HEAVY OBJECT:Volume7 Chapter 2
Chapter 2: My Job is to Transport Paint >> Intelligence Battle in Oceania
“The situation is quite simple,” began Major Froleytia Capistrano in the pre-mission briefing room which was filled with soldiers. “The Information Alliance is turning false accusation against us and the Legitimacy Kingdom’s 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion intends to respond in full force. Beginning now, the entire battalion will prepare our response. They will be sending a second generation Object, so if you don’t want to die, help the princess score as many points as possible.”
Froleytia stood on a large platform and the white wall behind her was being used a projector screen.
Their greatest threat at the moment was displayed there.
“Our only confirmed enemy at the moment is the Information Alliance’s second generation Object named Simple Is Best. Its main cannon is a low-stability plasma cannon and its propulsion method is an air cushion for both naval and land use, but its most unique features are the pointed beak-shaped armor added to the front and the countless high-output ion thrusters attached for auxiliary propulsion.”
Several documents were displayed at once.
The intelligence division’s research and analysis of the Object had made enough progress for that much information.
Heivia leaned over and whispered to Quenser.
“(What were those high-output something or others?)”
“(A type of ion engine. Normally, ion engines are attached to space probes to provide weak but lengthy effects in zero-gravity, but this thing uses the energy of an Object’s reactor to forcibly produce an insane output. You can think of it like a space shuttle sitting on its side.)”
“(Why would they use such a pain-in-the-ass method?)”
“(There are several rumors about that. Some say the Information Alliance is trying to build a flying Object. Others say they’re trying to develop a perfect circulation system to search for habitable planets outside the solar system. Either way, the Simple Is Best is a project being used as a starting point.)”
“(What? I thought it was the Faith Organization that was desperate to make a flying Object. Wasn’t it called the Sky Castle Project or something? Instead of going with the more scientific-sounding ‘outer space’, they wanted a more religious-sounding ‘kingdom above the clouds’.)”
“(It’s nothing but a reckless project for the moment, but if another world power completes that great desire of theirs ahead of time, it would break the hearts of the Faith Organization’s people.)”
“(I see. Attacking at their weak spot like that does sound like the Information Alliance.)”
“(But I hope it all ends up as a pipe dream. A flying Object would be hard to shoot down and shooting it down might cause an impact on the level of an asteroid and cause an ice age.)”
Looking over the diagram told them the Simple Is Best had a V-shaped board-like part at the bottom and a long straight part extending from the back. Overall, it had an arrow-like shape. The spherical main body was essentially attached atop the three lines making up the arrow.
The V-shaped part was used to regulate the horizontal direction and the straight line on the back was used to provide space for the aforementioned high-output ion thrusters. Atop that long board like float, several cylindrical thrusters were attached at an angle. Each and every one of them was over twenty meters long.
“As the name suggests, the Object’s strategy is very simple. It does not try to evade at all. It ignores any damage, approaches its target along the shortest and fastest route, and fires its main cannon at almost point-blank range. Despite being an Object, its top speed reaches the sound barrier. Once targeted by it, your average Object cannot escape.”
“The sound barrier,” muttered Quenser who had become just one of the crowd. “But that thing’s a 200 thousand ton hunk of metal. Can it really maintain control while moving along the surface at the speed of sound?”
“Keep your comments to yourself, war criminal.”
“I can see that nickname sticking, so please stop calling me that!!” cried Quenser with tears in his eyes.
Froleytia ignored him and continued speaking.
“The beak-like armor on the front is a collection of extremely thin metal leaf. You could call it a crystallization of the best aspects of reactive armor technology. Whenever it detects an effective attack such as from a low-stability plasma cannon or railgun, the thin armor is detached to reduce the damage. If you keep at it and continue fire, it will eventually run out like a roll of toilet paper, but that is where its speed comes into play. While you are taking your time doing that, it will reach point-blank range. In other words, it will not take evasive actions. It will trust in the strength of its shield and charge in from the front, no matter what kind of main cannon it is up against.”
Its specs could make one think otherwise, but the enemy’s greatest feature was its armor rather than its speed. Even the Legitimacy Kingdom was already developing Objects that focused on speed and tried to approach within close range of the target. However, it was something else entirely to not take any evasive actions and stick to the shortest course no matter what.
This direct weapon would charge in on a straight line and endure any attack to the front.
And based on the difference in speed, the Baby Magnum could not escape.
Being targeted by that Object would essentially mean the end of the match.
“The aforementioned toilet paper is only equipped to the front of the Object. Attacks from the side, back, or above will get through just fine. …But the Simple Is Best will of course be aware of its own weakness. If the Baby Magnum tries to circle around, it will likely anticipate the action and adjust its position to compensate. The situation would be different if we had more than one Object as well, but we only have one at present. It will be extremely difficult to get behind the Simple Is Best due to its superior speed.”
Heivia had been casually listening, but then he frowned.
“Wait a sec.”
“What is it, war criminal #2?”
“At least make me #1! Being ranked under him is the biggest insult!!” he shouted before getting to his question. “Did you just say if we had more than one Object ‘as well’?”
“Oh, that.” Froleytia brushed up her bangs in annoyance. “According to some information the intelligence division got their hands on, the Information Alliance is trying to use the false accusations against us to contact the other world powers. They are suggesting they work together to defeat a common enemy. I do not know who will go along with it, but we might have to deal with more than one Object if someone wants to use this as an opportunity to damage the Legitimacy Kingdom.”
Quenser and Heivia grimaced.
The current age was known as one of clean wars fought by Objects. Objects influenced everything in those wars. The funds and technology poured into the opposing Objects was important, but the number of Objects was even more important. If it came down to one-against-three, the result was immediately obvious, so it was best to retreat as soon as possible.
“But any newcomers will simply be trying to take advantage of the situation. The Simple Is Best is the main pillar of the enemy force, so destroying it could easily convince the remaining Object or Objects not to stick around and bring even more damage to themselves.”
In that case, their primary target was the Simple Is Best.
To escape a disadvantageous battle against multiple Objects, their only option was to swiftly destroy that central pillar.
In the true desert away from the city and devoid of the asphalt and concrete that gathered heat, the nights grew cold quickly.
Quenser’s military uniform was made to handle the cold, but his teeth were chattering as he watched a 1seg broadcast on his military handheld device. The backlight dimly lit up his face as if he was holding a flashlight below his head.
“Oh ho ho. Welcome to the New York Miracle Net Festa! All of you around the world in front of your monitors, be charmed by this enchanting song and dance!! Yay!!”
“Yay!” shouted Quenser. “Bouncing breasts and a shaking ass!!”
“Quenser, you idiot! What are you watching in the middle of our night mission!?”
“It’s called escapism! I came to the battlefield to learn about Object design, so why am I freezing to death out in the desert!?”
“Just turn it off, you idiot! Do you want to die!? …No, wait. Let me see it before you turn it off!! Come to think of it, why do you have an invitation code to that net concert!?”
“I don’t know why, but I get emails from her a lot. She can monitor whether the code was used or not and she said she’d shoot me on the battlefield if I didn’t watch it.”
Suddenly, Quenser’s radio emitted a quick electronic tone.
The princess’s voice soon followed.
“Quenser, explain further.”
“Wow! I don’t know what’s going on, but the princess is pissed! Since she hasn’t realized her request to explain further contradicts that, she must be the type who doesn’t realize how angry she is. But why!?”
Quenser frantically asked Heivia for help, but his friend gave the wonderfully gentlemanly response of raising his middle finger and shouting “How should I know!! Maybe it’s divine punishment!!”
“All military transmissions are checked in the server, you know? What do you think you are doing there?” asked the princess.
“Wow!! Are you mad because I’m watching an Information Alliance idol’s ass on a mission against the Information Alliance? I didn’t realize you were such a stickler for the rules.”
Comments of “this is very bad” started coming from the other soldiers spread out across the desert whose names Quenser did not know.
“If you’re gonna go with divine punishment, keep it to him!! If you use your main cannon, you’ll blow me away too!!” shouted Heivia without even trying to hide his self-centered fears.
“Honestly, why are boys so easily manipulated by girls who sing? Anyone can sing.”
“I can’t let that comment go, princess. I hope I can expect great things of your singing ability. If you aren’t aware, a certain island nation has this thing called karaoke!!”
“(Twitch) …Y-you’re on.”
“You can kill me!! As long as he dies, I don’t care if you fire the Object’s cannons!!”
Quenser ignored Heivia’s shouting and pulled the night vision goggles down from his forehead.
His vision was digitally corrected and filled with green light.
But he continued to make desperate jokes.
“So it’s finally come to this. I’m dressed in all black and wearing night vision goggles.” In the moonlight and the chill that seemed to stab at him through the darkness, his breath was white. “All right! Now I’m part of the special forces! I’m the same as the Capitalist Corporations’ Hollywood movie stars. You can shake my hand at an amusement park!!”
“Hey, Quenser. Could you quit being so annoying and get down? If one of their snipers blows your head off, I’m not gathering your remains. They’d be too heavy.”
Heivia was dressed in an all-black uniform as well. He was lying face down on the fine sand while complaining to his rotten friend who was approaching the limit of what Heivia could put up with.
The desert was cold at night.
Some deserts were made of cracked earth and some were plains with a few weeds growing at about the thickness of a filthy middle-aged man’s half-grown beard, but the ones seen in sightseeing pamphlets that were covered in nothing but sand had a large temperature difference between day and night. Because it was midsummer, the temperature did not drop below freezing, but Heivia still clicked his tongue after stabbing an electric thermometer into the sand and reading the display.
“Six degrees. It’s six degrees Celsius. You could throw some fish out here without needing to refrigerate it. What the hell is going on?”
“I think the distance is a bigger problem,” said Quenser as he lay down on the sand. “We’re ten kilometers away. Why did we have to get off the truck so far away? This isn’t a carefully maintained sports field. Walking there and back is going to shorten my life.”
“Shut up. Don’t act like you could even run a city quarter marathon with plenty of water stations,” spat out Heivia. “At ground level, you can only see about five kilometers away. The earth is round, so the horizon covers up everything beyond that. But this is the empty desert. If the tires disturbed the sand and created a dust cloud as we travelled, it could poke up above the horizon.”
“I know what you’re trying to say, but shouldn’t the dedicated scouts handle these long-range reconnaissance missions? This doesn’t make sense. Everyone may have forgotten, but I’m only a student who wanted to learn about Object design on the battlefield.”
“And I’m a radar analyst! That’s an indoor job!! I’m supposed to have a cool intellectual position in an air conditioned room and a bottle of mineral water in hand, so how did I end up on this hellish picnic where I’m freezing my ass off in the desert!?”
Their commanding officer then contacted them over their radio.
Froleytia seemed to be as annoyed as them.
“Quiet down, war criminals. Do you really think you are in any position to choose your job? You should be thankful we actually need you.”
“Wow. I’ve been wondering. Shouldn’t we add a monitor to our radios? Then we could be supplied with someone – anyone – in a micro bikini.”
“You don’t get it, Heivia. This is the world of imagination. If everything is out in the open, it isn’t as arousing.”
“Okay, war criminals. Keep in mind that I can dock your pay for disrespect at any time.”
Quenser and Heivia solemnly prostrated themselves in front of the radio.
However, their apology was cheaper than a movie theater hot dog.
“(Quenser, this is because of your creepy comment about the world of imagination!)”
“(Are you sure it isn’t because of your comment about wanting ‘anyone’!?)”
“Sorry, but I can hear everything the two of you are saying.”
After having that pointed out, the two of them travelled through the desert night while keeping close to the ground.
The desert reflected the moonlight, so it was a bit brighter than a thick forest. However, Quenser had not undergone the basic training to receive the benefit of that. He had been relying solely on the overall greenish image produced by his night vision goggles.
“My eyes hurt. You aren’t supposed to have light shining on your eyes from so close. Are you sure this isn’t going to ruin my eyesight? Is the blue light really okay?”
“You’re complaining about that on a battlefield where you could be blown to pieces in one second? More importantly, we need to keep following the remains of the pipeline. We’re surrounded by nothing but desert, so we’d lose our way even with a map.”
Heivia pointed toward a two meter thick metal pipe a few hundred meters away. It continued in a straight line from the horizon behind them to the horizon in front of them. However, it was brown and rusted, it had large holes in places, and it simply disappeared for a while at some points.
“Is that a remnant of the old Oceanian military government?”
“Yeah. It was a pipeline that drew water up from deep underground and carried it to large-scale farms.”
“It isn’t for oil?”
“It’s what you call water resources. These days, the trendy thing to do is add ‘resources’ to something and find a way to make money off of it. As long as it makes money, it could be anything. Water resources, underground resources, power resources, food resources, human resources, sightseeing resources, living resources, forest resources, IP resources, and so on. It feels like they wouldn’t worry about endangered species if they didn’t have a price tag.”
“Sounds like something the Capitalist Corporations would love.”
“The Faith Organization would probably love this too. There are rumors of ghosts appearing at the ruins of the purification facilities and water gathering facilities the pipeline is centered around.”
“Are you sure it isn’t people searching for anything of value?”
“Honestly, I don’t know why I even mentioned it. There’s no point in a test of courage when there isn’t a single girl around.”
The desert was not level. It undulated like a stormy sea. When they did not choose their route carefully, they were forced to walk up and down large hills again and again. To avoid exerting unnecessary energy, they tried to choose the most level route possible.
“I feel like I’m lost on Mars.”
“This is better than that. I hear there’s tungsten buried below our feet.”
“Just to be clear, this isn’t gonna make you any money. It’s spread out too thinly for that. If this area had a valuable vein, the old military government would have dug it all up in search of funds.”
After continuing a little longer, they saw some faint light beyond the desert horizon.
Heivia crouched down even lower and whispered to Quenser.
“That’s gotta be it. They’re really going all out.”
“What is the Simple Is Best doing right now?”
“It is preparing to charge in from a position thirty kilometers from our maintenance base,” cut in Froleytia. “That’s much further out than that light you can see. It’s hiding beyond the horizon.”
There was no sign of any enemy soldiers, but the closer they approached their destination, the higher the risk of cameras and sensors. Quenser and Heivia hurried on while checking for those things using their night vision goggles’ sensors.
“This is insane,” said Quenser as he walked across the cold sand. “We haven’t heard anything back from the intelligence division team that went in ahead of us, right? Would you normally send a student somewhere that dangerous?”
“You are not the only one involved in this,” answered Froleytia.
“We are both professionals, so we need to be prepared for the worst case scenario. But if you run across the intelligence division team that screwed up there, take them back with you. Over.”
“I am not a professional! I’m a student!!”
Once they arrived within three kilometers of their destination, even those two idiots stopped speaking as much.
They began to crawl slowly across the undulating sand dunes. Once they arrived at the top of one dune, their vision opened up.
The night vision goggles’ display filled with fluorescent green.
Feeling a slight pain in his temples, Quenser raised the goggles to his forehead and used his naked eyes.
The dark and calm desert landscape had completely changed.
The brightness had come from countless lights, both large and small.
“Yeah, it’s just as we thought,” groaned Heivia.
The scene several kilometers ahead of them resembled a temporary supply base. What stood out the most were the twenty large truck-like vehicles. They also saw prefab lodgings for over one hundred soldiers, gondola-equipped cranes in place of watchtowers, a communications facility, and defensive weapons ranging from tanks to mobile surface-to-air missile vehicles.
The lights ranged from large searchlights held by cranes to vehicle headlights and military flashlights. The one common factor was the complete lack of concern about hiding the light in the darkness.
While lying on the sand, Heivia pointed at one of the large truck-like vehicles.
“That’s one of the Capitalist Corporations’ mobile barricades. Were they called Ex. Walls? This confirms it. Another world power has joined in to crush us along with the Information Alliance’s Simple Is Best.”
“That vehicle is a barricade?”
Instead of a container on the back of the truck, it had what looked like a cylinder lying on its side. Both the front and the back of the vehicle had what looked like a driver’s compartment. Overall, it was reminiscent of a train.
Heivia bluntly answered Quenser’s question.
“You’ll see soon enough. C’mon, let’s get moving.”
As soon as he spoke, the driver’s compartments on both sides of the vehicle began moving in opposite directions. The metal cylinder in the middle expanded like an accordion. In no time at all, it formed a giant spring-like barricade that was seven meters thick and three hundred meters long.
Quenser expressed his understanding with a displeased look.
“Oh, I get it now.”
“Stupid, isn’t it? By lining up two rows of ten of them, they can form three kilometer barbed wire walls on either side.”
“Are they planning to stop our princess with those so the Simple Is Best can crush her?”
Barbed wire was most often viewed as a tool to prevent intruders, but it could also be laid out on the ground in coils to wrap around tank treads and armored vehicle tires.
But Quenser frowned as he lay on the sand.
“Are the Capitalist Corporations really thinking that? Forget barbed wire. You could surround the world in walls made from the same reinforced concrete as nuclear shelters and it would mean nothing against an Object’s main cannon.”
“Look closely and think about it. Why do you think their toys are called Ex. Walls?”
“The Ex. stands for explosion. Change the magnification and look more closely. That coil of barbed wire is made to break into pieces if it receives a powerful shock such as from a bombardment. And each individual piece functions as an anti-personnel mine. That one truck probably has somewhere between two and three thousand.”
“Why? Scattering landmines isn’t going to stop the princess.”
“It would still be a problem concerning the image of clean wars using Objects.” One corner of Heivia’s mouth twisted up in a smile. “The war treaties forbid indiscriminately laying or scattering mines. But they can weasel their way out of it in the international conference room by saying their enemy was the one that scattered them. In other words, the princess could end up being labelled the bad guy for pulling the trigger. It would be awkward to be accused with that while stationed in Oceania to help with the war recovery. That weapon is meant to stop her with that threat.”
“That’s ridiculous. It’s a weapon that ignores its actual ability and plays word games? It sounds like the stupid games nobles play.”
“You should avoid saying that in a Legitimacy Kingdom safe country.”
Froleytia then spoke up over the radio.
“Those mobile barricades form a block three kilometers across. They are being prepared simultaneously in eight places to surround our maintenance base and the Baby Magnum. Once that is complete, they will approach to tighten the circle. If we grow impatient and send out the princess, the Simple Is Best will charge in at supersonic speeds.”
The missing intelligence division team had snuck into one of those eight places, but they did not know which one.
“Those barricades are mobile, so they can connect to their military network and move to match the Object’s location. Once they have sealed off the princess’s actions as best they can, they will create a path for the Simple Is Best to charge in. To be honest, this could be bad if they are able to work together well.”
The Simple Is Best’s strategy was quite broad. It used its thick front armor and the acceleration of its high-output ion thrusters to ignore the damage done to it and charge in close enough for an extreme close range main cannon blast.
The princess’s only chance was at the moment of intersection.
The Simple Is Best had a monstrous top speed, but that meant it could not make tight turns. And to reduce weight, its additional armor was only on the front. If its charge was evaded by moving quickly to the left or right, it would be the princess’s turn. If she fired on the Simple Is Best when its backside was showing, there was nothing it could do to avoid destruction.
Effectively sealing off the left or right evasive routes using the barricades could be called a fatal means of hindering the princess.
“And that’s why the intelligence division tried to do something about it. But they failed. I don’t know if it’s the Capitalist Corporations or the Information Alliance behind this, but they aren’t stupid.”
“They’re connected by their military network. Even if someone can’t hack in from outside, that link can be cut off by sneaking a virus directly into one of the barricade’s communications facilities. A single 25 euro chip can bring an end to this.”
“And that’s what we’re on our way to do?”
“If we weren’t needed, we wouldn’t have been called out here. Also, all eight sites are being infiltrated at the same time. As long as the virus gets in at one of them, we win.”
“That means there isn’t a problem if seven of the groups fail. Doesn’t that make us expendable?”
Quenser was relatively useless in normal combat unrelated to Objects, so Heivia ignored his whining and double-checked the layout of the barricade facility they were about to swiftly attack. He checked the arrangement of people, the patrol routes, the directions and strengths of the lights, the presence of various types of sensors, and so on. When his life was at risk, it looked like a treasure chest of information that he never got tired of looking at.
“I see an unfamiliar armored vehicle. Is that one not from the Capitalist Corporations?”
“Does that make it from the Information Alliance?”
“I’d say so. It’s probably an Information Alliance officer’s vehicle. He’ll be here in order to make sure the Capitalist Corporations goes along with their secret arrangement. It has a lot of antennae on it too. It’s probably for a VIP.”
“A VIP? So does it have 24/7 air conditioning, a fridge full of sodas, a microwave to reheat fried chicken, a home theater system, internet access, a simple shower, and a sofa that turns into a bed?”
Despite Quenser’s comments, his expression showed no jealousy.
“Even if he has a bodyguard team, I can’t believe an officer would head alone into the middle of an enemy nation’s unit like that. If the Capitalist Corporations changed their mind and decided to get some information from this powerful officer, he could end up on the receiving end of torture and truth serums.”
“He was probably ordered here. As we know all too well, if a higher up orders you to do something ridiculous, you can’t fight it. …As a student, you may be unaware, but the military is a constrained and harsh place.”
“I would never guess that from looking at you.”
The two idiots began a light fistfight, but then the hatch for the VIP armored vehicle opened. They frantically resumed observation.
“Wait, wait. Wait, wait, wait, wait! What the hell? She looks twelve. That girl is about the same age as the one we saved from the human traffickers, but she’s arrogantly wearing a military uniform.”
“As I said, the military is a harsh place.”
“Yeah… She’s a young Information Alliance officer, so she might be a product of their genius girl project. I don’t know the official name, though.”
“Why is it limited to girls? Some old man’s tastes?”
“You joke, but that might actually be the reason.” Quenser’s expression was perfectly serious. “It’s an issue of the symbolism. There’s a lot of difference in nuance between a manly hero standing before the people and a feminine saint standing before them. By showing a delicate, weak, lovely, and fair maiden working towards the war, the people will confuse their desire to protect her with a desire to fight.”
“I want to send my applause and a bomb to the person who seriously thought that up. How long will the people continue to be innocently moved by some child actor hired with money?”
“That ‘oh ho ho’ is a popular idol back in the Information Alliance safe countries. It’s no different from that. I hear one’s status in the Information Alliance changes based on your ability to insist that clearly deviated justice is correct. Supposedly, a popular dog from some commercials gets better medical care than your average office worker.”
Quenser glanced toward the assault rifle hanging from Heivia’s shoulder. It was primarily used as a mid-range weapon, but its various sensors allowed it to be used for sniping to a certain extent.
“So are you going to do it? I bet you could shoot her right in the head or heart from here.”
“She’s just the poor overseer the Information Alliance sent here. She’s unrelated to the surrounding barricade, so shooting her won’t stop them.”
“Tell me about it. We need to thank god that we can actually choose our enemy.”
Also, causing a commotion before injecting the virus would ruin any chances of their plan succeeding.
After checking over the entire enemy formation, Heivia slowly stood up.
“Okay, let’s get this horrible job over with.”
“Are we really going to sneak in there? They’ll spot us immediately with those lights everywhere. Shouldn’t we at least get an invisibility coat, an infinite health recovery first-aid box, and a charged particle bazooka? It’ll be impossible otherwise.”
“Shut up. Didn’t you know human beings can defeat a demon king with only cotton clothes and a wooden stick?”
Heivia led the way and Quenser followed. Rather than heading straight in, the two of them circled wide to the side as they travelled through the darkness.
The massive amount of light seemed to cut off the barricade facility from the rest of the desert, but that created a large gap between the lit areas and the unlit areas. And because it was an outdoor facility, the lights did not illuminate everything evenly.
In other words, there were still dark areas.
“(Do you really think we can sneak through the darkness without being noticed? What if there are a ton of sensors that you can’t see?)”
“(I’m being careful. But you don’t set up traps along animal trails. No one wants the alarm going off all throughout the night because of every little boar and rabbit. While preparing to set up the barricade so quickly, they don’t want delicate sensors everywhere. Their own people would be setting off the alarm all the time.)”
Quenser tilted his head, wondering if that was how it worked.
This was hardly the first time, but it was still quite thrilling to entrust his life to something he did not understand himself. However, he did not want to be left behind by Heivia while so close to enemy territory.
“(We can’t hide our footprints in the desert.)”
“(They’re working all over the place. There are already footprints everywhere.)”
But just as they took the first step, they stopped.
Quenser looked around in confusion with his goggles still on his forehead.
He was focusing with his ears rather than his eyes.
“I hear an odd rumbling noise.”
Heivia immediately pushed Quenser to the ground. While getting down on the cold sand himself, Heivia whispered to Quenser.
“(Hey, you idiot! Turn off all your sensors! Goggles, binoculars, everything!! Don’t answer your radio even if our huge-breasted commander calls. We’ll be blown to pieces the instant we send out any radio waves, infrared rays, or anything else!!)”
“(This is no time to be clueless, Quenser. Unless this rumbling is being caused by a legendary dragon, there’s only one thing big enough to cause it!!)”
“(Wait a second!!)”
An unpleasant sweat covered Quenser’s body in an instant.
But time was not going to wait.
While lying on the sand, he dug through his coat pocket. He pulled out an electric thermometer and stabbed it into the sand.
“(You’re kidding. It was six degrees earlier. Damn, have all these lights raised the ground temperature!?)”
As they whispered back and forth, they reached for a different pocket. What they pulled out was nothing special. It was a cold spray used for wrist sprains and such.
Quenser stabbed the thermometer into his uniform and sprayed the cold spray over his entire body. He sprayed it enough to bring it to 7.5 degrees just like the ground.
“(Hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry!! It’s all over if its sensors pick us up!!)”
“(We can do this, but will it really fool that collection of cutting-edge equipment? It has tons of sensors to detect people other than thermo!!)”
“(From what I’ve heard, it’s the type that can detect a mole using a combination of body temperature and electromagnetic field disturbance. All the iron sand in the desert should keep that from working perfectly!!)”
Quenser’s ears were slammed by a sound like the roar of the wind or like the air being crushed.
He could not move a finger any more.
The countless stars and the faintly colored moonlight in the cold desert sky should have spread thinly across the entire area, but a giant shadow seemed to devour one area of that. It was an artificial device. It was a colossal weapon. It was the synonym for war that had brought an end to the nuclear age and still reigned as strongest.
It was an Object.
This was a 1.5 generation Object from the Capitalist Corporations.
“It’s just as the final transmission from the missing intelligence division team said.” His voice sounded truly unhappy. “That’s the Hornet Storm from the Capitalist Corporations. Completely unlike any other Object, that demonic machine was developed to attack large cities.”
The giant spherical main body that was the symbol of Objects appeared to be supported by an air cushion propulsion device. The back of the Object was covered by several giant metal panels that looked like a rounded version of peacock feathers.
The biggest oddity about Hornet Storm’s design lay elsewhere.
“It’s an Object without a main canon,” muttered Quenser. “It only has 100 anti-personnel laser beam cannons. When fighting another Object, it uses its peacock feathers to refract and reflect all of its lasers to create a concentrated attack on a single point of the enemy’s armor.”
The princess’s Baby Magnum also had its main cannon distributed over seven cannons that could be used to cut off the enemy’s escape and use the opening to focus an attack on a single point.
However, it was rare to take it to this extreme.
This was similar to tearing everything down to the ground in order to distribute and focus the attacks.
“That weapon wasn’t made for a clean war,” groaned Heivia. “When a dictator uses all the people in a large city as a shield, that Object can kill him without leaving room for negotiation. This modern day grim reaper can ignore the hostages, charge into the city, and accurately fire on only the target. Once that thing has you located, it can kill you as easily as entering a name into a search engine. It’s specialized toward human targets, so you could call it our natural enemy.”
Even if its weapons were known as “small” laser beam cannons, that was in reference to Object-sized weapons. A single shot had the destructive power to easily melt a tank or shoot down a fighter.
Each of the 100 cannons could accurately target anything in a five kilometer range and it could penetrate any obstacle to utterly destroy its target. And a flesh-and-blood human could not evade a laser beam cannon that approached at the speed of light.
In a single action, it could accurately and precisely eliminate 100 enemy soldiers.
And what if, with only a few seconds of lag for cooling and re-aiming, it could repeat that action indefinitely?
What if, no matter how many hostages were gathered as shields, it could slip its attack through the gaps and hit only the target?
What if any human counterattack could be completely ignored thanks to the thick armor unique to Objects?
That would no longer be a fight. It would be divine punishment unilaterally poured down on them. In a way, the overwhelming intimidation this brought was more than that of a second generation Object that fought a war in a distant country. That Object could be sent to battlefield or safe country alike. It opposed the idea of the clean war and it was a nightmarish existence for guerrillas and terrorists hiding in cities.
And that Object was calmly crossing the battlefield as its air cushion blasted sand into the air.
Unpleasant sweat covered Quenser and Heivia’s bodies as they held their breath and tried to hold onto their lives. It travelled extremely close by the Capitalist Corporations soldiers working to prepare the barricade in the artificial lights.
The countless cannons attached to its spherical main body moved slightly in the darkness and its targeting sensors constantly scanned the ground.
This was the king of the food chain.
It did not run or hide. It simply travelled the world searching for prey.
As Quenser was forced to lie on the ground when faced by its arrogance, he could not even feel frustrated by it all. He could only wait as time passed. He dreamed of the moment when he could think in the past tense that it had left. He wanted to shout out and run away, but he had to desperately suppress that desire.
For five minutes, the Hornet Storm moved slowly as if evaluating its surroundings.
That must have been its standard procedure because the Object did not find any prey and it quickly accelerated away from the barricade facility.
Quenser felt like he could not breathe.
Even after its giant form disappeared beyond the horizon, he did not immediately get up.
“It must be going around to the eight barricades in order like that.”
“Yes, but it is estimated to have a top speed of over 550 kph. If the alarm goes off somewhere, it’ll be there in no time. We can’t use this cold spray forever and there’s nowhere to run in the middle of the desert. Once it detects us, our lives are literally over.”
“So when will it be back here?”
“If it uses that same pattern for all eight spots, I’d say a little under an hour. Of course, that’s assuming we don’t trigger the alarm.”
They did not want to meet that monster again.
The two of them both wanted to finish their business here as quickly as possible.
The real mission was still to come.
In and of itself, their task was simple.
Their enemy was a unit made up of both the Information Alliance and Capitalist Corporations. This unit had the second generation Simple Is Best, the 1.5 Generation Hornet Storm, and the multiple Ex. Wall mobile barricades that would keep their own Object from moving.
It would be difficult for the princess’s Baby Magnum to deal with it all on its own, so Quenser, Heivia, and the others were secretly infiltrating the communication facilities for the mobile barricades. By directly injecting a virus into the hardware, control of the barricades could be stolen at the crucial moment.
The mobile barricades would remain within the enemy unit until the battle began. At that point, they would be used to block the movements of the Simple Is Best and Hornet Storm.
Normally, they could be easily blown away with the overwhelming firepower of the Objects, but this would occur in the middle of an Object vs. Object battle. When an instantaneous decision could influence the direction a war was headed, a lag of a few seconds could be fatal.
The primary target was the Information Alliance’s Simple Is Best.
The Capitalist Corporations’ Hornet Storm was simply trying to take advantage of the situation, so they were likely to swiftly retreat the instant that advantage disappeared. But if it did not, the princess would then have to defeat that 1.5 generation Object.
Even with two Objects attacking at once, the princess had a decent chance of winning as long as they set up the battlefield so she could fight them separately.
“As usual, this is one hell of a blueprint. Was this really simulated on a super computer?”
“Try to think more positively. If they could draw up this blueprint, that means there’s at least that much hope left. And complaining isn’t going to change anything.”
Heivia took the lead and Quenser followed through the moonlit desert. They were already within the grounds of the barricade facility.
The facility itself was meant to allow the preparation of the large truck-like mobile barricades and provide access to the military network, but it had many other buildings and vehicles.
“Why did they prepare such a large area? The barricades are mobile, so they’re just going to approach our maintenance base once they’re set up. I can understand a convoy, but won’t the prefab lodgings be left behind?”
“The barricades are going to gather around an Object to stop it from moving. Staying away from the front lines is safer. They can retrieve the other things once the battle is over.”
There were a lot of lights. The gondola-equipped cranes used in place of watchtowers had their own spotlights, the vehicles parked around had headlights, and the large halogen lights usually used for stages and construction sites were set up on large stands here and there.
Heading out into the light would have been suicide and cutting in front of a light would cause a giant shadow.
But the lights were not set up to provide even light and there were spots they missed. By circling behind them and mixing in with the shadows, Quenser and Heivia’s silhouettes were hidden by the bright backlights. Lights that produced a lot of light and heat also helped fool different types of sensors.
Even when they were less than ten meters from enemy Capitalist Corporations soldiers, the soldiers could not see them behind the lights.
While walking across the sandy ground, they spoke quietly to each other.
“We have to inject this virus into their system. Where’s the communications facility?”
“That’s it fifty meters ahead. That small prefab building. The one with a lot of antennae on the roof.”
“Will it also be left behind when the barricades close in?”
“I’m sure they have separate armored vehicles for command control. By dividing the system up, there is less of a risk of being cut off from the military network. Of course, that provides more ways into the system for people like us.”
The communications facility was the cornerstone of the mobile barricades, so it had strict security and a lot of lights. They would not be able to reach it by walking through the darkness.
Heivia pointed at a line of military trucks parked nearby.
“Hey, Quenser. Let’s hide under those to get close. It’ll be harder to spot us than if we walk around with our heads down.”
He got down on the fine sand and slid under the back of the nearest truck. That left Quenser with no choice. He imitated Heivia and crawled under the tuck without knowing the right way to do it.
He smelled something that resembled demi-glace.
“Damn them. What do they have loaded in this truck? Why does the enemy get to eat such nice food?”
“They have over 100 people working to set up the barricade. They’re probably busy supplying soap and toilet paper too.”
Suddenly, they heard footsteps on the sand.
And from more than one person. An unpleasant sweat appeared on Quenser’s cheek as he hid under the truck and pressed against the sand.
“(Three, four…no, five. Dammit. This is pretty much up to chance now.)”
As Heivia complained, he pulled his handgun from its holster and attached the suppresser. Quenser’s eyes opened wide.
“(If they notice something’s wrong, the Hornet Storm will rush over here, remember!?)”
“(I’m not preparing this because I want to use it, you idiot!)”
Meanwhile, multiple military boots were clearly headed their way. Not only could they hear the footsteps, they could feel a kind of pressure. These soldiers were not simply walking around the trucks. They were obviously walking toward the trucks.
Quenser squeezed his eyes shut when he saw Heivia holding up his handgun in the cramped space below the truck.
He waited for a while.
But nothing happened.
He heard the sound of truck doors opening and closing. The truck above them then creaked like a bed. He doubted it would actually happen, but he felt as if it were going to crush him from above. They were on soft sand rather than hard asphalt, so the space between the bottom of the truck and the ground might not remain the same.
Finally, he realized there was something else he had to focus on instead.
“(Hey, hey! Quenser, you idiot! Pull yourself together!!)”
“(They just climbed into the truck. Why do you think that is? Unless they’re planning to kill some time with some rural car sex, they’re going to drive the truck away!!)”
The engine rumbled to life.
As Quenser’s lungs filled with the unpleasant smell of exhaust, he desperately suppressed the instinctual urge to cough.
If the truck drove away, Quenser and Heivia would gather more attention than a birthday cake.
Heivia had already started to crawl to the next in the line of parked trucks.
“(Hurry up, Quenser! If you stupidly get caught, it’ll put me in danger too, so hurry!!)”
“(Wait, wait, wait! The truck’s about to drive off. If I move now, I could be crushed by the tire!)”
“(That’s better than having your head filled with holes by tons of bullets bought with the money from the donation boxes next to convenience store registers, isn’t it? Quit panicking and get over here!!)”
Quenser felt like he was choosing the better of two deaths as he desperately began to move. He crawled out from under the ominously vibrating truck, passed right by the tire supporting a weight of several tons, and managed to reach the next truck.
He just barely made it out when the truck drove off.
But it was too soon to breathe a sigh of relief.
They once again heard the sound of an engine starting from overhead.
“(What the hell!? What the hell!? What the hell!?)”
“(They’re sending out each truck in turn. They might be forming a convoy to drive across the desert!)”
“(What? Was eating all that delicious-smelling food not enough!? A noble like me can’t even hope for dessert after a meal!!)”
Quenser and Heivia could not have themselves brought into the open, so they rolled along the line of trucks as the trucks drove off, one at a time.
More than ten trucks left and only two remained.
“(What the hell was that? Is it finally over?)”
“(No, wait a second.)”
In addition to the drivers of the trucks, there had been some soldiers who had helped load wooden boxes and other things into the trucks. They were scattering as they returned to their normal posts.
A single pair of boots stopped.
The boots had their heels pointed toward the two boys, but they quickly turned 180 degrees. The toes were now pointed their way. The ground had been made of soft sand and the trucks had created tire tracks when driving away, but this soldier may have noticed another unnatural trail as if something large had crawled along the ground.
The legs bent as if the solider were crouching down.
A soldier about their age poked his head down to peer under the truck.
Without hesitation, Heivia fired his suppressor-equipped military handgun into the soldier’s face.
Quenser instinctually covered his eyes with his hands.
“(Do you have a death wish!?)”
“(Shut up. If I hadn’t done anything, he would have caused a commotion! More importantly, Quenser, you cover up the blood with sand. I’ll drag the body under here!!)”
“(You could at least let me be the one to shoot him. The last thing I want is to get killed while cleaning up after you.)”
A shot to the brain did not create as much blood as to the heart. Heivia hid the body under the truck as if moving a sack of flour while Quenser did as instructed and hid the blood with the desert sand.
“Either way, they’ll find him as soon as they move the truck. Let’s get this virus in the system and get the hell out of here.”
While ignoring the blood on their hands, Quenser and Heivia crawled out from under the truck and approached the nearby single-story prefab building. To keep sand out, the floor was elevated like with buildings along the beach. Quenser hid under the floor while Heivia pressed up against the door. Heivia removed the parabolic microphone from the front of his rifle and tossed it underhand to Quenser. Quenser caught it and pressed the microphone against the floor above him.
(One set of footsteps in each corner save the east. Also, one hard sound. Chair legs maybe? It’s near the center.)
After acquiring the necessary information, he jotted down a general diagram, folded the memo into a paper airplane, and threw it to Heivia.
Heivia checked it, jammed a large military knife into the gap of the door, and forcibly destroyed the lock.
Quenser hid under the building for a dozen or so seconds and then approached the door.
He peered inside and saw Heivia had already cleared the room.
“Ugh. There’s blood everywhere.”
“I’m not planning to send this image into people’s living rooms. More importantly, it’s time to get to work, Quenser,” said Heivia as he swapped out his handgun’s magazine.
The prefab room had tables chaotically lined up within. Many different pieces of electronic equipment were placed on top, but there were only two obvious computers. The others were mostly old audio equipment and phantom equipment that radio enthusiasts would pursue within an electronics district.
“Ahh, ahh. Everything’s soaked. They’re covered in so much red I can’t read the displays.”
“Don’t complain, student. I went to some effort to keep my bullets from destroying the machinery.”
Quenser ignored the specialized radio equipment and approached one of the computers. The Legitimacy Kingdom had given him a postage stamp-sized chip with the virus on it. Once he infected the system with it, their job was done.
“Huh? Where’s the Shift key on this thing? This one’s Esc, right?”
“This is a Capitalist Corporations machine. It isn’t gonna be exactly the same.”
“It does have a chip slot though, right?”
The two idiots exchanged a glance and frantically looked around at the outside of the computer. Fortunately, the media type used here seemed to be common between systems. There was a small slot for inserting the stamp-sized chip.
“Hey, Quenser. Can you actually hack?”
“If I could, I’d be working somewhere that pays better. I just have to leave all the work to the program here.”
As he spoke offhand, Quenser typed on the unfamiliar Capitalist Corporations keyboard.
“Let’s see… If I just insert the chip in normal mode, it’ll be rejected, so I ignore this. I need to reboot, spam the function key to bring up the BIOS screen, and switch the boot device priority so it’ll boot up from the external media.”
“Hey, how much longer? They’ll discover the dead soldiers from the lack of periodic reports. We need to get ready to leave.”
“Wait, wait. I just need to reboot again! Okay, done!! The virus has begun to overwrite the system before the military security can catch it. We can just leave it now!”
After seeing the blinking of the access light move from the stamp-sized chip to the HDD, Quenser removed the chip from the slot.
He moved over to Heivia who had the door cracked open to check outside.
“We just have to leave now. What’s our escape route?”
“We can’t just walk out.”
Quenser and Heivia had slipped past the guards by crawling under the line of military trucks, but all but two of those trucks had left. They could not use that same route.
“Then what do we do?”
“Let’s climb into the back of one of the remaining trucks. I doubt they’re going to stay here all night.”
As soon as he had finished speaking, Heivia crouched down and ran toward canopy-covered back of the truck. Quenser followed and Heivia pulled him up into the truck.
Half of the truck was filled with wooden boxes, but they did not have the warnings about flammability and shaking that boxes of weapons would have.
“Goddammit! It’s bananas and milk! Are they preparing a nice healthy breakfast!?”
“Should I go see the base counselor if that combination sounds dirty to me?”
The two idiots opened one of the boxes and quenched their thirst with some of the milk inside refrigerated containers.
Then they waited.
A few footsteps approached the military truck. One toward the driver’s seat and two or three toward the back. Heivia hid behind the boxes and used his knife to silently attack them when they had fully climbed into the truck.
After making sure they were all dead, Quenser approached the front of the truck. He knocked twice on the metal panel dividing the driver’s compartment and the back.
The driver mistook it for a sign that they soldiers were all onboard, so he smoothly drove off.
“We need to have a serious discussion about our pay. There’s definitely something wrong with you getting paid the same as me.”
“If you have a complaint, go talk to the people that pay us.”
That was when they heard an unnatural clunk in the back of the truck.
Quenser immediately took a defensive stance but was unable to do much of anything. Heivia used an arm and a leg to knock Quenser to the ground and used his other hand to draw his military handgun. He had seen movement behind one of the wooden boxes. Whoever it was must not have thought the box would function as a shield because they swiftly moved to eliminate Heivia.
The two of them held their handguns toward each other at a distance of less than a meter, but they both suddenly stopped moving.
“What? Is that a Legitimacy Kingdom handgun?”
“You aren’t from the Capitalist Corporations?”
The person who uttered that confused comment and moved from behind the box (without lowering the gun) was a blonde-haired woman a bit older than Quenser.
Her uniform had a different camouflage design than theirs, but it was a Legitimacy Kingdom format.
The uniform had an unfamiliar emblem sewn into the shoulder.
While lying helpless on the floor, Quenser spoke up.
“Come to think of it, wasn’t there an intelligence division team that went in ahead of us and disappeared?”
Enough time had passed that the mobile barricade group had likely noticed the dead soldiers. However, the military truck Quenser and the others were aboard had already left the area.
After Heivia decided they were far enough away, he fired a few times toward the driver’s seat.
The truck immediately swerved to the side and crashed into a sand dune.
Heivia climbed out of the back of the truck, forced open the driver’s side door, and dragged the body out onto the sand.
The blonde woman checked over the body for ammunition, rations, and the like.
“My name is Lisa Deauville. My rank is second lieutenant. I would appreciate it if you would help me handle my team’s mistake.”
“I’m impressed you managed to escape. What about the others?”
“They were not so fortunate,” the intelligence division soldier named Lisa said.
Quenser did not try to ask for further details. There were people at the maintenance base zone who would do that. Right now, he needed to rejoice that even one of them had survived.
He pointed at the truck with his thumb.
“Our vehicle is about ten kilometers ahead. We’ll head there, switch vehicles, and return to the maintenance base.”
“I’m sure I’ll be stuck driving. Hey, Quenser! You sit in the passenger seat to navigate. I’m not gonna let you get a head start on flirting just because you’re useless.”
After sitting in the driver’s seat, Heivia operated the shift lever and freed the truck from the sand dune it had run into. Before the truck even came to a full stop, Quenser grabbed onto the passenger side, opened the door, and tumbled inside.
And then blonde-haired Lisa also sat in the passenger seat by sitting on top of Quenser’s lap.
At this point, Heivia pulled out his military knife.
“Ask her what’s going on, not me!! (I won’t deny I like it, though.)”
Even through the thick military uniform, Quenser could feel the unique softness and warmth of a woman.
Lisa, however, showed no sign of being bothered by the situation.
“There are only two seats in here and I cannot assist you from the back of the truck. If I sat in the driver’s seat, I would get in the way, so the only possible place for me is the passenger seat.”
“Quenser, swap seats with me!! You don’t have a license? There’s nothing but desert as far as the eye can see. You just have to step on the accelerator and turn the steering wheel. Anyone can do that!!”
They would be spotted regardless with any cutting-edge sensors, but they still did not have the guts to drive through the desert night with the headlights on.
But as previously stated, the desert was not flat. It had sand dunes with height differences of several meters. It may have been similar to stopping time and driving over the stormy ocean.
“Ohh, ohhhhh, ohh. Th-this is a very bumpy road. Hey, boy. Stop squirming below me. And why has something been pressing up against my butt for a while now?”
“Don’t underestimate adolescence, officer cadet! We can fill the time waiting for the elevator by talking about nothing but a large tree that looks a lot like a woman’s waist. You need to be prepared for this kind of thing before you choose to sit on my lap!!”
“At least look at the map, you idiots!! You’re pissing me off! Do you want to frighten everyone away by bringing tears and snot to the face of Heivia, the super genius, beautiful, wealthy, athletic noble who will infiltrate enemy territory, rescue hostages, or anything else you need!? Is that what you want!?”
However, there were some things one did not give up even after such a desperate plea.
Quenser was in the same mindset as someone refusing to hand over the bit of ice cream stuck to the bottom of the lid, so he began contemplating pulling out a Hand Axe plastic explosive to stop Heivia from switching seats with him. He also feared the possibility of Lisa alone sitting in the driver’s seat. If it came to that, he would bite his own tongue.
“Huh? Wait, Heivia. We need to contact the maintenance base and the princess to tell them we injected the virus and what our escape route is. Once we have control of the mobile barricades, the Baby Magnum can begin its attack and we need to make sure this truck isn’t destroyed in the process.”
“Don’t be stupid!! As soon as the virus took effect, it sent a log from the enemy server to our electronic simulation division! Also! My hands are full driving!! If you need something done, do it yourself!!”
At any rate, they needed to give a report.
There were eight mobile barrier locations. A dangerous infiltration mission had been carried out at each one. If they reported their success, the other teams could abandon their dangerous mission and leave. He doubted it would happen, but if another team managed to infect the system at the same time (or slightly slower), Quenser did not want them to make the first report and take the credit.
And so Quenser reached for the radio.
“Huh? Damn, I can’t reach.”
“Of course not. Your arms are wrapped around me like you are holding a log. Do you need a radio? You can use the one in my pocket. It is in the chest pocket.”
“Ngh… So it’s near your chest? …Is this it? Huh? This is awfully soft…”
“Stop that! Why are you touching my-…no, don’t make me say it!”
“Why can’t this truck divide down the middle and leave a bike for just me?” grumbled Heivia in the driver’s seat.
After some difficulty and some occasional squirming from Lisa, Quenser finally managed to remove the radio from her uniform.
He held it in front of her, set the frequency, and entered the encryption key. Once he secured a mission bandwidth, he brought the radio to his mouth while his face was covered by the blonde hair flowing down Lisa’s back.
“This is Team A. Mission complete. The virus has infected the system. We are, um…”
“We’re the Capitalist Corporations Steel Father 8-ton truck travelling down route 32 with no lights on. Tell them to make sure the Object doesn’t fire on us,” supplied Heivia in annoyance.
Quenser began to repeat the information.
“Um, we are the Capitalist Corporations Steel-…”
But then another transmission cut in. It came from one of the teams infiltrating one of the other mobile barricade facilities.
“This is terrible! HQ, can you hear me!? Please respond!!”
“Team F, this is HQ. We can hear you just fine. If there is a problem, it lies in your ability to speak. Simply put: calm down.”
“How am I supposed to stay calm!? What the hell is going on?”
Quenser and Heivia exchanged a glance. Lisa reached over from Quenser’s lap and used a hand to point Heivia’s head back toward the road.
(Did one of the teams screw up and get spotted?)
The virus had already been injected into the Capitalist Corporations military network. There was no reason to continue the infiltration mission any further. Quenser adjusted his grip on the radio to make sure they did not die for no reason.
But then he stopped.
Team F continued their report from another mobile barricade facility.
“We found the missing intelligence division team. We counted, and this is all of them! They’re all dead!! Damn them. They gathered all the captured soldiers in one place and ‘prepared’ them. They ignored all the war treaties and tortured the prisoners!!”
Quenser felt a chill run down his spine.
He felt like he had just learned the cute kitten sitting on his lap was a strange carnivorous beast.
Heivia immediately slammed on the brakes as hard as he could.
As the truck came to a sudden stop as if it had caught on something, Heivia drew his handgun.
But before the boy could aim, Lisa had already accurately pressed her own handgun against his temple.
Unlike Quenser and Heivia, she was not held in place by a seatbelt and the sudden stop could have easily knocked her through the windshield, but she still moved more quickly.
“Who the hell are you?” asked Heivia while almost dumbfounded.
Lisa was obviously more skilled. Heivia must have sensed that fact because he began to sweat.
Lisa showed no sign of caring about Quenser who was held down beneath her butt. She must have thought she could immediately handle any movement he took.
“That report said Team F found the bodies of the intelligence division team. They said they counted them. Then who the hell are you!?”
“I am a Legitimacy Kingdom soldier. I did not lie when I gave you my name and rank.”
“Hah! Are you serious? If you weren’t up to no good, you wouldn’t have pretended to be who we thought you were. There was something you didn’t want us to know, wasn’t there!?”
“Even if you checked the military database, you would not find any data on me. That is the sort of unit I belonged to! If we had remained back there, we would have been found by the Capitalist Corporations and Information Alliance who were protecting the mobile barrier. I intended to tell you the truth once we reached safety!!”
“Yeah!? And what is that truth!?”
“I…My unit was-…!!”
Lisa – or the blonde woman going by that name – began to tremble as she started to speak.
But then a giant shell landed near the truck.
It landed to the left from Quenser’s perspective.
They were struck by a tremendous impact.
Quenser thought the reinforced glass on the door would shatter instantly, but the entire door came off. The heavy military truck was a mass of metal protected by bulletproof equipment, but the entire thing floated up into the air. In all seriousness, it spun horizontally in midair twice. It landed on the tires, but its momentum caused it to roll on its side.
Quenser could not breathe as he was practically hung by his seatbelt. But it was not strangling his neck. The pain came from the pressure to his ribs and lungs.
Quenser heard the high-pitched sound of something breaking. Once he focused on his unsteady vision, he saw Lisa Deauville breaking the windshield. She bent her supple body, slipped through the hole, and escaped into the desert night.
Heivia broke the windshield and made his way out as well. Quenser was left behind, struggling with his seatbelt.
“Damn… What even happened!?”
Because of the unusual weight on it, the seatbelt would not come undone even once he pressed the button. He searched through his uniform and pulled out the survival kit. There was a small cooking knife inside.
(That was an explosion from a shell… A shell!? It wasn’t targeting the truck, but I doubt there’s another target in this empty desert. So was it a stray shot? But from who!? Wait… It can’t be!!)
He received his answer almost immediately.
A giant form passed by in front of the truck. It was on such a large scale that it could flatten the several meter tall sand dunes. It was a mass of metal and weapons. A massive amount of military budget had been brought together to construct that symbol of war.
It was an Object.
It was not just the Baby Magnum. The Object was making constant organic movements to the left and right as if taking the small steps of a boxer or mixed martial artist. Those were evasive actions. And there was only one thing that an Object had to fear taking damage from.
Another giant form was moving quickly through the desert night as if performing an intense dance on a scale of hundreds of meters.
This was the assistance from the Capitalist Corporations.
That urban invasion Object had no main cannon and was deemed generation 1.5.
“The Hornet Storm.”
An Object’s main cannon could easily hit at a distance of ten kilometers, so seven or eight hundred meters was extremely close range.
At that point, Quenser came to his senses.
“And I’m in the ring with them!!”
He frantically pulled the cooking knife out of his survival kit, but he did not have a chance to use it.
Before he could, the darkness of the desert night was split apart.
He had not seen the attack itself. He had seen the afterimage of the dust and moisture in the air being instantly fried. Several dozen thin orange lines of light gathered together and landed near the truck Quenser was struggling within.
The landing spot produced intense light as if from welding.
But he did not have time to complain about the sudden headache. The massive heat caused the surrounding air to expand, so what resembled a blast of wind struck the truck. The 8-ton truck had already rolled on its side, but this rumbling wind caused it to roll like a plastic bottle. The latch for the seatbelt finally gave out and Quenser was freed from his bonds. He was then slammed into the driver’s side door.
The truck was lying on its side again, so Quenser crawled out the broken windshield.
The two Objects were continuing to fire their giant shells while taking relatively small evasive movements.
Quenser did not know what had triggered the direct conflict.
The Legitimacy Kingdom’s electronic simulation division might have noticed the virus was in the system and sent the Baby Magnum out before Quenser and Heivia could report. Or the Hornet Storm might have gotten too close to the maintenance base zone and the Baby Magnum had been sent out without knowing if they could win.
(Wait, wait, wait!! We’re supposed to be attacking the Simple Is Best that is waiting for a chance to charge in from a distance. If it charges in at supersonic speeds now, the princess will be attacked from two sides at once. Can she really win even with control of the barricades taken!?)
Also, the Legitimacy Kingdom’s plan had been to use the mobile barricades to stop the Simple Is Best and have the Baby Magnum destroy it. They would then watch the Hornet Storm and attack it if it decided to continue fighting.
That plan was no longer going to work.
Two back to back battles against a single Object was different from fighting two Objects at once.
“Well, sitting around isn’t going to help. I need to contact Froleytia and see if there’s anything I can do.”
However, he was on the verge of passing out from the intense pain assaulting his entire body. He lay on the cold sand that almost felt frozen and pulled out his small radio.
But then something else happened.
Lisa had escaped and Heivia had pursued her, but the two of them were running back to the truck.
Quenser grew cautious even as he lay on the ground.
It was unlikely they had gotten completely turned around in the empty desert. He could only think something had happened. For example, Heivia could have lost his gun, so Lisa was now pursuing him.
(But Heivia had more than just his handgun. Whether his gun jammed or he had it shot out of his hand like a movie villain, he would just have to switch to his assault rifle.)
But Quenser did not have time to think.
He did not know who Lisa Deauville was, but she was likely an enemy.
As tension ran through his body, he pulled out a Hand Axe plastic explosive and a ballpoint pen-shaped electric fuse, but then something unexpected happened.
Heivia ran right past Quenser.
And just before doing so, he frantically shouted to his terrible friend.
“You idiot!! How long are you going to sit there!?”
He wondered if the other two had agreed to flee to safety due to the two Objects.
He was partially right and partially wrong.
After a few seconds, Quenser finally realized what Heivia and Lisa were running from.
The ground was disappearing.
A strange sand waterfall had appeared maybe 100 meters away and more and more of the ground was disappearing into the depths. The region was expanding and it was approaching where Quenser lay.
“Wh-what is that!?”
“How should I know? There must have been something under the desert and the Object fight caused it to collapse!!”
Surprisingly, it was Lisa who answered his question.
Not only that, the blonde beauty stopped in front of him, grabbed his arm, and pulled him to his feet.
“Are your legs hurt? I can’t escape the collapse while carrying you. If you don’t want to be caught in the middle of it, then run! Right now!!”
Still not knowing what was going on, Quenser retreated along with Lisa.
The collapse of the fine sand continued behind them. They had no idea how far they would fall if it caught up to them, but it was certainly more than a few meters.
“What is this!? Did a natural cave start to spread!?”
“I said I don’t know! It might be manmade, but this is no time to worry about that!!”
“Dammit. I thought it was supposed to be tungsten below our feet!”
“What are you talking about!?”
In a desert of nothing but fine sand, there was no meaning in making maps with detailed contour lines. The desert was commonly compared to a stormy sea and the strong wind continually changed the terrain just like one. Dunes several meters tall were easily formed. It was possible a warehouse or factory had been completely hidden below the sand.
“Heivia, wait up! Don’t escape on your own!!”
“Shut up!! This is divine punishment! The crime of flirting deserves death! Don’t get someone as cool and stoic as me involved in your punishment!!”
The coldhearted boy’s back was a long way ahead.
Suddenly, the two Objects continuing their battle beyond the collapse sent a frightening stray shell in their direction. The shell landed over three hundred meters to the side, but it was still enough to send Quenser’s entire body into the air. For an instant, he had difficulty breathing. He rolled across the ground and Lisa tried to pick him up.
But that was a mistake.
The maw of the collapse caught up. He felt the ground disappear below him. It was less a vertical waterfall and more of a steep waterslide. Quenser and Lisa were mercilessly dropped into the abyss that light could not reach.
Quenser had passed out, so he did not know how much time had passed.
He groaned and brought a hand to his forehead. He did not know how far he had fallen. He was lying on some kind of floor, but he still did not feel stable. It felt like being on a small rocking boat. He had a strong urge to vomit.
He had no intention of suffocating on his own vomit, so he ignored his aching head and forced himself to sit up.
Lisa Deauville had the top of her uniform removed and was wiping her underarm with a wet towel.
“Hyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!? Why am I the one screaming and why are you the one staring in confusiooooooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn!?”
“Is your mind still muddled? You still have your memories, I hope. I do not want to explain everything from the beginning.”
Lisa did not seem to care that Quenser had seen her. She finished wiping the sweat and sand from her upper body and put her uniform back on.
Quenser began to back away from her as he did not know who she truly was, but he stopped when an intense urge to vomit rose up from his stomach.
He could not suppress it, so he turned his head aside and vomited profusely.
“It looks like you hit your head. If you have the rations to spare, you should wait until you finish vomiting and then consume the nutrients your body needs to stabilize itself. You should also make sure there is no blood in your vomit, just to be safe.”
Quenser reflexively reached for his plastic explosives and realized how odd it was his weapons had not been taken from him.
“Who are you? Why did you save me back there?”
“I am Lisa Deauville, a second lieutenant in the Legitimacy Kingdom military. Those two facts remain unchanged. In which case, do I need a special reason to save a fellow soldier? I think abandoning you would cause more problems later on.”
She referred to him as a soldier, so she did not know that he was a battlefield student.
There were at least a thousand people in the 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion, so not everyone knew about Quenser. There were a lot of soldiers Quenser had never seen and did not know the name of. It was too soon to jump to any conclusions.
“But I am from a different type of unit than yours,” she continued. “It is not registered in the standard military database. Without access privileges above a certain level, there is no way for me to prove my identity right now.”
“Only the people who believe in the UFO development unit would believe such a suspicious story.”
“I hear that a lot.”
Lisa shrugged and leaned her back against a broken pillar. Quenser looked around once more and found they were in some kind of giant warehouse that had completely lost its roof due to the sand.
“July: western Indian Ocean. October: the underground resource extraction plants in the Greenland Sea. November: the Alaska region. January: the Southern Atlantic Ocean region.”
“You’re a soldier, right? Haven’t you memorized the battlefields where we have lost?”
“What are you talking about?”
“That is where I work.”
Lisa picked up a water bottle she had likely used to wet the towel from earlier and took a gulp.
“My mission was to bring paint into Oceania.”
Quenser had heard of peaceful missions to bring teaching materials, art supplies, and picture books into battlefields to provide humanitarian aid.
But Lisa was talking about something completely different.
“I was part of the Stalk Killer Unit. You could say I was an expert in withdrawing from the battlefield. Once a battle was deemed lost, someone like me would be secretly sent in. My objective was to keep the enemy army from capturing high-ranking officers, pilot Elites, or important technology related to Objects. In other words, it was a disgusting dirty job of choosing my allies and helping them escape,” she spat out.
“Withdrawing from the battlefield? But this is the age of clean wars fought with Objects. The wars are fought between Objects and once the result has been reached, you send out the white flag signal and leave. We shouldn’t need a unit specialized in withdrawing from the battlefield.”
“If you seriously believe that, you are quite a naïve boy. Real wars are made so they will occasionally destroy all rationality. It’s no different than the certain percentage of defective electronics created in factories.”
When he thought about it, Quenser realized that had been the case when the Water Strider had pursued them in the Alaska region. The white flag signal only worked if there was mutual trust between both sides. And what Quenser and the others were fighting was a war.
“The military has to lose their pursuers. Simply hiding your tracks is not necessarily enough. You lay countless traps to crush the pursuing hunters. For example, we might set up one or two thousand bombs while cutting across an abandoned city. And they are not set up so anyone can see them. That is where the ‘paint’ comes in.”
“You camouflage them?”
Quenser pulled out the hand axe plastic explosives that he normally used.
If it was shaped with a spatula and colored with paint, it could be made to look like a stone on the road, a piece of broken asphalt, or a piece of styrofoam. If it was made to match the situation and had shadows and stains added on, it could blend into the landscape even for high-quality cameras. That made them no different from the props used for TV and movies. Just like a beer bottle made from candy or a wound made from red food coloring and bandages, no one would notice the bomb set up right next to them.
They would not suspect a thing until it actually detonated.
Lisa let out a heavy sigh.
“A foolish noble decided to make a quick visit to Oceania to gain popularity. The information got out and a group of local guerrillas or possibly disguised Information Alliance soldiers surrounded them. The Stalk Killer Unit was sent into a hellish battlefield as usual. It would have been difficult to escape with any normal means, so our leader said we would pass through a complicated urban area and escape to the nearest Object maintenance base. …And we would of course be laying tons of traps and bombs to lose our pursuers.”
“You don’t mean…”
“I advised him to reconsider.” Lisa placed a hand on her head as if grabbing at her blonde bangs. “The traps are effective, but they do not choose who falls for them. Even if the area was still going through war recovery, life had returned to the city. The people living there were forced to gather anything rare or valuable so they could sell it. It was obvious what would happen if we set up one or two thousands bombs that perfectly blended into the scenery. The city that was finally recovering its smile would be filled with blood and screams. Our real enemy would step over the writhing victims and safely pursue us through the path that was now free of bombs. I told our leader it was meaningless.”
Had they settled on that inhumane means of withdrawal and succeeded?
That thought entered Quenser’s mind for an instant, but he denied it himself.
If so, Lisa would not be here.
“I do not remember what exactly pushed it over the edge, but our argument crossed a certain line. I swear to you, it was our leader who pulled his gun first.”
But it was Lisa who was alive here now.
Quenser did not know how hopeless her situation was and how many “allies” she had been surrounded by, but if what she said was true, she must have won that nightmarish firefight.
That action had not had an obvious merit.
It had not even been based around the honor that was so popular in the Legitimacy Kingdom.
Lisa had simply stopped her unit from going too far and protected the many civilians who would normally have not been in any danger of being lost.
And to do so, she had shot and killed many allies who had trusted her.
“Then why had you infiltrated the Capitalist Corporations’ mobile barricade facility? That doesn’t make sense.”
“I was not trying to infiltrate it. As I travelled through the desert to reach a Legitimacy Kingdom base, they set up their unit in my path. …In fact, your maintenance battalion is pretty much the same.”
“As you said, this is the age of clean wars. There are people who do not want it to get out that there are constant inhumane missions that ignore the white flag. There are high-ranking members of the military who do not want it to get out that they have been sending out a unit like mine while also claiming to be fighting a clean war. That would be admitting that they have been lying about the clean wars. In the end, I have become an inconvenience to both my enemies and my allies.”
Her enemies were the Information Alliance and the Capitalist Corporations.
Her allies were the Legitimacy Kingdom.
“There is a contradiction in the structure of the wars and I am a symbol of that contradiction. By taking actions that show I have left the military’s control, I have made those high-ranking officials scared, so it seems they will do anything to kill me. By killing me, they can avoid having my information get out.”
Quenser thought about what Lisa was saying.
“You mean the Ex. Wall barricades here and the battle beginning tonight are nothing more than preparations for a single goal?” muttered Quenser blankly. “You mean it’s all to assassinate you? Not just the Baby Magnum, but the Simple Is Best and Hornet Storm, too? This entire battle including three Objects was set up to make sure a single runaway soldier is killed!?”
Three Objects was a large enough force to start a large-scale war.
What she was saying was similar to attacking a country with a nuclear weapon in order to kill a single individual.
“That isn’t something a base commander could do. Only someone directly involved in a much larger power balance could bring together multiple world powers like that. The local commanders are unaware that I, the true target, am on the battlefield. They will simply carry out the camouflage mission given to them. So do not doubt any of the superior officers that you have actually met. That would be meaningless.”
She was implicitly covering for the princess and Froleytia.
But Quenser had never thought either of them were the type to be involved in that kind of conspiracy.
“What are we supposed to do?” groaned Quenser. “You say you’re a survivor of a withdrawal unit not in the military database. And this battle between three Objects is all to kill you and you alone? That’s crazy. Is there any way for a flesh-and-blood soldier to survive that?”
“Are you actually willing to believe me now?”
“I have no objective proof,” immediately spat out Quenser. “But that was not an act when you tried to help me from the collapse earlier. Even Heivia was abandoning me in that situation. If you were from the Capitalist Corporations or Information Alliance and pretending to be an ally, you wouldn’t need to do that.”
“I see,” muttered Lisa under her breath.
That was when the underground structure rumbled ominously.
The deadly Object battle was continuing up above.
“We can take our time to see if you’re telling the truth once we get back to the maintenance base zone. The problem right now is how to survive this battle!! The Baby Magnum is still battling the Hornet Storm. To take advantage of that situation, the Simple Is Best will charge in faster than the speed of sound! If that happens, it’s all over. I doubt our princess can withstand an attack from two sides at once and everything will be blown away if she’s defeated! I will, you will, and everyone in the maintenance base will!!”
Lisa remained silent for a moment as she thought.
But she soon raised her head.
“No, it isn’t over yet. I won’t let it end like this.”
“Come with me. Whatever happens, we need to get out of this underground structure first.”
Lisa led the way and Quenser followed her through the strange abandoned building.
It was a giant space that was over three hundred meters long.
“It looks like some kind of storage base. It may have belonged to the old military government,” said Lisa as they cut across the sand-filled structure without a light.
After a while, they found a rectangular corridor that led to a rusty staircase leading up.
They carefully climbed the stairs while making sure they did not break through them.
Once they reached the surface, Quenser finally realized where they were.
“This belongs to the pipeline cutting across the desert.”
“I think this was originally a terminal facility for drawing up water from unused water veins and sending it to food supply bases. You could call it an extremely forceful and large-scale well. Even if this is a desert, weren’t they afraid of the ground sinking down?”
This facility was rusted and falling apart and the ceiling had caved in. Heivia had joked about ghosts, but that building could easily collapse on its own at any time. Heivia had not been entirely wrong because it could be called a “mass producer of ghosts”.
Once they left the abandoned facility, they saw a large cloud of sand rising into the air.
It was 500 to 700 meters away.
“That’s them. That’s the Baby Magnum and Hornet Storm!!”
“You said another one was coming, right? Was it called the Simple Is Best?”
Suddenly, static came from Quenser’s radio.
Froleytia’s shouting voice followed.
“The Simple Is Best has begun to move! It is travelling south from Route 09 to 37!! If our calculations are correct, it will reach the princess in less than three minutes!! All soldiers in between, make sure you are not caught in the middle!!”
“It’s begun,” muttered Quenser. “Once the Hornet Storm and Simple Is Best are both attacking her, it’s all over! Dammit. I want to support the princess, but we don’t even have any information on a weakness!!”
Lisa then took an odd action.
She crouched down and pulled something from the ankle of her uniform’s pants.
What she now held in her palm was not a small handgun or knife.
Neither of those would be any help when an Object was attacking.
She held a cylinder about as thick as a coin and as long as a ballpoint pen.
“Boy, you do not need a sign. Just run as quickly as you can from here right this instant. Get as far from me as you can.”
“What are you-…?”
“Weren’t you listening?”
Lisa’s voice grew firm as she removed something like a lid from the cylinder. But the cylinder was not a container and so it was not accurate to call it a lid.
It was an abrasive surface.
Or perhaps it could be called a means of ignition.
“This entire battle was set up to kill me and prevent my information from getting out. The people actually fighting here do not know that, but the schemers behind the scenes should give some clever instructions once they see their true target. …And if they target me, it will cease to be a two-on-one battle!!”
A solid sound rang out.
At the same time, an unnaturally red flame as if from a firework burst from the end of the cylinder. It was hard to tell because it was night, but a lot of chemically colored smoke had likely burst out as well.
“A flare!? You idiot! If you use that here-…!!”
“You’re the idiot!! It’s not too late, so get as far from me as you can!! Right now!! Save yourself!!”
As she shouted, Lisa ran toward the intensely fighting Objects.
There was nothing Quenser could do.
The military satellites, the Objects’ sensors, and the sensors on the guns of the soldiers that might be lurking in the darkness would all have picked up the heat and light from the flare.
Through some route or another, that information reached someone.
A moment later, the state of the battle rapidly changed.
It was like watching an obvious farce or a fixed match.
The Hornet Storm fired countless laser beams chaotically into the desert night. Those attacks were little threat to the Baby Magnum, but it still moved slightly to evade them. Once the orange beams of light missed their target, they struck the desert. With a flash of light as if from welding, the air explosively expanded and a frightening shockwave spread throughout the entire area.
Quenser’s human eyes were not enough to view everything that happened.
But he saw one thing for sure: a puny blonde human was tossed into the air like a poorly made paper airplane in the wind.
The color white filled Quenser’s mind.
The Baby Magnum had been placed in a situation formulated to be difficult, but Quenser threw away the situation that gave her a way out. He also threw away what Lisa herself had just said. The next thing he knew, he was running.
He ran toward the battlefield.
He ran toward the intense fighting.
He ran toward Lisa as she was slammed into the sand like a broken toy.
He felt a stinging pain in his throat. The air was oddly dry. All the sand in the area was glittering as it reflected the moonlight. That was due to the laser beams the Hornet Storm had fired into the ground. Their overwhelmingly high temperature and not only explosively expanded the air; they had also melted the silicon in the sand. Exposure to the night air had re-cooled the silicone, forming a thin glass coating.
Quenser half-slid up to Lisa and crouched down.
He frantically picked her up and found she was oddly light. This was not due to his mental state. A physical change had come over her.
The smoke and flames from the flare had vanished.
But not because its effective time had ended.
“The ones behind this have lost control of themselves…after seeing the prey…they want so badly. This irregularity…will be quickly fixed. Once their rotten rationality recovers…systematic destruction will cover…this entire area.”
It was gone.
It had been destroyed.
Both the flare and the entire arm that had been holding it were gone. The point from which the arm had been torn had twisted around like a rag being wrung. For better or for worse, this had prevented too much blood loss.
“Is there any meaning to this?”
Quenser frantically pulled out his survival kit. He could not close up the wound with a needle and thread, much less with a bandage. He rethought his plan and realized his only choice was to wrap the bandage under her arm and around her entire body. By tying it tightly, he could constrict the thick artery.
“Is there any meaning to this!? This won’t even buy 20 seconds. The slight wave will quickly be smoothed out! The princess is struggling against the Hornet Storm and the Simple Is Best is charging in at faster than the speed of sound!! That situation isn’t going to change. Throwing a float to someone out in a storm isn’t going to save them, so why did you throw your own life out into the water! Do you want to drown that badly!?”
“The Stalk Killer Unit said the same thing.”
Lisa smiled weakly with blood splattered on her cheek.
It was unclear if she could even see Quenser in front of her.
“But it seems this is my nature. There are times…when I suddenly hate that kind of logical thought. Ahh, maybe I’m not suited…to being a soldier.”
Lisa had not done anything wrong.
She had simply been the single person to give the correct answer among the majority who agreed to the wrong answer.
“And there was meaning.”
“I was able to speak with you. I told you that the Stalk Killer Unit brought a lot of paint into this country… I may not have escaped the ones behind all this, but I was able to tell the truth to one person. That makes this…my victory. This was enough.”
This was the result.
She had tried to protect the civilians from being indiscriminately slaughtered by countless booby traps and she had tried to protect Quenser and Heivia’s unit after running across them on the battlefield. She had always been the only one to reach the correct answer and she was going to breathe her final breath while all alone like this.
Was that okay?
Could Quenser accept a world like that?
“Once this battle is over and you somehow – it doesn’t matter how right now – managed to survive, promise me you will appear at a court martial. Use that official stage to reveal everything that you’ve seen!! Tell everyone about the special unit for withdrawing, tell them everything the Stalk Killer Unit has done, and tell them about the people working to hide that truth!! Tell them everything. Can you promise me that!?”
“What difference will it make…?”
“I’ll make a promise, too. I promise I’ll do whatever it takes to get you to that courtroom!!”
Lisa’s mind was muddled by the intense pain, but her eyes opened slightly.
Quenser placed her back on the sand and slowly stood up.
He had made up his mind.
In the current situation, he could not save Lisa.
Forcibly cutting off the artery under her arm to stop the bleeding would only last for fifteen minutes. If she was not brought to the 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion in that time, she would die. There would be no miracles or coincidences; she would simply die. But the base could not send a helicopter for her due to the Object loaded with the absolute anti-air weapons that were lasers. Given the distance, there was not enough time for a military vehicle to drive out to them. There was a huge difference between a helicopter that could move at 300-400 kph and a vehicle that could only travel at 150 kph. And the vehicle’s speed would be cut in half or even more in the desert.
In other words, the situation had to be resolved in only a few minutes.
The Baby Magnum and the Hornet Storm were close by and the Simple Is Best was approaching from afar. He had to end that nightmarish battle between three Objects.
“Can you hear me, princess?” As he spoke quietly into his radio, his blond hair blew in the cold wind of the desert night. “Don’t think about the Simple Is Best. Do everything you can to defeat the Hornet Storm in a one-on-one battle. If you’re fearing an attack from two fronts, you can’t use your full potential and you can’t defeat the Hornet Storm. That’s an irregular Object designed to attack large cities. It can be used against other Objects, but that isn’t its main purpose. It should be easier than battling a second generation Object.”
“Of course I will win. What is your point?”
“I’m saying we can distribute the work,” he stated as if spitting out the words. ”You handle the Hornet Storm and I’ll destroy the Simple Is Best that’s at the root of all our problems here.”
In the desert night, the temperature was 7.5 degrees Celsius.
There was inferior tungsten in the ground.
The only landmarks were the rusted and broken pipeline cutting across the desert and the abandoned large-scale pump facility that brought agricultural water up from unused water veins and was currently hidden underground.
That facility and the attached structures formed a large manmade space underground.
“Heivia. Heivia!! I know you’re out there. Answer me!!”
“Yeah, I can see you. I’ve got the scope trained on your face. But let’s be serious here. I am not meeting up with you! Being anywhere near you has never ended well. You can call it cowardly or whatever, but I’m going to hide in the background until the danger has passed. I’m not listening to any complaints!!”
The Legitimacy Kingdom’s first generation Baby Magnum and the Capitalist Corporations’ 1.5 generation Hornet Storm were still battling.
The Hornet Storm used laser beams and had no main cannon, so it used a peacock feather like structure to reflect and concentrate its 100+ secondary cannons in order to pierce Object armor.
The several people manipulating the situation behind the scenes were trying to assuredly and naturally assassinate Second Lieutenant Lisa Deauville, the sole survivor of the Legitimacy Kingdom military’s secret withdrawal unit named the Stalk Killer Unit.
Great damage had been done to the surroundings after laser beam cannons were fired across the desert while disguised as stray shots.
The power of the weapons was frightening and the targeted points on the desert formed a thin film of glass after being instantly melted and re-cooled.
“That’s fine. I’ll destroy the Simple Is Best on my own.”
“I’ve been wondering, is there a screw loose in your head?”
“But first, I want to ask you about the tungsten you mentioned earlier!!”
“Are you planning to gather it to pay off the enemy? Give up now. Didn’t I tell you it isn’t pure enough to be sold?”
The Baby Magnum could handle just the Hornet Storm, but it had almost no chance of winning when the Information Alliance’s second generation Simple Is Best charged in from afar.
Quenser’s top priority target was the Simple Is Best.
That true monster was a 50+ meter mass of metal that weighed over 200 thousand tons, but it used its air cushion engine and several high-output ion thrusters to reach a top speed that exceeded 1200 kph.
It had thick additional armor on the front that resembled a beak. That armor gathered thin metal leaf like a phonebook. When it detected an attack from an Object, it would use explosives to release the surface level of metal leaf before the impact could reach the inside. It was a collection of reactive armor technology. Firing a main cannon on it again and again might eventually break through, but it would reach close range with its ultra-high speed before that happened.
You could see it coming a long way off, but no attack would stop it. This demonic machine was most effective when used against another Object rather than against normal weaponry.
“I have no interest in mining it. I just need to know how deep it is. Is it in a tunnel or is it open-air!?”
“It’s open-air. The vein reaches the surface. You only need to dig in with a bucket or something. But, Quenser, there isn’t enough to use! Look around you. It’s nothing but dry sand. What good is it if there’s a few tiny pieces of tungsten or some wolframite ore mixed in!?”
“That’s fine. That’s just one less thing to worry about.”
“Wait. What are you thinking?”
Its main cannon was a low-stability plasma cannon. By firing it at almost point blank range, it ensured it could pierce the enemy Object’s thick armor. When used in such a violent and reckless way, it was less a projectile and more of a giant pile bunker made of plasma.
Because the Simple Is Best moved at such ridiculous speeds with such a large form, it experienced massive inertial forces. That prevented it from making the minute footwork common to Objects.
If it did not destroy its target on the first pass, it would be forced to expose its defenseless back. It could maintain its supersonic speed, leave the area of danger, and make a second charge after recovering, but it could not avoid damage to its defenseless back if its enemy used a laser beam main cannon.
“That’s the bottleneck for the Simple Is Best.”
“It’s over fifty meters tall and weighs over 200 thousand tons, but it charges in a straight line while breaking the sound barrier. It’s a frightening monster to imagine, but a bit of thought reveals something odd.”
“Wait. Do you mean…?”
“Air resistance. An Object’s main body is spherical. If that giant mass travels at over 1200 kph, it will whip up a massive amount of air. You would expect it to be lifted up into the air. In other words, it has to have something to press itself against the ground as the wind tries to lift it up. If I can destroy that, the giant system known as the Simple Is Best won’t be able to continue.”
“That’s nothing but wishful thinking and wishful thinking is the sign that you’re beginning to lose in a casino. An Object weighs over 200 thousand tons. Its own weight might keep it pinned to the ground.”
“No, it doesn’t. It uses enough ion thrusters to reach supersonic speeds. The larger the body, the more it will disturb the air while moving so fast. It’s overkill. This is like those crazy custom cars that enthusiasts love. They’re taking something that would normally fly into the air and they’re forcibly pinning it to the ground.”
“Then where is this supposed weak point?”
“This is the cornerstone of the machine. They would use the strongest and least likely to break part.”
“It has to be the additional armor on the front. That beak-like thing is being used to control the flow of air and have it pass over the Object. That air presses it down and prevents the Object from floating up.”
“So if you destroy that solid beak, the Simple Is Best will lose its balance and collapse?”
This battle was in retaliation for Quenser and Heivia crushing the Information Alliance’s intelligence plan to expand their influence by secretly working with an Oceanian human trafficking organization.
The Information Alliance’s Simple Is Best was one thing, but the Capitalist Corporations’ Hornet Storm had no active reason to fight. It simply wanted to destroy the strategically dangerous Baby Magnum while it had the chance.
If the Simple Is Best, which was crucial to the strategy, was destroyed, that advantage would vanish.
If the Hornet Storm did not want to risk its life on the battle and it retreated, that was fine. And even if it continued fighting, the Baby Magnum was not in too much danger against it alone.
The secret objective of the battle was to naturally assassinate Lisa, but it would no longer be “natural” if the given official reason for the battle was lost. Some unseen person would gnash their teeth and be forced to withdraw.
“But how are you going to destroy its front armor!? That thing’s a crystallization of reactive armor tech that will instantly detonate and purge the surface layer of metal leaf before any damage is transmitted through. Even after ten or twenty direct hits from an Object’s main cannon, the beak silhouette isn’t gonna change. How is a normal person supposed to stand up to that!?”
“Not to mention that it’s charging in faster that the speed of sound right now. You don’t have time to set your bombs on it. Not even a ninja from a certain island nation could cling to that thing! You’ll just be flattened like you were hit by a fly swatter!!”
Even if a battlefield student armed with bombs stood up to it, the Object would not even glance in his direction. And despite not focusing on him, he would still be turned to mincemeat the instant it hit him.
With its size, it could literally flatten your average building or vehicle.
“The wind is nice tonight. Luck is on my side.”
“Have you gotten lost in a fantasy world now?”
“Do you know about the machine tool known as a water jet? It fires ultra-high pressure water like a laser to cut apart sheets of metal. Now, do you know what modification they make to the water jet in order to let it cut through thick materials it would otherwise fail to cut?”
“What are you talking about!? Have you gone crazy from fear!?”
“I’m saying the conditions are just right.”
Quenser pulled out a clay-like Hand Axe plastic explosive and stabbed a pen-like electric fuse into the center.
“Here, piggy piggy. It’s time for your fat body to fill my stomach.”
The Elite finished checking the weather conditions using the reflections of microwaves or infrared lasers.
He ignited thrusters one through four.
He began to charge in.
He calculated the distance to his target in real time.
He worked to maintain a fan-shaped area he could move to in response to his target’s predicted evasive actions.
He corrected the data.
He would arrive in 180 seconds.
A great noise exploded within the cockpit.
Unlike a normal Object, the Simple Is Best did not need to evade the main cannon attacks from the enemy Object. In fact, it could not evade them. If it attempted the quick footwork of a boxer or mixed martial artist at the speeds it moved at, it would lose its balance and collapse.
It felt similar to shining a searchlight on an enemy.
Or perhaps it was closer to using a camera and radio control to correct the course of a free-falling bomb.
The Elite only needed to make slight adjustments to the direction of his Object in order to pursue the fleeing enemy Object. By keeping the enemy Object at the center of the fan-shaped area he could move in, he could constantly adjust his path and maintain that position no matter which way the enemy tried to flee.
He took the shortest and quickest path.
He charged straight down the center.
There was no room for mind games for this true second generation Object that was specialized solely for killing its enemy. By bringing a strategic concept to its extreme, its style ironically resembled the ballistic missiles that Objects had driven to extinction. But with this Object, there was no way to intercept it. Its thick shield would deflect anything thrown at it. Once its target’s data was entered into the system and the situation began to move, it would continue in a straight line even if dozens or hundreds of shots were fired at it. It would approach close enough for assured destruction and fire its main cannon just once.
Damage to the Object was assumed.
It was not expected to return unscathed.
The Simple Is Best was a perfect strategy used when an enemy was deemed worth the massive repair costs of the front armor.
Once it had been sent out, the battle was essentially over.
Once it fired, it was truly over.
Strategies were only effective until it appeared on the battlefield. Once it did, the enemy Object would surely be destroyed.
The Legitimacy Kingdom called it the Simple Is Best.
The Faith Organization called it the Grim Reaper.
The codenames the opposing world powers had given it showed just how much fear they felt toward it.
The pilot Elite was not concerned with the enemy Object. No matter how much it fired on him, the combination of thick front armor and supersonic speeds ensured he could kill them before they killed him.
In fact, the bigger problem was the massive inertial Gs produced by the 50+ meter and 200 thousand ton mass travelling at 1200 kph. It was much more than the fighters of an older age. He would feel the desire to vomit, but the contents of his stomach were unable to reach his mouth. If it were not for his special suit and the thorough “modifications” to his physical body, he could never have withstood it.
Piloting this Object wore down one’s lifespan.
That was true for the Gs themselves and for the nasty collection of skills needed to withstand the Gs.
If he lost consciousness, it would all be for naught. Maintaining his own potential under the extreme conditions was the hardest part. To him, the battle was a solitary one, much like golf.
And what was it that concerned a golfer the most?
Was it the scores of his rivals on the same hole?
Was it the unrestrained voices of rude members of the audience?
They most feared sudden changes to the weather such as gusts of wind or rain.
Suddenly, a sort of explosion occurred near the target Object.
This was not a stray shot from the two battling Objects. The explosion launched a huge cloud of sand into the air. It seemed to flow up into the night sky like an upside-down waterfall of sand. The blast had clearly been directed so it would launch all that sand into the air.
And that cloud of sand shook.
The night wind began to carry it toward the Simple Is Best like a curtain.
The Elite could tell something strange was happening, but it was too late to stop. Coming to a sudden stop was an absurd idea. The inertial Gs from the sudden change could cause the Elite to burst like a water balloon inside the cockpit.
He continued the charge.
He had detected a danger ahead, but he would overcome it with his Object’s superior specs.
“It’s a water jet,” muttered Quenser.
What he had done was simple. He had buried his Hand Axe plastic explosive in the fine desert sand and detonated it. To direct the entire blast upwards, he had laid a bulletproof jacket below the bomb.
“Once I thought about it, it didn’t make sense. Additional front armor? A beak? It supposedly detects incoming attacks and uses explosives to purge the surface layer of metal leaf to keep the damage from transferring, but it’s still moving at overwhelming speeds that break the sound barrier. The air resistance has to be huge. That would produce enough energy to heat up the Object’s surface. …That beak will be constantly taking tons of damage even without an Object attacking it! I just have to give it the final push!!”
“And that’s why you blasted a bunch of sand into the air and into the wind? To increase the force of a water jet that cuts metal sheets with high pressure water, they mix artificial diamond dust into the water to increase its resistance and friction. Are you saying you filled the air with sand to increase the aerodynamic damage to the Simple Is Best as it charges through at supersonic speeds!?”
It was the same as a file or grinder.
Rubbing at metal with a smooth rubber belt would not wear it down much, but using an adhesive to spray an even amount of metal powder on the surface would allow it to grind through a metal panel in a matter of seconds.
The Simple Is Best wore down its own body with its overwhelming speed. It was similar to driving a convertible along a highway that had tons of fish hooks hanging down.
“Most likely, heat and impacts below a certain level are within the margin of error and do not activate the beak. But what if it detects damage that exceeds that margin? I don’t know how many hundreds or thousands of sheets of metal leaf that beak is made from, but the false readings should lead it to purge all of the beak that forms the silhouette needed for its aerodynamic control!!”
“I think it’s a great idea, Quenser, but that isn’t enough. You’re underestimating the enemy’s strength!! Just scattering some desert sand into the air won’t destroy the strongest armor on an Object. It’ll have been regulated to handle clouds of sand caused by sandstorms and Object bombardments!!”
“You would be right if this was normal sand.” Quenser smiled. “Have you forgotten about the Hornet Storm? It has no main canon and instead attacks other Objects by focusing its secondary weapons on a single point. And all of those weapons are laser beams! Thanks to the stray shots targeting Lisa Deauville, the sand on the surface was quickly roasted by a massive amount of heat and then immediately cooled by the single digit temperatures of the desert night. It’s hardly the perfect forging of a katana, but it greatly changed the quality of the iron sand and the size of the grains is much larger due to being wrapped in glassed silicon. Also…”
“Don’t tell me the tungsten mixed into the ground was incorporated in!”
“I doubt it would conveniently harden just right, but it’s better than nothing. And if the cloud of dust produces more friction than the Simple Is Best expects, the situation will completely change!!”
With a great rumbling, one corner of the desert night glowed red.
It was the Simple Is Best. Its surface had been heated until it glowed. It was reminiscent of an asteroid entering the atmosphere. The color proved it was undergoing a massive amount of friction that was thinly tearing into the entire spherical main body.
But it did not stop there.
The Simple Is Best’s silhouette began to crumble. Its “beak” looked like a thick book that had its binding removed. The metal leaf on the surface was being purged with explosives. The unexpected amount of friction was being misinterpreted as an attack from an Object.
And the destruction did not stop at the first layer.
More and more layers scattered away.
Hundreds and even thousands of layers of the solid armor came undone in an instant. They were all blown away.
The streamlined “beak” silhouette disappeared and the Object lost its lifeline that had been entrusted to that beak because it was the sturdiest part.
That armor had been its greatest safety feature by using the air to keep it pressed against the ground instead of floating up.
What happened next was anything but an ordinary sight.
The 200 thousand ton mass lost control and floated up in the desert night.
Quenser snapped his fingers.
“Got it!! Without its beak, the Simple Is Best can’t charge in at supersonic speeds. If it can’t fire its low-stability plasma cannon at point-blank range, there’s nothing to be afraid of. The princess just has to keep her distance and fire on it!!”
“You idiot!! Is this any time to be getting carried away!?”
He heard a rustling sound from somewhere.
In a moonlit part of the desert, he saw Heivia rise up a bit from where he was hiding.
And the boy shouted over his radio.
“The Simple Is Best has lost control and is rolling like a bowling ball! The Elite inside probably burst like a water balloon, but the threat isn’t over yet. The scale might be too big to understand, but a 50 meter steel ball is rolling this way at several hundred kph! If you don’t want to be turned to mincemeat as a stupid-looking bowling pin, pick up that blonde beauty and run!!”
“The Simple Is Best has been heavily damaged by a main cannon blast from the Baby Magnum. The Hornet Storm continued fighting but began to withdraw the instant it was damaged. It likely viewed the loss of the two-against-one advantage as the time leave. The Baby Magnum was only lightly damaged.”
A female operator spoke within the 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion’s mission control room. Froleytia removed her narrow kiseru from her mouth and let out a sigh accompanied by sweet-smelling smoke.
“Understood. It’s over then. Lower the threat level by one. Maintain the early warning shift and begin retrieving soldiers and handling the post-battle procedures.”
“You have a congratulatory call from a brigadier general stationed in Sydney. He seems surprised we managed to escape the two-against-one situation with so little damage.”
“Tell him to call back later.”
“If I may speak openly, putting off calls like this can create unnecessary friction between the conflicting factions of the military.”
“And if I may speak off the record, this brigadier general is probably one of the ones behind the ‘natural assassination’ we were told about. We have no reason to play along as he sweats bullets and tries to form a peaceful relationship with us. This is a job for the Black Uniforms stationed in the maintenance base.”
With that said, Froleytia held her folded laptop under one arm and left the mission control room. She left the building and walked across the maintenance base that was made up of over one hundred large vehicles. The countless headlights filled the area with more light than a ballpark during a night game. It was easy to forget that they were in the middle of the desert at night.
On the way, she happened across a large troop transport helicopter being towed into a hangar. She waved at the soldiers finishing up their job as she continued on.
On one end of the maintenance base zone, she entered a facility that was too large to simply be called a medical room. Ever since the incident with the Water Strider in the Alaska region, she had made sure to expand the medics, military doctors, and medical facilities she entrusted her 1000-man battalion to. The biggest problem had been using various petty arguments to obtain the budget from the higher ups who did not view such things as important.
She spoke to one of the medics.
“Has she regained consciousness?”
“Enough to speak with her. Her right arm is a lost cause. It would be difficult to reconnect the nerves. But arm control technology using the electrical potential difference on the surface of the skin is being developed for ALS patients, so she should not have any difficulties in her daily life if she splurges and purchases a convenient prosthetic arm.”
“The country should pay for at least that much. …Or perhaps we can strip it from the personal funds of those behind this.”
The medic shrugged and moved out of the way, so Froleytia continued on and knocked lightly on a door. After receiving a response, she entered.
There were a few different beds inside, but only one was occupied.
“Lisa Deauville. Unfortunately, your name was not found in the military database. It is likely being hidden. It is unusual to find data I cannot access at my rank.”
“That means you were not my ‘customer’, major. My name can only be accessed by the high-ranking officers who wish to protect themselves by using me as a trump card in a withdrawal. I am glad you are an honest soldier.”
“Do you know any brigadier generals who have worked with you?”
“About three, but only one who is stationed in Oceania. The others are soldiers who never leave the safe countries.”
“I can see why they would send out Objects to assassinate you,” muttered Froleytia.
She had essentially worked as a bodyguard for VIPs, so she had likely had plenty of chances to learn their secrets. But if she was left in the care of the Black Uniforms who were kept highly isolated from the rest of the military, those black-hearted officers could not easily reach her.
Froleytia sat in the chair by the bed and opened her laptop on her lap.
“I have a lot to ask.”
“I intend to reveal everything at my court martial. Whatever my reasons were, I must take responsibility for shooting my colleagues and commander.”
“I need preliminary data for that. To be honest, I came here instead of immediately joining the craziness of the party celebrating our safety like I wanted to. If you understand, then hurry up and cooperate, second lieutenant.”
“You can start by telling me what happened with the Stalk Killer Unit you belong to. Battlefield Student Quenser Barbotage’s explanation was not enough. It seems he is the type with good ideas but poor ability at conveying his thoughts. That may be the sad state of everyone in the sciences.”
“I see. Now, where should I start?”
Lisa Deauville closed her eyes as she lay on the bed.
She organized her thoughts and then opened her eyes once more.
She knew what she should say first.
She looked directly at Froleytia Capistrano and spoke.
“My mission was to bring a large amount of paint into Oceania.”