HEAVY OBJECT:Volume7 Chapter 3
Chapter 3: Police are a Means of Stopping War >> Liberation Battle in Oceania
“The military scandal shows no sign of ending. The council has made the rare decision to treat the plan to use an Object for a military assassination as attempted murder. The brigadier general thought to be the primary individual behind the plan has been called back from Oceania for…”
The princess sat on a metal staircase of a building near the Object maintenance area. She may have been bored because she was staring blankly at a 1seg TV program on her handheld device. The maintenance base zone was made up of over one hundred large vehicles and their tires measured over two meters in diameter. Stairs were needed simply to enter them.
In the dry desert, merely stepping into the shade felt much cooler. The princess had the front of her special suit open so the wind could reach her skin. As someone who spent long periods of time in an air-conditioned cockpit, her upper limit for heat appeared to be rather low.
A short distance away, the two idiots were using shovels to dig everywhere they could in the hot sand.
“Quenser, you idiot! You don’t remember where you buried them, do you!?”
“I marked it last night! I secretly stuck a stick into the ground.”
“When Myonri dug there, she found a ton of dead cicadas and almost passed out! Damn… What is going on? Where did we dig the hole we put the canned foods and packaged foods leftover from the victory party!? I thought we were going to be freed from those eraser-like rations for a while!!”
“Hurry, hurry! This maintenance base is mobile, remember? If the entire unit decides to move, we’ll lose all those cans! There was beef stew in there. If we lose that, it’ll traumatize me!!”
“What are those two doing?”
An old woman stuck her head out of the Object maintenance area and spoke to the princess.
The princess looked up from the screen and toward the old woman.
“It looks like a treasure hunt.”
“You aren’t going to join them?”
“I’m not in the mood for food. And I just finished building a cicada grave.”
The old maintenance woman did not quite understand, so she decided to ask them directly.
“Hey, slacking student.”
“Eeee!! One of the lecturers has locked onto us!”
“As long as she doesn’t tell that huge-breasted commander, we’re fine! Seduce her or something to bring her onto our side!! I’ll go dig over there!!”
“No fair! Don’t run off on your own!!”
“What are you doing out here?”
The old woman’s words seemed to nail Quenser to the ground.
She was asking what he was doing “out here” because he was not in the Object maintenance area.
He slowly and stiffly turned toward her.
“W-would two cans of lunchmeat be enough for us to come to an understanding? Or maybe peaches or pineapple!?”
“I’m not asking about that. Have you forgotten why you came out to the battlefield in the first place? I thought it was to spend as much time observing the Object as possible so you could learn as much as possible.”
“Are you seriously saying that?” Quenser sounded surprised as he continued digging around randomly. “They’re repainting the Object in there. They’re using tons of organic solvent in a closed space and I didn’t dodge bullets to end up high on paint thinner.”
“It is true painting an Object does not use any specialized technology. I admit that.”
“It’s the same as a normal warship. The Object’s onion armor is made from special metal plates that have high-heat resistant and reactive elements mixed in like a katana, but that also means the armor will rust when exposed to the elements. We can’t have the pride of our nation rusting, so they’re careful to use techniques of keeping it from rusting, right? They’re not mixing in ferrite to give it high-level stealth ability and they’re not using camouflage patterns based on psychology and research into human cognizance to hide it from the human brain. There’s nothing in it for a student like me.”
Those sorts of techniques had been used for the fighters and tanks of the previous age.
This had been due to the high risk of being shot down or destroyed. But that effort was unnecessary with the colossal Objects which could withstand a direct hit from a nuclear weapon.
Also, it would be exceedingly difficult to hide a 50+ meter armored weapon from radar or the naked eye.
“The technical issues are a factor, but the paint job has more to do with the desires of the higher ups in the military and government.”
“They don’t want their hero sneaking around?”
“When sending an obviously overpowered weapon into battle, they need a tricky argument to silence the pacifists. That’s why they like the symbolism of a hero that defeats an abominable enemy in a fair fight. The Objects have brought an end to the nuclear age by force, so they want to maintain the freshness of that impression for as long as possible. Letting it fade into history would be a waste.”
“I suppose they need a simple commercial to gain the massive military budget they need for them. That’s why they want the Objects to always be polished up bright like an exhibit at a motor show. They even have a lovely pilot Elite by its side to play the role of the companion girl. …But none of that is a job for the designer I want to be. Get a PR guy for that.”
“Let me touch the more…well…sensitive parts at the core. Like the JPlevelMHD reactor or the targeting sensor control system.”
“Don’t be silly. You aren’t touching those. Before you even think about it, you need to pass at least fifteen international exams.”
As the princess sat on the metal staircase and stared blankly up into the blue sky, she called out to Quenser.
“??? What is it?”
“Did something happen with that Information Alliance Elite? She said something I didn’t like about what she was going to do with you.”
“Um, that can apply to a lot of Elites. Which one are we talking about?”
“…There are a lot of them?”
The princess’s expression made it clear he had stirred up unnecessary trouble.
Quenser, however, did not understand what she had been trying to ask.
“Anyway, princess, I hope you haven’t forgotten about the karaoke!! During the battle with the Simple Is Best and the Hornet Storm, you had the nerve to say idols were worthless because anyone can sing!!”
“Uuh… I-I remember.”
“Good. These days, you can run a karaoke place anywhere using internet download services. There are even some here in Oceania. During our next day off, I demand to see if you have the skills to back up your bragging!!”
The old maintenance woman let out a quiet sigh.
This arrangement was actually almost exactly what the princess had expected to happen and wanted to happen, but she did not seem to know what to do now that things were going more smoothly than expected.
It was an example of a plan coming back to bite her.
The two youths compared their schedules to set up a date and Quenser suddenly spoke up once they had finished.
In that instant, he became a true idiotic designer.
“Oh, right. I need to ask you too, princess. The reactor may be too dangerous, but can I check out the targeting sensor control system or somewhere else that will help me study Object design?”
“Do you not trust me at all?”
“It’s not an issue of your skill,” said the old woman in exasperation. “There are different types of people who work with Object design. There are those who build up virtual models based on theory, there are academic types that materialize and realize those models, there are inventor types who have a single idea and go beyond their primary field to gather everything they need to realize it, and there are craftsmen who use their experience and unexplainable instincts in their fingertips to produce results greater than precision manufacturing equipment. The targeting sensor control system you’re talking about is a black box that complexly combines all of those together. Not even the princess or I will touch it without reason.”
“So you entrust your life to something no one touches?”
“That is not what she meant,” said the princess. “It is maintained in sessions including more than fifty people. You can think of it like exchanging our opinions to find the right flavor for a cocktail we do not know the recipe to. Bringing in someone who doesn’t know the flavor would distort our opinions and raise the likelihood of the final drink not matching the perfect flavor.”
“An Object has over one hundred cannons, both big and small,” continued the old woman. “Each of those has multiple sensors and the entire Object has its primary radars and sensors. Coordinating all of those is beyond human ability. Most of it is handled by computers, but there are some situations where that doesn’t cut it. Do you know what I’m talking about?”
“That’s right. Those move at the speed of light, so they can’t be avoided after seeing them fired. What matters is predicting the attack by observing the minute movements of the enemy’s cannons and sensor lenses. You can’t leave that to a computer both when attacking and when defending.”
In a battle between Objects, one could not simply continue to evade. One had to attack and hit.
If an enemy would predict the attack before it was fired, one had to predict where they would evade to and fire there instead.
“Ultimately, the whole system only works when you combine the precise sensors, the high-spec computers, and the fearful fingertips of a human. It seems the Information Alliance is researching completely automated targeting algorithms, but they have a long way to go towards making it practical. Then again, they’re more skilled than anyone when it comes to using information, so who knows how much we can trust what our intelligence division has gathered on them.”
“I won’t lose to something like that.”
This seemed to have worked up an odd sense of competition in the princess because she pouted her lips and took a sip from her drink’s straw.
Quenser then heard an electronic tone from the small radio in his uniform.
When he pulled it out and brought it to his mouth, Froleytia’s voice spoke to him.
“Study time is over for the moment, Quenser. Head over to the briefing room with the others. A pre-mission briefing is about to begin.”
“What do we have to do now?”
“That’s what I will explain to you. But it’s a simple mission. I’m not asking you to make a charge at a cutting-edge Object or anything.”
“I beg you to never ask me to do that!! I haven’t been doing it because I want to!!”
“Toward the end of the incident with the Simple Is Best and the Hornet Storm, a large underground structure was discovered when the ground collapsed. That was from your report, Quenser.”
“Today, you will be investigating the abandoned facility. This is simple post-battle cleanup. I suppose the police would call it a crime scene inspection. I honestly doubt it has anything to do with the war, but we have to control everything in the vicinity of the battle. I will be the one writing the annoying report to the higher ups, so you all can help me out a little.”
“So no other military is involved this time? There aren’t going to be any firefights?”
“That’s right. Unless you’ve heard reports of the Capitalist Corporations or the Information Alliance living in holes.”
“Wait. Wait just a minute. Are you saying you want us to carefully check over this place, but nothing – nothing at all – is going to happen? We just have to drive across the desert as if having a picnic, snap a few photos of these strange ruins, and that’s it? You promise?”
“And surprisingly, you actually get paid. With the people’s tax money, no less.”
“Woo hoo!! Oh, god! I can’t wait!! Please fill my team with a ton of female soldiers! This is perfect for Operation North Wind and the Sun. Partway through, our tension is sure to drop and then they’ll strip down to their thin inner clothing!! Hooray! Hooray!!”
“Yes, yes. I get it. You will be in your usual filthy guy team with Heivia. Have fun in your sweaty world of little clothing.”
“Hah hah hah. If you really do that, I’m starting a coup.”
“Hah hah hah!! Do you really think I’m the type to joke about this?”
The transmission ended with a click.
Since Froleytia said it, there was no doubt that he would end up surrounded by men. However, Quenser was not about to give up. He still had hope.
“On a boring investigation, the investigation team, guard team, and transport team will all move as one big group. Even if my team looks like a boys’ school, there’s still a chance of cute young girls in the other teams!! I haven’t lost yet!!”
“Sigh. Are you sure it will turn out that well?” asked the old woman.
“I am!! After all, the end of February is getting towards the end of the fiscal year!! The top levels of the military need to use up their extra budget or the defense budget will be lowered next year. Sending out tons of unnecessary soldiers for a boring mission could easily happen now!!”
“Why are you only this good at calculations at times like this?”
That was of course because this topic was the most compatible with the pink brain cells of adolescence.
At any rate, Quenser raised his hands in an expression of joy.
“Fwa ha ha ha ha ha!! I won’t let our commander win this time! The amount of girls in skimpy, wet, and see-through clothes would surprise a soft drink commercial! Paradise awaits me!!”
Quenser suddenly opened his eyes.
His recent memories were fuzzy. He could not see anything properly. The blue sky of the desert spreaded out before his eyes. He seemed to be lying on his back, but he could not feel the burning of the hot sand.
He felt an unpleasant cold sweat as if he had anemia.
He detected a burning smell mixed with a rusty metallic smell.
…A rusty metallic smell?
“Gah!? Gfh! D-dammit. I just remembered. Our helicopter crashed. Then what was that dream I just had…? Don’t tell me my life was flashing before my eyes! Cough cough!!”
The surface of the desert was not flat. It had large undulations similar to a stormy sea and some areas had height differences of several meters. He was lying in a position to use one of those sand dunes as a shield.
But what was he being shielded from?
The answer was obviously the attacks being fired their way.
Seemingly never-ending sounds of bursting gunfire made him think of a fireworks show gone wrong. Quenser’s group was not on the attack. They were unilaterally being fired upon. The storm of steel was so great they would have been torn to pieces in just a few seconds if not for the dune.
Heivia had his back pressed against the dune while sticking just his rifle’s sensors up over it.
“Are you finally awake, you bastard!? I was beginning to think I wasted an adrenaline cartridge!!”
“Seriously? You mean one of those thick needles you stab directly into the heart!? I was in that bad a state!?”
“I thought this would be best. If you were hitting on an angel, I apologize.”
“Oh, right! I saw my life flash before my eyes! It seemed so real!! Um…huh? I couldn’t quite remember what happened. I remembered seeing the princess, Froleytia, and the old maintenance woman.”
“Right, right. I already knew how little fidelity you had, but it’s good to know you’re the same as ever!”
As his blood flow returned to normal, the data in Quenser’s head gradually fell into the proper order.
(Oh, that’s right.)
He had been sent on a mission by Froleytia.
They were to investigate the underground structure he had come across during the battle with the Simple Is Best and Hornet Storm. Even if it was not a very important building, she had needed detailed information on anything in the combat zone for a report to the higher ups.
Quenser and the others had been loaded into the large transport helicopters and were sent to the area of desert in question.
Nothing but cream-colored sand had continued in every direction, so it had been a frightening sight to look down on. He had wanted to avoid getting lost here. Even a South American jungle would have more opportunities for survival techniques.
The only landmarks were the remains of the rusty pipelines that travelled here and there like blood vessels of the planet. But if one was stranded, it would probably be impossible to tell a rescue team where one was using them. After all, they would continue in a straight line for 100 or even 1000 kilometers.
“It doesn’t matter how intently you stare down there, you aren’t going to find an oasis or a girl in a micro bikini,” Heivia said. “More importantly, can you believe we’re travelling over a battlefield in a helicopter? Sure, we aren’t directly dealing with an Object, but one of them may suddenly decide to go on a hunt.”
But if they had been crammed into military trucks to travel along the rough desert under the hot sun, they would have been struck by the double-punch of heat stroke and motion sickness before even arriving at the site.
After the formation of large helicopters had travelled for a while, they had spotted the remains of the terminal facility where several old pipelines gathered. That facility had been used to gather water from deep underground rather than oil.
But then they had soon spotted a few trucks with canopies parked near the old facility.
Quenser had frowned.
“Are those scavengers trying to gather anything of value?”
“There can’t be any proper machinery left. And look at the canopies. That’s the Blue Cross. They’re the world’s largest medical humanitarian organization. They head to Antarctic and the jungle to find samples of deadly bacteria, they give money to groups researching nanotech medicine, and all sorts of other things. They’re probably providing food.”
“Nanotech? Oh, you mean the techniques taken from military science where it can be used as a new method for regulating Elite’s bodies? They place drops of medicine in a membrane like a small bubble, get that bubble past the filters to the brain or kidneys, and provide the medicine directly to the target. They use ultrasonic waves to break the outer shell at the desired point, right?”
“You get excited about anything that has even the slightest connection to Objects, don’t you? Can you stop breathing so heavily? It’s creepy.”
“Anyway, what’s the Blue Cross doing at these abandoned ruins?”
At that point, Quenser’s memories suddenly lost coherency.
As he laid on his back with a hand on his sweaty brow, he let out a groan.
“That’s right. Those bastards weren’t the Blue Cross at all. Someone painted up their trucks to trick us. They removed the canopies and there were missiles inside.”
“Are you the type that needs coffee and toast to wake up in the morning? If not, get moving!! We’re gonna be surrounded!!”
The burnt smell was coming from the remains of their crashed helicopter.
The whirl of bullets was not coming from just one direction. They were partially surrounded by a C-shape.
It was unclear who the enemy was or how many of them there were.
Their group had to be at least two or three sizes larger than Quenser and Heivia’s group. More than twenty people were lying behind the sand dune like Quenser. They all had their arms or legs bound with bandages to stop their bleeding, some had the removed stock of a carbine used to set a broken bone, and a lot of them were unconscious. The area had become a makeshift field hospital.
Quenser looked up at the blue sky that seemed to continue forever.
“Where are the other helicopters? Where’s our way out!? We’ll just be worn down bit by bit like this. We can’t fight in the desert without a means of mobility!”
“All of the functioning helicopters have temporarily withdrawn! We can’t exactly overcome their surface-to-air missiles with the power of friendship. If they hover around here to pick us up, they’ll be shot down! No help is coming until we silence those!!”
“They may be transport helicopters, but they have machineguns attached to the door, right? Firing down with those will make a huge difference!!”
“In this clean age, no one wants to start a Western-style quick draw using heavy weaponry. We won’t get anywhere wishing for something that isn’t coming. Focus on reality!!”
Nothing but sand as far as the eye could see lay in every direction.
There was no escape without some kind of vehicle. Even if they began to flee on foot, they would be quickly overtaken and riddled with holes. Falling back would not improve their situation and most of those injured in the crash were in no state to walk on their own.
The enemy was advancing.
Once the enemy surpassed the sand dune, they would only sink into a puddle of blood.
“Screw this. You’ve gotta be kidding me. I thought this was supposed to be an easy mission.”
As Quenser complained, he rolled over onto his stomach. He then climbed up the dune and stopped next to Heivia.
“How many are there?”
“Somewhere between 50 and 60. Only a samurai or ninja can defeat that many in a straight fight. It will be a different story if we have support from the helicopters, but we need to silence those armored vehicles to do that.”
“Who are they anyway?”
“I don’t know. But knowing that they’re bastards who don’t deserve to live is good enough for me,” spat out Heivia. “But their equipment is relatively new. It looks like they gathered downgraded weapons that the Capitalist Corporations and the Information Alliance sell to gather foreign currency. Their ability may be intentionally lowered, but they’re expensive. I doubt a gang or slum residents who are strapped for cash can get their hands on that stuff.”
The repeated sounds of gunfire caused Quenser to grimace.
“Are you saying those are trained soldiers? They’re firing around almost at random. If they were aiming each shot, we would have already been filled with bullets.”
“Listen, skinny boy. Have you never heard of sounding out your enemy? When you don’t know where they are, you fire all over the place and wait for them to react. …It’s all over once they find out where exactly we are. They have tons of machineguns and missiles on their trucks. Specifically, they have more than ten trucks. This shield of sand is meaningless. They may be surface-to-air, but a few of those missiles will blow the terrain to smithereens.”
Quenser let out a long, slow breath.
And then he asked another question.
“Then what exactly are we supposed to do?”
“Well done getting your mind in gear.”
Heivia pulled back the rifle sensors he had been peering over the dune and used the sand to write out the information he had risked his life to collect.
“They have their machinegun and surface-to-air missile equipped trucks set up to protect the terminal facility that pumps water up from underground. They’re between five and six hundred meters away. Their rifles and machineguns can reach us from there, but fifty or sixty soldiers armed with carbines and light machineguns are slowly approaching. Once they cross a certain line, we’ll be slaughtered. We need to do something before they can manage that.”
“We can’t win if we fight? Are there too many of them?”
“As I said, we could annihilate their infantry with our helicopter machineguns, but those helicopters can’t approach right now. We need to silence those surface-to-air missile containers sitting up on their trucks.”
Quenser glanced over at Heivia.
He carried a shoulder-fired missile launcher over his back. That could be used to blow up the armored trucks, but there was one major problem.
“That’s right. I only have one shot and there are over ten of them. This isn’t going to work.”
Quenser remained silent for a moment.
He stared at the rough map his friend had drawn on the sand.
“Heivia, my memories aren’t perfect due to the shock, so I need to ask you something.”
“I’m not your fiancé from before your memory loss if that’s what you’re wondering.”
“It’s about when they attacked our helicopter with their missiles. I knew I could’t expect a large transport helicopter to evade, but we weren’t shot down without putting up any kind of fight, right?”
“What? Well, I remembered a siren blaring as it scattered chaff and flares to trick their radar. I thought we might have activated an infrared jammer as well, but you could see how well all that worked. We were shot down and the other helicopters were forced to withdraw.”
“In other words, we had countermeasures, but they were completely ineffective,” said Quenser while emphasizing each word. “They had some large radar equipment supporting their targeting. That’s how they saw through our deceptions and shot us down. But what if all of their anti-air weaponry were reliant on it? We could take out their ‘net in the sky’ by destroying just the one piece of equipment. Guns and missiles are essentially the same. Without a means of aiming them, they won’t cause any damage.”
“It does make sense,” groaned Heivia. “All of the trucks have oddly large antennae attached. It’s definitely possible they’re using accurate data from a command vehicle that specializes in gathering intelligence. But…”
“Where is it?” Heivia stabbed his rifle’s stock into the center of his map on the sand. “You heard me, right? There are more than ten of their armored trucks and we only have one missile. If we don’t hit the command vehicle on the first shot, it’s all over. Once we lose our trump card, we have nothing left!! Is there any way to tell which one it is!?”
“That’s a good question.”
Quenser folded his arms lightly and traced his index finger over his mouth.
He looked like he was contemplating the dinner menu.
“Heivia, how many assault rifle and handgun bullets do you have left?”
“If it isn’t enough, gather some more from those too injured to move. They won’t do them any good anyway.”
“Wait, wait! They may have been disguised as the Blue Cross, but their trucks probably still have handmade plate inside. You can’t fight armored trucks with normal bullets!!”
“I’m not trying to destroy the trucks. I have no interest in the bullets themselves.”
Quenser ignored Heivia’s confused look and gathered a few assault rifles and carbines.
He disassembled them without any tools and removed the barrel which resembled a long, narrow pipe.
“What are you trying to do?”
“Make some giant fireworks.”
Quenser bent and crushed one end of the long, narrow tubes, removed the rifle bullets from the magazines, and scattered them across the sand.
“A long time ago, they would actually use this kind of simple rocket weapon in Asia. They were meant to set fire to castles or ships. …You said the distance is five or six hundred meters? Cramming in this much intelligent military powder should reach even with the plastic explosive and fuse attached to the front.”
“Are you saying we can oppose all those armored trucks if we go to this extra trouble?” Heivia looked displeased. “Have you forgotten what matters most with weapons, Quenser? Targeting. Reaching them and hitting them are two very different things! A simple fireworks rocket made by stuffing powder into a tube and attaching it to a stick for stability isn’t going to hit!!”
“It doesn’t have to hit.” Quenser readily overturned Heivia’s assumption. “They think they’re perfectly safe over there, so if bombs start bursting too far away to have been thrown, they’ll definitely panic. They’ll try to evacuate the most important thing first. I don’t know how stupid they are, but they are smart enough to know they can’t afford to have their radar vehicle destroyed. While they’re busy secretly moving their most important card away, you just have to blow it up with your missile.”
Heivia was dumbfounded, but Quenser continued his cunning explanation.
“You mentioned sounding out your enemy, remember? Let’s show them how it’s really done.”
As planned, the makeshift rockets were fired into the Oceanian sky.
Heivia fired his shoulder-fired missile into the command truck with the large-scale radar antenna attached and the Legitimacy Kingdom’s unilateral counterattack began.
Once the threat of anti-air weapons was removed, the large transport helicopters were able to return.
They had large caliber machineguns bolted directly to the floor near the door.
As the sound of those firing exploded overhead, Quenser covered his mouth with one hand.
“Why do people like to root for the underdog? Where did my hatred for them go?”
“I think you’re actually looking down on them with a sense of superiority. But don’t worry. You’re enjoying your life well enough.”
Quenser and Heivia laid face down on the slope of the sand dune while the sounds of destruction continued.
The handmade armored trucks had been relatively well modified, but they were filled with holes, their gasoline tanks and weaponry ignited, and they violently exploded. The intense destruction of the machineguns rained down evenly on the group of infantry who had tried to corner Quenser and the others. There were no screams. Instead, a dark red sauce was splattered across the giant frying pan of the desert.
Quenser entered a philosophic mood.
“What is peace?”
Heivia picked his nose with his little finger.
“It’s when we’re still alive.”
After about ten minutes, the sounds of gunfire completely stopped.
A few of the transport helicopters remained at the ready in the air while a few others slowly descended to collect the injured.
One soldier who stepped out of a helicopter shouted over the noise of the rotors.
“Thanks for your work!! We have permission to bring back all of your injured. Leave them with us and they can recover in a bed that reeks of disinfectant!!”
“Yeah, yeah. We get it! But take a look behind you before you say that. The helicopters aren’t at all ready to leave. We can’t leave until the investigation is done!!”
Quenser and Heivia watched as the investigation team and their guards started for the pump facility that connected to the giant underground structure.
The ceiling of the underground structure had collapsed during the previous battle, so it was open to the surface. However, no one would rappel down a ten meter cliff when a perfectly safe staircase was available.
Quenser used his uniform’s sleeve to wipe sweat from his brow and looked up at the roasting sun that felt like the end of the world.
“What do we do now? I don’t want to sit around here. We would dry up before they finished.”
“There’s a pipeline over there. It’s rusted and falling apart, but we can rest behind it. The humidity should be lower and it’ll block the sun.”
The pipeline was a tube with a diameter of over two meters, so it produced enough of a shadow to sit in. The two boys walked over and found most of the other soldiers already leaning up against the rusted metal pipe like a line of ants.
“This is awful.”
“Are you sure it’s cooler here? I feel like gathering together would concentrate the heat.”
Quenser pulled out the water bottle attached to his uniform and took a gulp. It had been warmed by the sun and his body temperature, so he spat it back out.
“Yuck! It feels like I’m drinking my own sweat!!”
“Use your head, student. You need to cool the water bottle with the icing spray used for machineguns. Medic!!”
Heivia’s joking shout let Quenser know the danger had truly passed.
“So what was that? This pump facility is in ruins and all the usable equipment was removed. Missiles cost 10,000 euros each. Why would they defend this place with their lives?”
“Look over here, Quenser.”
Heivia peered inside a broken portion of the pipeline. The pipe was over two meters wide, so it looked more like a metal tunnel.
In fact, it was one.
“There’s sand gathered at the bottom and there’s a thick line down the middle. It looks like a tire track. From the width, I’d say a motorcycle.”
“A tire track?”
With a confused look, Quenser peered inside the broken pipe.
And then it hit him.
“This abandoned pipeline network stretches across the entire desert. No water or oil is being sent through it, so it’s a safe empty space. You don’t mean…”
“When the military government ruled Oceania, secret funds, weapons, and drugs travelled across the country like ghosts were transporting them. They slipped right past the military checkpoints and satellite surveillance. It was said they did it by bribing or threatening the local soldiers, but this might be it.”
“A secret tunnel? So as easily as heading underground through a manhole, they could freely move across Oceania without being checked?”
It was not the pump facility or the giant underground structure that mattered.
Someone was trying to hide the large-scale smuggling network that used the pipelines.
“People armed with the latest military equipment were fighting to protect a smuggling network? That smells fishy to me. Is it an intelligence agency raising funds by selling drugs or something?”
“But who exactly were they?” Heivia looked annoyed as he glanced over at the corpses which had been almost completely destroyed. “Their equipment looks like a collection of Capitalist Corporations and Information Alliance stuff. And it’s the downgraded versions sold for foreign currency rather than the official military equipment. They announce they’re lowering the quality, but still keep the price high. I doubt a local gang or mafia would want to use them.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not sure. Were they soldiers or were they people hired to help out? Well, either way they would mix in a few pros to take command.”
Suddenly, an infantryman guarding the exterior of the pump facility spoke to Quenser and Heivia.
“If you’re discussing conspiracy theories, you might want to check this out.”
Heivia sounded puzzled as the man tossed him a small rectangular handheld device.
However, this was not the type issued to Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers. It also had dark red stains in places.
The soldier shrugged.
“I was scavenging. Those thugs out front were splattered everywhere, so I gathered whatever I thought I could sell.”
“Seriously? You really set foot in that poisonous swamp?”
“And in exchange, I found some interesting data. It looks less like official data and more like someone at the bottom gathered some data to figure out what he was involved in.”
Quenser turned on the device and it was not even locked with a password.
Some of the data files were filled with numbers about ten digits long. He could not read hexadecimal off the top of his head, so he could not tell anything from just that.
“Wait a second,” said Heivia as he peered in from the side. “The first four digits are all the same. I thought these looked familiar. They’re bank account numbers, aren’t they? I think these belong to a major Information Alliance one.”
“Why does a Legitimacy Kingdom noble know that?”
“Don’t be stupid. In this age of wars, you never know what levies will be imposed. Do you really think a greedy noble is going to keep all his money in a single account? We have tons of ways of spreading out our assets. My family has a group of specialist accountants working for us.”
Quenser tilted his head as he scrolled through the iron-smelling device.
There appeared to be over one hundred bank account numbers.
“So what is this list of bank accounts?”
“Probably a deposit list. In other words, these connect to the names of the people cooperating with the people running things from the shadows. Look, the numbers at the end of the account numbers are the same too. That probably refers to a branch in a tropical island tax haven. They’re probably using secret accounts to launder their money.”
“The people running things from the shadows? We still don’t know if this is really a conspiracy.”
“If we dig up the names and identities of this week’s MVPs here, we might find a connection. They disguised their trucks as the Blue Cross and loaded them with machineguns and missiles to hide the secret passageway through the pipeline. They’re definitely up to no good.”
The mischievous infantryman shrugged in utter exhaustion.
“These are secret accounts in the Information Alliance. They aren’t going to give us the information if we ask.”
“Do I look that smart to you? Do you think you can just throw any problem my way?”
Quenser looked irritated, but he begrudgingly agreed after the soldiers around him tossed some icing spray his way.
He sprayed it across his water bottle and spoke.
“Knowing the account numbers is a start. How about we leak the entire list onto the internet while making it look like they were hacked? With secret tax haven accounts, trust matters most. If information has been taken straight from the servers, the clients and managers will both panic.”
“Yes, but will that accomplish anything other than causing a commotion?”
“We can quickly open a fake website claiming to check whether your account number was stolen. If we add in some spyware to snatch the IP of anyone entering their number, we should be able to determine who entered what number. And the shadier the person, the sooner they’ll respond.”
In that instant, everyone resting in the shade of the pipeline stared silently at Quenser.
He squirmed under the pressure of the strange silence.
“Um, what is this? Is this any way to react after I give you what you want?”
“This settles it. Nothing good would come of letting him leave the military.”
They contacted the maintenance base zone’s intelligence division via radio, but they said it would take several days to create a proper fake website.
Heivia stuck out his tongue.
“Damn those desk workers. Do clocks move at a different speed over there? Are they using a vacation clock or something?”
“Either way, I’m jealous.”
“They aren’t on board with this. It’s a pain, but you heard them. Everyone, give any idea we can use to steal the credit from the intelligence department since they refuse to play along.”
Long story short, they ended up with the following ideas: “Different computer viruses are compressed and saved on a certain foreign server”, “I know a collection of templates for scam sites”, and “As long as you have the basic template for the site, you can use a cloud service to edit the details and create a false site in only a few minutes.”
“Why do all of you know about this kind of thing?”
“As a future engineer, I think you should gladly welcome useful nerds. Otherwise, your organization will end up as a dinosaur fossil.”
As they had announced, the bored helpers completed the false website in only a few minutes. Rather than building it from the ground up, they chose a template from a database containing thousands of templates for scam sites and added the necessary decorations. They did the same for the spyware.
“Where should we spread the address? Just on any major message board?”
“For the Legitimacy Kingdom, there’s Blue Blood which only nobles with bloodlines continuing back for 300 years can enter. For the Information Alliance, there’s Rank Literacy which can only be used by people who run sites with over half a million hits a day. There are sites for elitist people from the other two world powers as well.”
“Those are all closed SNSs. We can probably manage with Blue Blood, but you aren’t using my ID.”
“I don’t need to. Everyone uses different identities online. A refined noble will let off some steam by shouting insults on anonymous message boards like it’s a masquerade party. If we spread the information there, the tainted information will make its way into the closed SNSs. They’ll ruin their own attempts to seal it off.”
“It sounds like the insecticide used for roaches. It’s made to look like delicious food so they’ll take it back to their nest where it kills all of them.”
A male soldier had been curled up and fiddling with a handheld device, but he now made an OK sign with his hand.
The others peered curiously at the small screen.
“This virus site is a lot like creating a robot from an empty box and tape, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but it’s already gotten a few pieces of personal information.”
First, they had leaked the list online and let the emergency information spread. Once the clients grew uneasy, they were lured to the false site where they entered their account number. It was unclear when exactly the different waves of attack began.
“We have a few names and identities to go with numbers on our list. About ten so far. Let’s try to find a link between them.”
“Wait.” Heivia pointed at one of the names. “This is an international satellite TV executive. He claims to bring laughter and the truth to the blank regions and dictatorships where information is being controlled. Oceania’s mass media has begun to recover, but it’s still unstable. Satellite TV still has a lot of credibility and influence here.”
He pointed at another name.
“This is a blog king. He’s known as Oceania’s leading source of sarcasm.”
He pointed at another.
“This is an entertainer famous for volunteer work.”
“An executive for an international canned drink maker. They have ads during all sorts of shows.”
As each name was described, Quenser saw a common theme.
“Are they using the media to influence people’s impressions?”
“Their impressions of what?”
“No matter how much they’re being paid, I doubt they would say something that strays too far from their ideologies and beliefs. The money is nothing but the trigger giving them the final push. In that case, what do these people believe in?”
Heivia grimaced when he heard that.
He had been the one describing the names, so he had a general understanding of the people.
“This might be a major headache for us.”
“They want true independence for Oceania by having the ‘thugs’ leave. They’re a bunch of people who refuse to do any real work while pretending to be pacifists. They think they’re the most important no matter what.”
“Even the corporate executives?”
“Sitting arrogantly in a leather chair isn’t normally referred to as ‘work’.”
A mysterious group in Oceania was spreading intentionally biased information to create a tendency toward hating the coalition military.
The current problem was the pipeline they were using to secretly transport something across the desert. They had even started a firefight with the Legitimacy Kingdom in order to hide it.
This was more than a newspaper editorial.
This mysterious group was prepared to use legitimate violence.
“This pipeline is being used as a secret transportation network and massive amounts of money are being given to influential people to manipulate the opinions of the Oceanian people. What are they trying to do here?”
“Hey,” spoke up the soldiers who had helped them earlier. “I checked a few more of their handheld devices and there’s a net storage site they access frequently. They may keep their larger data there.”
“Does it have a password?”
“Just like online banks, it uses a one-time password. …But this was outsourced and the company in charge of security has slipped past the firewall a few times. We might be able to use the maintenance master key.”
“Would they really use the same key for several weeks or months?”
“No, but if we find a pattern to the changes in the periodically updated alphanumeric key, it might be possible to determine what the current key is. It will take some time, though.”
“Try working on it,” said Quenser as his radio emitted an electronic tone.
Froleytia was calling them.
“I have a question for all of you. You aren’t performing unauthorized electronic warfare against an Information Alliance tax haven bank, are you? The intelligence department has detected a fascinating flow of data.”
Everyone there straightened their spines.
The Legitimacy Kingdom and Information Alliance were at war, but wars had rules known as treaties. And as Heivia had said, secret tax haven accounts were unofficially used by nobles and royals so they could secretly divide their assets up between false names and dummy corporations. Even if this was an enemy nation, some higher ups might not want them messing with it. Someone might be placing pressure on Froleytia.
But when no amount of apology would fix the situation, Quenser did not want to continue speaking for long.
He responded casually while looking around for help.
Heivia pointed toward the pump facility with his thumb.
“(That thick concrete might cut off the signal!!)”
“Okay, okay. Eh? What!? No, no. That isn’t what we’re doing!!”
While Quenser stalled for time, he and Heivia ran toward the remains of the pump facility.
They circled around the lake of dark red sauce and continued toward the building which contained stairs leading underground.
The armored trucks disguised as the Blue Cross were still burning and smoking. They would no longer function, but the two idiots circled well away from them because the bombs or missiles could suddenly burst.
The inside of the building was a large space.
It had originally been a facility to draw up unused water from underground and send it to grain-producing land, but all of the equipment had been removed when it was abandoned. It was now a movie theater-sized space made of reinforced concrete. It was essentially empty. Broken metal stairways and passageways could be found here and there and they appeared to be built around large machinery that was no longer present.
But that did not matter.
“(Heivia! The signal’s still going strong!! Froleytia’s completely pissed!! We can’t escape like this!!)”
“(Let’s head down the spiral staircase and underground!!)”
The two idiots descended the spiral staircase and ran out into a narrow tunnel. Static finally began to fill the radio signal.
This was the moment they had been waiting for.
“Ksshhh. Wait, what is… Explain yourse-…kssssshhhhh!!”
“Eh? What? I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you at all!! Over!!”
With that, he ended the transmission and switched off the radio altogether.
Heivia leaned up against the concrete wall.
“If we hang around here, the investigation team will see us and force odd jobs on us. Let’s go pretend to be working.”
They were doing nothing more than extending their suffering, but they took an extremely positive stance and viewed it as a chance to arrange the excuses they needed to weasel out of it.
They passed through a straight corridor and arrived at the underground structure.
“Wow. There really isn’t a ceiling. It feels like the world’s biggest convertible.”
The ground above had completely collapsed during the previous battle, so the blue sky was perfectly visible even in the “underground” structure. They were over ten meters down, so they were not about to climb up or down rather than using the stairs.
A lot of sand had poured in, so it looked a lot more cluttered than the pump facility.
The piles of wooden boxes may have added to that impression.
“It looks like they’ve finished investigating here. Otherwise, we never would have been allowed in.”
“What are these boxes? Surely they aren’t empty.”
After receiving permission from a man on the investigation team who was taking photographs, Quenser and Heivia removed the nails from one wooden box and opened it.
“There’s some kind of powder packed in plastic.”
“But it doesn’t look like something with a high street price.”
The bags had some kind of label, so Quenser used his handheld device to snap a photo.
They opened a few more boxes and found reels of fiber optic cable as well as nuts and bolts packaged by size.
“Did someone’s father make a secret base for his home improvement projects?”
“Wait. I think I know what that powder was,” muttered Quenser.
Suddenly, the two idiots heard the noise of something falling over.
And when they turned toward the noise…
In the name of war recovery, many different types of construction had begun at a fevered pitch across Oceania: houses, shops, roads, water and sewage, etc. The coalition of the four world powers claimed bringing order to the country was their top priority, but they could not utterly eliminate anyone who was even slightly suspicious. Specialists who did not look right in a suit or work uniform and guards who carried guns could not be distinguished from actual bad guys.
If those suspicious-looking people were let into the same space as rich foreign tourists, it could lead to a situation similar to a hamster that mistook another hamster’s sex.
To keep some separation, a hidden side to the city was created for those suspicious-looking people. Drawn by the flow of money, violent restaurants, marriage scam artists who were always crying in a bar, and people from various other occupations would gather there. These were the people who had gone too far in their original country. Like a snowball rolling down a snowy mountain, the strength of these dark cities slowly but steadily grew.
A certain bar in one such place was quite cheap but it was best not to think about what corners were cut to make it that cheap. In a dimly lit corner of that bar, a small group sat around a table cut off from the rest of the bar by curtains.
“They have failed.”
A young man wore a black suit and hat that looked out of place in the summertime desert. His sunglasses looked more like they were hiding his face than protecting his eyes from the sun.
“Terminal 52 has been taken by the Legitimacy Kingdom. The men we hired were wiped out.”
“We knew they would lose from the beginning.”
He was not the only one in such a conspicuous outfit.
A woman sitting at the same table wore all black, down to her necktie.
“Even if they could temporarily drive them back, they are a world power and thus they have an Object. If the problem grew too large, they would have sent it in. Those men were doomed to lose.”
But it was not just the two of them. Everyone at the table was wearing all black.
“Their loss was planned for. We all understand that. In that case, could you tell us one thing? Did they die before or after achieving their goal?”
“If not, I would be a little more concerned.”
“Whatever gets in the way, no one can reach us as long as all evidence is destroyed in the end.”
Everyone turned toward the young man who had spoken first.
No, they were technically looking behind him.
A blonde woman stood there wearing the exact same suit and sunglasses. She also held the same type of handgun the rest of them possessed.
“Are you saying the objective was achieved?”
The young man slowly raised his hands in response.
The tip of the silencer was already pressed against the back of his head.
He smiled thinly and responded quietly.
“Yes. And let me add this: it was nice knowing-…”
A muffled gunshot interrupted his words.
He collapsed face-first onto the round table. The others slowly stood up and took the necessary measures. They gathered the empty shell casing from the ground, used a rag wet with alcohol to wipe down anything that might have their fingerprints or saliva on it, and cleaned up the floor with a roller of sticky tape to pick up any fallen hair.
They made sure it was the same as if nothing had happened.
“Case #022 complete. Supervisor Alaska 49’s death has cut off the trail. Case #023 will now begin. The supervisor will be me, Texas 28.”
The blonde woman spoke quietly while pulling a brand new tablet computer from her bag. The others all focused on her.
They did so exactly as they had focused on the young man who had just been killed.
It was as if it were a ritual that had begun long before that young man.
“Fortunately, Case #022’s objective was fulfilled. A link with the scene has been secured. As planned, we shall continue to the next situation.”
“In other words?”
“We shall bury it in an explosion.”
They remained in the shadows.
Even when they won and when they were superior, they would kill their allies to suppress all information.
In that case, they were not going to hesitate to kill their enemies.
“Not good,” muttered Quenser.
He had seen what some kind of impact had knocked over within the underground structure.
“Not good!! Heivia, everyone else! Get out of here now!!”
“What’s the matter, Quenser?”
A 1.5 meter cylindrical container similar to a propane tank lay before them. However, it was made of transparent reinforced glass and it was filled with some kind of liquid. The center of the cylinder had a donut-like hollow area which was filled with an explosive.
“That’s an acid bomb. Militaries use it to destroy evidence!! When the explosive detonates, it destroys the container and the blast sends a thorough shower of powerful acid in every direction. In just a few seconds, it reacts with the air and a vaporized acid cloud expands out. It’ll swallow up five hundred to eight hundred meters in no time! If you get caught in that, you’ll end up in a photograph at an exhibit on the horrors of war!!”
“Seriously? Are you kidding me!? Then were those guys here to set this thing up!? There might be something hidden here!!”
“With something that large and heavy, they couldn’t transport it by motorcycle, so they couldn’t use their secret pipeline. They were forced to use a truck and that’s when we ran across them.”
“But it’s just a bomb, right? Can’t you defuse it!? Bombs are your specialty!”
“There’s no time. There’s only ten minutes left! It’s waiting for a passcode in case it was accidentally activated, but that isn’t enough time to analyze it!! If you want to live, start running! We need to get back to the helicopters!!”
Quenser and Heivia did not hesitate to flee the underground structure and they made sure to bring the investigation team and their guards with them.
As they ran through the long, narrow corridor, Quenser turned his radio back on, hit the switch, and explained the situation to the helicopters so they could leave immediately.
But that might have been a mistake.
As soon as they ran up the spiral staircase and out of the pump facility, Heivia swore.
They could see multiple helicopters taking off.
“Wait, dammit! Wait!! If we hadn’t told you, you would’ve been surrounded by the acid cloud! We saved your lives!!”
“Sorry, but rescuing the injured takes precedence! Can you steal one of the enemy’s trucks and escape on your own!?”
“Do you really think any of them are still running!? You were the ones that blew them up!!”
“Heivia, they aren’t coming back! More importantly, everyone who’s left needs to gather here. Anyone who makes a mistake here will be melted by acid!!”
Quenser heard a deafening sound resembling an amplified version of a shaken can of beer being opened.
A strange white cloud began to spread out not far away. It grew to the size of an Object in no time.
“That’s the acid cloud,” said Heivia as his face paled.
The giant cloud burst up from the underground structure like cotton candy. It exited the hole from the collapse and spread out across the desert. At the same time, it was likely entering the pump facility through the stairway leading up. That death had no gaps. Everyone would be wiped out.
“That thing spreads faster than a forest fire. Sixty kph was it!? It’ll overtake us if we try to escape on foot!!”
“We can escape.”
“Through the pipeline! The thick metal should hold it off temporarily! If we can escape beyond its effective range of several hundred meters before it dissolves the metal pipe, we can survive. It’s a chance at least!!”
Quenser began running as he shouted his instructions to Heivia and the others using his radio.
“Wait, Quenser! That pipeline is falling apart. What if the pipe is completely broken partway down? The acid cloud will enter there and trap us!!”
“Would you rather stay here? Bye bye, Heivia. You can stick with 0%, but I’m going to bet on 1%. Even your dog tags will probably be dissolved, so we won’t gather your remains!!”
“I get it! I get it, goddammit!!”
The pipe was rusty and falling apart. Cracks and large holes existed in places.
Quenser and the others ran inside that empty and sandy tube as quickly as they could.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me. You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me!!”
The acid cloud will hit in less than thirty seconds! Seal up the holes as best you can!! Use body bags or whatever to cover them and keep the acid cloud out!”
They knew it was not going to be perfect.
After some quick work, they ran down the two meter tunnel with all their strength.
They were soon surrounded by a sound resembling stir-frying.
“The acid cloud has caught up!!”
“It won’t break through the pipe right away! Keep running!!”
The pipeline had been created to carry over ten tons of liquid every second, so it had been built quite thick to withstand the internal pressure. But the sound of the metal being eaten away still squeezed at their hearts so much they forgot how thick it was.
“It’s only going to last two or three minutes.”
“We just have to make it a few hundred meters. That isn’t a marathon. We can escape to safety if we run as quickly as we can!!”
“Damn them, whoever they are! What do they want to hide so badly that they’re willing to ruin the environment like this!?”
“We can think about it after we survive!!”
Strange sparks seemed to explode in their heads and it became impossible to think about anything unnecessary.
They just ran and ran and ran and ran.
As they ran, the outside world had long since vanished from their minds. They began to feel like their goal had been filled with the acid and that the acid cloud had covered the entire world.
“There are cracks here and there. Keep running while covering your head with some kind of cloth! Stopping will only eat away at our skin!!”
Fortunately, the cracks were small and not much of the acid cloud seemed to be getting in.
But Quenser and the others did not have time to objectively evaluate the situation.
They could not tell if the dampness inside their uniforms was their sweat or their melted skin.
Even so, they continued running.
It was not exactly out of stubbornness. They were simply losing themselves in the simple action of running so they could avert their gaze from the certain death closing in on them.
“Quenser,” Heivia finally called out.
Quenser could not imagine why he was calling out to him.
“Quenser! It’s over. The sizzling sound is gone. We’ve left the range of the acid cloud.”
“We survived! We don’t need to run any further. Do you want to destroy your own heart!?”
It took him a while to truly realize he had survived.
He eventually collapsed to a sitting position and could tell his lips were twitching.
After a few seconds, he finally realized he was smiling.
Somewhere in Oceania, the muffled sound of a gun with a silencer could be heard.
Another young man looked down at a blonde woman with a bullet hole in her forehead.
“Case #023 complete. The objective was not achieved and it has been deemed a failure. To recover, Case #024 will now begin.”
Quenser worked hard to calm down Heivia who was seriously planning to punch the pilot of the slowly descending helicopter. Surprisingly, the intellectual-looking investigation team seemed to agree with Heivia. They were only human and anyone would be angry when their supposed comrades unreasonably abandoned them in an acid cloud.
“Calm down. If we all flip them off, they might fly away without us. We need to give them a smile with the kindness of a younger sister and the dependability of an older sister.”
“Got it, Quenser. You’re saying we act like a carnivorous plant, right? Once they open the helicopter door, their life is over.”
The helicopter team must have felt bad because, when they opened the door, they handed out bottles of carbonated drinks they had found somewhere. The bottles were ice cold thanks to the icing spray for machineguns. There were some enticements one’s senses could not resist. After running around in the 50 degree desert, this was more than enough to quiet them down.
The middle-aged male pilot explained the situation.
“The acid cloud is spreading out higher in the sky like a cumulonimbus cloud. We checked the weather map for the wind and there is a danger of running into it on our way back to the maintenance base. We want more accurate information if possible.”
“If that’s the only reason you picked us up, I really will shove you out.”
Growing stubborn was not going to accomplish anything.
The helicopter team’s decision had not been wrong given all the injured they had and Quenser’s group had indeed managed to hold on to their lives.
In that case, they needed to use their brains for something more important.
“So what do you think they were trying to destroy?” asked Quenser as the movements of the helicopter shook him. “Do you think it was those wooden boxes in the underground structure? Y’know, those fiber optic cables, the bolts, the nuts, and that strange powder.”
Quenser stared at the photographs he had taken on his handheld device, but then he heard someone give a sudden cry of surprise.
It came from one of the intellectual infantryman who had helped them create the fake site for the bank account numbers.
“What is it?”
“I was searching for the master key to the net storage we discovered using those thugs’ devices, remember? Well, I think I found something bad.”
Everyone gathered around the slender infantryman.
All of the stern men stared at the small screen.
It had recorded phone calls, graphs showing the exchange of money, and documents on the group’s projects and external cooperators. The infantryman displayed a summary file that looked like the minutes of a meeting.
“Concerning war recovery in Oceania and the influence that recovery provides within the country. A list of important infrastructure and how to drive a wedge into the provisional rule using the foundation of that infrastructure.”
“Wait, wait, wait. This contractor, this one, and this one are all major construction companies doing a lot of work toward Oceania’s recovery. Does this mean they’re all helping out this group or being unwittingly used by them?”
“Well, even the large contractors are using local people to pave roads and lay pipes. To promote employment, they’re actively seeking Oceanian personnel. These shady thugs could probably slip in there.”
“No matter what plans those at the top make, the project will be delayed if the people at the bottom secretly don’t do their job.”
“Electricity, gas, water, schools, hospitals, phones, and internet. All of them are vital pieces of infrastructure.”
“Delaying them will do a lot of damage to the provisional rule here. After all, that rule is really nothing more than a verbal promise. The people will lose faith if those promises aren’t met.”
“So either this group is actually causing this damage or they’re using it as a threat.”
“Either way, someone is definitely gaining great influence over the rulers of Oceania.”
“It is necessary to remove the coalition made up of the four world powers and it is necessary that we then intervene as rulers.”
“Someone’s trying to secretly shake up the provisional rule until it’s powerless. They want to swap out the structure of the nation so they can bring their interests to the forefront.”
“Does that mean it’s us, the coalition force, that’s in the way?”
“Dammit. That must be why they’re paying off that international satellite TV executive, that blog king, and the others! They’ve brought the Oceanian people’s anger to just under the boiling point using the failed infrastructure maintenance. What if they now release baseless rumors about the coalition from multiple influential sources? That will create an outlet for their pent up anger and large-scale riots will begin!!”
“We’re stationed here in Oceania in the name of preserving order, so they’re trying to guide international opinion to believe our presence is causing frequent riots that hurt or kill innocent people.”
“Then they can do whatever they want. Our higher ups are only spending the military budget on this because the image of a savior hero is useful in politics and diplomacy. Once it isn’t worth it anymore, the military might really leave.”
“And then a new oppressive dictatorship will begin. This group will be able to hide behind a puppet leader.”
“How to freely rearrange the national structure in the name of creating a modern justice system.”
“The Oceanian military nation had the country working on a completely flawed rulebook. Giving the country proper laws will definitely be necessary.”
“But when you remake the country’s rules from the ground up, it’s a lot easier for black-hearted people to work in loopholes than if they have to rearrange the system bit by bit.”
“Is that like how it’s easier for a baby than an adult to learn a foreign language?”
“Regarding the basic geographic conditions for a powerful nation.”
“Oceania has massive amounts of land and underground resources. If they can secure the water resources needed for large-scale agriculture, they don’t have to worry about food. Simply put, they have what it takes for an advantage in a long, difficult war.”
“Almost the entire continent is made up of a single power and they’re surrounded by ocean. Compared to countries that directly border a lot of other countries, they’re a lot harder to invade. The conditions are similar to what North America once was and a nation known as the world police once existed there.”
“If they create something similar here, it will cause problems in the world’s military balance. Of course, that’s what this group is probably trying to do.”
Quenser and the others read the document while discussing its contents, but a fundamental question caused Quenser to frown.
“But what are they going to do with this new dictatorship? The Oceanian military nation did something similar, but they were stopped by the combined attack of the coalition force. No matter how many conspiracies they weave together, they’ll be broken up as soon as the coalition notices them.”
“The military nation is a great example of that. I doubt any conspirator would want to meet the same fate as the leader there.”
“And the people here have to be the same. No one is going to think a riot can push back a fifty meter Object. Even a child would know that. Riots are meant to push with great numbers. If their front lines would be mowed down the instant they gathered, no one would gather.”
“They need some kind of symbol of rebellion. But what possible symbol would people think could defeat more than twenty Objects?”
Quenser glanced down at a handheld device.
This was not the one from the thugs. It was Quenser’s own that the Legitimacy Kingdom military had issued him.
It contained a few photographs he had taken in the underground structure attached the remains of the pump facility.
The photos were primarily of the wooden boxes’ contents.
One photo showed nuts and bolts divided by size.
One showed reels of fiber optic cable.
One showed bags of powder.
“Don’t tell me…”
“What’s wrong with a photo of nuts and bolts? You can buy those at home improvement stores the world over.”
“But not the fiber optic cable. This is the type that greatly raises signal stability by injecting argon gas into the tube. The price per meter is ridiculous, so it isn’t used in normal homes. It’s a military product that’s known as the nervous system of certain colossal weapons.”
“Wait… A military product? The nervous system of colossal weapons? You don’t mean…”
“And there’s this powder.”
Quenser gulped, zoomed in on the photo, and repeatedly read the bag’s label. No matter how many times he read it, it still said the same thing.
“This is the substance that gives Object armor its high-heat resistance and reactive ability. It isn’t used in anything else.”
“Then that’s the symbol of rebellion this group has built?”
When they thought about it, it was obvious.
Only one thing could pick a fight with the monstrous weapons that could withstand a direct hit with a nuclear missile.
They were synonymous with war.
They were 50+ meter masses of overwhelming military might.
“Were they using the pipelines spread out across Oceania’s desert to slowly gather the parts for an Object!?”
The group of helicopters taking Quenser and the others back to the maintenance base zone was not far from arriving.
But they could barely stand to wait even that long.
“We don’t actually know when the Oceanian military government’s 0.5 generation Object was built. If it was built by smuggling the parts through this network of pipes and this group took over all that, it’s perfectly realistic to think they’ve completed an Object!!”
“Quit analyzing and report this, Quenser! Damn, I bet our huge-breasted commander is still mad. I just hope she’s willing to listen!!”
After they explained their thoughts over the radio, Froleytia responded bitterly.
“I have not forgotten about dealing with you two, but this isn’t good. It explains why things have been getting noisy outside.”
“What do you mean?”
“I have received a few troubling reports from the base’s sentries. It seems a two or three thousand of the local people have gathered. They’re only shaking the fence around the base and throwing small rocks, but we will have to forcibly make them leave if they do anything more. I want to avoid that while the journalists’ cameras are here. Also, I didn’t know what caused the commotion.”
People’s opinions varied, but the Legitimacy Kingdom military had not been all that hated by the Oceanian people.
“So they’ve already started delaying the infrastructure maintenance and pointing the people’s anger our way.”
“If they’ve already begun, that means it’s really damn likely they’ve finished their new Object! I don’t even feel like joking about this!!”
“But it takes nearly three years to build an Object from the ground up,” said Froleytia. “There hasn’t been enough time for a conspiracy thought up after seeing news of the Oceanian military nation’s collapse.”
“Wait a minute. Froleytia, you can’t mean what I think you mean!!”
“We just have to calculate backwards. If they started this project three years ago, it started before…ksshhh…military nation’s destruction…ksshh. That ridiculo-…ksshh…also part of their plan…ksssssshhhhhh!!”
“Froleytia? Hey, Froleytia!? Can you hear me!?”
“You’ve gotta be kidding me. The military line has been jammed? By who? That alone qualifies as opposing us!!”
Quenser and Heivia exchanged a glance.
Suddenly, a new voice came over the staticky radio.
It was a young man’s voice.
“Welcome to our nation of Oceania.”
“Really? We have to deal with this? I don’t see how this could lead to anything good.”
“I hear you have stubbornly survived the acid bomb and thus approached quite close to the truth. Even so, it is too late to do anything about it.”
“We at least know you were involved behind the scenes of the military nation and their 0.5 generation Object.’
“Yes. They never had the money and technology needed to construct an Object on their own. As you probably know, that was built based on a downgraded version of the design data for an Information Alliance model known as the Gatling 033...no, I suppose you refer to it by the codename of Rush.”
Quenser frowned and recalled the “oh ho ho” laughter of that Information Alliance pilot Elite.
“But why did all of you so innocently believe that they had only constructed that one? If they can build one, they can build two. With the pipeline spread out across the entire desert and the one hundred terminal facilities connected to it, anything is possible. Our project had begun years and years before the fall of the military nation, so how many Objects do you think we have stocked up in that ant’s nest?”
He used the plural.
That was enough for a chill to run down the spines of everyone in the helicopter.
Just one of those monsters was more than enough.
“You’re lying. Objects are brand-name items that cost a billion dollars each. A single group can’t build that many!!”
“Money can buy something even better. Money is meant to be spent, so there is no reason to hold back. Am I wrong?”
“Something even better?”
“The world police,” said the young man over the radio.
That term was the symbol of an era.
“The world may have changed, but a North American superpower once had complete control of the world’s military balance. That was an era of peace. But that exemplary nation was smashed to pieces by the flow of time! The home countries of the Capitalist Corporations and Information Alliance now exist there. It is not realistic to resurrect a single superpower there.”
“You can’t mean…”
“In that case, the only option is to find another area with similar conditions. A vast land surrounded by ocean. A single nation with plenty of food, underground resources, and population. All we need to do is supply information on high-level technology. …And there was only one candidate.”
“Are you saying your goal is to remake Oceania into a second ‘world police’!?”
“Is there any better way to recover from a war? If we succeed, we will put an end to the ‘clean wars’ spreading throughout the world. We will combine the different world powers into a single world power. And Oceania will rule at the center of it all. This continent was overrun with unreasonable war and then crushed by the different world powers afterwards, so it is the perfect symbol for the new world police.”
“This is ridiculous,” spat out Heivia. “All the dark history from the creation of the Oceanian military nation was your doing, wasn’t it!? The new world police? An era truly without war? A world created by people as heartless as you would be a horrible place! You just want to create a world where you can kill as many people as you want!!”
“I have only one thing to say to that: are you aware that history is something created by someone and recorded by someone?”
The young man’s voice remained calm.
He was used to being accused of doing horrible things.
“And no matter how much of a commotion you cause, you can no longer change the current course of events. Look at the city below you. The angry cries of the crowd should reach you up in the sky. Do you know what that rumbling noise is? Those are the footsteps of the rioters marching through the streets. Can you pacify all of those people?”
Quenser stopped breathing for a moment.
He could hear a low, low sound resembling distant thunder. He peered down from the helicopter’s open door and saw something filling the desert city. The sight of countless human heads filling every inch not taken up by buildings was quite chilling.
He saw something white here and there.
They looked like placards or banners, so Quenser naturally reached for his binoculars.
But Heivia grabbed his wrist before he could look through them.
“You should stop.”
Heivia was looking up from his rifle’s scope.
It seemed he had just looked through it.
“It’s better to not see that. It’s like a fishing hook. You’ll try to pretend it’s nothing at first, but you’ll realize the small hook won’t come out. It’ll leave a wound.”
Quenser could not imagine what would cause such a negative reaction.
Earlier that day, he had seen true enemy soldiers shot to pieces by helicopters and he had almost been killed by an acid bomb. Compared to that, what could words do? Thinking that, Quenser’s curiosity led him to look through the binoculars.
He felt like he heard the words “I told you so” coming from a long distance away.
His arms hung limply down and the magnification left his vision, but what he saw left a hole in his chest.
He felt as if all the bloody vomit and crawling through the mud in Oceania had been made meaningless in a single moment.
This was not something one or two people could easily cause.
This was a powerful current.
Like a fad or a trend, something unseen was influencing people’s lives.
Normally, only the advertising firms that created commercials were aware of that current, but it now created an obvious wall before Quenser and the others.
“What is this commotion?” asked Quenser as he stared blankly down at the city from the sliding door.
He received an answer from the young soldier messing with a handheld device they had received from the enemies.
“Wait. This isn’t good. This is really bad!!”
“Did you find another document?”
Quenser turned around and the soldier tossed him the device.
He caught it in both hands and finally realized what the small screen showed.
It was a completely normal video sharing site.
“Ha ha ha. Have you discovered what everyone’s talking about?” laughed the person on the radio.
But Quenser was not listening.
His mind had left reality as his eyes focused on the video playing on the screen.
It showed a few minutes of a human trafficking incident that had occurred at an international harbor in Oceania.
It had been uploaded only half an hour earlier.
The view count had already reached ten million. It was on a site used worldwide, but the video was a bit choppy as if it was having difficulty loading.
“The news is nothing but entertainment. They complain about the depressing incidents, but that does not stop people from searching for them. TV and newspapers used to have a lot of influence, but nowadays one will never learn anything without searching for themselves. And that gives people a certain enthusiasm.”
The incidents and battles that were supposedly resolved were now being used for something else.
“And in Oceania where their infrastructure is being rebuilt, they lack the resources for entertainment. The people are starving for entertainment. Yes, they want to enjoy themselves. Merely opening a small hole in the dam leads to the result before you. The overwhelming deluge will sweep across the continent.”
The young man on the radio spoke as if singing a lullaby that hid a cruel origin.
“The night sky. This world is a night sky.”
It almost sounded like the lyrics to a song.
It sounded nice, but it seemed removed from reality.
“The starless night sky presses down on everyone from above and prevents them from seeing ahead. Someone must change this. Fortunately, that is not hard to do. Those who rule this dark era have merely convinced everyone that it is difficult.”
The one who made it had to know that.
And the ones listening most likely knew it deep down.
“By raising stars onto the starless night sky, we can make a single flag. At first, our symbol will be pure indigo like the night sky. A single star is enough. If a single star can shine in the starless indigo night sky, we can begin to gently guide this dark era. Will you stand here in the center of the world or will you be forever driven to the edges of the world? Decide for yourself.”
Even so, they would fall for it.
Was someone simply using the dissatisfaction of the Oceanian people?
Or was even that initial dissatisfaction something someone had input within them?
The video showed a few minutes of a large-scale clash between Objects in the desert night which had all been meant to kill a single soldier.
“Thank you. We put together many different plans and you ruined a few of them, but you provided us with an even greater tool,” said the voice. “Truth Theater. That is the name of the video. When you take something formless, give it a name, and place it within a frame of your choosing, it provides a certain impression. That is the basic method of influencing people’s impressions. After that, you only need to provide them with a specific direction. For example, you can create a flag that they take as their own symbol without anyone forcing them. They will then spread the word of their existence around the world. The trick is to skillfully mix in the proper ideals and desires. The night sky flag is pure indigo, so it can easily be made by throwing a can of paint on a curtain. If you create a complex and cool-looking symbol, no one can create it for themselves. This is an application of influencing people’s impressions.”
There were no lies in the materials they had used.
However, the timing of the editing was extremely malicious. By showing only a few minutes in the video, it only showed the beginning of the problem and the growth of the chaos it produced. There were likely people watching it who did not even know these problems had been resolved.
“The stage has already been set. If it had not, I would not have so calmly contacted you. The indigo flag of the night sky could cover the entire continent at any time. When faced with this overwhelming maelstrom of people, both military and civilian, the military officials who are obsessed with clean wars will hesitate. That time lag will prevent you from ever catching up. Farewell. You have lost. Once only our victory remains, the world will greatly benefit and rejoice in its newfound peace.”
“Tell me your name.”
“I need something to write on your gravestone.”
A short silence came from the radio.
The young man may have been laughing.
“You may call us the Company, Langley, or the Pentagon. When the former world police was lost, our true name lost its power and meaning.”
“Do you mean…?”
“We are the ghosts of a bygone era. But if you wish to refer to us, there is a name you can use. We are the strange shadows dressed in black who are whispered of in every corner of the world. We are MIB.”
At that moment, the transmission ended.
But not because Quenser or the MIB man had switched off their radio.
The transport helicopter shook violently as it was enveloped in an explosion.
“What is it, pilot!? What happened!?”
The helicopter’s door was open, so Quenser had to cling to the handrail on the inner wall with all his might so as not to be thrown out.
The pilot’s reply was tense.
“We were attacked from the surface! It was probably a cheap mortar.”
“A mortar!? Those are used to fire shells farther than a grenade can be thrown. How are they using it for an anti-air attack!?”
“I don’t know, but one just hit us! They forcibly used it beyond its intended use. Unlike a missile, it isn’t guided, so they won’t be able to reliably hit us!!”
“This is the hatred of the people,” said the young man on the radio. “Those shells cost twenty dollars each. There is a reason they have long been a best seller in this world of never-ending wars.”
“Here it comes! I just heard one being fired on the surface!! Avoid it, dammit! Move to the right!!”
“I don’t have proper control after that last explosion!”
They did not escape in time.
As the helicopter shook, Quenser worked to close the door.
As soon as he did, the next explosion hit.
The steel door bent in and stabbed into the opposite wall. However, closing the door had not been meaningless. Without the door acting as a cushion, the blast and small pieces of shrapnel would have filled the helicopter.
Nevertheless, that blast settled it.
The helicopter did not break apart in midair, but it began to spin as it lost control. Their altitude was clearly lowering. The mass of steel was obviously falling toward the ground.
“What do we do!? Hey, what do we do!? I don’t want to crash twice in one day! Can’t you recover!?’
“I’m trying! But does it look like it’s going well!?” shouted back the pilot.
Quenser felt dizzy as he braced himself so he was not thrown out of the reopened door.
The young man spoke from the radio as if to provide the finishing blow.
“Ha ha ha. Soldiers surrounded by a bloodthirsty mob. A tragedy like this might work as another symbol to drive out the coalition.”
“Is this it!?”
Heivia forcibly switched off the radio and looked out the door.
He then shouted toward the cockpit.
“Hey, which way are we pointed!? I hope it’s somewhere without any people!”
“It is! We’re headed for a trash dump. The trash is piled up in hills and my sensors aren’t picking up anyone!!”
Heivia seemed to have made up his mind about something, so Quenser spoke to him.
“What are we going to do now?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
The helicopter continued to fall while almost scraping the roof of a crude five-story building.
Heivia leaned into the cockpit, used his knife to cut the seatbelt of the pilot who was still intently focused on the controls, and dragged him away.
“We jump out.”
The screaming would not stop.
As if they were jumping out of a car headed for a cliff, Quenser and the others jumped out onto the flat building roof. The drop was only a few meters.
After a few seconds, the helicopter crashed into a giant pile of garbage and exploded.
They no longer had a means of returning to the base.
The transport helicopter crashed into a city garbage dump. After a giant explosion, toxic-looking black smoke rose toward the heavens. Quenser stared at the sight as he rolled along the old concrete rooftop of a five-story building.
“Damn this hurts!! I didn’t break any bones, did I!?”
“If you broke one or even cracked one, you’d be crying in pain, student! Quit giving in to the placebo effect and stand up. We need to get out of here!!”
“Is this place that bad?”
“Who do you think shot us down? It wasn’t trained soldiers. Remember when we discussed this chaotic period of recovery in Oceania? Things are so bad people carry around weapons for self-…”
Heivia suddenly stopped speaking.
They heard a rumbling noise. It sounded like the cheers in a stadium after a hat trick. They worriedly looked down and saw a gold-colored tsunami rushing toward the helicopter which was still spewing black smoke.
The wave was made of people.
The gold was their hair. A group of hundreds or even thousands was approaching to drag out the crew of the helicopter. They were all waving indigo flags. They must have painted or dyed something on hand because they were all bright and not entirely dried.
That starless night sky was the symbol of their dissatisfaction toward this dark era.
“Handguns, assault rifles, rockets, mortars, and more. If we don’t leave while they’re focused on the helicopter, we’ll have nowhere to run,” complained Heivia. “They’re worked up enough that there’s a real possibility of being dragged out and publicly executed.”
Quenser gulped when he saw the other boy prepare his assault rifle.
“Wait, Heivia. Why are you preparing that?”
“This is no time to be idealistic!! Battle regulations mean nothing here. Order hasn’t been restored in Oceania yet, so even housewives and office workers walk around with guns for self-defense. Those people with their night sky flag could start shooting at any time, so we need to defend ourselves!!”
“You can’t. You can’t do that!!”
Despite the danger of a secondary explosion from ammunition or fuel, the enraged crowd surrounded the helicopter and peered inside. They resembled ants crowding around a sugar cube. If they noticed Quenser and the others on the rooftop, they would obviously surround the building.
Quenser understood that.
He really did.
“There are hundreds if not thousands of them with the flags!! With that much of a difference, it doesn’t matter if they’re pros or amateurs. They’ll ignore all their allies in every direction and fire on us. If that happens, we’ll be more than just riddled with holes!!”
“But some of them aren’t armed? We’ll still meet a tragic end even if they catch us. In fact, the lack of deadly weapons will just make our grotesque fate last longer! Do you really think these people will be able to stop at just almost killing us!?”
They then heard a scraping noise.
Quenser looked over and saw the helicopter pilot scraping at the inside of a ring with a metal rod. The rod may have originally been a television antenna.
“What are you doing?”
“My wife’s name is engraved in my ring. I am prepared to do what it takes no matter what happens, but I don’t want to cause any trouble for my family!!”
The atmosphere was not normal.
Quenser was suggesting the obvious choice of “not fighting”, but the others were treating that as strange.
They were being affected by the state of the nation.
If one side had guns, the other side had to have guns as well. That logic could only lead to a negative chain reaction, but it had begun to affect non-Oceanians like Quenser and the others.
They were being sucked into the world of that video.
The night sky.
That dark and hopeless era that the MIB had created was eating into Quenser and the others.
Heivia and the others who could use rifles took the lead as they moved from the rooftop and into the building. The stairway and corridors were deserted. The glass was covered in dust and sand, so the inside was dim. Several symbols had been left on the walls, so it may have been an abandoned building which was scheduled to be demolished.
What would happen if they ran across someone here?
What if someone lived here to escape the sand and rain? What if someone who lived nearby used it as storage space?
Quenser found it hard to breathe as he saw Heivia and the others unhesitatingly pointing their rifles around.
There was something wrong with it all.
Their enemy was not the people of Oceania. It was the “ghosts of a bygone era” known as the MIB who were laughing as they manipulated everyone. Getting into a firefight here would only delight them. They could use it to bring about their desire to drive out the coalition which was seen as the enemy of the Oceanian people.
Quenser understood the situation, but he could not suppress his instinctual fear.
The high-pitched sound of audio feedback struck his eardrums from outside the building.
It came from a cheap megaphone.
“Drive them away!! Don’t allow their oppression any longer! The Legitimacy Kingdom helicopter crashed right next to a hospital. They are only thinking about their own interests! They don’t care about our lives!!”
“Goddamn them! They’re the ones who shot mortars at us!! And we went out of the way to crash into a garbage dump!!”
“Don’t respond!! It won’t solve anything if we get angry too!!”
“Then what are we supposed to do!? Do you think the cavalry is going to show up if we sit around long enough!?”
Suddenly, something else happened.
They heard a distant rumbling cheer similar to when a decisive goal was made in an international soccer match.
Quenser could not check outside the window.
There was a risk of being spotted, but it had more to do with his own fear.
He and the other seven continued running down the stairs.
Once they reached the first floor, Heivia reached for the back door near the stairway. He slowly turned the knob and cracked the door open.
The wall of people had already reached about thirty centimeters away.
They were so close that Heivia could almost smell their breathing and sweat.
The scent of the paint used to make the indigo flags was mixed in.
He desperately suppressed a groan.
They were almost all focused on the person speaking through the megaphone, so they were not facing toward the building.
With the delicacy of defusing a landmine, he took plenty of time to close the door that was only opened a few centimeters. He instinctually wanted to lock the door too, but that would make too much noise. He used his reason to desperately fight that temptation.
“It’s no good. They’re everywhere outside.”
“You mean we can’t escape?”
Meanwhile, the megaphone voice continued.
“The cavalry is here! Our cavalry has arrived!! Open a path for the grim reaper to reach them!! Once this vehicle enters the plaza, they are done for!!”
Unpleasant sweat began to pour from Quenser’s back.
If that was not a bluff…
“We will pursue our enemy no matter where they run! The sensors equipped on this .50 caliber heavy machinegun will ensure that! Whether it’s wood or concrete, no shield will protect them!! We will search for them, find them, and then destroy them!! …What did you see in the Truth Theater? What did you feel as you waved the night sky flag? That is the truth!! That is the information that has not been altered by the media!!”
As Quenser stepped back from the back door, he frantically made use of his nearly panicking mind.
“(This is bad. Something different is approaching!)”
“(Has the MIB arrived after allying with the people? Now this interesting! We just have to destroy this machinegun-equipped off-road vehicle or whatever it is!!)”
“(But the people watching won’t know where the line between pro and amateur is drawn! Once a single gunshot is fired, the people will attack us without end!!)”
Fortunately, the vehicle in question was apparently having difficulty approaching due to all the people filling every inch of the roads. It would not arrive immediately, but it was only a matter of time. This did not actually solve the problem.
Would they remain and fight?
Or would they leave and hide somewhere?
They had to make up their minds.
“(We can’t run, Quenser! They said the heavy machinegun can shoot through building walls and it has sensors. No matter where we hide, we’ll be killed. And the weapon’s great penetrative power will bloody the angry mob as well!! We have to fight!!)”
“(But we can’t survive if we fight! Also, there’s no reason to fight!! Once a fight begins, it means we’ve lost!!)”
“(Then you can go run off on your own. Make a bet with me if you want, but I guarantee you I’ll survive longer than you!!)”
Ultimately, there was no right answer.
No matter what they chose, they could not defeat the MIB. Eventually, the building would be surrounded and they would be filled with holes or torn limb from limb.
Reinforcements from the maintenance base zone would not arrive in time.
They were completely surrounded, so they would not find a convenient opening.
Once a single shot was fired, it was all over.
But was there any chance left of convincing these people without force?
The tension had made Quenser’s breathing extremely shallow and he felt as if he would die from dizziness before the actual threat even arrived.
The situation took a decisive turn.
A change that affected their survival occurred without them even knowing it.
At that time, a certain girl looked up at the instigator mixed in with the crowd. The man stood on the roof of a European van parked on the road. He was making a loud announcement with the kind of cheap megaphone used at construction sites.
“Drive out the Legitimacy Kingdom! Get rid of the entire coalition!! They create nothing. They protect no one! Good citizens should take up arms and fight against these invaders!! Let the cavalry into the plaza so we can begin the bloodbath!! With its sensors, we can find them wherever they hide!!”
The girl was not caught up in what the man was saying.
Quite the opposite.
She knew that there were lies in the speech given by this man standing on the van and holding up an indigo flag. She had seen “them” firsthand, so she knew the rumors spreading through the city had definite malicious intent.
A pause came in the enthralling speech.
This was because a small stone had flown at the man.
Everyone there turned from the man with the megaphone to the girl.
“I know the truth,” said the girl. “I know it isn’t true that they don’t protect anyone!! They saved me. I was taken by bad people, but they came and saved me!! There wasn’t any chaos like in Truth Theater!! There was more to it than that!!”
“Do not make such baseless claims!!”
Triggered by the man’s angry shout, several nearby people grabbed at the girl’s hair and began to drag her away.
She let out a high-pitched scream.
Some of the people accepted this as natural.
But some did not.
It started with a few young men.
They stood in the way of the men trying to carry away the girl.
One of the men holding her hair spoke.
“What do you think you are doing?”
“Y’see, I don’t really understand all this complicated stuff about good and evil or the coalition and invaders.” The main young man shrugged. He moved his face in and spoke from close range. “But is this justice of yours something that lets bastards like you drag crying little girls around by the hair? If so, I can’t go along with it.”
The men holding the girl’s hair prepared to silence this minority with their fists.
But then they realized the overwhelming majority was staring intently at their backs.
Which side had the backing of the majority was beginning to change.
At that time, an old woman named Dorothy opened an outdated laptop computer on a luxurious passenger ship away from Oceania. She logged in to an SNS site her grandchild had insisted she sign up for but she had not used since then.
She had noticed a commotion.
She had noticed great enthusiasm.
The short anonymously-uploaded video named Truth Theater had already been picked up by TV stations around the world. They seemed to have lost the pride in taking footage with their own cameras because the grainy video was being used as-is with the newscaster’s voice playing over it.
On the internet, people could not see each other’s faces or grab at their collars when they were angry, so it was filled with more extreme and hostile words than reality. One side supported Oceania slaughtering the coalition and declaring themselves independent. The other side said the riots would bring about oppression in their own lives, so they supported immediate military intervention.
But none of them knew the truth of Oceania.
They only knew what the few minutes of Truth Theater had showed them.
“I know the truth.”
After giving it some thought, the old woman began slowly typing on the unfamiliar keyboard.
She was acting to protect the honor of the youths who had saved her.
She was beginning to fight back.
“I know the good and the bad of that country. You daydreamers want a convenient villain that lets you feel like you are watching a movie, but rethink what you say once you hear what I have to say. I promise that you will be ashamed of yourselves.”
At that time, Sewax the battlefield cameraman sat within a box-shaped metal tent in arctic Siberia. He was checking over the photos he had just taken with his single-lens reflex camera. Just like heat, extreme cold could cause malfunctions in precision equipment. Before his hard-won images could be lost, he began sending a backup to his online storage via a small satellite communications device.
His guide, who was closer to being a child then a youth, stared interestedly at the device.
“Hey, can you use that internet thing on there? No one bothers running lines out here. If they did lay hundreds of kilometers of fiber optic cable, a bear would just dig it up. And power lines would collapse under the weight of the snow.”
Sewax had a sudden thought as he worked.
He had just trapped a piece of the truth in a rectangular frame and sent it out to the world, but how many people would it reach? And would that truth reach them accurately without someone twisting it?
Some intentionally twisted information was currently causing a frenzy on the internet, that information network the guide wished he had. As a professional photographer, Sewax had immediately noticed how much malice was contained within the few minutes of Truth Theater. A film specialist would likely have found two or three times as much as he had.
The truth could easily be twisted.
Rather than adding in lies, one only had to maliciously edit footage to give a certain impression.
But an athlete cheating with steroids was overwhelmingly powerful. Setting aside the ethical issues, that power was an objective fact. In the same way, the impact of manufactured footage could easily blow away a photograph showing the actual truth. In the end, the people wanted stimulation. The truth was but a single means of acquiring that stimulation and the original purpose of the truth had been done away with.
How much meaning did the world see in being “correct”?
The metal tent’s walls had two layers so the air between could insulate it, but Sewax still felt a chill run down his spine.
It was then that the guide asked an innocent question.
“Hey, where were you before? You haven’t been here for long, right?”
The question brought a slight smile to Sewax’s face.
Because of the state of the world, there was something he could not easily give up on.
Little by little, he would sow the seeds of truth. They would outlast the long winter and eventually bud. It was true people sought simple stimulation, but the ring of truth was another form of stimulation.
People were cruelly honest.
Even if hundreds of thousands of lives were dependent on a photograph, people would look right past it if it was boring. If it seemed preachy, some would even insult it. At the same time, people from all over the world would view a video of someone’s perfectly normal pet.
But the people also loved fairness to a surprising extent.
If it was an interesting story, they would flock to it whether it was true or not. And so Sewax decided he would aim for that. Simply saying one had the truth was not enough. The proper way to compete was to present an overwhelming true story that had enough interest and appeal to break past the empty entertainment.
No matter what anyone said, the more interesting story would win in the end.
He swapped out the micro memory for his digital single-lens reflex camera and slowly spoke as he displayed photos of the previous battlefield he had traversed.
“These photos are from the country of Oceania. What do you think happened there?”
At that time, a female soldier missing an arm appeared at a court martial in a European safe country. The court martial had entered a short recess, but the media’s cameras would not leave her.
These cameras did not merely belong to this one safe country. Large news stations were broadcasting this to many different countries and regions.
“A hero? You may say I exposed corruption, but I was closer to being someone who carried out dirty work for the military. I believe the title of hero should be given to someone else.”
She used the accurate movements of her prosthetic arm to pick up a paper cup of iced coffee and smiled thinly on a bench in the corridor outside the court room.
“Setting aside issues of good and evil, I was certainly a nuisance within the military. In fact, I may still be. But even amid a conspiracy to assassinate a nuisance like me, someone still jumped into the line of fire to save me. In the end, he even stood before an Object. People like that are what soldiers should be. My way of returning the favor is to guide the military toward accepting people like that.”
She spoke slowly as if recalling something.
“There are definitely people who should be called heroes. But unfortunately, those people rarely refer to themselves that way. I wish to show my respect for all the soldiers working in Oceania. Even if they will not name themselves heroes, I hope the day will come when everyone else will.”
At that time, an Information Alliance pilot Elite, who the two idiots referred to as the “oh ho ho”, was speaking to the world via a large-scale internet concert.
“The Information Alliance fights for the proper use of information and for a better future, so we have received some unwelcome news. The MIB? The world police? World domination using an unknown Object made with new technology?”
By usurping the continent of Oceania, they would begin to change the world’s military balance.
“Normally, I would manipulate your impression of this incident by reading off a predetermined script with a perfect smile.”
But that did not mean only someone at the center could have an influence.
The world had grown smaller.
The overwhelming electronic network allowed people to influence the other side of the globe in real time.
“Who is right and what is accurate? Try thinking for yourselves for once☆ Oh ho ho.”
It started as a small wave.
But it slowly worked its way deep into the hearts of the people whose impressions had been manipulated.
It was similar to the difference between a natural diamond and an artificial one.
Which one would draw people in the most?
The answer was revealed by their actions.
As they glanced around from within the abandoned building, Quenser and the others quickly picked up on that difference.
“The atmosphere has changed. The burning anger is being directed elsewhere.”
The powerful emotions of anger and intent to kill would stab into one’s heart. Some martial arts had honed it into an actual technique to throw of an opponent’s timing, Quenser and Heivia were not martial arts experts, but the level of emotion surrounding them was on a tremendous scale. Despite being used to clean wars, they could detect the change in the situation.
The crowd never broke down the door and rushed in. The MIB vehicle equipped with a machinegun was stopped as if something blocked its way.
“How odd… Something isn’t right outside.” The windows were boarded up, but Heivia peered through the gaps between boards. “I don’t see any of those indigo night sky flags. Did everyone throw them away?”
That was when a slender hand poked out from a corner of the corridor.
It was beckoning to them.
“You can escape this way,” whispered a female voice.
At first, no one moved.
They thought it was a trap.
If they approached, they suspected they would have a bag placed over their head and be taken away.
But doing nothing would not improve their situation.
Quenser was the first to step forward.
“Wait, Quenser! Are you really trusting her!?”
“Something happened while we waited here without firing a shot, so we need to go with this change. It can’t hurt to take advantage of the opportunity we won for ourselves!!”
Heivia glanced down at the assault rifle in his hands.
He uncomfortably clicked his tongue as if he had only just remembered what it was and who he was aiming it at.
“Damn, I can’t believe Heivia, the transcendently handsome, genius, and rich noble, lost track of what he was doing. When a lady calls out to you, you don’t point this at her!!”
The overall atmosphere changed once Quenser and Heivia approached the door.
Heivia was a private and Quenser was a student while most of the other surviving soldiers were ranked higher. There was no reason for them to follow.
But the helicopter pilot spoke up.
“I was told to follow the infantrymen’s lead if I crashed, so I’ll leave it to you. Anything’s fine as long as we make it back to the maintenance base alive!”
One of the middle-aged soldiers who had to be ranked higher than Heivia shrugged as well.
“As the ranking officer here, I’ll say I made the decision based on a suggestion from a soldier under my command. This situation is so far outside the norm, I can’t keep up! You can take the lead!!”
All of the soldiers, including the injured, ran toward the corner of the corridor.
A brunette woman was waiting for them and she led them through the building. They arrived at what looked like a dead end due to large piece of trash, but she found gaps leading through it and to a small door. The door led to a narrow back road that the crowd did not cover.
“Is this a shopping district?”
“All of them are old stores that sell tools for craftsmen. They all have trash filling the front like that, so only the regular customers ever visit.”
They thanked the woman and cautiously continued along the road. As they did, the owners of the various small shops called out to them.
“I only have ointment and bandages, but do you want some?”
“I was just watching TV and it looks like you’re doing some cool stuff. If we help you, you’ll crush that conspiracy, right? I don’t really understand, but do what you have to!”
“Don’t make yourself ill by drinking old water! Here, have these sports drinks!!”
“Do you have enough ammo? If you can use 5.5mm, take as much as you want!!”
Some of the offers were rather dangerous, but Quenser and the others did not hesitate to accept. They had yet to resupply after an unexpected battle, so they had no reason to refuse if they could replenish their ammunition here.
“Hey, Quenser, where do we go now!? Do we return to the maintenance base!?”
“They’re surrounded by their own mob, remember? And we don’t know how far this miracle has spread. We should defeat the MIB behind all this and return once everything has calmed down!”
“I agree with that, but do you know where their secret base is? They’ve set up their conspiracy all across Oceania!! I doubt they’ll conveniently show up right in front of us!!”
“I disagree,” declared Quenser. “If you think about it, it doesn’t make sense. Our helicopter was a top-priority target, so would they really leave its destruction to an angry mob? It would be safer to mix in with the crowd and fire the mortar themselves. Also, mortars fire a shell in a long arc toward their target. No amateur could do anything as tricky as hitting a flying helicopter with one. And don’t forget the heavily armed vehicle that was on its way to the plaza.”
“Are you saying the MIB’s headquarters are nearby?”
“They used the desert pipeline and the terminal facilities it connected. Heivia, where’s the closest facility? It can be for oil, underground water, or whatever else.”
“It’s nearby. It’s less than three kilometers away! No one felt any need to pay attention to some old ruins.”
“That must be it. And their headquarters are probably where their Object is!”
Heivia’s expression stiffened.
“Wait. Are you suggesting we battle that monstrous weapon in a group with lots of injured!? I doubt we could win and it’s pointless anyway. The MIB have more than one Object, remember? What good is it to risk our lives to destroy just one!?”
“Do they really have that many?” Quenser grinned. “They are an ideological group that came from a spy organization of a former superpower. They must be experts at manipulating information. Would they really reveal the entirety of their plan like that? Would they really just brag about everything? Not a chance. They wouldn’t make a mistake like that.”
“Once the acid bomb failed to kill us and part of their plan was about to leak out, they panicked. Completely erasing leaked information is hard, but that’s why they chose to distort it by overwriting it with new information. That allows them to hide the overall outline of their plan.”
The mortar attack had shot down their helicopter immediately after the chat with the MIB.
Quenser and the others’ first action would be to contact their maintenance base by radio. They would be afraid of dying without passing on the information they had gained, so they would report everything without thinking about its veracity.
As a result, the decoy information would be passed to their superior officer.
That false fear would spread from Quenser’s group and to the entire military.
“It may be true they are developing Objects, but they can’t use that many at once! Hell, if they did have that great a fighting force, they wouldn’t be sneaking around! They could just challenge the coalition to a direct fight!! This is the age of numbers. In a one-against-three battle, a unit will not hesitate to send out the white flag signal and withdraw. Those are the rules yet they didn’t do that. That means they lose when it comes to numbers!!”
Quenser was guessing the MIB had only one or two functioning Objects at present. If the coalition’s ten or more Objects surrounded them, they would be destroyed in the blink of an eye.
“But they’re trying to become the world police! Their plan is to take over Oceania because it has the ideal geographical position. They need more than one Object to protect such a vast area of land. They want to conquer, rule, and control the world, so they need a ton of Objects!!”
“Their preparations aren’t ready yet. That’s why they tried to make us believe they can readily attack with several Objects. They’re trying to buy time! Once the time comes, tons of new Objects really will appear across Oceania!!”
“If you’re right, the first thing they’ll want to do is give credibility to their claim. Will they use their one Object to provide an effective demonstration? Even if that one is destroyed, they can buy the time they need as long as it scares the coalition enough. Then they can finish preparing the rest.”
“I don’t know what scale their plan is on, but they won’t have gone this far if they knew they would lose. Whether it’s through sheer numbers or some kind of trick, they definitely have something we can’t let them finish.”
“Wait a second. The coalition has over ten Objects stationed here. Are you saying they’re preparing something that can defeat that?”
Battles without Objects tended to become long and drawn out.
But this was different.
This would become a long, drawn out battle between Objects.
If that happened, it was impossible to say just how much apocalyptic destruction would spread across Oceania. The distinction between battlefield and city would vanish. The combatants would not have the leeway to make the distinction. It was possible that all life on the continent could be wiped out.
“That’s why we need to crush it,” said Quenser. “We’ll make the MIB’s demonstration completely fail and nip this problem in the bud. There’s no other way to save everyone.”
Atomic number 79.
Atomic weight 196.96655.
Atomic symbol Au.
In other words, pure gold.
That was supposedly the source of their massive amounts of money.
The world had shattered to pieces in the past. The collapse of the UN and the appearance of Objects were the symbols of the existing national structure coming to an end. Amid the confusion, they had stolen a massive amount of gold bars from a certain country which had possessed more than any other nation.
Normally, this would have been immediately exposed and they would have been ganged up on, but the world had been in a state of complete chaos. They had taken advantage of a situation in which no one could determine what was stored where and in what quantities.
That thought brought a twisted smile to the lips of a young man wearing all black.
In the past few years, his smiles had become very different from what they had once been.
“Such a terrible lie. Even a child could see all the holes in it if they thought about it.”
“That is why we must ensure they do not have time to think about it,” said another young man sitting next to him. “We have plenty of money. We have the power to move the world. As a rite of passage for joining our secret community, we take half of their assets as collateral. …That is the trick to securing the funds we need. A single lie provides the money and connections we need to truly change the world.”
“The truth will eventually come out.”
“We simply have to change the world before that happens. We just have to make the lie into the truth.”
That was how they lived.
It was no different from how their predecessors had used information as a weapon to protect the peace of a superpower.
Even before the internet had become common, back when information was only passed through letters and phone calls, they had cut out newspaper articles, recorded radio programs, and otherwise analyzed everything so they could classify the complicated state of humanity around the globe. …Even the internet had begun as a single nation’s military network. Spreading that information network around the world had been their accomplishment and its influence plainly proved how much influence they had shown upon the vague concept of the “era” or “history”.
“The preparations are complete.”
That report was given by and to someone wearing a black suit, a black hat, and black sunglasses.
They had no individuality.
It was unnecessary and, more importantly, they themselves did not see any use in it.
The Company, Langley, the Pentagon.
They were called many different things, but they never used the three letter acronym that began with C.
They preferred to use the one beginning with M that had its origin in inaccurate urban legends.
That was the name of the intelligence agency in the deepest depths of the world police which had been rumored to suppress the truth by threatening witnesses of UFOs and aliens.
“Is the enemy coming?”
“They were not torn limb from limb in the public square, so they must have made their way out somehow. In that case, they are on their way here. Being so cautious as to thoroughly investigate even innocent citizens is our way.”
There was a simple reason for purposefully using that inaccurate name.
They were not yet worthy of using the true name. Their goal was to gather together the world which was broken like stained glass and once more rule it as the world police. Only once they accomplished that would they return to their true form.
The C at the beginning of their name stood for “central”, but they currently had nothing to be at the center of. An egg would not function with only the yolk. For that reason, there would be no meaning in using their true name at the present.
They would wait until it was all over before they proudly used those three letters as they gave their name to the world.
“Then let us begin the final preparations.”
“You can begin at any time.”
They were trying to do the same thing that had been left behind more as legends than actual history.
Rather than standing on the stage themselves, they would use money, information, weapons, and political power to quietly contact and build relationships with people connected to other nations. At times they would invite them in, at times they would threaten them, at times they would kill them, and ultimately they would manipulate the fate of that country.
“I know. Leave the rest to me. If I can buy enough time to activate the other two and the approximately five hundred amplification facilities, we can announce our victory to the world.”
“We have been expecting this, but are you sure you can handle it?”
“It is true I am not an Object pilot Elite.”
A young man smiled thinly.
He wore all black just like the others, but his aura was sharper.
“But that is what gives this meaning,” he said. “So…”
His last word seemed disconnected at first.
But then he pulled out a handgun with a silencer attached.
“Leave the rest to me. Case #024, the attempt to use the rioters to kill the soldiers who had grasped the truth, is now over. Nevada 36, it is time to begin Case #025. That will be handled by me, D.C. 0.”
Quenser, Heivia, and the rest of their small unit somehow managed to leave the confused streets that were overflowing with people.
Once they left the city, they entered the desert, but this was the cracked and sand-colored land of the wastelands seen in westerns. Some cacti and a run-down bar would have made it perfect, but those did not seem to be common sights in this desert.
Instead, they found train cars lying around with their insides removed. The electronics, doors, windows, chairs, and lights were all missing. This appeared to be a “graveyard”. Originally, the unusable cars had been carried to the end of the rails and dismantled, but even the guiding metal rails and railroad ties had been stolen at some point.
“I can see it now. In fact, it would be impossible to miss. Do they have any idea how to hide?”
The terminal facility which had several rusty pipelines connected to it appeared to have originally drawn oil up from the ground. The exterior was a bit more cluttered than the underground water pump facility. They were both ruins which had been left to rot and this facility clearly would not function any longer.
Quenser looked around with a binoculars-like device.
“I don’t see any obvious traps. There aren’t any mines, alarms, or cameras, but I doubt conspirators like this would simply be careless.”
“Setting up traps would just end up blowing off the leg of an unrelated civilian or kangaroo. They aren’t trying to protect this spot at all costs. Explosives aren’t a good idea when you want to keep anyone from knowing you’re there.”
Even so, there were landmines made from wood or glass that a metal detector would not catch. Quenser’s group remained cautious and used the chaotically abandoned train cars as cover as they slowly approached the terminal facility.
“There aren’t any scavenging hyenas around, are there? Heivia, even you might shoot if someone surprises you right now.”
“There’s nothing but fried chicken bones here. They were left here because there’s nothing left to eat.”
Just as there was no sign of traps, there was no sign of people.
The old oil facility was about five hundred meters away, but their confidence in that being the MIB’s headquarters began to waver.
“Is this really the logical way for them to handle this? Some kids playing hide-and-seek could wander into the terminal facility and they wouldn’t stop it.”
“Or maybe they no longer care if they’re found out,” ominously suggested Heivia.
Immediately afterwards, the remains of the oil facility were easily blown to pieces from the inside.
They first detected an intense shaking in the cracked ground. Next, they saw a massive cloud of dust spreading out. They could see it happening, but there was nothing they could do. The sea of dust spread out in every direction for kilometers and it swallowed up Quenser’s group.
The phenomenon itself was similar to a sandstorm.
A thick gray wall hid even the sunlight over a limited area. The brightness of the sky dimmed as if evening or dusk had fallen.
“Cough cough!! What the hell is this? Concrete!?”
“Grab a handkerchief, a bandage, or whatever you can find! Just cover your nose and mouth! That old building was from the time of the military nation, so it wasn’t built up to safety standards. It might have used asbestos. Protect yourself now if you don’t want to regret it later!!”
Quenser heard a low rumbling as if distant thunder clouds were approaching.
A giant shadow was visible through the gray world that cut off their vision.
It used static electricity for propulsion. It had two straight floats lined up parallel to each other. They were reminiscent of the treads on construction equipment.
Its silhouette was somehow different from a normal Object. It did not have the one hundred or so cannons extending from its spherical body like a sea urchin. It looked like a soccer ball with uniform protrusions attached or perhaps like the sea mines placed to destroy warships. The protrusions looked more like giant barnacles than cannons. It looked like the Object had volcano craters attached. It was unclear what they were meant to do and that uncertainty weighed on Quenser’s mind all the more.
His instincts turned toward the giant structure and all his senses grew more focused.
His thoughts grew clear.
The scorching heat, the dryness stabbing at his throat, and unpleasant dust clinging to his cheeks were all driven out of his mind.
His soul was shouting that he did not have even a second to worry about such trivial things.
“There it is,” muttered Heivia while forgetting to cover his mouth amid the dust cloud. “We were right! The MIB really did build one! They sacrificed the Oceanian military nation to build an Object completely independent of the world powers!!”
“Get down. Everyone, get down. …Has it noticed us? Why did it destroy its hiding spot and make an appearance?”
The gray curtain prevented them from judging the distance. The giant shadow looked both close and distant. At the very least, they could tell it was not performing the light footwork of a boxer or mixed martial artist like the princess’s Baby Magnum would. It appeared to be perfectly still.
“What is it doing? Surely they know revealing it like this is a huge disadvantage for them. So why isn’t it doing anything? They wouldn’t make an appearance like that for no reason.”
It was not that an obvious attack would have put them at ease.
Their hearts were filled with an uncanny feeling similar to viewing a newly discovered insect under a magnifying glass.
That was when an electric tone came from Quenser’s radio.
Froleytia was contacting them.
“Where are all of you!? It seems you vanished from the crashed helicopter.”
“Wow, a lecture now!? I don’t feel like explaining everything. What should we do, Quenser!?”
“Don’t press the button! Once everything is over, we can destroy the radio on the way back to the base.”
“If you don’t respond, I’ll write a report saying you died.”
“We’re alive!! We’re doing just fine!!” shouted the two idiots as loudly as they could.
Froleytia clicked her tongue.
“Where are you? What appears to be an unidentified Object has appeared three kilometers from the city. Does that have anything to do with you?”
“We happen to be right in front of it.”
“Move five hundred meters away. You’ll be killed if you’re caught in the bombardment.”
Suddenly, another voice cut in.
But they did not recognize this one. The transmission was not coming from the Legitimacy Kingdom military.
“Can you hear me, dogs of the Legitimacy Kingdom? I am monitoring the situation via satellite.”
“Who is this?”
“A lieutenant colonel who saw what your battalion can do during the Simple Is Best battle. My name is Wraith Martini Vermouthspray. You can ignore everything but the first name. A lot of people have the other names thanks to a ridiculous genius girl project. Over a hundred, I think.”
Quenser brought a hand to his forehead.
“I remember now. I saw you in that VIP Information Alliance armored vehicle in the desert night. You’re that officer who’s young enough to still be in her rebellious phase.”
“Are you the type of soldier that never forgets a lady’s face? I see. How horribly shallow.”
Quenser was actually a student, but explaining the details to someone from an enemy nation would only increase his danger.
That member of the Martini Series spoke with scorn filling her voice.
“The four world powers have managed to work together long enough to help with Oceania’s war recovery. Our coalition will not allow anyone else to possess an Object. I hate to release one of the Information Alliance’s cutting edge machines to protect your pathetic lives, but I am calm enough to keep my priorities straight. You can rest easy now, but do not forget to bow down before me in gratitude.”
Quenser and Heivia exchanged a glance.
“Does that mean multiple Objects have been sent out to hunt down the MIB?”
Their response came from Froleytia Capistrano rather than Wraith Martini Vermouthspray.
“The Legitimacy Kingdom has sent the Baby Magnum, the Information Alliance has sent the Catapult Cargo, the Capitalist Corporations has sent the Desert Scorpio, and the Faith Organization has sent the Mirror Bowler. They will surround this unknown Object and destroy it.”
“Refer to our second generation Object as the Cannon 256. Hearing your codename makes me want to vomit.”
“Quenser, Heivia, and everyone else there, listen up. The real problem comes after the unknown Object is destroyed. There is a possibility the four coalition Objects will begin fighting afterwards. Keep your guard up if you don’t want to be crushed by a stray shell.”
Those were frightening words.
With four against one, the outcome was readily apparent. That was how modern wars worked.
“Hey, Quenser,” said Heivia. “We came here hoping to be heroes, but there’s nothing for us to do. Let’s use this confusion to get the hell out of here. I don’t want to be here once the bombardment begins.”
“It’s too late for that,” replied Wraith instead of Quenser. Her lovely voice showed no mercy. “It has already begun.”
When the great roar arrived, they sensed it in their guts more than their ears. The gray dust obstructing their view was blown away like a popped balloon. Quenser initially thought it was the sound of a shell being fired, but he quickly realized he was wrong. It was the shockwave created by the car-sized shell travelling at five or ten times the speed of sound.
He could not simply brace himself and grit his teeth.
He had gotten down on the ground, but he began rolling across the wasteland as if he had been ripped from the ground.
He brought a hand to his ear and felt something wet.
He saw red blood on his hand.
“Cough!! What the…hell was…that? Was that a railgun or coilgun they fired from long distance!?”
“It’s the same either way!!”
“No, a coilgun uses electromagnets while a railgun uses Fleming’s…”
“I’m glad to see bleeding from the ears doesn’t slow down your design obsession!!”
The MIB’s Object was sitting in place. If an ultra high speed shell was sent in, it would not have time to evade. While Quenser and Heivia’s puny human bodies trembled from the damage caused by the shell merely passing by, they checked to see what damage the Information Alliance had accomplished.
A giant cloud of dust filled the air.
More attacks flew toward the Object as if stabbing a sword into an unmoving corpse. The types of attacks and the directions they came from were different. Laser beams left orange afterimages as they fried the air and low-stability plasma cannons burned bluish-white lines of light into their eyes.
It was a slaughter.
The Object was simply being disposed of.
“Wait, wait, wait! Goddammit! Cough cough! This is going too far!! You’re going to kill us too!!”
They then saw something unbelievable.
“What the hell?”
“Don’t ask me.”
The countless attacks blew away the dust as they focused on a single point.
That tore away the filthy veil.
And on the other side…
“The MIB’s Object hasn’t been touched! And it doesn’t look like it’s moved either. Did the Information Alliance miss!?”
“I’m not a psychic girl, so I don’t have the answer to everything!!”
The speed, mass, and force had all been sufficient. It was hard to think they had deflected all of the attacks with just the Object’s armor.
The Information Alliance had not given advance warning of their attack.
They continued firing the same massive shells toward the MIB Object.
As they roared through the air, they possessed so much destructive power that Quenser and the others thought they were going to be crushed as they watched on.
But this time, they clenched their teeth and saw what happened.
“What? How did it land there!? It couldn’t have landed there unless its path twisted like a crank. I’ve heard of lasers bending due to mirages, but can that happen with metal shells too!?”
The dust cloud had not been created by the destruction of the target Object. It had come from the metal shells and laser beams veering away and striking the ground.
But was that a coincidence or not?
Escaping into optimistic thought was not going to help, so Quenser voiced the worst possibility.
“It has some kind of defense system. It has some kind of tech that lets it turn aside and neutralize approaching attacks!!”
The sound of someone clicking their tongue came over the radio.
Next, multiple beams of light were fired. The burning orange beams likely came from laser beam cannons while the bluish-white beams that resembled welding likely came from low-stability plasma cannons. These were not metal shells. Light and ions were completely different, so a defense system meant for metal shells would not work.
“It doesn’t matter how powerful your attacks are if they can’t hit. I don’t know what it’s using, but any Object loses all of its cards if this almighty one can repeatedly turn aside any attack!!”
It did not matter.
It did not matter if it was a metal shell, a band of excited light, or a plasma weapon given directionality with tremendous magnetism.
Each Object present was a crystallization of its world power’s technology. Their concept had been honed to the extreme.
One of them primarily used metal shells but could use many different types of attacks using the container structure filled with powerful acid and the gas that created low-stability plasma.
One of them would intentionally fire laser beams at the ground around the target to turn the sand to glass and then use that glass to complexly reflect its main laser beam cannon.
One of them scattered several electron beams like firing a shotgun to constantly cause light damage while using high-quality sensors and boosters to continually avoid the enemy’s attacks.
The MIB’s Object dealt with all of them in the same way.
It had perfected turning aside attacks.
Rather than evading, it caused the approaching attacks to miss.
And it did not stop there.
“The Capitalist Corporations’ Desert Scorpio is damaged!” came a report over the radio. “For some reason, the Faith Organization’s Mirror Bowler fired on it!!”
“Don’t get mad, Legitimacy Kingdom. We may be surrounding the unknown Object, but our positions make damage from stray shots impossible. That means there must be another explanation for this damage.”
“Are you saying the laser beams the unknown Object turns aside are being targeted at our Objects?”
This time, Quenser felt as if an invisible hand were squeezing at his heart.
“This is more than a means of defense. It isn’t just turning them aside! What kind of technology lets it accurately target someone else with an attack coming in at the speed of light!?”
“Tch.” Wraith clicked her tongue. “If long-distance bombardments are out, our Cannon 256 has lost its usefulness. Your outdated first generation can take the lead role. Move in close and fire on it at point blank range.”
“Tell that to our princess!!”
“Is there anything we can do to help?”
“Keep firing shells at it!! Even if you can’t hit, try to keep them focused on defense!!”
Before he had even finished speaking, Quenser’s mind was shaken by a terrifying roar.
But this was not supporting fire from the Information Alliance’s Cannon 256.
The MIB’s Object had started to do something.
At first, Quenser, Heivia, and the others had difficulty concluding what it was trying to do.
A ring of bluish-white light with a radius of around 200 meters had appeared around the Object’s spherical main body. As time went on, more and more rings appeared. Eventually, they formed what looked like a semispherical dome that covered the entire main body except for the very top.
The bright light completely hid the giant Object.
“You have got to be kidding.”
Quenser finally realized what was happening.
As soon as he did, he felt like his heart was being wrapped tightly in wire.
“Are those laser beams or low-stability plasma cannons? No, it must be electron beams.”
“How can you tell!?”
“Anything else would have blinded us.” Quenser continued to watch on. “That bastard is bending his own attacks into a shield. Like a large particle accelerator, it’s constantly adding electron beams and accelerating them, so the speed and energy grows as time passes!”
“Ha…ha ha. The European particle accelerator out in the middle of nowhere is buried deep underground, right? Isn’t that to stop the electromagnetic waves and radiation that leaks out when the beam bends around the curves? Is it really safe to accelerate stuff in the middle of the air?”
“Do you really think that monster is up to safety standards!? These people didn’t hesitate to use an acid bomb, so they aren’t going to care about the safety of enemy troops! And more importantly…!!”
As Quenser tried to shout, an electron beam shot by overhead after being accelerated to the limit. The principle was not all that different from the hammer throw. However, the speeds were too great for the human eye to follow, so Quenser and the others were suddenly presented with the result.
And that result was the distant roar of the Information Alliance Object being destroyed.
Heivia looked over his shoulder even though there was no way he could see it.
His voice was trembling as much as it ever had.
Unlike a normal low-stability plasma cannon or laser beam cannon, this attack was not limited to an instant.
It continued on and on.
It was less a projectile and more a giant sword extending beyond the horizon.
And that “sword” was swung to the side.
It swept by horizontally.
This destruction was on a scale of greater than ten kilometers, so the fear Quenser and the others saw with their eyes did not produce real fear in their brains.
As they watched in a daze, they heard the urgent “truth” over the radio.
“Do not panic, analyst!! Provide an accurate report!!”
“Y-yes, major! The Information Alliance’s Catapult Cargo has been destroyed. The Faith Organization’s Mirror Bowler has been destroyed. The Capitalist Corporations’…”
“Hey, wait! I can’t move! E-eject! Ksshhhhh!!”
“…Desert Scorpio has been destroyed. The Legitimacy Kingdom’s Baby Magnum…”
It was like a cruel stroke of a pen.
No matter what technology was used to skillfully evade, the never-ending electron beam sword swept across the world. Once it caught up, it sliced the Object apart.
“…can continue fighting! The Baby Magnum is our only Object still functioning!!”
The princess’s survival most likely had nothing to do with her own skill.
She had simply been chosen last.
The attack had only lasted for a few dozen seconds and it had died out before reaching her.
Once it was fired again, she would be vaporized along with her metal machine.
“What do we do? What do we do, Quenser!? It’ll have the next one charged in only a few dozen seconds! What’s going to happen then!?”
The Information Alliance’s “oh ho ho” could fire along a line using her continuous beam Gatling gun, but her range was short.
The closer one was to the cannon being fired, the easier it was to avoid the attack by moving around it. But when it was pulled off at the extreme long range of ten kilometers, the speed and distance needed to evade increased dramatically.
Imagine a fan shape.
The distance to the side of the fan was not far at the base, but the closer one got to the upper edge, the greater that distance grew.
However, a future designer like Quenser saw another threat on top of that.
“The real problem isn’t the destructive power.”
An unpleasant sweat covered his brow, but he did not have time to worry about it.
“Objects can avoid laser weapons that move at the speed of light by predicting when they will be fired by monitoring the minute movements of the cannons and the targeting lenses. But this main cannon directly bends electron beams in midair to accelerate them via centrifugal force. There’s no hint to when it will be fired. You can only start evading once the actual beam has been fired!!”
“No one can do that!!”
“That’s why they were destroyed! Currently, no Object can evade its main cannon. None of our attacks can hit and all of its will. The MIB have created a single system that does that!!”
Only silence came from the radio.
The Information Alliance officer had either decided to withdraw or had no time to worry about Quenser’s group.
It did not matter which it was.
Quenser wiped his cheek to get rid of a liquid that might have been sweat or tears.
“Heivia, let’s find a way out of this on our own.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Let’s find a way of defeating that goddamn Object before it fires again. If we don’t, the princess will be blown to pieces!!”
“Screw that!! You can go be pretend to be a hero on your own. That thing destroyed three cutting-edge Objects in an instant. It was outnumbered, but it didn’t matter! It might even be able to destroy all twenty Objects on the continent!! This isn’t something flesh-and-blood humans can handle!!”
“She’s our final hope. If the Baby Magnum gives up, who will retrieve us from the battlefield!?”
A disturbing noise came from Heivia’s throat.
If the Baby Magnum was destroyed, there would be no one left to save them. Of all the Objects belonging to the Legitimacy Kingdom or the coalition, no one else would risk losing those massively expensive machines. Even if the MIB would eventually exterminate them, they would decide to watch from afar, analyze the situation, and try to find a way of winning in the long run.
Meanwhile, the MIB’s Object would continue its arrogant rampage and the first victims would be Quenser’s group.
“If you want to live, we have to continue forward,” said Quenser calmly. “We need to at least find a way to let the princess accomplish something here. Otherwise, we’ll be the soldiers who never returned in some tragic news story.”