they have a strong individual streak, right? Maybe they refuse to shoot children or they claim it is a subordinate’s job to stop a commander who is doing something wrong. Well, those kinds of ideals will rot away in no time on this island. After all, they don’t let you do anything.”
“During the first few months, you will be afraid that you are growing rusty and try to rehone your skills with independent training. But it’s no use. It’s too late. Both your mind and body will already be slowing. Here we have delicious food, air-conditioned private rooms, video games, a fully stocked bar, and lots of high quality cigars. …Once you get a taste of this, you’ll never want to go back to the jungle or the desert. They didn’t have online stores in Napoleon’s age, but if he was given a chance to use them for a while, he would never want to go back to the 18th century or the 19th century or whenever it was.”
That was how it was “harsh”.
Quenser and Heivia finally understood what kind of place they had been sent to.
“In other words, this island is a diplomatic way of urging us to retire?”
“That’s what it means to be sent to sit by the window. If the higher ups fire you directly, they have to spend more on severance pay. So instead they give you just enough work to justify minimum wage. There are only three patterns for the people sent here. Some continue the futile struggle against growing rusty, some begin thinking of retirement before the rust reaches the core of their bodies, and some decide to accept the rust and just enjoy themselves with the taxpayer’s money.”
“Is that really okay?” Heivia looked over towards the central island. “The most famous designers in the Legitimacy Kingdom are gathered here. Should they really use this as a place to let delinquent soldiers rot? It sounds more like the place for some ultimate special forces to me.”
“Oh, they do have a mysterious elite unit,” replied Genelia offhand. “The Night Edge Platoon. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? It’s like they’re trying to sound cool. But they do protect everything well enough. And that just makes the rest of us feel all the more useless. Apparently the Night Edge Platoon swaps out its members every few months to prevent them from growing rusty. I guess this is like a vacation for them. But they’re dangerous. Really dangerous. If you tried to talk to one of them like this, you could easily get your throat slit.”
“I saw them. Even in this 40 degree heat, they had their heads completely covered in black masks. I doubt you could ever have a proper conversation with that kind of honor student.”
“But the military wants that kind of ‘honor student’ that never makes any complaints. After all, the exact same amount of the people’s tax money goes to those honor students as goes to the problem students.”
“Keh. They aren’t the legendary White Bears that disappeared in a South American desert. Y’know, that 115th Independent Royal Guard Company. Soldiers that follow their commander’s orders with no complaint like that are rare.”
“You mean those elites from the Volga District? The ones said to be knights working to protect a young princess from wicked politicians? From what I heard, they could have a movie made out of them.”
“Yeah, they like to make entertainment out of the tragedies of war. …Come to think of it, a movie would probably work out great since Princess Staivia is so popular. I hear they sell photographs of her in front of the palace in Moscow.”
“Are they all pedophiles or something?”
“If you said that in Volga plaza, you’d get shot.”
Quenser and Heivia had digressed into pointless chatter, so Genelia spoke up to bring them back on track.
“With delinquent soldiers like us, the tax money spent to pay us is considered wasted and they do not want to pay the pension to our families if we died. And so the higher ups want to find another way to get us out of the military.”
“If they want to save money, wouldn’t it be easier to tear out the fattened hearts of those higher ups?”
“You do realize that kind of comment is what led you to be a target for cutbacks, right?”
(How many months will we be stuck here? No, how many months will we last?)
With that offhand thought, Quenser continued to shoot his rifle out to sea. It was not as bad as the mythological Japanese children’s limbo, but being forced to do completely useless work with seemingly no end in sight was a way of harassing soldiers and wearing down their spirits. It was similar to the method used in prisons during the middle ages.
Of course, Quenser and Heivia both had their individual goals and they had joined the military to accomplish those goals.
And so this was no time for them to be sent out into the middle of nowhere just so the higher ups could harass them.
“This place is filled with genius Object designers, right? Heivia, you may be out of luck, but this shouldn’t be too bad for me. In fact, I can probably learn a lot.”
“You idiot! That stuff is at the highest level of classification. You’ll never get to see any of it! It isn’t something you can just sneak a peek at like the women’s bath!!”
“I can just ask them while in bed. If you like, I can give you a lecture on what I learn.”
Those two problem students would probably never shut their mouths even if they were sent to Mars, and they were as energetic as ever. As they focused more on chatting than firing their rifles, a bit of static ran through their radios, immediately followed by an announcement.
“Quenser Barbotage. Calling battlefield student Quenser Barbotage who recently transferred from the 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion. As per the instructions of one of the researchers, you are to head to the Center as soon as possible.”
“…What? Am I being called to the principal’s office for a lecture?”
“The Center is a gathering of genius girls. It’s a lot like a girl’s school. In all seriousness, I hear it is 100% female! Dammit! Yet again I get left behind for this scrawny intellectual!! There’s something wrong with this world. Is god jealous of my good looks!?”
“It looks like your chance to take one of them to bed is already here,” said Genelia. “Well, I’m sure the Night Edge Platoon can’t believe this either. So be careful, okay?”
“Be careful about what? Those scaaaary trainers from Night Edge?”
“Do you know what this place is called? The nursery,” said Genelia with a grin. “And that isn’t because of us. It’s because of the genius designers in the Center. The top levels of the military can’t handle them either. They’re geniuses, so the military doesn’t want to lose them, but they’re too much trouble to keep nearby. This heaven in the Cook Addition Islands was created to gather all of them in a single place.”
“…So that building is filled with perverts?”
“And they have enough individual talent to force their way past the general wisdom of society. The very fact that a newcomer like you is being invited into that top secret facility should be proof enough. Normally, the Night Edge Platoon would remove your head in the name of preventing the leakage of classified information if you so much as approached that facility without going through the proper procedures.”
“I hope I get to meet the kind of pervert that walks around wearing nothing but a lab coat. That hope is of course limited to girls.”
“Oh, come on now. You’d be too shocked to stand if you actually saw that.”
With the exception of the guards, the central island was supposedly populated solely by around 30 genius girls.
From the outside, it looked like a giant concrete military building, but it supposedly had very little sense of cohabitation. This was due to the residents being perverts. If they possessed personalities that allowed them to function within the normal gears of society, they would supposedly never have been sent to the “nursery”. For that reason, the genius girls supposedly primarily lived in personal rooms with only a few areas such as the labs with electron microscopes and other equipment shared between them. The various members would supposedly only meet each other while passing each other in the long passageways.
The repeated use of “supposedly” came from the fact that all this information came from Genelia who had never actually seen the inside of the Center. Quenser had no idea what connections she had used to get the information, but it was all things she had heard secondhand.
When Quenser arrived in front of the thick door that looked strong enough to withstand an all-out war, the members of the Night Edge Platoon with black masks over their faces blatantly clicked their tongues.
“No guns, no blades, no explosives, no drugs, no germs, and nothing else either. I’d like to break your nose and that tiny thing in your pants for good measure, but I doubt you’ll get a chance to use it.”
“How about you remove that hairy hand and its hairy fingers from my neck? What the hell? Are you a mutant created after being exposed to some kind of space power or something? Isn’t that dirty sweat of yours the most dangerous thing that someone could bring in here?”
Quenser’s cocky comment earned him a punch to the cheek.
“Don’t try to act so tough, tax thief. Get inside and cause some trouble. Then I don’t have to hold back and I can just shoot you.”
Quenser raised his middle finger and entered the building.
Unlike a department store or a shopping mall, there was no guide map posted. The long passageways with rooms lining either side reminded him of a library’s bookshelves or a school’s shoe lockers.
The shorthair carpet and faint indirect lighting were just like a hotel’s. Without a guide map, Quenser had no way of knowing what was a private room and what was a laboratory. The system made it clear that was something only those living there needed to know.
“…There’s stuff piled up everywhere.”
The passageways were much too cluttered to be those of a high-class hotel. Or perhaps a hotel would look like this during cleaning time when the carts and cleaning supplies were brought out.
Some places simply had trash piled up, but some places had things like a dartboard hanging down from the ceiling by a string. Quenser even spotted some small dragonfly and rhinoceros beetle shaped robots clinging to the wall. It looked like a case where those in charge of cleaning up could not tell what was needed and what was not and so were too afraid to carelessly clean up any of it.
“Quenser. Quenser Barbotage.”
A female voice came his way from somewhere along the “library shelf”. Quenser turned toward the voice and saw a woman in her twenties stepping out into the passageway from an open door.
She had an odd appearance.
She wore a lab coat long enough to reach her ankles and a brightly-colored bikini. Her hair was long, brown, and simply left spread out without tying it in any way. Quenser was pretty sure lab coats were meant to show stains and chemicals easily and to protect one’s body, but he could not imagine what purpose there was behind her outfit’s coordination. It reminded him of the legendary bikini armor.
Quenser shouted out, “I thought this was a collection of genius ‘girls’!!”
“Huh? That’s the first thing you latch onto? …Um, c’mon now. Don’t cry, don’t cry. Look: tits.”
“I’m fine with that part!! Now, I know we could never get married or be lovers, but let’s at least fuck!!”
“Hah hah hah. I see your morals have been nicely thrown out of order. There, there.”
With a generous smile, the woman accurately pulled a stun gun out of an inner pocket of her lab coat and threatened Quenser with it. That finally brought him back to his senses.
“Who are you?”
“Claire. I’m the Object designer Claire Whist. I heard you aspire to be one too.”
“Well, I guess it won’t feel real so suddenly. Unlike the pilot Elites, the designer’s identities are kept a secret. That makes it easier to prevent terrorist attacks on us.”
Quenser was unsure what to say, but Claire used her thumb to point toward the open door.
“Come with me. I called you here because I have something to discuss with you. I think it will be a beneficial discussion for you.”
The room was about 10 meters square.
It did not have much in it. It had a bed and a desk. Something like a complexly folded plastic board sat in one corner of the room. It resembled a giant controller for a robot game modeled after a cockpit. There were also a few shelves. The shelves were lined with several Object miniatures.
“They don’t move,” said Claire. “But their construction is almost identical to the real ones. It’s just that the reactors don’t function at that size. If you pursue perfection too far, a fundamental part tends to fail.”
“You make them here?”
“Why do you ask?”
“But…this is where you work? I thought it would be filled with all sorts of strange tools.”
“The people researching the materials would have a bunch of those. These days, all the action is in strengthening the materials for room-temperature superconductors. They’re busy mixing alloys and boiling wine.” Claire Whist opened a small refrigerator and pulled out a small juice box. “Designers can get by with a single computer. That’s why we’re wanted for our brains. And that laptop is connected to a supercomputer in another room, so I can handle everything quite easily.”
However, she had two laptops sitting on her desk.
When Quenser pointed that out, Claire smiled and said, “The other one is for my hobbies. How else would I get this swimsuit? The military’s fashion sense is just hopeless. …But I use it for stock and futures trading more than I do for online shopping.”
“…I thought designers made tons of money.”
“People will always aim for more. And so all that money doesn’t seem like enough.”
The numbers for some kind of trading were lined up on the screen. Even if it was not on her work computer, Quenser wondered if it was okay for someone with as much highly classified information as an Object designer to have free access to the internet.
“We’re allowed a restricted access to the internet. The line first passes through a military checkpoint. It’s a small lag, but it does work to my disadvantage in these trades.”
“…What are you trading here? Stocks?”
“So it’s a weather forecast?”
“No, no. Clouds are a wonderful resource. They’re a type of water resource. They take in the seawater and carry it as freshwater. Normally, the clouds created over the sea are carried by the wind and begin dropping rain when they hit the mountains. But these days, we can artificially control the amount of rain. Just as civilization developed around rivers, the age is coming where civilization will develop along the paths of the clouds. And once that happens,” said Claire, “competition will naturally begin. Look. This is the market for southern Africa. The amount of clouds flowing through the sky is set, but the rain could come down anywhere. If it rains on Area A, Area B beyond it will dry up. Clouds disappear after they rain, after all.”
“…I see. So just like the world-famous rivers, the flow of the clouds crosses national borders?”
“Would Area A naturally give up on the rain and let the clouds move on to Area B? If they don’t get any water, they will dry up too. They will have no drinking water or food. Its people will wither away to nothing. And they have the technology to make it rain at their fingertips. So would it be right to sit idly by and do nothing? Human life or the laws of nature? Which one should they protect?”
“It’s a difficult question, isn’t it? And our response is to find the right answer for the right spot. There is no cut and dried answer. Some are trying to create a system to efficiently distribute water through underground channels at the same time, some are trying to focus the rain on the areas with rare plants, and some are trying to make it rain on the areas with high water retention. Some are even working with corporations to create giant tanks and pools. The complex movements of all these people has created a flow of money we call the water resources market. But you don’t need to worry about any of that.”
Object designs and investments.
In both cases, her weapon was nothing more than a computer.
“So you only do the pure designs? You don’t create new materials when you fail?”
“If I need something, I make a request to an expert in that field. That’s much faster. And if I just need something that works on paper, I can let the supercomputer calculate it out. I use the computer to calculate out an ideal new material that would fill the hole in a design and attach that to an email I send to one of the specialists in the other rooms. They’re the ones who make it by hand. That’s more or less how it works.”
Claire Whist passed a grape juice box to Quenser, stabbed a straw into her own, and sat in a chair next to the desk.
“Hold it against your cheek. Is it swollen because of the Night Edge Platoon?”
“It scares me that hysteric bastards like that are allowed to carry weapons.”
“A weapon is only as effective as the person who wields it,” said Claire offhandedly. “Well, they’re a lot like you, just of a different type. They’re good at what they do, but they throw punches as much as a health nut drinks mineral water. It was decided they aren’t needed in the modern smart and clean military. Since the military hates both of you, how about you try to get along?”
(This place really is a nursery through and through.)
Quenser had that thought, but he decided not to say it out loud.
Incidentally, pressing the juice box against his cheek did little to help. He decided to just stab the straw in instead.
“To be honest, it is no coincidence that you are here.”
“Eh? Well, yes. I was called here by you, right?”
“That’s not what I mean. It wasn’t my decision to have you sent off somewhere out of the way thanks to your troublesome actions, but I did influence the decision for this to be where you were sent. I wanted to be able to speak with you like this.”
It was simple enough to say.
But Quenser had no idea if that was actually possible.
“Anyway, I want to get down to business. So what do you think?”
“About Objects. You’ve dealt with first generation and second generation ones now, right?”
“There was also that 0.5 generation one.”
“That one doesn’t even count as an Object in our minds.”
Claire gave a scornful laugh.
She pulled a laser pointer out of a penholder on the table. Its red light pointed at one of the models lined up on the shelves.
“I most want to hear about this one. You should know this model very well.”
Quenser and Heivia had once sunk that Object in the Strait of Gibraltar. Its primary feature was its 3 giant reactors and its ability to drill for and transport oil.
Claire Whist spun the point of light around in a circle.
“I didn’t design that one, but this model was constructed based on the information received by a probe sent deep into the ocean. It’s only just barely 70% complete. Frankly, that isn’t enough. And that area of sea is packed with deep sea probes from the Legitimacy Kingdom, the Information Alliance, the Capitalist Corporations, and the Faith Organization. Everyone is trying to search further and stop the others, so they are all very busy.”
“What’s so special about it?”
“You can’t tell?” Claire sipped on some grape juice through her straw. “Modern wars are decided by the number of Objects. Individual ability can create a gap, but the difference made by numbers is overwhelming. Once it reaches one against three, it is hopeless. In that case, it is better to retreat without fighting. And yet…”
“The Tri-Core has three reactors on a single Object. Normally, it would be much more effective to create three different Objects out of them. And it is now nothing but scrap at the bottom of the sea. …Ideas for oddities like this will often surface, but they are never actually constructed. The will of the many moves the military. And it is the people’s tax money that moves these projects. Any oddity that was suggested in the past has been stopped at some point or another.”
“And yet the Tri-Core was created as a single Object with three reactors on it…”
“That’s the key.” Claire smiled. “You could call it the path to the third generation. The Tri-Core made it no further than what I suppose we could call generation 2.5, but its uniqueness holds the possibility to change the battlefield. Every military tries to analyze any defeated Object, but the focus on the Tri-Core is unusually high. The top designers from each world power are probably focused on it. …In other words, the shape of the Objects that support these wars could change soon. It won’t make it to the next designs, but it is possible the ones after that will show a clear influence from it.”
The third generation.
Quenser had experienced firsthand just how demonic the current second generation could be, so it was not something he could simply celebrate. It was like a test of courage. He very much wanted to hurry up and become a designer so he could be on the side of those frightening everyone else.
But at the same time…
“But the probes are still investigating the Tri-Core, right? What do you need me for? I doubt anything I know will help you complete that model.”
“No, no. That’s not it at all. I just wanted to hear your impressions of it.”
“Your impressions after fighting it.” Claire Whist held her juice box against her head and enjoyed its coolness. “The third generation we anticipate will truly be ground-breaking. But it will be useless if it we focus too much on our design ideals and it ends up being useless on the battlefield. And so I wanted to ask you. What did you think of the Tri-Core? Did it do a job worthy of having three reactors?”
“I see…” Quenser glanced up at the ceiling and thought back. “Every Object I’ve seen has been like a demon, but for this one, I think the weight was the real problem.”
“In fact, I don’t think it would have been able to function if it hadn’t been on the ocean. It couldn’t completely evade the Baby Magnum’s bombardment and instead defended itself by moving areas with exceptionally thick armor into the blasts.”
“So it would be difficult to use in strategies requiring speed?”
“Yes. I’m sure it could get up to a nice top speed, but it couldn’t get any bursts of speed. For that reason, it would probably be best for it to use the output of its reactors for one-shot kills.”
“But the reports say that the Baby Magnum’s damage spread slowly.”
“It may have not specialized enough in one direction to be functional in battle.”
“I see.” Claire leaned back in her chair. “I’d say it was too much to try to put an entire oil facility on it. We need to be careful not to make a similar mistake.”
“Um…So will the third generation be made of Objects that have multiple reactors like the Tri-Core?”
“No. In fact, it is because that did not solve the problem that I said the Tri-Core was only generation 2.5.”
Quenser was confused.
He opened his mouth to speak.
“Then what is the third generation?”
“You have already seen it,” said Claire Whist joyfully. “And it might become the mainstream form for Objects in the new wars to come.”
Meanwhile, Heivia was quite angry.
“I don’t like it. I don’t like it, I don’t like it, I! Don’t! Like! It!!”
Genelia the marriage scam artist smiled while watching Heivia turn the target on the ocean into Swiss cheese using his assault rifle.
“Oh, oh. Amazing, amazing. That should help clear out the stockpile of ammunition. Everyone, do your best to piss off Heivia here!”
“While I’m out here dripping with sweat and wasting bullets, that bastard is getting a lecture directly related to his dream in an air-conditioned room! That isn’t right! And that place is a collection of genius girls. That really, really isn’t right!!”
“Y’know, it isn’t like every single one of them falls under the category of ‘genius girl’. And even if they do, there’s no rule saying they have to be good looking.”
“But when there are girls involved, it’s supposed to be my time to shine! Why doesn’t anyone understand that!?”
“Um, I am a girl, you know.”
Once he saw the target fall to pieces and come clean off the pillar attaching it to the boat, he stopped firing. Instead, he switched on his radio.
“Can you hear me, Mr. Knight!? Can we finally get the man most suited for the job in there where he belongs!?”
“That building is completely cut off to prevent any classified information from being leaked out.”
“Oh, right,” said Claire Whist as she crushed the juice box in her hand after finishing off the grape juice. “I wanted to ask you about one other Object as well.”
“The Baby Magnum.”
Claire’s voice had a nostalgic ring when she spoke that name.
But when she continued, a dangerous tone joined it.
“I have heard about the successes of the 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion. But not all of those successes were successes of the Baby Magnum. Is that correct?”
“If so, that’s a bit of a problem.” Claire gave a small sigh. “That first generation’s design was a bit removed from the mainstream design, but I was still involved in designing it. To be honest, I use it as a prime example of my work. I don’t like constantly hearing about the Baby Magnum losing. At this rate, I’m going to have to change what example I use.”
“The princess is doing a great job! If the Baby Magnum hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t be alive today. Not to mention that a few conspiracies might have been carried out and the world would be a complete mess now!”
“But it is the higher ups of the military that make those decisions. The victory or loss of an Object can bring a war to an end, and they want to construct and maintain that system. I may not agree with them, but even a moronic customer is a customer. I need to take measures against any damage to my reputation.”
“Does a designer have enough power to directly influence a battalion made up of thousands of people?”
“Isn’t that why you aspire to be one? For the money and power? I helped design the Baby Magnum. If I reported there was a defect in it, it would at least be pulled off the front lines for inspection. That would probably last six months to a year. And that would buy me enough time to make my next move. For example, it is an outdated first generation Object. Several high officials want to get rid of it and spend the money on a second generation Object.”
“If you don’t want that, you need to get them working harder,” said Claire casually while tossing the crushed juice box into the trash can. “A lot more people than you think have their names on the line in these large projects. And that’s all I have to say.”
With that, the conversation was brought to an end.
Claire had either lost interest or was simply never very sociable because she showed no sign that she intended to show him out. Quenser left the room on his own and let out a slight sigh.
An Object designer.
That was a one-way ticket to being one of the few winners in life. Even a commoner could make more money than a lower level noble.
And yet he could not deny that she had seemed somehow constrained to him. It was true Claire Whist had been sent to this island because she was troublesome even for a designer, but even so…
(That also means that even a designer has to constantly make sure not to anger the top levels of the military.)
A restricted freedom.
Authority as just one portion of the gears.
When he thought about it rationally, that was the standard way the world of adults worked and those designers sat in the very center of the military with its strict hierarchical relationships and all that classified information. There was simply no way someone in the middle of all that could just live a carefree life.
“But at the same time…”
That was not to say he had been disillusioned in his dream of being a designer. Or rather, he ran into the fundamental question of what other path there was for him if he gave up on becoming a designer. In the end, he still wanted that money whether he would be free or not. There were not that many opportunities for a commoner to stand in the spotlight.
There was an even greater reason Quenser felt like his time had been wasted.
He had spoken face to face with Claire, a leading designer. He had seen where she worked. He had even been able to touch her miniature Objects.
And yet he had not gotten anything out of it.
There had been plenty there. It had been a veritable mountain of treasure. Someone who worked on the front lines of design would have found tons of data. But Quenser had been unable to take in any of it even with it right before his eyes. It was like not being able to tell the difference in flavor between two dishes but pretending to be able to. …When it came down to it, he was nothing more than an amateur student. He had not reached the level of an expert designer.
That difference in ability made him falter.
He felt like a mountain climber who discovered what he thought was the peak was nothing more than a small outcropping halfway up.
“I guess I should head back,” whispered Quenser as he walked down the passageway.
While he headed for the exit through that building that reminded him of a library’s shelves or a school’s shoe lockers, his mouth started to feel sticky. It was likely due to the grape juice Claire had given him.
The long, straight passageway allowed him to see a good distance away. At what was probably a corner of the building, he spotted a coffee vending machine.
Once he left the building, he would probably be right back to wasting the stockpiled bullets with an assault rifle. From the sparkle he had seen in that Night Edge Platoon’s eyes, he doubted he would get any water anytime soon out there.
Deciding to drink some iced coffee or something to clear out his mouth before leaving, Quenser walked toward the vending machine in the corner of the building. It was the old style that used paper cups, but it must have been popular with the genius girls (or women) because it had the stains characteristic of a well-used machine.
He put a few coins into the machine and waited for the iced coffee to fill the paper cup. As he waited, he heard some static come from his small radio.
It quickly turned into a voice.
“Dammit, Quenser! How long are you going to slack off inside that air-conditioned building!? Don’t tell me you really are trying to negotiate with them in bed! That isn’t like you! You should be mass producing wasted ammunition with your right hand instead!!”
“…I’m gonna punch that idiot once I get back out there,” vowed Quenser quietly, but then he frowned.
The building was filled with classified information related to Object design. Naturally, they would make sure data could not get in or out. Claire Whist had told him her internet line went through military surveillance before it got out.
Quenser’s radio and cell phone had not been confiscated at the entrance, so he had assumed the building was covered with materials that cut off any electromagnetic signals.
No, it definitely was.
He slowly reached out to touch the wall. It felt the same. But he clearly felt something different when he reached a hand behind the coffee vending machine.
“The material meant to block the signal was taken out, so it was repainted here recently.”
A blank spot.
After thinking about what that mean, Quenser muttered, “Has someone set things up so they can leak classified information?”
The wind grew stronger.
As Heivia and the others continued to dispose of the stockpile of bullets, a man wearing a black mask shouted angrily at them from behind.
“Hurry it up, you tax thieves! You’re nothing but trash. You have to keep working until you finish your quota even if a storm blows in or you have to continue into tomorrow!!”
Heivia clicked his tongue and the marriage scam artist muttered quietly to him.
“How about you ‘accidentally’ shoot him?”
“If I knew some technique to fire a gun 180 degrees behind me, I could probably sell it to an action movie director.”
The Night Edge Platoon had not been charged with watching over them. It seemed the man was simply shouting at everyone he came across. He had already headed off somewhere else.
Heivia made sure to raise his middle finger to the man’s parting back, but then he realized something.
“Hey, you said they’re the Night Edge Platoon, right?”
“They’re famous for going overboard while acting as bodyguards for VIPs. The councilors they guarded didn’t like how the excessive violence caused their approval ratings to drop. But that’s no reason to send them out to inspect the battlefields. They just get in the way.”
“…Well, they don’t look like it.”
Genelia frowned and Heivia ran his thumb across his throat as if slitting it.
“That guy must have given in to the heat because he lifted his black mask up a little. That’s when I saw it. He had scars from stiches circling around his neck. He’s from the 202nd Mobile Support Company. They go by the name Unicorn and that’s their distinguishing sign. Apparently it symbolizes their decision to ‘kill’ their former self and be reborn upon entering the unit.”
“You’re saying that’s not the Night Edge Platoon but some other unit?” Genelia sounded skeptical. “Maybe someone left Unicorn and joined Night Edge. I hear people often regret it when they try to unite their unit with tattoos.”
“Sure, if it was just him.” Heivia removed the scope from his assault rifle and handed it to Genelia. “Look at the one over there and the one jogging on the bridge. Check around their necks. They have the same scars.”
“You could be right and they officially changed units. But the percentage is just too high. For all intents and purposes, they’ve only changed their name and are still Unicorn.”
“So who is this Unicorn?”
“They have a lot of dark rumors. Their official mission is to destroy enemy lifelines. They’ll blow up trucks carrying supplies whether they’re military or civilian, they’ll destroy public facilities such as bridges or phone towers, and they’ll cut off communications with jamming. They make tons of money behind the scenes of the clean wars.” Heivia took the scope back from Genelia and reattached it to his assault rifle. “They’re an independent unit that ignores their allies’ opinions and carries out whatever destruction they deem necessary for their allies to win in these clean wars between Objects. They do a lot of things that can’t be made public, so they usually remain undercover. There is even suspicion that they have set up a side business with spies from the Capitalist Corporations in the process. Supposedly, they were involved in some attacks on gold mines and black market weapons sales in battlefield countries.”
“They certainly sound dangerous. …But this a top secret facility filled with top Object designers. What are they doing here disguised as the Night Edge Platoon?”
“Who knows. But if they didn’t have to hide their presence here, they wouldn’t go to the effort. This might be related to their side business with the Capitalist Corporations. Simple honor students are annoying enough to deal with, but Unicorn is an entirely different kind of dangerous. This goes beyond wondering if they’ll betray us. They might not even be on the side of the Legitimacy Kingdom in the first place. Who knows when they’ll shoot us in the back.”
Heivia decided it was best to assume the platoon going by the name Night Edge had been absorbed into the company known as Unicorn.
Naturally, all the Unicorn members spread out across the world would be sharing information between themselves.
Having the Night Edge Platoon hiding their identity inside the collection of classified information that was the Cook Addition Islands was a very, very bad situation.
That was when a tone came from Heivia’s radio.
Not long before, it had become nothing but a karaoke microphone toy he shouted abuse over to relieve his stress, but now some unwelcome information came from it.
“Hey, Heivia. I’m inside that building filled with top secret information right now. What do you think about the fact that the signal is reaching you?”
“Not good…” Heivia brought a hand to his forehead. “I found something bad on my end of things too. That impertinent Night Edge Platoon has been swapped out for a different unit called Unicorn. That’s the unit suspected to have a secret side business with the Capitalist Corporations!”
“Wait, wait, wait! You don’t mean…!!”
“That’s right, you idiot. If data is being sent back and forth under the military’s radar doing exactly what you’re doing, then it’s possible one of the designers in there is working with the Capitalist Corporations!!”
“By the way, it was a coincidence we ended up getting sent off somewhere, but it seems one of those designers influenced where we were sent. So could the same have happened with the Night Edge Platoon?”
“Probably. A designer could have influenced things to gather the pawns she needed.”
“Dammit. Why do we always stumble onto things like this?”
“It’s the curse of those who are just too skilled and good looking. It can’t be long before they make a movie about us.”
The situation had grown troublesome.
A designer inside the thick walls of the building was sending signals out via radio and Unicorn was receiving them outside. If the information was then sent off the island with some larger equipment, a hotline between the designer and the Capitalist Corporations could be constructed.
And on top of that, the “justice” of that small island was completely controlled by Unicorn disguised as Night Edge and the designers in the Center. If the two were working together, the proper law and military regulations would not necessarily come into play if Heivia and the others made a fuss about it.
They had to search out a communications device or line out of the island that was not controlled by the enemy and use that to report the situation elsewhere. And if the enemy tried to stop them, they would of course ignore the usual methods and attack.
Genelia then started tugging on Heivia’s sleeve.
“But there are around 30 genius girls living inside that building, right? Do we know who to suspect?”
“We just have to follow Unicorn’s actions. Not all of them are here on the island. Even the entirety of the Night Edge Platoon would only make up a third of Unicorn. The main body of the unit is elsewhere.”
“How can you know that?”
“Because of all the dark rumors. There are journalists that figure they don’t have to worry about putting food on the table if they just follow Unicorn around. Then again, some have gotten killed for getting too close. Their area of activity can be found on normal news sites.”
“It may not be as bad as where Quenser is, but this place isn’t so lax that we can just play FPSs over the wireless LAN.”
“True. And so I can’t get the latest information. But I do have what I saw while on the transport plane taking me here.” Heivia paused for a second. “Southern Africa. They were doing some dirty work related to water resources using clouds. Any ideas, Quenser?”
The only response from the radio was the sound of a head slamming against the wall.
It was time to check what needed to be done.
Quenser leaned against the wall, sipped on his iced coffee, and spoke into the radio.
“We suspect the designer Claire Whist and Unicorn are working together. And it is possible they are linked to the Capitalist Corporations. What do we need to do?”
“Forget all this and head back to our boring duties with a smile?”
“We don’t have time to joke around. We need to move forward.”
“…I was actually being serious.”
“Heivia, you do whatever you can to look into what the Night Edge Platoon…or rather, Unicorn is doing. Both the ones on this island and the ones in southern Africa. I want to know what the entire unit is after.”
“Then you deal with Claire. Climb into bed if you need to, but get as much information as you can. She’s a top designer, so you won’t get many chances to interview her. If we waste this opportunity, we’ll lose any chance of approaching her or getting any information out of her.”
“Of course, Unicorn holds the peace and justice of this island in their hands. They could easily claim we were trying to leak classified information and shoot us. Don’t let them notice you’re looking into this.”
“The same goes for you. Don’t forget that your location makes that technique easiest to use against you.”
After agreeing to contact each other again in an hour, Quenser switched off the radio. He gulped down the rest of the vending machine iced coffee, threw the paper cup in the trash can, and looked over at the wall across from the vending machine.
A whiteboard was hanging on it.
Escalibor, Assault Signal, Slide Lance, Active Shield… The names of several Objects and the battlefields they were in were written in marker. They were likely ones the researchers in the facility had helped design. Quenser recognized one of them.
Claire Whist had said she had helped design the Baby Magnum. If she was involved with the Capitalist Corporations via the Unicorn force active in southern Africa, the Baby Magnum’s weaknesses could be leaked to the Capitalist Corporations.
Claire had said she was displeased with the Baby Magnum’s results in battles. She had said she would need to use a different design example if it had any further negative effect on her reputation.
“Every new piece of information just makes this seem more and more ominous…”
If he was going to obtain information from Claire, he would first have to return to her room. He could also speak with the residents of the other rooms, but it was obvious what those people would do if some unfamiliar person came knocking at their door inside that top secret facility. They would report him to the Night Edge Platoon and he would be quickly neutralized.
(My best bet is to say I left something in her room.)
With that idea, Quenser knocked on Claire’s door and was invited in with no suspicion. Or at least no visible suspicion.
“What did you forget? Can’t it wait?”
“My cell phone.”
“Oh…that would be bad.”
That was the reaction he had expected.
“The building is made to prevent any signal from getting in or out, but your phone does have a camera and a record function. If it was found in my room afterwards, you could be arrested as a possible spy.”
“It’s red and it’s the type that slides open. It should stand out, so it shouldn’t take long to find.”
Quenser peered under the bed. As he did, he thought about how to start the conversation. She might put up her guard if he brought up southern Africa right away.
“Come to think of it, don’t you lose your chance to spend all the money you make by living in a place like this?”
“I can order things from the internet, so no. I grow tired of things and throw them out pretty quickly though, so my room doesn’t get too cluttered. Even video games are downloaded these days.”
Quenser glanced over at the corner of the room. Something that looked like a complexly folded plastic sheet sat there. The device looked like a giant controller modeled after a cockpit for robot games.
“Is that what that’s for?”
“Hm? No, that’s a failed part of an old project. It was supposed to go on a model called the Assault Signal.”
“Is it an Object simulator or something?”
“It’s nothing that amazing. The device allows balance of the Object to be restored via remote control if the Elite passes out inside and it is about to sink into the ocean or anything like that. Even that requires several dozen to over 100 people. And even then it can’t keep up with a high speed battle. It was rejected as it left an opening for hacking, though,” explained Claire. “Having some leeway is good. You can be more adventurous when you know there will be a next time even if you fail. And this kind of failed technology that you gain from that leads the way to a stable Object design. It’s important to create a cycle. Once the cycle is set up, the returns increase without end, but setting it up can be incredibly difficult. It’s the same as how it is more efficient to keep an Object’s reactor constantly on rather than switching it on and off.”
“I want to begin doing that as soon as possible,” replied Quenser honestly.
While looking through the shelves, Claire said, “Also, my goal may actually be gaining the money itself rather than what I can do with it.”
“Even though I live here, my official residence is in Paris. It’s pretty big, but I only head back there about twice a year. It feels more like a distant relative’s villa. My money and house are the same. Obtaining them is what matters. The amount of money I have and the size of my house add to my social status which increases my power. That especially helps when I have a job that gives me an eccentric image.”
Quenser moved aside some magazines on the floor, knocked out the bookmark inside, put the bookmark back in, and otherwise tried to buy as much time as he could while he fully utilized the part of his brain in charge of adlibbing.
“…So what else do you have?”
“Some normal things like nice cars and villas. Oh, and I donate money too. Here’s a surprise: 5% of the NGOs in the Legitimacy Kingdom run on the money I make developing weapons!”
Quenser was sure he could more easily find any link to Unicorn or the Capitalist Corporations if he looked through the laptop on the table, but he could hardly manage that in the current situation.
“Isn’t this sort of like your villa?”
“You could call my villas a social venture. I have villas that I have never even set foot in. I have one in the Amazon jungle, one on the coast of the Mediterranean, one near an Arctic ski resort, and lately I even bought one in the Oceania District. And one in southern Africa, too.”
Quenser could feel his heart leap inside him.
This was his way in.
“Have you ever been to Africa? Do you know what kind of food they have there?”
“Hm? Well, a few times. But I only ate things like hamburgers and tempura. That kind of thing is popular there. The proper home cooking is apparently something like a curry soup filled with spices, but I have yet to run across it. I always let my food cool down before I eat it.”
“I can imagine how that would taste, and I don’t have any desire to track it down.”
“I know. I was hoping for something a little more exciting. Something wild like an entire roast mammoth.”
“There are no mammoths anymore.”
“You’ll understand if you go there. Seeing it on TV just isn’t the same. You’ll feel like you could find something like that there.”
“But isn’t that a battlefield country? Wouldn’t the higher ups in the military get mad if a designer went there for fun? You could be abducted for all the classified information you know.”
“Don’t worry about that. We have some excellent bodyguards for trips like that. If I have the Night Edge Platoon with me, they let me go.”
A gap appeared in the conversation.
Quenser made sure to continue speaking in order to prevent any silence.
“I hear they have penguins in southern Africa.”
“Yes, the African penguins. They’re cute. Even the cities look out for them. They make tunnels especially for the penguins. They’re sometimes used as UGVs for intelligence purposes, though. But,” added Claire Whist, “those tunnels are made only with the roads in mind. When it rains a lot, the tunnels fill with water. Penguins are meant to swim in the ocean, but they do not have gills. They sometimes get lost in the tunnels and drown. It’s most unfortunate.”
The mention of rain caught at Quenser’s mind, but he decided it was too soon to push further.
He continued the conversation while only skimming his topic of interest. He cautiously kept some distance but not too much distance.
“They get lost in the tunnels?”
“Even though the tunnels are just straight paths, it seems they are just so dark and narrow that they can’t tell forward from backward or up from down. They would actually leave the tunnels faster if they merely let the water wash them away.”
“That sounds like a frustrating situation for an animal welfare group.”
“It is. And so the water resource market is viewed as quite the villain.”
Quenser continued to keep some distance but not too much.
He continued on his quest for information while forcing down his worried suspicions that she might actually be inviting him in.
Heivia also took action. The actions of the Unicorn group disguised as the Night Edge Platoon on the Cook Addition Islands was one thing, but he had no way of investigating the actions of the main force in Southern Africa just by observing. He had to find a net terminal that could access the military database.
“What a pain in the ass. Why can’t Quenser just look into it using a researcher’s computer?”
“I doubt he’ll have a chance to even touch one of those top secret computers. And the higher ups in the military can tell when a computer inside accesses something outside.”
“Hey, marriage scam artist. Why did you come with me?”
“I’ve awakened to a sense of love and justice.”
“…You’re not part of Unicorn too, are you?”
Heivia and the others had originally been ordered to dispose of the large amount of excess ammunition stored up. None of the soldiers given that task had any motivation and plenty of them had snuck off somewhere else. The fact that they were all beginning to “rot” like that allowed the higher ups to inwardly smile while rebuking them. No one would place any serious blame on Heivia and Genelia for disappearing.
“Hey, where do you think the external lines are? Somewhere in the experiment building?”
“We’d be caught by sensors if we even tried to approach that place. The only facility removed from the classified information on Object design is in the living quarters for the soldiers like us. And that place is basically Night Edge’s fortress.”
“So we have to get the information out of Unicorn’s computers?”
“That would be the fastest way to approach the truth. If they do have a hotline connected to someone else, they have to have a net terminal hidden from the higher ups.”
Heivia wondered what it would look like he and Genelia were doing to someone else. It may have looked like they had grown bored of the never-ending inventory reduction so they were sneaking off to the living quarters to take a nap.
“Hey, I know a quick way to make us look less suspicious. Wrap your arms around my arm.”
“…You don’t look like you have any money, so no thanks.”
“I am one of the Legitimacy Kingdom’s foremost nobles, you know!! Even if it is true that every single member of my family is opposed to me being the successor!!”
“Presideeeent, what is the total sum of your asseeeets?”
“Hey, don’t cling to me like that! It gives me goose bumps!!”
They walked across a large road-like bridge and arrived at the soldiers’ living quarters. It was a large steel piece of land that resembled an offshore drilling platform. And instead of having buildings built on top, the barracks were built hanging down below.
“Night Edge’s area is completely cut off from everything else. And the quality of the facilities on their side is better. I guess that’s what you get when you’re acting as bodyguards for those rich designers. I hear they get to eat dinner in the dining hall rather than just getting ready-made lunchboxes like us.”
“I had thought they were just your stereotypical discrimination lovers, but it may have been a way to restrict information. A lot of data gets passed around during mealtimes in the form of chitchat.”
“So they wanted to cut off any careless information leaks?”
“I’d say so.”
“But then won’t it be difficult to get into their area? They probably have tons of cameras set up.”
“No, they won’t.”
“They’re up to no good. Why would they leave any evidence of it?”
The two of them walked by the most obvious entrance to Night Edge’s area and spotted an obvious human guard out of the corner of their eye. It was a masked member of the Night Edge Platoon. They used the human eye so their surveillance would leave behind no records.
“I want to just punch him and head on in.”
“Do you want to fail?”
“Then I guess we have no choice but to find some other way in.”
They checked the ceiling ducts, but they were made of pipes only 10 cm across. They were much too small for a human to pass through.
“We can’t do this like an action movie then.”
“We need to check everything one by one. We might get lucky and find a way in.”
They checked the openings for electric wiring and plumbing, but they were too small and filled with too many twists and turns for a human or UGV to get through.
“Here we go,” said Heivia after opening a steel door. “This place is constructed like an offshore oil platform. Maintenance passageways and stairways are prepared around the large pillars. If the entire core construction is connected, we can use them to move between living areas. And that means we can access Night Edge’s area.”
“Why would that be so open? They went to such effort keeping the ducts and plumbing inaccessible.”
“They were probably made by different contractors. Military facilities are often a complex collection of pieces made by different companies. It’s the same as building a castle. But that means the countermeasures change between contractors. Some areas will seem overly sensitive and other areas will be wide open. The people making it don’t always know how important it is.”
The facility was not the same as a commercial facility. The passageways were narrow and dark, and the wiring and such were sticking out in the open. The walls had no wallpaper covering them. The passageways looked more like something from a military ship than a building.
“So what do we do once we make it into Night Edge’s area?”
“We check the electric meters. This is a horribly hot tropical island. They’re on the winning side of things, so they’ll use the air conditioner 100% of the time instead of opening a window. The rooms the meter isn’t running for are the ones without soldiers in them. We sneak into one of those and search for the terminal.”
“I feel like a sneak thief.”
“That’s sort of what we are.”
They walked down a long passageway, down some stairs, and then grabbed the knob of a steel door. They opened the door a crack and checked on the other side, but they saw no sign of Unicorn.
“Dammit. Where are the electric meters? Do we have to wander around in here when those masked bastards could show up at any moment?”
“Hey, hey. Wouldn’t it be faster to just touch the door and see whether it’s cool or not? That should tell us if the air conditioner is on.”
Someone who ignored good advice to protect his pride would have a short life. And so Heivia did as Genelia had suggested. He placed his palm against one door in the room, being careful not to make any noise. As he repeated the process a few times, he came across a door that was clearly warmer than the rest.
“This is it.”
“But an empty room will be locked. How do we get in?”
“…We might have to kick down the door.”
“They’d hear that right away. But the deadbolt is made of polycarbonate, isn’t it? That’s usually used to make nonmetallic knives or shields.”
“It’s weak to heat. It should melt if we heat it with a fire.” With a metallic clicking noise, Genelia opened the cap of an oil lighter. “Of course, they’ll notice the melted deadbolt later. This is our only chance to investigate in here, so be prepared.”
“And this will create the smell of melted plastic. That could draw their attention. We need to be careful.”
“You sure know a lot about this.”
“I exchanged information with other criminals before I was caught. And I learned some things at bars too. Unfortunately, just hearing about it wasn’t enough to pick up some trickier skills like picking locks.”
It took about 30 seconds to unlock the door.
It did indeed create a bit of an unpleasant odor. The smell made them feel uneasy, but fortunately Unicorn showed no sign of coming in from the other rooms.
“Sorry about the intrusion,” said Heivia jokingly as he turned the doorknob and slowly opened the door.
He peered in through the crack.
In the next instant, two arms reached out from the room and wrapped around Heivia’s neck.
Someone was inside.
A dull pain spread from Heivia’s neck and assaulted his entire body as he came to a quick decision. Instead of trying to remove the arms, he used his shoulder to tackle the door and the person inside.
The sudden impact sent the attacker rolling back into the room. Heivia charged in and straddled the person.
To Genelia, he said, “Shut the door. Damn this economical bastard! I can’t believe one of them likes to stew in his own sweat!!”
Heivia grabbed the collapsed masked man by the collar to constrict his carotid arteries which quickly knocked him unconscious. Heivia lightly lifted up the limp soldier’s black mask to check his neck.
Heivia grimaced when he spotted what he had expected to find.
“Scars from stiches circling around the neck. He’s from Unicorn too.”
Heivia bound the soldier’s arms and legs with the cable to an electric hot water dispenser, stuffed his mask in his mouth to keep him from speaking, and tossed him in the bathroom.
“Did you kill him?” asked Genelia.
“If I had, I wouldn’t have gone to all that trouble. …God dammit. I have nothing against bondage, but why does it have to be with a guy?” spat out Heivia as he looked around the room.
It looked like a simple business hotel room. It was mostly tidy, but a few bags had been left in one corner.
Heivia checked inside and found a high speed modem. He also found a parabolic antenna about 30 cm across. It seemed they had been contacting someone outside the base via a communications satellite.
“There’s a metal fixture on the window’s handrail. It’s probably what they attach the antenna to.”
“This building hangs down from the offshore oil platform. I guess they can receive the signal down here.”
They could not find the actual computer used, but they found a small device when they checked what the man in the bathroom had on him.
“We can do this.”
“What’s the password?”
“That important information was carelessly left on a memo in one of the bags.”
“…Sigh. This must have been supplied to him, so he hasn’t had time to memorize the password.”
They used the small device to access the network.
It connected to the information network used exclusively by the Night Edge Platoon…or rather, Unicorn.
“They were originally a unit that carried out missions undercover. It isn’t surprising they would have a network set up that doesn’t use the official military format.”
“What have you found? Anything on their activity in southern Africa?”
“Wait, here it is. I have it. Something related to the water resource business using clouds in southern Africa.”
That was when they heard several sets of footsteps on the other side of the door. They were not simply heading down the passageway. They were clearly gathering around the door.
They must have noticed something was happening.
“Not good… Genelia, move all that data over to your device!”
“How did they notice us? The man in the bathroom is bound and gagged, right!?”
“He may have only pretended to be taken out and actually woke up pretty quickly.” Heivia approached the window and checked to see if it could be used to escape. “If he kicked at the wall with his bound feet, he could send a message using Morse code. Maybe I should have just killed him.”
“The data transfer is complete!”
“Okay, c’mere. This way!”
Just as Heivia and Genelia leaned out the window, the door to the room was violently kicked down and a stun grenade was tossed in.
At the promised time, Quenser took his cell phone out of his pocket and pretended to pick it up off the floor. He then parted ways with Claire Whist.
That was the limit.
He could no longer head back to her room saying he had lost something.
He headed for the same corner of the building as before and tried to contact Heivia via radio.
He received no response.
He had no idea if the other boy was receiving the signal.
He was worried, but he had no way to relieve those worries. He had no choice but to simply carry out his job.
“I don’t know if you can hear me, but I’m going to tell you anyway. The Night Edge Platoon was not brought here to protect the Cook Addition Islands. It seems Claire herself used her authority around the world to have them brought in as her personal bodyguards. In other words, they are her private army. The odds are good she is using them to carry out her dirty work.”
He still received no response.
Quenser clicked his tongue at the level of static he could hear, but continued nevertheless.
“What I learned from talking with her is that there is another large market in southern Africa in addition to the water resource business using clouds. Megasolar power generation. They fill dry land that cannot grow crops with a bunch of solar panels. They make an electricity plantation.”
No matter what he said, he received no response.
That simple truth threatened to crush Quenser’s heart.
“Claire was surprisingly careful about this. When I poked at it, she would immediately change the subject. It is true the megasolar power generation business is at odds with the water resource business since the former does not want it to rain and the latter wants it to rain, but her reaction still stood out to me. A large key to the side business is probably hidden there.”
That was when he heard a loud noise.
It did not come from the radio.
The thick gate leading into the building had opened. Quenser looked over because he thought some researchers were going in or out, but he immediately hid behind a pile of railroad magazines when he saw who it was.
He saw black masks and carbines.
They were members of the Night Edge Platoon…or rather, Unicorn.
A girl who must have been one of the eccentrics (aka genius designers) exchanged a few words with the masked men as she jogged down a long passageway.
(Did they pick up my radio signal? No, they probably just thought I was taking too long to come out.)
Either way, he could not let them find him. In the worst case, he would be shot in the name of preventing the leakage of classified information. They could just add any charges they needed after the fact.
“…This isn’t good. There are four of them,” he spat out.
Before he entered the building, his bombs and other weapons had been confiscated. And more importantly, Quenser would be crushed in a pure firefight even if he was equipped the same as them. Unlike Heivia, he had not undergone training in close quarters combat or how to handle firearms.
There was a blatant difference between a student and a soldier.
He had no chance of winning in a straight fight.
“You could say the same thing about Objects,” muttered Quenser as he slipped out from behind the pile of railroad magazines and down a different passageway.
He first had to search for something he could use as a weapon among the things the genius girls (and women) had left scattered through the passageways.
“Compared to those monsters, four hysteric bastards should be easy.”
A stun grenade was a nonlethal weapon that used intense light and sound to rob the enemy of their senses and mobility. It incapacitated them for a few seconds to a few dozen seconds. Normally, the enemy would be finished off using a gun in that time.
Heivia and Genelia had already leaned their bodies out the window by the time it went off.
That allowed them to avoid a direct hit, but a slight white afterimage was still burned into their eyes. But they did not have time to rub at their eyes. Fortunately, a scaffold-like space stretched out beyond the window and they used it to flee.
“This is bad. This is bad, this is bad, this is bad!!”
“Is there a corner anywhere around here!? If we just head straight, we’ll be shot in the back!!”
There was a corner not far away.
But before they could reach it, a masked Unicorn member stuck his upper body out the window behind them. He was aiming his carbine in their direction.
Heivia flicked off the safety on his assault rifle and brought his index finger to the trigger.
He fired a short burst of three shots.
And afterward, Heivia wanted to hold his head in his hands.
“I’ve finally done it! I fired on an ally!!”
“What are you talking about? You already strangled one of them. If we can’t bring their wrongdoing to light, you’ll definitely be headed to court martial.”
It seemed the man had flinched back so he had not been hit. After Heivia and Genelia made it around the corner, they heard return gunfire.
They continued running and began climbing up a staircase for workers that was more or less a ladder built diagonally. As he climbed, Heivia checked his equipment.
“I have three magazines and two grenades.”
“Aren’t those the smoke grenades from inventory?”
“This stuff is completely useless!”
“That would be why so much was left for us to use up.”
Sporadic gunfire came after Heivia and Genelia, but either the enemy’s foothold was not sturdy or they were afraid of the strong gusts of wind signaling a storm was approaching because their aim was not settled. Heivia and Genelia continued up and up.
“Did you find anything in the data?”
“The water resource business using clouds and the megasolar power generation business are in competition.”
“Yeah, both of those deal with the weather. If it doesn’t rain, the water resources people are in trouble, but if the sky is covered in clouds, the megasolar people are in trouble. So which one is Claire involved with?”
“Officially, she works with the water resource business. In other words, the people who create clouds. But…”
“It seems there is someone who is investing in both of them. Their name wasn’t listed, though.”
“But if one succeeds, the other one fails, right?”
“There is no guarantee the money actually belongs to the person.” Genelia lightly licked her lips and continued. “In other words, southern Africa is a financial black hole. No matter which one you invest in, you will lose money in the end.
It may look like there are times when you make money, but the more money you spend, the more it sucks out of you. But the ones paying will lose their cool and not realize what is going on until they have lost a huge sum of money. It’s the same thing that happens in corrupt casinos. Now, a question: How much damage could one do by convincing individuals and groups you want to weaken to buy into this financial black hole?”
“…So the problem isn’t Africa?” Heivia could feel an unpleasant sweat appearing on his body. “Claire lures influential people and corporations within the Legitimacy Kingdom into that financial black hole and the continued losses weaken them. It all plays right into the hands of the Capitalist Corporations.”
Modern wars were carried out with Objects. And so no one set out to raze a world power’s capital or to eradicate an opposing race of people.
Wars cost money.
By robbing an enemy nation of their money, they could be driven into a state where they were unable to wage war. If that was Claire’s goal with the financial black hole, her betrayal would do damage to the entirety of the Legitimacy Kingdom.
And in the long run, it could even do more serious damage than any clash between Objects.
“How can this be? This is a completely different form of war.”
“If Claire and Unicorn have become pawns of the Capitalist Corporations, we absolutely must make sure this information gets out. It could act as a splash of icy water for the clients who have lost their cool.” Perhaps because this could be classified as a scam involving huge amounts of money, Genelia seemed somehow excited about it. “So what do we do? No matter where we run, the Night Edge Platoon controls the peace and justice of the Cook Addition Islands.”
“The same cannot be said for the Objects protecting the islands. We need to find some way to get this information to them. Dammit. Will our radios be enough? We should have brought that satellite antenna with us when we fled.”
That was when they heard the roar of something beating against the air.
Something was approaching from one of the other islands. What they saw flying through the sky looked like a compromise between an airplane and a helicopter. It was a propeller-driven craft called a tiltrotor. The angle of the propellers attached to the wings could be altered by 90 degrees to provide vertical or horizontal thrust.
To put it simply, it was a medium-sized aircraft that could take off like a helicopter so it did not need a runway.
“That’s a transport plane…right? Is it going to drop down some soldiers?”
“No…This is bad,” groaned Heivia.
He had noticed the several gun barrels sticking out from the left side of the tiltrotor’s body.
“It’s a gunship!! It’s a fortress of the sky that uses its large size to store tons of shells. I think that’s a 150mm artillery gun, a 50mm howitzer, and a 30mm Gatling gun sticking out there. No matter which one it fires, we’ll be blown to pieces! Even if we hid under a tank, it would just tear the tank apart!!”
The main advantage of a gunship was its ability to continuously fire down on an enemy from the sky. The many shells in the large-capacity gunship would be fired like crazy while it flew in a large circle with the target in the center. By switching between the armaments roughly meant for anti-building, anti-tank, and anti-personnel, it could destroy anything inside its circle so the target had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. That was the kind of weapon it was.
“Wh-what if we flee downwards!? The thick layers of the building might protect us!”
“That’s what they want. They’re cutting off our escape from above so the soldiers coming up from below can capture us. No matter where we run, we’ll only find a dead end!”
“Then what do we do!? There’s no way we can shoot down that mid-sized aircraft with our rifles!”
“C’mere! I’ll do something about it!!”
Since it was trying to fly in a large circle, the gunship did not head directly toward Heivia and Genelia. It smoothly flew into position like a record needle.
It would soon begin.
The endless circular flight and rain of bullets powerful enough to blow away a storm would begin.
Trying to oppose professional soldiers using contraptions created out of things like metal pipes and old magazines was something that only worked in action movies. When you were already weaker than the enemy in skill and physical strength, you had no chance of winning if your equipment was also worse.
What did a combat amateur like Quenser need to defeat that group of four Night Edge members?
He needed enough firepower to overcome individual skill.
(This building’s layout is too simple to play hide and seek in. They’ll find me before long if I just keep running.)
And so Quenser quickly gave up on trying to advance quietly. The doors had no labels, but he found a room around which the carpet and wallpaper smelled of mechanical oil, kicked open the door, and entered.
“How nostalgic. It reminds me of my school’s workshop.”
A lathe, an electric furnace, a work table, and a water tank for plating. The room was filled with tools for various types of metalwork. One of them was a device that used the explosive power of gunpowder to mold metal. Such devices could be found in any facility with a certain level of funding.
That was Quenser’s field of expertise.
“…Oh, dear. This is too sensitive. This kind will detonate just from static electricity,” muttered Quenser while he pulled out a container filled with pellets of gunpowder like it was fish food. He put it back in the bag and crushed it down to a complete powder while dividing it into a few smaller packages.
He tapped on the room’s wall and heard a light sound. The sound was as light as the wall behind the vending machine where the material to cut off electromagnetic signals had been removed. As he had expected, the inner walls were not very strong.
“The enemy will be coming through the door. So they should grow a bit frantic if I create a different route.”
The desk with the rather heavy lathe on it had small wheels on the legs. That allowed him to roll it over to the door. It was a simple method of protecting him from the bullets. He also set up some explosives on either side of the door. In his heart, he swore to blow away anyone who tried the cliché of “peering through the door while pressing up against the wall next to it”.
“Now then. I’m going to assume they’ll have expected all of this.”
He was up against four enemies.
One of them would break in through the main entrance. The other three would take up position in the three rooms adjacent to this one to truly surround him. Even if he tried to blow away one of the walls with explosives to secure an escape route, he would find a soldier waiting for him.
The shockwave created when he destroyed the wall or door would make the enemy falter, but an enemy that was expecting it could put together a countermeasure.
Quenser thought while he once more cautiously tapped on the wall to locate the pillars.
To overcome his enemy, he would need yet another plan.
The tiltrotor gunship.
Up until the introduction of Objects, that weapon was close to holding the primary role on the battlefield. Its overwhelming loading capacity gave it tremendous firepower and its ability to take off without a runway made it very convenient. Another factor that moved it closer to holding the primary role was the introduction of a variety that was filled with nothing but cartridge-style laser weapon units in place of the guns.
That allowed it to overcome the previous rule stating that a slow aircraft was powerless on a battlefield without air superiority already achieved. The gunship had become a fortress of the sky that could intercept fighters and even cruise and ballistic missiles. The appearance of such a fortress allowed a combination of the normal model and the laser model to rip through both the air and the land and one-sidedly conquer a battlefield.
But the introduction of laser weapons also strangled the gunship itself. Based on its use in gunships, armies began introducing laser weapons for air-to-air use, surface-to-air use, and for missile defense. Even the quickly moving air superiority fighters could not evade those laser weapons, so there was no hope for the gunships themselves to evade them. And once tons of anti-air lasers were equipped on the Objects that could not be stopped no matter what, the tiltrotor gunships had lost their spot in the primary role.
And now one of those weapons that had created an era and greatly affected the flow of history was being used against two flesh-and-blood soldiers.
To be blunt, there was no hope for them.
The pilot used the gunship’s internal communications to speak with his comrades.
“The anti-personnel sensors are working great. I’m gonna make a nice circle around that center point. Let’s show them this old thing still works.”
“Pteranodon really is the perfect nickname for this old fossil. And it’s a pretty cool name, too,” replied one of his comrades.
“Fossil? This is the latest model,” said another one. “Some officer is probably still having them developed for nostalgic purposes. It’s obviously not for any practical reason.”
“Weapons control: standby. Auto-loading: standby. Chemical cooling: standby. All green. We begin in 10 seconds. Everyone make sure you have your noise canceller on!” said a third comrade.
The pilot’s job was to continually fly in a large circle around the center point seen on the anti-personnel sensors. Even a trainee could fly that cruel merry-go-round. Since it was possible the target would use a shoulder-fired missile or something similar, he kept his fingers on the chaff and flare buttons just in case. He doubted he would really need them though.
(This is an easy job.)
But he suddenly noticed something while waiting for the countdown to finish.
“Wait. Do not fire! I repeat, do not fire!!” he shouted.
“I still have them in my sights. I can fire at any time.”
“The target is fleeing to the bridge between islands,” explained the pilot over the internal communications while a cold sweat covered his brow. “That bridge doesn’t just allow transportation. It is the cornerstone of the plumbing, electric, and communications infrastructures. It would be easy to blow the target away, but we would be cutting our own lifeline at the same time. All of our weapons are too powerful!!”
Heivia and Genelia were not on the top road part of the bridge. They were down below. A normal bridge would have had a complex steel framework strengthening it, but the bridges on the Cook Addition Islands had pipes, power cables, and communications lines passing through.
“This is just a cheap trick. It won’t be enough to survive.”
“True. Dammit, they’re jamming us so our communications can’t reach the Objects. We have to do something about that gunship either way.”
“You mean shoot it down?” Genelia frowned. “That’s a tiltrotor. A tiltrotor! This isn’t some forcibly altered mid-sized transport plane with no flexibility. It can stop in midair like a helicopter and it can rise and descend however it likes. Hiding under the bridge just means it has to descend to an altitude low enough to peek under and shoot us.”
“But they can’t use the ridiculously huge guns installed on that gunship. Even the smallest Gatling gun would crush their lifeline.”
“They don’t have to use them. The tiltrotor was originally used as a transport plane. They can open up the back cargo door and target us with a sniper rifle. We’re still in trouble!”
“That’s what I’m waiting for, baby.” Heivia removed the grenade launcher from the bottom of his assault rifle. He handed the rifle to Genelia. “You handle this. Fire like crazy at the tiltrotor’s engine. You probably won’t hit much and it probably won’t set fire to the engine even if you do, but it should make the pilot panic. If he flies erratically, it will shake the people aboard and lower their accuracy considerably.”
“What will you do?”
“I’ll use this.”
Heivia lightly waved the 40mm grenade launcher he had removed from the bottom of the assault rifle’s barrel. By extending a few attached parts, he gave it a grip and stock. Its silhouette changed from “tube” to “gun”.
Genelia blinked several times.
“What range does an underbarrel grenade launcher have?”
“Two to three hundred meters.”
“But they can aim from 1000 meters away!”
“While peering through a scope from inside a tiltrotor that’s moving all over the place? They won’t be able to snipe with that kind of theoretical value. No matter how hard they try, 700 meters will be their limit. If they want to be sure, they’ll get as close as 500 meters.”
“Are you so stupid you can’t do simple subtraction?”
“I can make up for that with some addition.”
Heivia spun a ring-shaped part on the side of the grenade launcher and attached an additional part to the bottom of the shell that was about the size of a can of coffee.
“What are you doing?”
“Supercharging it. This increases the gunpowder used to fire it. This is often used to increase the firing range of a mortar. It isn’t popular when used with handheld grenade launchers though. There were reports of the barrel being unable to withstand the increased pressure and gaining small cracks after firing a few times.”
“Why were we issued something that dangerous?”
“There are still a ton in stock because they’re so dangerous,” said Heivia as if singing while he peered down the grenade launcher’s sight.
The sensors were all on the rifle, so he had to aim with the naked eye for once.
“More importantly, you need to get firing, too. Target the gunship’s wings and engine. It’s descended and is about to peer in under the bridge. If you don’t frighten the pilot and get him to shake the gunship, the snipers will fire.”
“I’m doing it. I’m doing it. But isn’t that a smoke grenade? Do you really think we can shoot down a gunship that was made to be fired on from below? The interior is probably filled with thick plates,” asked Genelia while firing the assault rifle on full auto for so long it seemed obvious she was not actually trying to fire accurately.
Heivia waited for the perfect timing with a thin smile on his lips.
“The tiltrotor is only meant to fly 3000 meters up, so unlike a transport plane meant to fly at high altitude, it has no ability to regulate its internal air pressure. In other words, there is no wall dividing the cargo area and the cockpit. That means the smoke will fill the cockpit as long as I can fire it in through the cargo door. Also, the tiltrotor was always less stable than a helicopter. It’ll be done for in a few seconds if the pilot is blinded this close to the ocean surface,” he said while holding a finger against the trigger. “After coming all this way for a tropical vacation, they need to go swimming in the ocean at least once.”
A 300 euro riot suppression round brought a 2 million euro cutting-edge craft crashing into the ocean surface.
With the jamming gone, Heivia and Genelia now had a chance to inform the Objects on the ocean of the truth.
Even a child who kept up to date with the news sites that had replaced newspapers would know Quenser Barbotage was proficient with explosives. After all, he had been awarded for blowing up Objects with them. It was perfect for a quick topic to discuss at mealtime.
And that was why the masked men from the Night Edge Platoon grimaced slightly when they realized Quenser had kicked open the door to the workshop and holed himself up inside. They knew about the gunpowder used for metalworking. And Quenser Barbotage was known for doing his own thing no matter what he was told.
“He’s probably going to blow away one of the walls when we try to break in through the door. Ignore the passageways. Assume he can pass through the walls.”
And then something exploded.
The four walls of the workshop were blown away simultaneously.
But something they had not expected also happened.
The workshop’s ceiling must not have been able to support the load without the walls because it collapsed.
“…What? Did he accidentally kill himself? …I guess he is just an amateur.”
Failures often appeared in the process of making a novel idea a reality. But when those ideas did occasionally succeed, they could slip past the standard theories of the experts and cause unexpected damage.
That was the truth of how the boy had managed to defeat those Objects in the past.
“Tch. Well, that was a dud.”
The four Night Edge members stepped past the crumbled walls and into the workroom…or technically, its remains. The collapse of the ceiling made it impossible to tell what kind of equipment had been inside or even what color the floor had been.
“Digging him up is going to be a pain.”
“Can’t we leave that to the trash outside?”
“This facility itself is considered classified, so we can’t let them in.”
The fourth voice was not heard.
It seemed he actually had said something, but his voice did not reach any of the others’ ears.
The reason for this was simple.
The second wave of explosives Quenser had set up in the room had detonated.
The shockwave swept out in every direction. Regardless of how trained the Night Edge members' bodies were, they were knocked out by the blast. Just as even the strongest person would die if thrown into a fire or dragged deep underwater, the shock did enough damage to cross the line between pro and amateur and overcome the basic limits of the human body.
Incidentally, Quenser was below the rubble.
He had set the first wave of explosives after checking where the pillars were. The explosives had been positioned so the ceiling would collapse with an empty space in the spot Quenser was curled up within.
And the explosions Quenser was causing were the type to create only a shockwave. They created no flames, shrapnel, or other dangerous side effects. The wall of sound that knocked out his enemies was not powerful enough to pierce through the shelter of rubble covering him.
“You should thank me. You don’t often get taken out by a nonlethal explosion. More often, you just get shot by a normal bullet.”
Quenser picked up a carbine from one of the unconscious masked men and swiped his handheld device. The Night Edge Platoon had a few dozen men spread across the Cook Additions Islands. Reinforcements would be immediately sent out once the rest realized what had happened here.
“That means I need to finish this before a large-scale battle begins. That laptop’s communications are monitored by higher ups in the military. If I send out an SOS over that line, it will naturally reach them.”
“That is a dangerous plan. And it isn’t necessary,” said a sudden female voice.
Quenser held up the carbine and turned around to find the designer Claire Whist lightly putting up her hands while wearing her lab coat and bikini. She was surprisingly close by. She was close enough to charge at him if he looked away even for a second.
She grinned and said, “Do you actually understand the situation here?”
“A wall has been altered to allow communications outside the building without the higher ups monitoring it. You are suspected to have a connection with the Capitalist Corporations. There is competition between the water resource business and megasolar business in southern Africa. Communications from Heivia have stopped. …And on top of it all, you want to get rid of the Baby Magnum which is currently in southern Africa.”
“The evidence you need to confirm your suspicions is on that handheld device. Why don’t you check it?”
“I’m not stupid enough to take my eyes off you and give you a chance to attack.”
“I won’t do anything like that. You took them out with a shockwave, remember? You should probably at least check to make sure it turns on and wasn’t broken.”
“That’s a good-…bh!?”
Just as Quenser used his thumb to try to turn on the device, Claire sent a kick in his direction. Quenser frantically tried to move out of the way, but a stabbing pain ran through his entire body before he could. Strength left his legs and he collapsed to the ground.
“I showed it to you when we first met, didn’t I?”
Quenser used his arms that he could still just barely move to keep himself from completely collapsing, but Claire calmly sat on his back. The boy in a crawling pose became her chair.
Claire pressed the electrodes of the stun gun against the back of his head and picked up the handheld device.
“If you use the stun gun now, the current will flow into your ass too…”
“But it will be worse for you. What do you think will happen if 30 thousand volts are sent into your head? The user’s manual listed it as the worst place to use it after the heart.”
With that simple comment, Claire folded her legs and operated the handheld device with one hand.
“Are you going to erase the evidence?”
“No. This is as good a time as any, so I’ll begin here.”
“Giving some answers. It seems things have gotten noisy outside, and this will get troublesome if the Objects’ maintenance units come to investigate the island. The Night Edge Platoon…that is, Unicorn won’t be enough to stop them. And so I would like to finish this before that happens. Got it?”
Claire Whist used one of the handheld device’s apps to begin a conversation. It seemed the signal was able to leave the building from where they were because Quenser had blown a hole in the ceiling. The person on the other end seemed to be a high official of the military.
But was he from the Legitimacy Kingdom military?
Or the Capitalist Corporations military?
“Brigadier general, I was thinking about pulling the trigger in southern Africa,” said Claire.
“This is a video chat, so I am receiving video of you. That is quite an…odd situation.”
“I’ve recently taken a liking to this kind of thing. It’s not like I have much else to do here,” said Claire in a casual tone.
The man she had referred to as brigadier general cut straight to the main topic.
“If you say the timing is right, I will go along with it, but isn’t this a little early to pull the trigger in southern Africa?”
“The peak value is only theoretical. Aiming for it in reality will actually hurt us.”
Claire then tapped on Quenser’s head with the stun gun’s electrodes.
Once she had his attention, she spoke.
Spoke to Quenser, not the handheld device.
“This is what is really going on in southern Africa. The water resource business using clouds and the megasolar power generation business are in conflict. That conflict is used to create a financial black hole. We lure influential people within the Legitimacy Kingdom to have us invest their money in this black hole and put them deeply into debt.”
“Wait a second. Why are you telling him this?” asked the man.
“You may think I have a connection with the Capitalist Corporations, but you are wrong about that. There are people within the Legitimacy Kingdom itself who wish to weaken other influential members of the Legitimacy Kingdom. Political conflict, infighting…there are plenty of reasons for it.”
“Shut your mouth!! Do you have any idea how valuable that information is!?” shouted the man Claire had called a brigadier general, but she merely grinned and continued speaking.
At this stage, it did not matter to her what anyone thought. Her body language made that clear.
“But certain events are needed to keep a financial black hole causing losses indefinitely. If it stays the same, people grow tired of it. The fire burning in their minds cools off. If that happens, the investors realize it is a dangerous deal. And so we need to arrange periodic events to ensure that does not happen. And one of those will be the Object you know being deployed to southern Africa.”
“The Baby Magnum?”
“If it clashes with the Capitalist Corporations and loses spectacularly, the situation there will change greatly. The water resource business is supported by the Legitimacy Kingdom and the megasolar business is supported by the Capitalist Corporations. The investors’ money will all go into megasolar. And the people of the Legitimacy Kingdom won’t even know it because we are handling the investments. But it will not be enough to destroy the financial black hole. The more money they pump in, the greater the losses expand. My job,” whispered Claire Whist while removing the stun gun from Quenser’s head, “is to uncover the idiots who are trying to wear down the Legitimacy Kingdom’s own national power over internal conflicts when we are in the middle of a worldwide war. That is why I used Unicorn to set up an independent network that slips past the higher ups. I can’t have the people I’m supposed to trap catching on to what we’re doing.”
Quenser heard a clicking noise.
The man Claire had referred to as a brigadier general had ended the connection.
But Claire showed no sign of worry.
“It’s too late,” she said. “Before he can even chug some whisky and shoot himself with his handgun, the Black Uniforms charged with barrier duty will capture him.”
“…This was all a sting?”
“It just turned out that way this time. Sometimes I am the one doing the underhanded things. But that is why I’m not all that mad about you interfering in all this. I’m not some honor student that gets a stomachache when things don’t go exactly according to plan. When you accept any means necessary, war can get even more twisted than this. In fact, when I think about how the situation must have looked to you, you made a refreshingly wonderful decision.”
That was what Claire Whist had called it.
Quenser very rarely had a chance to hold a gun, but that woman would have had even fewer chances. It was quite likely she had never once fired one from the day she was born.
“You need to take this more seriously, Quenser. This is a war waged above your level. The wars using Objects cost a lot of money. And even more is gained from them. If that was not the case, no one would keep these troublesome wars going. This creates a lot of plans to profit from it all as well as quite a few conflicts.”
“What about the financial black hole? Aren’t those influential people from the Legitimacy Kingdom still pouring tons of money into it!?”
“It is just a dummy market made to look like a financial black hole,” replied Claire smoothly. “The issue with southern Africa is that the water resource business using clouds and the megasolar business using sunlight are in competition due to the weather. Time after time, one succeeds and the other fails. In a seesaw market, the losses outweigh the gains no matter which one you invest in. That is why only the debt increases. That is what forms the financial black hole.”
“Oh? Didn’t you know? We have completed a system to somewhat freely create clouds and make it rain.” Claire sounded like she was enjoying herself. “That just means we have to create multiple facilities. Area A is equipped with water resource pools and megasolar panels and area B is also equipped with water resource pools and megasolar panels. Afterwards, we just make it rain alternatively on area A and area B. While it rains on area A, it is sunny in area B. Area B can generate power and have water piped in. When it rains in area B, the opposite is done. That way you can perpetually supply both water and electricity. The two businesses are no longer in competition and everyone can get along and make money. Do you get it now?”
“Would that really work so well?” asked Quenser. “Southern Africa is a battlefield. Building pipelines across territories belonging to different world powers would create friction. And even if it does not cross any borders, an enemy unit could attack and destroy it. It just wouldn’t work.”
“And that line of reasoning is why that brigadier general believed southern Africa really was a financial black hole.” Claire still did not seem worried. “I bought up all the stock of a construction company that worked at being charitable rather than on widespread advertising. They are well known and influential throughout different territories all across southern Africa. I can use them to expedite negotiations between different territories and I have Unicorn attack those that still refuse to cooperate. That is how I am building up the foundation. The pipeline will not be destroyed. …And people tend to be better off with stable infrastructure.”
Claire had no intention of betraying the Legitimacy Kingdom.
She had been using Unicorn to take action without the traitors higher up in the military noticing.
In fact, she had actually been protecting the Baby Magnum from being used in the financial black hole project.
Just as Quenser breathed a sigh of relief, Claire Whist lifted herself up a bit and then sat back down to put more weight on his back.
“And now it is time for you to give me an answer. …This workshop has been completely destroyed. Four members of Unicorn have been splendidly knocked out. And from what I have heard over the communications lines, a gunship made from a modified tiltrotor has been brought down into the ocean outside. How do you plan to logically explain this situation?”
Quenser’s mouth flapped open and closed, but no words came out.
Claire folded her legs and smiled as she looked down at him.
“If you can’t come up with anything, you will have to be sent away again. But I can’t think of anywhere worse than here.”
And so they set a new record.
Quenser and Heivia were the first soldiers to ever be sent elsewhere after only two or three days since they were sent to the “gentle prison” of the Cook Addition Islands.
As Claire Whist stood in the corner with the vending machine, she watched the transport plane they were onboard in a window on her laptop. As she did, she received a transmission.
It was from a Unicorn member disguised as a Night Edge member.
“We could have falsified the records. Since it took place in the workshop, we could have said the gunpowder exploded due to static electricity. And once that was overlooked, couldn’t we have worked him into our plans?”
“The tiltrotor would have been hard to explain away. And I get the feeling they wouldn’t be as effective without being together.”
“Even so, the mere fact that he had destroyed Objects as a flesh-and-blood soldier is a pretty big deal. It could even help in that ‘higher war’ you like to talk about.”
“No, no.” Claire seemed to be enjoying herself, but she still rejected the idea. “He is the type to blow everything away and flee if he is surrounded on all four sides. It doesn’t matter how many obstacles are in his way. So it is best to let him do his thing at a distance than to have him at your fingertips. That means there is no need to arrange for that transport plane to be shot down while making it look like it was a shoulder-fired missile fired by independent guerillas on a solitary Pacific island. He would just get in the way.”
“Don’t glare at me like that. Uncertain factors are profitable. But only when they are thrown into situations that have nothing to do with you. Let’s keep an eye on them like we are watching a fire on the opposite river bank. They are like a jack-in-the-box that overturns stagnation. It feels like a waste to leave it unopened, but I would rather not open it myself. Do you know what I mean?”
Even then, many conspiracies were underway in the world powers of the Legitimacy Kingdom, the Information Alliance, the Capitalist Corporations, and the Faith Organization. Wars were being started over Objects clashing for the gain of entire organizations or of individuals.
A stable foundation prompted wealth to gather and that gathering invited stagnation and decay.
It was the standard course.
And even when you knew it was coming, it was surprisingly difficult to break free.
“Did you hear the higher ups have decided on the official date for a Royal Duel?” said Claire Whist while relaxing her shoulders.
However, the aura put off by the Night Edge member changed slightly.
“It’s a battle between Objects that will decide who gets the crown of the Volga District. How ridiculous. Do the kings way, way, way above all of us not realize how much tax money and human lives are lost in all this?”
“Are you suggesting those two will disrupt that elegant duel?”
“I have no proof of it. Maybe I just want to see those arrogant royals panicking.”
Claire’s tone was completely casual even though her comment could be considered lese-majesty even if it was a joke.
“He is not suited to being a designer,” whispered Claire as she closed her laptop, leaned against the wall, and looked up at the ceiling. “If he started putting together an Object with those dangerous ideas of his, he would skip past the third generation and straight to something like the seventh generation.”