HEAVY OBJECT:Volume6 Chapter 2
Chapter 2: The Team that Carries Out Dirty Jobs More Painful than Hell >> Transportation Battle in the Athabasca District
In the northern portion of the North American continent was a freezing land where everything from the ground underfoot to the sky above was covered by a white blizzard. A convoy of 5 large military trucks drove amid all the white. Eight-wheeled armored vehicles with tank-like turrets defended the convoy at the front and back.
Something was obviously different about the convoy.
Quenser and Heivia had been thrown into the canopied back of one of those military trucks. Twenty to thirty other soldiers were crammed in along with them. It seemed all of the trucks were in a similar state.
Heivia was facing the similarly aged soldier who had happened to sit next to him.
“Really, I’m not lying! Her tits are like ‘Baboom’! ‘Baboom’!! I know it’s a weird sound effect to use. Normally, it would be something like ‘boing’, but only ‘baboom’ does our commander’s justice.”
“I-I see. But I’m still not quite sure how to picture that…”
“If you saw them, you’d get it right away. Is there a picture of her on the military network? Even just a bust shot would be enough for you to see what a presence they have.”
It seemed the only redeeming feature of the young male soldier Heivia was speaking to was that he had a chef’s license.
Quenser decided to help him out by saying, “How can you talk so much when it’s so cold we can see our breath?”
“I feel like I’ll freeze to death if I don’t keep talking. I want a fireplace, a bed, and a beautiful woman.”
“That’s what you would want no matter where you are.”
“You’ve got that right,” said Heivia in annoyance. “All we’ve been doing here is digging shells out of the snow and freezing the fuse with liquid nitrogen before pulling them out. And those old style weapons wouldn’t be used by a proper military with Objects. It must be local guerillas. I can’t stand this. They’re the ones that scattered these duds everywhere, so why can’t they clean them up?”
They then heard a metallic clanging noise.
They all looked in the direction of the sound and saw the woman who acted as their leader lightly beating her fist against the floor of the truck bed.
“Attention,” she said. She had a headset on so her voice could reach the other trucks. “We gathered you disposable supplies from different parts of the world and are going to put you to work on plenty of dishonorable missions. Our unit has no official designation. After all, it would be a problem if we actually existed. If we die, we will not be counted in the international lists of war dead, so be careful. But it would be inconvenient to contact us without a name, so we do have an unofficial one. The Background Unit. We melt into the background. We never step forward. You should make your motto ‘the nail that sticks out gets hammered down’.”
“Sure thing,” said Heivia with a grin. Apparently nothing else mattered for him as long as she had a pretty face and large breasts. “What’s our job this time? Eliminating the other party in a high official’s affair?”
“An excellent question, Private Heivia Winchell. About half of the unit does not know how things work in Background since half the unit was blown away the other day and had to be replaced. I will now explain what Operation Christmas Boot is before we begin. It all began with an obsolete stealth bomber,” said the woman simply. “That said, it was not being used to turn some city into empty land. Its mission was to transport a secret material. But its identification signal was switched off to allow absolute secrecy and that resulted in it being shot down by a fellow Legitimacy Kingdom surface-to-air missile. It performed an emergency landing deep in these white mountains.”
“What idiots,” muttered Quenser.
The woman ignored him and continued, “Someone must recover this secret material. That is why we were deployed. The retrieval of unexploded ordnance was a decoy mission to hide our real one. Even other members of our military will see us as moving around to recover those unexploded shells. Do you understand what I am saying?”
“That we need to lie even if questioned by the commander of the base?”
“Yes. No matter who asks you, you must not tell them about the secret material. And do not worry about what this material is. If it was passed over to Background to deal with, it must be surrounded by some rather dangerous circumstances. Looking into it will probably lead to your death. At any rate, just take the secret material from the stealth bomber and load it onto one of the trucks. The closest military airport is 80 kilometers away. If we can transport it there, Operation Christmas Boot will be complete.”
“Is it some panty thief’s collection?”
“That kind of joke will only invite death, Private Winchell.”
Still curled up thanks to the cold, Quenser raised a hand and asked, “Why are we loading the secret material onto one of the same trucks we’re riding in?”
“The Athabasca District is a battlefield country. It neighbors an Information Alliance base. If anyone intercepts information about the secret material, there is a great risk of being attacked. By having a few dummy trucks, the risk of the secret material being lost lessens."
“…So we’ll be blown away as one of the fakes.”
Quenser clicked his tongue and peered outside through a nearby gap in the canopy.
He saw a raging blizzard and several white mountains. The area they were in had plenty of conifer trees, but the mountains were not completely covered in trees. In a few areas, the trees had been chopped down to create a smooth slope. He also saw some places with lines of metal towers presumably for a gondola.
“And this area was on the verge of being declared a safe country… I can’t believe all this came from the unstable condition of a single ski resort.”
“I hear the animal protection groups love it, though. Something about the falcons and bears that had almost been poached into extinction recovering their numbers.”
“Those people amaze me. The unemployment rate is going up and both soldiers and the homeless are dying off left and right, but they’re saying we need to use tons of tax money to protect the crows in the cities. Also, why is this truck tilted to the right?”
“That would be thanks to the ridiculously huge powered suit curled up over there.”
Heivia pointed with his thumb and the unrefined powered suit waved lightly at them with supple feminine movements.
A rectangular container case big enough to fit Quenser inside and likely filled with heavy weaponry was attached to the back of the suit’s left shoulder.
“Apparently it’s a fallen idol inside. She could supposedly sing perfectly, dance perfectly, and put on a perfect smile, but she was so perfect she wasn’t cute. She ended up taking part in these clean wars since her options were to be a battlefield reporter or go into porn, but she seriously messed up and got sent out here.”
“Is she beautiful?”
“They say she’s so beautiful she’s boring. I’ll never understand the idol business if that’s possible.”
“That’s the kind of tagline that would make other women hate her.”
“Oh, yeah. There were rumors about that as well. Some idiotic advertising firm said she was ‘more beautiful than the princess of Volga’, so she was forced to resign from her regular TV show due to lese majesty. It’s quite a tragedy since the Perfect Idol herself never said a thing about the princess of Volga and it was just those around her getting carried away.”
“Do you think maybe the princess of Volga was behind it?”
“I saw her at an evening party once. Naturally I didn’t get a chance to speak with her at length or anything, but she hid behind her guards that were twice her height the entire time. She’s just a kid that knows nothing of jealousy.”
Quenser and Heivia were bored, so they decided to make a pass at the Perfect Idol. They moved over closer to the giant powered suit.
“Hey, hey. Do idols need to get a powered suit license for concerts these days?”
“I did have to get a construction license when we had a project to construct a small castle on my TV show.”
“Since you’re so heavily defended in there, do you have an insurance policy on your face?”
“The renewal period was last week, but it was most likely not renewed thanks to my mistake.”
“But your idol office must not want you to get hurt if they issued you that powered suit.”
“That depends on how much of an injury it is. I think they might actually want me to gain a certain level of weakness.”
Quenser lightly tugged on Heivia’s sleeve and whispered to him.
“(They certainly have quite the collection of people gathered here. But I get the feeling this isn’t going to be a case where every member of the team uses their specialty to bring success to a reckless mission like in an action movie.)”
“(Yeah, freckles boy over there is just pissed that his handheld game system froze up. Come to think of it, why is he even playing an FPS on a battlefield?)”
They seriously began to wonder if the Background Unit’s quick soldier replacement cycle (aka its high rate of deaths) was not due to facing powerful enemies but due to members of the unit tripping each other up.
“Men,” said the female leader as she knocked on the truck bed once more. “We will soon arrive at the site of the stealth bomber’s emergency landing. Operation Christmas Boot will begin once we do. Before we arrive, make sure you have your cocoa. That is the stick-shaped bag handed out to you all.”
Quenser frowned and asked, “What are we supposed to do with this? If we drink something strong smelling, we’ll be chased by dogs.”
“We might have to worry more about starving soldiers picking up the scent,” said Heivia.
“No, no.” The woman shook her head. “If unexpected trouble splits us up, we will not put together a team to retrieve you. Walking the 80 kilometers back to the military airport in this blizzard would be harsh. If your rations freeze over, they will be of no use. If that happens, you might be able to shed some tears onto the cocoa powder. Licking it bit by bit may save your life.”
“I see this job has a great welfare program,” commented Heivia.
The stealth bomber was a flying wing that was shaped similar to a boomerang. The jet black craft showed up quite well in the white snowy mountains.
It had landed next to a frozen river in the gap between two mountains. The ground was covered in small rocks, so the bomber’s wheels had of course been punctured. The craft could easily have lost its balance and burst into flames in that situation, so the pilot must have been quite skilled to neatly land there.
It seemed it was the right side of the craft that had been damaged by the missile. Black smoke was rising from the edge, but there was no other visible sign of damage.
“That’s just a scratch. Why did it go down?”
“Flying wings have a large capacity but they have poor stability. It had to deal with this blizzard and there may have been turbulence up above.”
The giant powered suit got out of the military truck and used an arc burner to cut away the bomber’s hatch.
Once the powered suit had removed the thick hatch and waved over that the way was clear, the female leader peered inside the bomber.
That was when a gunshot rang out.
“What? What? Why would she need to pull the trigger here!?”
The two boys got down and tried their best to hide behind the snow, but nothing more happened. They exchanged a glance and approached the bomber just in time to see the female leader exiting the hatch with blood splattered on her uniform. The red liquid quickly began to freeze.
“The secret material is inside. Carry it out.”
“We do not have time to carry the injured with us. We’re cutting it close with just ourselves. Why should we waste our effort on charity? Not to mention that a few of you would have to stay behind to make room for the injured.”
“Don’t give me that look. The crew of that bomber is also made up of soldiers not registered in any clean war. They won’t show up on the international lists of war dead. They’re the same as us. The report will only say some people died wearing Legitimacy Kingdom uniforms. We never had a chance to determine their identity, so they will be deemed cosplay-obsessed saboteurs.”
“I can’t believe you…” groaned Heivia, but there was nothing he could do.
Complaining about it would not bring back the dead.
The female leader paid him no heed and said, “Hurry, hurry. We need to do our best to make sure not even others from the Legitimacy Kingdom know what we are doing. I’ve heard that Unicorn is working undercover in this area. We do not want to run into them.”
“Please, no! I don’t want to hear that name!! It brings back all that trauma!!” shouted Quenser half in desperation, but he began working regardless.
First, he headed into the bloody cockpit and pressed the button to open the cargo door used to load bombs. The Perfect Idol used her giant powered suit to enter the back cargo bay, pick up a refrigerator-sized metal container, and carry it to the trucks. The sizes of the different containers varied.
Quenser left the bomber to escape the stench that made him sick to his stomach and asked the powered suit a question.
“How heavy are they?”
“About as heavy as a bronze statue.”
“I have no idea how heavy one of those is.”
However, it seemed they had no choice but to rely on the powered suit for the reloading work. The other soldiers scattered around the stealth bomber and kept watch. …Or perhaps they just wanted to leave an annoying job to someone else.
The number of boxes filled with the secret material was greater than expected. They filled three entire trucks.
That meant the soldiers initially divided into five trucks had to cram themselves into the remaining two.
Heivia groaned amid the foul heat, “This is horrible! Everything about this is horrible!! This is like a crowded train in southeast Asia!!”
“Yes, yes, but it is better than dying, isn’t it? Okay, we’re all loaded up now,” said the female leader offhandedly. “It’s time to leave. Is everyone aboard? If you aren’t on in time, we’ll leave you behind, so hurry up.”
The truck set off while shaking the truck bed horribly. The truck’s balance may have been thrown off by all the people aboard.
“This much weight isn’t going to blow a tire, is it?”
“The truck’s tires don’t have air inside. They’re filled with synthetic fiber all the way through. A lot of advances have been made in the field of shock absorption, so we might soon see a new weapon somewhere between a tank and an armored vehicle that has thick armor and moves at high speed.”
“Okay, I get it, you design nerd! Don’t add any more heat to this human sauna!!”
Incidentally, Quenser had ended up practically embracing the Perfect Idol, but he was hardly grateful since she was wearing that giant powered suit. It was neither warm nor soft. The heat left him safe for the time being, but if a cold wind blew in through a gap in the canopy, he could easily have the skin of his cheek freeze to the armor plates.
Quenser then noticed a sound like a champagne cork being removed. The sound was coming from a great distance beyond the thick canopy.
Quenser did not even have time to finish his question.
He heard a great explosive noise and the truck came to a sudden stop.
There was nothing to grab onto in the jam-packed truck bed. With nothing to brace against as the truck slammed on its brakes, everyone in the back was thrown forward. Quenser distinctly heard a screaming noise come from his ribs.
“Gyahh!? Cough…what was that!?”
“Shit. Shit!! I think that was a mortar! I smell something burning. The front armored vehicle was blown away!!”
A mortar was shot up in the air like a long throw in baseball, so it fell down on top of the target. It was a simple weapon used all across the world.
“Eh? Wait! Then we need to force that armored vehicle out of the way! If we stay stopped here…!!”
In the next instant, they heard an explosion from directly behind them. The armored vehicle at the end of the convoy had likely been destroyed. With the front and back of the convoy destroyed, the trucks between them were stuck in place.
“This situation is so stereotypical, you could probably find it in a textbook!!”
“Get out, get out! The trucks are going to be taken out one by one!” shouted the female leader as the soldiers began getting out of the truck bed all at once.
The Perfect Idol used her tremendous physical strength to rip apart the thick canopy and forced Quenser out the side of the truck.
But the enemy was not going to wait for them to scatter.
They heard the champagne cork sound once more.
“Scatter! Get down!!” came the female leader’s conflicting orders.
An explosive noise rang out.
Quenser’s vision became filled with white.
He thought his entire face had been crushed along with his two eyeballs, but it turned out the mortar that had landed a short distance away had only blasted snow up at him. But having snow slammed into his face at tremendous speed was enough to temporarily rob him of his sense of balance.
Heivia shouted from where he was lying on the ground nearby, “Quenser, you idiot! Crawl under the truck!! The armored vehicles were only taken out because the tires and suspension were destroyed. It wasn’t enough to get through the armor!”
“How are they aiming so accurately in the wind of this blizzard!? I thought the first two or three shots with a mortar were used as a baseline to aim from!?”
“It’s a GPS mortar! It just has to be fired up in the right general direction and then its tail moves based on GPS information from a satellite to strike the target. Scattering out across the snow will only get us targeted on a touch panel!!”
Quenser crawled across the snow and below the military truck as he shouted, “Then we need to jam it!!”
“The communications soldiers with the huge machinery on their backs were taken out first. As was that domineering woman commanding us!”
“She died that easily!? I thought she was going to be the final boss!!”
After a few more explosions, their number of allies had fallen considerably. Having the snow fly up at him hard may have saved Quenser by hiding him amid the grotesque scenery of red and black.
“This truck isn’t going to last repeated strikes. If we don’t do something soon, we’ll be crushed by the scrap.”
“There they are. There they fucking are. About 1700 meters to the northwest. A few Information Alliance troop transport vehicles are stopped near the foot of the mountain. The mortar is probably set up behind them!”
Quenser checked with his binoculars and he did indeed spot several vehicles that looked like tanks with the turret removed. Their armor looked thick enough that a rifle bullet would be useless against them. Not to mention that they were too far away.
Since mortars were initially fired up into the air, they could be fired continually while remaining behind cover.
“Where’s your shoulder-fired anti-tank missile!? Set it up already!!”
“I could blow up the troop transport vehicles they’re using as a shield, but the scrap would remain there. I can’t destroy the mortar team behind the trucks with it!” said Heivia in annoyance. “Our attacks can’t reach them. We can only sit here while they throw those baseballs at us. What are we supposed to do?”
“Hey, Heivia. Do you think they attacked us because they know about the secret material?”
“Are you saying we can survive by using the trucks with the secret material aboard as a shield?” Heivia frowned. “No one attacks with nothing but a GPS mortar. That’s just a portion of their force. Infantry will be creeping closer while they keep us in place with the mortar. I think those troop transport vehicles the Information Alliance is using as a shield are enough to hold 60 to 70 people.”
“Then what do we do? Either way, we need to destroy that GPS mortar as soon as possible.”
Quenser pulled a clay-like explosive out of his backpack and looked out from below the truck while stabbing a rod-shaped fuse into it.
He was looking for the Perfect Idol wearing the powered suit.
“Hey, hey! Can you still move? I’m going to blow snow into the air with a bomb in the place of smoke. Run to the front armored vehicle in the time that gives us!”
“That armored vehicle has already been destroyed!” she replied.
“That’s why you need to pull off just the turret! It fires based on an electric signal. You can fire it just by pressing together the torn off cords!”
Quenser crawled out from under the truck and threw the Hand Axe plastic explosive onto the snow. The powered suit was caught in the explosion, but the thick armor protected the Perfect Idol so she could run to the armored vehicle.
Heivia shouted from behind Quenser, “That won’t work, you idiot!! That’s an 80mm anti-personnel turret on the armored vehicle. It may look like a tank, but it’s only meant to tear human flesh apart with shrapnel. It doesn’t have the penetrative power needed to pierce the armor of those armored vehicles!!”
“I know that!” shouted Quenser as he crawled completely out from under the truck.
He stood up and ran toward the destroyed armored vehicle while keeping his hips low.
Several shells fell a short distance away from him.
They had not missed. The GPS mortar was very accurate. They were taking the lives of soldiers other than Quenser. It simply meant he was a low priority target who would be targeted later.
After the powered suit pulled the turret off of the top of the armored vehicle, Quenser climbed below the suit. The shells were normally loaded automatically, but they could be manually ejected in case it jammed. Quenser pulled the thick lever and the loaded shell fell onto the snow.
The shell was about the size of three two liter thermoses stacked end on end. It was as heavy as if it was filled with metal.
“What are you doing?” asked the Perfect Idol.
“Switching out the fuse.”
Quenser opened the tip of the shell with a tool, replaced the fuse inside with one of the radio-controlled ones he usually used, and closed the cover.
He used his shoulders to forcibly lift up the shell and somehow managed to reload the shell despite his lower back letting out a cry of pain.
“Direction: 3409! Angle: 13 degrees!”
“That will not reach the troop transport vehicles being used as shields. It will fall before reaching them,” warned the Perfect Idol.
“That’s the point!” Quenser operated a tool below the turret, severed a few cords, and grabbed them in his hands. “Hold it in place. I’m about to fire!”
As soon as contact was made between the exposed wires, an explosive noise rang out.
Quenser was sent flipping over in the snow and the powered suit collapsed backwards, unable to withstand the shock.
He held onto his radio despite not being able to see where the shell was going. What mattered was the timing, not the exact location of the shell.
As the Perfect Idol had said, the shell did not reach the troop transport vehicles hiding the GPS mortar. It fell onto the snow in front of them.
But since he had swapped out the fuse, it did not detonate when it landed.
And what would it do then?
The force of landing was not enough to counteract the momentum from the tremendous speed at which it had been fired. The shell bounced. It bounced like a soccer ball that had been forcefully kicked.
It bounced right over the troop transport vehicles.
Right after it did, Quenser pressed the button on his radio.
The shell scattered hundreds of pieces of shrapnel while it was directly above the GPS mortar and the soldiers operating it.
“The GPS mortar has been silenced. Damn, that hurt my ears. This must be what it feels like for a deep sea fish to come up on land,” muttered Quenser as he lay flat on the white snow. He then shook his head and shouted, “Heivia! Check how many soldiers are still alive and if any trucks are still usable! Oh, and move out of the way, Miss Idol! Your giant ass almost crushed me!!”
“That is sexual harassment.”
“Don’t be stupid! Seeing that giant hunk of metal isn’t going to turn me on in the slightest!!”
Quenser struggled up to his feet, but very few soldiers were gathering around him. There had been about 150 of them to begin with and now only 10% of that remained.
“Were the crew for the trucks and armored vehicles taken out?”
“It seems the shrapnel from the mortars was enough to penetrate the trucks’ reinforced glass. The crew for the armored vehicle up front was taken out. Opening up the hatch to fire a machine gun turned out to be a bad idea. The shockwaves made their way inside.”
The survivors were not battle-hardened professionals. They were nothing but medics and supply soldiers with chef licenses. And Quenser himself was not much better.
Heivia trudged through the deep snow as he approached.
His expression was not one of relief.
“This is bad! We need to get out of here! Their main force is coming!”
“Their main force?”
“The GPS mortar was just supposed to hold us in place, remember!? From the number of troop transport vehicles, I would say there are 60 or 70 of them. With a group like this, we’ll just be mowed down!! I don’t know what this secret material is, but there’s no way we can push them back while protecting it!!”
Quenser used his thumb to point at the Perfect Idol inside her thick armor.
“If these are normal infantrymen, can’t we do something with our powered suit?”
“It just takes one shot from a shoulder-fired missile to deal with her! And what kind of armaments does our idol have? What’s inside the container case on the back of her left shoulder!?”
“Hm? A Morning Star and a few magazines,” she replied.
“Why that of all things!? That grenade machinegun tops the list for friendly fire!!”
Basically, it was a weapon that fired coffee can-sized grenades like a machinegun. Since it was heavy and had a lot of recoil, it was usually fixed on a stand or attached to a helicopter or armored vehicle.
“I was told it had the high score for attacks on terrorist compounds,” said the Perfect Idol.
“That’s just because the blasts fill up the narrow areas inside buildings. In a powered suit, you can just ignore the anti-personnel shrapnel, but any allies around you will be swallowed up by the storm of shrapnel.”
“I have a secondary 5mm sniper round I can use if the enemy soldier is near a hostage or computer.”
“But can you switch back and forth between rounds when bastards are popping out left and right as if from jack-in-the-boxes? You’ll just blow the rest of us to pieces. I don’t want to end up in a textbook as a cautionary example!”
Heivia could be surprisingly modest when his own life was on the line, but this was not a situation where they could be picky.
He began trembling when he saw the Perfect Idol pull that dangerous weapon out of the container case.
With a tone that made it sound like she was simply chatting, she asked, “How about we fight while using the secret material as a shield?”
“We’re outnumbered. There’s nothing we can do if they surround us and attack from multiple directions.”
“Hey, hey,” said Quenser to get the other boy’s attention. “Heivia, we need to go around to our fallen comrades and gather all the weapons that can fire over 1000 meters such as sniper rifles and rocket launchers. Then we scatter and leave this spot.”
“So we abandon Operation Christmas Boot?” asked the Perfect Idol.
“Fighting while protecting all of that stuff will be hard. And the same goes for the enemy.” He pointed at the military trucks. “So we’ll just swap the situation around. We give them the trucks and then fire our long range weapons from multiple directions to wear down their numbers. …Even if we’re outnumbered, the Information Alliance won’t be able to use their numbers properly while guarding those trucks.”
Quenser’s strategy was a success.
Not only did they target the enemy at a distance from multiple directions, but they also buried spare plastic explosives and shells from the armored vehicles under the snow before their temporary retreat. The two-waved attack of bullets from the distance and explosions beneath their feet was enough to rout the Information Alliance.
“How many times greater was their force? If this wasn’t a covert mission, wouldn’t this earn us medals?”
“Not necessarily. We’ll be fleeing back to the base with 70% losses. And there are still more of them than us.”
“They might call in reinforcements,” pointed out the Perfect Idol. “We should get aboard the trucks and head to the military airport.”
And so Quenser and the others chose new drivers to make use of the convoy of military trucks.
But before they began driving, they heard the sound of thunder clouds in the distance.
The temperature was minus 20 degrees, but Quenser still felt an unpleasant sweat appear on his skin.
“Not good… Not good!!”
“Hey, Quenser. Don’t tell me that noise is…!”
“It is! It’s a static electricity propulsion device. An Object is headed this way!!”
Something huge suddenly appeared from behind the mountains.
Its giant form was several dozen meters tall. It had over 100 different cannons. It was a giant weapon equipped with thick armor that could withstand a direct hit from an MIRV meant to destroy large cities. That mass of steel was the symbol of war, but it seemed somehow different from the ones Quenser and the others had seen previously.
The spherical main body had been done away with for a more streamlined shape that resembled a rugby ball.
Its primary propulsion device was shaped similarly to a giant sled, but it also had several objects similar to rocket engines attached to the back of the main body.
“What is that? A Second Generation Object focused on speed?”
“The Object’s main body is spherical so that it can withstand large scale attacks from all directions including from nuclear landmines buried in the ground. This one has abandoned that possibility. This model had the front armor strengthened to focus on fighting other Objects because a nuclear attack is unthinkable in this day and age. The idea behind its design is different from the other models we’ve seen.”
This made the armor on the sides thinner than any of the other Objects they had seen and Quenser had a feeling it might be possible for old-style weapons to damage it, but he had no intention of battling that monster head on. Just looking at it told him its mobility was likely excellent. Once it noticed them, they could not escape it in trucks driving over the snow.
But luckily Quenser and the others still had the opportunity to escape left.
“Hey, what is that sound? Another one’s coming… Wait, isn’t that…!?”
“It is the Baby Magnum,” said the Perfect Idol.
“Shit. We’re in the middle of a covert mission. The princess and the others probably don’t know we’re here. If they start a battle here, we’ll be caught in the middle of it!!”
The surviving soldiers frantically climbed aboard the military trucks and started the engines. Heivia got in one driver’s seat, Quenser got in the adjacent passenger seat, and the powered suit got in the back. The truck noticeably slanted backwards.
“Hey, hey, hey! The Information Alliance’s rugby ball is turning a cannon this way! It’s probably spotted us!!”
“If we just head across the broad snowy field to the military airport, we’ll just get shot, won’t we!?”
“It seems to be focusing more on its battle with the princess right now, but I think it’s waiting for a chance to attack us. It might also be hesitating because it doesn’t know which truck has the secret material aboard. An Object's attack is too powerful.”
“But how do we lose it? That thing is a mass of radars and sensors. Even if mountainous areas can cut off signals, we won’t disappear so easily.”
“Since you’re in the passenger seat, you take care of the navigation!” Heivia used one hand to operate the steering wheel and used the other to operate the truck’s navigation device. While looking at a small screen, he said, “Here we go, here we go. There’s a tunnel. Tunnels were dug all throughout the mountains to act as shortcuts back when this was used as a ski resort. Its like a maze inside. We have to head in there!!”
Quenser used the truck’s radio to inform the other trucks. As they drove full speed over the short distance to the tunnel, the two Objects began their battle.
The Information Alliance’s rugby ball had the high mobility Quenser had expected, but it also possessed formidable ability in its quick footwork.
“Wah!? Quenser, did you see that!?”
“Eight lasers suddenly bent and surrounded the Baby Magnum!?”
Quenser’s naked eyes were only able to see the afterimage of the orange striation of snow crystals being torn apart. But that image of the past that burned through his eyelids provided more than enough of an impact to fill him with raw fear.
Those laser weapons that could attack at the speed of light were like the grim reaper to even the old-style of weapons, so the age itself had left flesh-and-blood soldiers far, far behind.
“Is it scattering a powder of photonic crystal? Since it can control the direction so accurately in this raging wind, they might be using some kind of nanotechnology.”
“How was the princess able to evade that? She determines when the enemy will fire from the motion of the enemy and its cannons, right? I don’t see how that method could allow her to deal with lasers that bend at a right angle.”
“Something has to be interfering with the light. She might be able to determine where that something is located using active ultraviolet sensors or something.”
The princess was firing in areas that had nothing to do with the rugby ball itself and that may have been a means of destroying that something ahead of time.
But that means was bad news for those caught on the battlefield.
The shells that missed fell here and there on the battlefield, creating craters. And naturally Quenser and the others’ direction was no exception.
“Dammit! We’re gonna die!! They need to be kinder to the earth!! The planet’s gonna split in two!!”
“Hey, Heivia. Which would you prefer to be killed by: your enemy’s cannon or your ally’s!?”
As Heivia somehow managed to control the military truck even as it began to slide to the side ominously, the convoy charged into the tunnel.
“It’s pitch black in here! Come to think of it, this is practically suicide!!”
“Slow down. We’re slowing down!” shouted Heivia into the truck’s radio. “We have no idea where there’s been a cave-in! The trucks’ headlights won’t be enough to see. Someone needs to get out in front of the trucks and check for fallen rocks or a cave-in!! Quenser, you’re not doing anything, so you get to do it!! In fact, everyone not driving get out!!”
Quenser opened the passenger side door that had been bent in the GPS mortar attack and got out. He also saw the Perfect Idol step down from the back of the truck in her powered suit.
“I can still see my breath, but it feels quite a bit warmer than before. Is that because the wind can’t reach us in here?”
“What is the tunnel like from here on?” asked the Perfect Idol.
“It’s not just a straight path. Several tunnels intersect so there are several paths to an exit. If we can get to the other side of the mountain, we should at least be hidden from that rugby ball’s sensors.”
“The main problem is whether the path to the exit has been blocked by a cave-in or not.”
“If only we knew for sure we had a path to an exit. Then we could use explosives to seal this entrance.”
And so Quenser and the others walked in front of the slowly moving military trucks to check for obstacles. Large pieces of concrete had fallen here and there. When they pointed their lights upwards, they saw several large cracks running through the tunnel ceiling. The pieces had fallen from there.
“…Just a fragment falling from there could probably split your skull open.”
Since two 50 meter Objects were clashing outside, it was not something they wanted to see. The tunnel would shake eerily every time one of the Objects fired. If a coilgun or something similar was fired directly at the mountain, the entire tunnel would likely collapse on them.
“So how far are we going to have to circle around to reach the military airport after crossing the mountain? Maybe we should have gathered rations from our fallen comrades.”
“One of the surviving soldiers has a chef’s license,” said the Perfect Idol.
“But what is he going to make food out of? What lives in these tunnels? Rats? Bats?”
Quenser shined his light on the tunnel wall and saw “7 km to the exit” written in scratched writing. It was a horrible distance given the circumstances. They had to be constantly watching their footing and trembling in fear of a cave-in while pushing the concrete fragments to the sides of the tunnel. He would have preferred taking inventory in a store.
“Keep up the good work, Miss Idol!”
“Yes, men who do not follow a ‘ladies first’ mindset are worth less than dog shit in the Legitimacy Kingdom.”
They made their way three kilometers through the tunnel while Quenser left the heavy lifting to his work partner. At that point, they reached an intersection between several tunnels.
Quenser shined his light around and said, “Are you kidding me? Not only are we in this dark tunnel, but we have to go with no traffic signal or stops. I hope everyone managed to stick together. They should call these things the demonic tunnels or something.”
“I detect a light source,” said the Perfect Idol as she used her powered suit’s default sensors. “It’s a metal drum. A few cinders are left over inside it. It seems someone frantically tried to put out a fire when they noticed us approaching.”
“I see it, I see it. …A truck is parked near the drum.”
Quenser reported the situation to the convoy and Heivia replied, “Is it from the Information Alliance?”
“How should I know? But it’s definitely a civilian model. It just looks like a beat-up truck from a battlefield country.”
Something happened before he could continue.
A gunshot rang out and sparks flew from the Perfect Idol’s powered suit.
Quenser frantically dove behind her.
“We were fired on!”
“Is it the Information Alliance or the local people!?”
“I don’t know, but they fired on us!!”
“Then fire back! Neutralize them!!”
“No! What if they’re just civilians hiding here!? We’re the ones intruding!!”
The Perfect Idol he was using as a shield sighed and spoke through her speaker.
“That isn’t something you should say while hiding behind a girl.”
“Shut up! Just stay where you are. Dammit!”
The powered suit casually waved its 150 cm grenade machinegun in one hand.
“Should I take them out with my Morning Star?”
“Whatever you do, stop her, Quenser!” shouted Heivia. “Don’t let that amateur use that firepower that tops the lists for friendly fire!!”
But Quenser did not reply. While hiding behind the powered suit, he pulled out some Hand Axe plastic explosive.
“Hey, what are you doing?”
“Heivia! Throw me a pair of sniper earmuffs! I’m sure we have extra equipment with so much fewer soldiers!!”
Quenser could see something tossed toward him from the direction of the bright headlights. They looked like headphones but had no cord. Quenser put it on, pulled the Hand Axe out from his backpack, and stabbed a fuse into a small piece he tore off.
The Perfect Idol said something, but he could not hear her through the soundproofed earmuffs.
Whatever she had said, Quenser threw the plastic explosive in the direction the gunshots were coming from. The bomb fell to the ground before it reached the source of the sounds, but he pressed the button on his radio nevertheless.
He heard an explosion.
All of the gunfire stopped as soon as that great noise that pierced through the earmuffs rang out.
Quenser removed the earmuffs and said, “It’s nothing but an acoustic effect, you idiots. And it works instantly in an enclosed tunnel like this.”
“Dammit, Quenser!” shouted Heivia. “Tell us before you do something like that! You knocked out some of our guys too!!”
“Then we just have to wake up our guys and we win.”
Quenser and the Perfect Idol headed ahead of everyone else to the unknown force of people who had been firing on them. They found a large civilian truck, a metal drum stuffed with old magazines being used for a fire, and men wearing work uniforms collapsed on the ground.
“This isn’t enough to tell whether they’re civilians, local guerrillas, or camouflaged Information Alliance soldiers.”
“The truck is carrying unexploded shells. It's filled with them,” reported the Perfect Idol.
“That doesn’t tell us much either. They could be volunteers and they might have just been using it as camouflage for another mission like we were.”
Heivia spoke up over the radio, “They’re amateurs. They’re the ones that fired on us first. Professionals wouldn’t fire normal bullets against a thick powered suit. The first bullet would have blown Quenser’s head off.”
“Really. Anyway, tie them up and toss them aside. Those unexploded shells might be useful. If we swap out the fuses, we can add them to our firepower. We can also take the beat-up civilian truck.”
“So we’re going to steal from civilians?”
“They definitely fired on us, so I see no reason we should be that gentlemanly.”
One of their surviving comrades that could drive large vehicles climbed aboard the civilian truck. They drove slowly for fear of a further attack, but no obvious firefights occurred afterwards. Eventually, light from outside the tunnel faintly illuminated the exit.
“With the mountain in between, we should be able to slip past the Object’s sensors and radar to a certain extent. And with multiple exits from the tunnels, they can’t know which one we’ll exit through. Even if we have to make a wide circle around the battlefield, we need to head for the military airport while keeping out of sight of that Object,” said Heivia.
“How many degrees below zero is it outside? You make it sound like we’re safe now, but we aren’t going to freeze partway there, are we?”
“I think we have better odds winning against the weather than that Object.”
But as soon as they exited the tunnel, the thick layer of snow before their eyes was suddenly evaporated.
An explosively expanding mass of steam pushed Quenser back and he fell right back into the tunnel.
An area 50 meters back and 2 to 3 kilometers across of the white scenery had been liquefied, exposing the muddy dirt.
“What the hell was that!?”
“All the snow was evaporated for several meters ahead of us…?”
“It was the Object. It used that refracting laser to fire over the mountain and cut off our route!!”
With that giant mountain in between, the Object’s sensors and radar waves should have been reflected back.
“GPS,” said Quenser as he brought a hand to his forehead. “The Information Alliance was using a satellite to support that mortar. That means they can do the same for the Object. They can peer down at us from above like into a doll house, so having a mountain in between doesn’t matter!!”
The Perfect Idol gasped within her powered suit and said, “But then we can’t escape. If these military trucks are already marked, they will know where we are and attack no matter what route we take!!”
And if a single Object laser so much as grazed them, both humans and trucks would be turned to ash.
“What do we do, Quenser?” asked Heivia. “Head back into the tunnel?”
“They know where we are. In that case, we should assume they have infantrymen heading through the tunnels. Heading back in will just let them clean us out like these tunnels are bath pipes.” As he spoke, Quenser headed for the beat-up civilian truck filled with unexploded shells. “Miss Idol, you use your ridiculous strength to scrape the metal down to a powder and pack it in plastic bags. I’ll swap out all of the fuses in these used goods. If we scatter metal dust into the air, it might cut off their signal.”
A bomb would not explode without a fuse. The method to make an unexploded shell safe was to remove the fuse. But that also meant they could be made to detonate once more by attaching a new fuse.
“Will that really work? There’s a blizzard raging out there. The chaff will be scattered in no time at all,” warned Heivia.
“How about we reload the secret material into the civilian truck? I know it’s a cheap trick, but it’s better than just using the military trucks.”
The idol in the powered suit started by loading the metal containers of the secret material. Quenser started using his tools to force open the tip of the unexploded shells, but then he heard a loud noise from behind him.
It seemed one of the containers being loaded had fallen to the tunnel floor.
“Hey, stop that, Miss Idol! The work I’m doing is more delicate than cleaning out your ears. Do you want me to blow us all up!?”
“Wait, come look at this.”
“What? Are you going to strip for me?”
Quenser turned around while continuing his work, but then he froze in place.
The metal container’s latch had come open when it had fallen and the secret material had spilled out.
It was a silver metal. It was in the form of brick-like blocks and each individual block was vacuum packed in plastic. Two letters of the alphabet and a purity had been engraved on the surface of the metal blocks that came rolling out.
“Li…Lithium? It’s a 99.999% ingot.”
“Wait, wait, wait! Another rare earth?” shouted Heivia.
“The market price is less stable than that of pure gold or platinum, so I thought it was ill suited to use for savings,” said the Perfect Idol. “A single piece of news about research into alternative materials can greatly affect its value.”
“But that also means it’s a great commodity for speculation in stocks or futures.”
The containers had filled three military trucks. That was about 20 tons.
“What’s its market price today?”
“How should I know?” replied Heivia. “I don’t like looking through all those detailed numbers in the newspaper. But I do know mining in the five great salt lakes was stopped, so it’s skyrocketing. I heard its worth ten or twenty times what it was four years ago. Even with a cheaper estimate, a mountain of the stuff like this is probably worth more than a villa on the Aegean Sea. Of course, the value could drop like a rock depending on what happens.”
“This is the secret to this covert mission?”
“Is it the secret savings of some high military official?” asked the Perfect idol. “But where did the money come from?”
“From the unexploded shells probably,” said Heivia through the radio. “We may have used it as a cover, but the units at the military airport usually deal with that mission. And tax money is needed to pay for it. …But those amateurs we ran across a bit ago were doing it too.”
“So they force the work on the local people to cut labor costs and pocket the savings. They converted it into difficult-to-trace speculative lithium for money laundering purposes and then put it on a stealth bomber to carry it to a safe location.”
“But the stealth bomber was shot down by a fellow Legitimacy Kingdom surface-to-air missile where the Information Alliance is able to interfere?”
It all seemed to make sense.
But something still seemed odd.
“But then how did the Information Alliance learn about the secret material?” asked Quenser. “If the Object’s radar or the satellite had simply spotted enemy soldiers, they would not have fired a warning shot to stop us. We would have been wiped out in a single shot. They seemed oddly cautious about the trucks. Don’t tell me this means what I think it does…”
“So all of this was part of the plan, including handing the lithium over to the Information Alliance?” groaned Heivia. “It can probably all be summed up in the word ‘bribery’. They cannot hand money over to an enemy nation in the form of cash. But this lithium is a secret material that ‘does not officially exist’. And our mission is considered a secret. If we die, we won’t even be counted on the official list of war dead. And so…!”
“There is nothing that can officially be done if the lithium we are transporting is taken by the Information Alliance,” added the Perfect Idol. “They are using the fact that this is a covert mission that does not officially exist.”
“Are you saying everything from the bomber being shot down to the Background Unit being attacked was nothing but a safe method for a Legitimacy Kingdom officer to hand this money over to the Information Alliance? Operation Christmas Boot was nothing more than a way to give a present to an enemy nation? Over 100 of us died!! This was all just some stupid traitor trying to help the enemy!?”
Lithium would melt at 179 degrees, but there was a risk of it burning away if that was done in air. That may have been why the Object did not want to end everything with a bombardment. No one wanted to turn their high-priced prize to ash.
“I can’t believe this! How expendable do these people see us as? If we stick with this mission, not a single one of us will be left. Some fatass is lining his pockets using our lives!!” shouted Heivia.
Quenser fell silent.
He traced his finger across the surface of the unexploded shell he had started to exchange the fuse in.
“One of the supply soldiers has a chef’s license, right? Bring him here.”
“Are you planning to destroy a second generation Object with nothing but a wok and a spatula? Or will you need some sesame oil and doubanjiang, too?”
“No,” he immediately replied. “What I need is engine oil, some metal containers, and the liquid nitrogen used when removing the fuses.”
“The piece of shit officer who ordered the Background Unit to do this is waiting for us to run into the Information Alliance unit or its Object and be annihilated. In that case, what we need to do to win is obvious: we just have to find a way to avoid fighting either of them.”
The Information Alliance military satellite instantly spotted the large truck exiting the tunnel.
But it was not a military truck. It was a beat-up civilian truck. The back canopy had been removed and a large number of unexploded shells were visible in the back.
There was no sign of the lithium ingots.
Hiding such massive pieces of metal was not easy. They could be hidden under the clothes of the soldiers scattered around the truck and attached below the truck’s body, but that would only count for a tenth of the total amount.
They may have given up.
That was the conclusion the Information Alliance satellite officer came to. The Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers must have been aware they were being watched from the sky because they were looking up and waving their rifles with white handkerchiefs attached to the barrel. (However, the handkerchiefs had frozen in the cold.)
The satellite officer contacted the Second Generation Snipe Laser 051.
“It appears the Background Unit we were told about is headed to a civilian residential area in the Athabasca district rather than the Legitimacy Kingdom military airport. International law does not allow an Object to attack a residential area. This is our last chance to attack.”
“Checking on the undeniable sign of their surrender comes first. They have likely left their military trucks and lithium ingots in the tunnel. As long as we can retrieve them, nothing else matters.”
“So we let them go?”
“Deserting on the battlefield is a serious crime in any nation. Our interference is not needed.”
With a crackle of static, another transmission cut in.
It was from their “customer” in the Legitimacy Kingdom.
“Have you confirmed receipt of your payment?”
“We are doing so right now, lieutenant colonel. We will open the air route after we do,” said the satellite officer while beginning to think to himself.
The situation was not good.
The Snipe Laser 051 was a collection of cutting edge laser technology. It had overwhelming speed and high power laser cannons that’s lasers could be freely bent using photonic crystals. It had been shown to have a use beyond simply fighting in battles.
Namely, it could block an air route.
The anti-air lasers equipped on the Object were the natural enemy of all forms of aircrafts. But by determining what route the Object’s giant form would take and obstructing its path with an Object of your own, you could secure an air route for passenger planes.
The Snipe Laser 051 was a Second Generation Object with laser attacks that could be complexly bent and overwhelming speed bought at the expense of the ability to withstand a nuclear attack from any direction. That made it not too difficult to slip through the gaps in the existing pressure tactics and shoot down a passenger plane on a supposedly safe air route.
When the Legitimacy Kingdom had become aware of this threat, it had offered the lithium. In exchange, the Information Alliance would promise not to interfere with the air routes in the Athabasca district using the Snipe Laser 051. That was the agreement.
At first glance, it appeared to be a victory for the Information Alliance’s technology.
If Objects with the same concept as the Snipe Laser 051 were mass produced, the state of the war could seemingly be turned completely around.
(But the Information Alliance’s conservatives do not like the Snipe Laser 051 with its armor that cannot withstand a nuke. If it takes any actions that stand out too much, it could be surrounded and have concentrated fire poured on it. The Snipe Laser 051 focuses its defenses towards the front, so it is weak to attacks from multiple directions at once.)
The Snipe Laser 051 was certainly part of a new age, but the age was unable to keep up with it and was therefore tripping it up.
In that way, it may have been an Object forced to bear a certain type of tragedy.
“The infantrymen have discovered the military trucks in the tunnel,” reported the Elite.
“Hurry it up,” said the Legitimacy Kingdom officer. “If the soldiers you overlooked send an SOS to the military airport, we will have to send out a search team.”
“They have found 50 containers. Just as we were told. …But what is the meaning of this, lieutenant colonel?”
“The containers are empty. There is nothing inside. Where is the promised lithium?”
“Impossible… I made sure it was inside! I know! Those survivors must have taken it with them! That is the only explanation!!”
“But how? That truck had nothing but unexploded shells inside. I do not think there was enough space to hide that much lithium.”
The satellite officer sighed.
He had a good idea what had happened.
Lithium would melt at 179 degrees. And the explosives in the shells could be melted and removed by heating them in hot water.
In other words, the explosives in those giant bombs had been melted and removed and then the melted lithium had been poured in instead.
If lithium was heated in the air, it would burn. But if a small container was placed inside a larger container, the liquid nitrogen used for removing fuses from shells was returned to a gas and used to fill them, the trucks’ engine oil or something similar was heated up like cooking oil, and the lithium was immersed in it, it was possible. If the group had someone with some skill as a cook, it could be easily pulled off.
But the satellite officer had no obligation to faithfully report that conclusion just because he had determined the answer.
He was from the Information Alliance and they were from the Legitimacy Kingdom.
He would speak with them when it benefitted him, but he would cut off contact when it no longer benefitted him. He would only reward them when the payment offered was provided.
“Now then, lieutenant colonel,” said the Elite. “Since the promised payment has not reached us, our actions are limited.”
“Wait! They have to be somewhere. The lithium ingots have to be somewhere! N-no, I can prepare more money if you need it. So please!!”
“First, we need to leave a clear sign. A sign showing what happens to those who make fools of us. And lieutenant colonel, we know the location of your transport plane… Do you catch my drift?”
The Snipe Laser 051 was disliked by some of the higher ups of the Information Alliance because it was too cutting edge.
But the means of escaping that situation were quite simple:
Earn enough victories that the higher ups had no choice but to admit its usefulness.
“He was just blown away.”
“That he was. Doesn’t this make us terrorists?”
A bright flash of light as if from welding could be seen in an area of the white snowy sky. It was all they could see of an anti-air laser roasting a transport plane. The main dish was of course the Legitimacy Kingdom lieutenant colonel who had ordered the Background Unit to their deaths.
Quenser, Heivia, and the others were not in the Legitimacy Kingdom military airport. They were instead in the city of Maple Queen, a civilian residential area in the Athabasca district. It had originally been a small town filled with lines of short buildings only 3 to 5 stories tall, but a lot of run-down houses had been constructed on top of those flat roofs, creating a very chaotic picture. The disorderly construction and piles of snow on top had even caused some of the buildings to collapse.
The roads were not in a normal state either. Some areas were blocked by the collapsed buildings and vehicles would sometimes drive through buildings that had lost their walls.
“Our mission was to transport the secret material to the military airport, not to be killed by the Information Alliance so they could retrieve the secret material. Their containers may have changed, our route may have been greatly altered, and the time schedule may have been thrown way off, but that isn’t enough to court martial us.”
“I see. So we can say we did our duty as long as we bring these unexploded shells to the military airport.” Heivia tapped on the bed of the beat-up civilian truck. “But are we really going to do the right thing and bring it in? This is worth more than a villa on the Aegean Sea.”
“Of course we are. But our mission was only to transport the secret material to the military airport. No one is left there who wants it, so who’s to say we can’t just load it onto our flight home?”
“That’s just wrong.”
“Yeah, it is,” agreed Quenser before beating on the nearby powered suit with his palm. “Let’s get something to eat before swapping out vehicles. We’ll buy something for you, so watch the truck.”
“I want a teriyaki burger,” replied the Perfect Idol.
“That’ll have a bite to it after nothing but flavorless rations. Let’s go, Heivia.”
Quenser and Heivia left the truck and headed for the filthy supermarket on foot.
“I wonder where we’ll be sent next. Will we be stuck in the Background Unit? It’s been pretty much destroyed.”
“Wherever we go, it’ll be hell. Even if the rate for that lithium is low, we should hurry up and cash it in and put the money in an electronic bank account. We don’t want it to be confiscated due to the restrictions on personal possessions.”
“Is there no way we could end up heading to a clean and safe office district where we would wear suits?”
“I don’t care where we go as long as it isn’t South America. The Amazon district would be the worst.”
“Read a newspaper sometime, you idiot. The Royal Duel to determine the successor to the throne of the Volga district is going to be held there. That means there will be a clash between Objects. I don’t want to end up caught in the middle of that.”
However, worthless soldiers like Heivia and Quenser had no say in where they were deployed. Since worrying about it would do nothing to help, they decided to forcibly change the subject.
“Hey, Quenser. What do people eat around here? Salmon? Seals?”
“Burger restaurants are the same the world over. I’m more worried about whether they’ll accept Legitimacy Kingdom euros or not.”
“A dirty battlefield country will have money-exchangers everywhere.”
But they were ultimately unable to purchase any burgers with their euros.
This was because the civilian truck loaded with lithium behind them suddenly exploded.
In all seriousness, they stopped breathing. Not only that, they were thrown several meters forward. Unable to stop their momentum, they continued to roll across the snow. Once they stopped, they looked at the site of the explosion while still collapsed on the ground. There was too much dust in the air to see the civilian truck. The wall of a nearby building had been completely ripped off. The powered suit with its thick armor was collapsed on the ground. It had to have been almost in the middle of the blast, but its armor must have been enough because its thick fingers were repeatedly twitching.
“Cough, cough! Shit, what was that? Wasn’t that our truck!?”
“There was no reason it should have exploded! All of the shells were filled with lithium. We made sure it was airtight with nitrogen and rubber, so it should have been stable!!”
“Then why did it blow up!?”
Quenser bit his lip slightly at Heivia’s question.
He began speaking as he got up from the snow that was strewn with fragments of wreckage.
“I can think of only one possibility: the truck was switched out with a different one at some point.”
“Switched out! The truck was moving slowly through this residential area and all its complex additions. Only the driver was onboard. We were scattered around protecting it. If that driver was an enemy, they could have secretly switched out the truck with an identical model while driving through one of the half-collapsed buildings!”
The truck and unexploded shells Quenser and the others had used were originally from that civilian city. If someone had given advance notice, it would not have been difficult to prepare an identical truck and shells.
That meant they knew what they had to look into first.
“We swapped out different drivers in shifts, right? Who was driving last?”
“The guy with the chef’s license. You know, the one who heated the engine oil to melt the lithium.”
“Then he’s the one that betrayed us.”
“Who is that damn cook working with!? The Information Alliance!?”
“If they knew the unexploded shells had the lithium in them, that rugby ball would not have let us leave. They would have used their infantrymen to slaughter us and take the lithium.”
“Then who’s the enemy here!?”
“How should I know!?” spat out Quenser. “But whoever they are, how did they detonate the shells? Was it a time bomb? No. They had no idea when we would realize the truck had been switched out. They would want to erase all evidence by blowing it away at the timing of their choice, so they definitely used a radio signal.”
“How does that help u-…Wait a second.”
“That’s right, Heivia. A radio signal wouldn’t reach far in this winding slum. …He’s nearby. The bastard that pressed the button is nearby! If we can capture him, we should be able to figure out who it is!!”
Heivia grabbed the assault rifle hanging from his shoulder and looked around the area.
On the second floor of a dirty building, a man peering out a window in their direction moved back at the sight of the gun barrel. But he was not simply panicking. It was a slight difference in behavior, but he was clearly assuming the barrel would soon be pointed in his direction.
Trusting in the penetrative power of the assault rifle, Heivia fired a short burst toward the wall of the second story, but he doubted he hit the man. He heard the sound of a window shattering on the reverse side of the building. The two boys frantically ran in that direction and saw the man jumping down.
Their eyes met for an instant, but the man did not hesitate to turn tail and flee.
Heivia clicked his tongue.
“Dammit, I can’t fire! This rifle is too powerful. The risk of hitting a civilian is too great!!”
Heivia grabbed his handgun instead and Quenser stabbed a fuse into a plastic explosive to get the civilians behind cover, but the man was already gone.
But they still had a clue.
When the man had jumped down from the second story, his jacket had been blown open. And that had revealed a distinctive sign hidden around the man’s neck.
“…Did you see that, Quenser?”
“Yeah, scars from stiches reaching completely around his neck.”
That was the sign of the Legitimacy Kingdom Unit that had disguised itself as the bodyguard unit known as the Night Edge Platoon on the Cook Addition Islands.
The 202nd Mobile Support Company.
The dark team rumored to carry out secret missions around the world. The unit that’s mystique had supposedly saved dying tabloids that started following them.