HEAVY OBJECT:Volume9 Chapter 2
Chapter 2: Guardian Deity of Talent >> Mountain Battle of Lost Angels
Long story short, they were back in the run-down Lost Angels motel.
Drawing a board game on the back of some paper seemed like a good idea at the time, but Quenser and Heivia began arguing over whether the paper die was warped or unfair and they ended up in a light scuffle.
Of course, Lost Angels had enough entertainment to last a lifetime (however short that might be), but…
“Oh, screw this! My stress just keeps building up and I don’t feel like heading out for some fun when there are criminals and spies everywhere.”
“This is still better than a Capitalist Corporations safe country. They have constant shootouts between ‘talent trafficking’ kidnappers and school PMCs.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You don’t know? You can make a lot of money selling genius kids to corporations, so there are organizations that specialize in going after elementary and middle school kids. That’s why their school buses are bulletproof and are escorted by armored trucks armed with machineguns. The kidnappers use attack helicopters to go after them from the air. Makes you wonder how that can be called a ‘safe’ country.”
“And the big companies buy the abducted kids!?”
“With DNA tests, you won’t get a 100% match even with a sample from the same person. And when there’s even a 0.1% margin of error, it’s a job for the corporate lawyers. Even if the parents sue them and bring in pictures and hair samples, the lawyers will twist the truth with their words. They’ll make it so the kid is someone else who ‘just so happens to look a lot like them’.”
“Of course, it helps that the big companies that control the judicial system and administration are the ones doing this. You’ve probably heard how the Capitalist Corporations very nearly completed a long-term civilian space travel project, but there’s talk that those kids were a part of it. Naturally, just like with the moon landing way back when, there are conspiracy theories that it was all a fake to frighten the other world powers. At any rate, the number of geniuses on their payroll is directly related to the technological power of a corporation, so that market isn’t going away anytime soon. It sure is scary to think about.”
That was when the door cracked open and Millia Newburg of the intelligence division entered with a smile.
“Hi there, everyone. I have a new member to introduce! C’mon in, transfer student!!”
“What? Did some idiot get drunk, pull off an officer’s toupee, and get demoted or something?” asked Heivia while removing his hand from his awful friend’s collar.
But Millia shook her head.
“In a way, this is even more interesting. Heh heh. C’mon already! We’re going to be roommates, so don’t be so shy!!”
She tugged on an arm and pulled someone into the dimly-lit motel room.
“…Wait,” said Quenser in a scratchy voice.
It was a brown-skinned girl with her long black hair tied back. From neck to toes, she was covered in a special skintight fabric. That green outfit with a nurse-like silhouette was most likely the same kind of Pilot Elite special suit that the Princess normally wore.
Green was the color the Faith Organization liked to use and Quenser only knew of one Elite who had recently been forced to leave the Object that was like a part of her own body.
“Tah dah!! It’s Putana Highball who piloted the Collective Farming! After we released her, she was placed against the wall and about to be shot for her failure, so I attacked and collected her because it sounded like fun!!”
“I-I’ll kill you!! I’ll slaughter every last one of you who took the Sarasvati, the Faith Organization, and everything from me!! Kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!!!”
When he saw the disgrace of a former Elite starting to struggle and being restrained, Quenser Barbotage grew somewhat blue.
If something happened, he would of course be the first she killed.
“But she’s cute, so who cares!!”
“You’re pretty sinful yourself, you know that, Quenser?”
“Our job today is in the northern mountains. You each need to secure your own transportation and hurry there. Oh, and Quenser! Putana may be from the city, but I doubt she’s left the Faith Organization base much. Show her around Lost Angels while also teaching her our way of doing things. Teaching the newbies is a job for the old newbie. Heivia did the same for you, remember? Have fun☆”
“ ‘Teacher’, if you’re going to show me the way around Lost Angels, I’d like you to show me a lot more ‘shortcuts’ and ‘back streets’!!”
“Noooooo!! I’d always wanted a girl to invite me into an empty back alley, but not like thiiiiissssssssssssss!!”
In a supermarket parking lot near the run-down motel, Quenser screamed like a girl stopped by an old man wearing nothing but a trench coat.
The city of Lost Angels was as insane as ever. A nearby store was blown up, black smoke rose into the blue sky, and a Pizza Deliveryman ignored it while riding his scooter down the road.
“By the way, teacher, I have a question.”
“Wh-what is it?”
“Who was it that thought up the plan to steal my Sarasvati? From what I’ve overhead, it was an idea suggested by a normal soldier.”
“Ha…ha ha ha ha ha!! I-I have no idea what you’re talking about. That was a plan to steal a Second Generation Object, right? To think up that, you’d have to be a sexy genius from some new breed of human!!”
“Mhh… Come to think of it, you’re right. A normal person like you wouldn’t know anything about that.”
Anyway, they were not out here to pick up some food.
A clattering sound made it clear Quenser was in the process of stealing a light off-road motorcycle.
“If I connect this…to this… Wow, Heivia was right! It actually started up! I can’t believe it. How cheap is this thing!?”
“No matter how complicated they make it, it’ll still get stolen, so I doubt anyone tries that hard. That motorcycle was probably stolen from another parking lot.
Starting up the engine was one thing, but Quenser could not drive a motorcycle.
After seeing a macho man quickly running over from a store with a handgun at the ready, Putana Highball hopped onto the seat and Quenser clung to her back. She must have made a mistake operating the clutch because the off-road two-wheel vehicle hopped up in a flashy wheelie.
This was a common sight in Lost Angels.
Dry gunshots rang out behind them.
“I see,” said Putana. “So this is why they call it the city of corruption.”
“Eh? What was that!? I can’t hear you over the wind!”
“Lost Angels is a part of the Faith Organization, but it doesn’t look like it, does it? Rumor has it it was a giant experiment to see what happened to people after they lost their faith. …And it’s making my skin crawl, so don’t cling to me like that, teacher.”
“Why are you sniffing at me so obviously right after I warned you!?”
“Nothing you say will change the fact that I’m in a good position here. So no matter how much you’ll hit me later, I’m gonna do it! Oh, your body is so soft and warm. Girls are the best!!”
That was when Millia Newburg’s familiar voice came in over the radio.
“Hey, there! Looks like you’re going at it already, so I’m glad to see you’re making progress with her training.”
With a deep roar of an engine, a motorcycle pulled up alongside theirs. Millia was driving, Heivia sat behind her with his arms around her waist, and neither of them was wearing a helmet. They had clearly had a rough ride because Quenser’s horrible friend was completely pale and did not seem able to enjoy the warmth of his beautiful commanding officer. He was clinging to her for dear life.
To prevent the wind from drowning her out, Millia was speaking through the radio despite how close they were.
“This is a good opportunity. How about we have a race to our destination in the northern mountains? We both have a guy loaded on the back, so the conditions seem fair to me. Think of it like a welcome party to get to know each other.”
“Your bike is the large kind used in professional races. I can’t hope to match those specs.”
“Finding the best ride is part of the challenge here in Lost Angels. Or are you afraid that a great Elite is going to lose to a normal soldier in a vehicle race because of a slight handicap like that?”
“Oh, no!” shouted Quenser. “I think this Elite had too sheltered an upbringing to know when someone’s provoking her!”
The two motorcycles stopped side by side in front of a lowered railroad crossing barrier.
As a rusty freight train slowly passed by, Millia gave a simple explanation of the rules.
“The goal is our original destination and you can choose whatever route you like. The witnesses can be the luggage we have sitting behind us. Any other local rules necessary?”
“Only that we ban gunfire and running each other off the road.”
“Hah hah! Sounds like you’ve figured out how this city works!”
The final car of the freight train passed by, a bell sounded like the clattering of an empty can, and the barrier lifted.
Intense acceleration immediately pressed in on Quenser and Heivia’s guts.
The scenery flew by and a blast of wind struck their entire bodies. The two motorcycles passed some cars waiting at a light, did not hesitate to drive right out into the traffic flowing like a river through the intersection, took a sharp curve, and started down the major road. Once again, the world was wasting all sorts of energy and the hands of the World Clock were moving ever faster.
“Teacher, not so loud.”
Despite Putana’s casual tone, Quenser did not have it in him. If not for his overflowing passion for enjoying this girl’s body temperature for as long as possible, he would almost certainly have been thrown off already.
At first, Putana fell behind due to her inferior engine. She kept her position about ten meters behind Millia Newburg and used her superior off-road ability to switch between lanes and take the shortest route, even if by only a meter or ten centimeters. The way she took the inside of every turn to the point of just about hitting things was taking years from the lifespan of Quenser’s heart, so the World Clock was now the least of his worries.
An old man who had apparently been stripped of everything he owned was sitting in a daze on the roadside. He only wore underwear and the luxury car next to him had all of its bulletproof glass broken. Quenser was pretty sure he was the Jeweler famous for laundering, but from now on, he would have his hands full finding a cardboard box to sleep in.
Millia’s voice arrived over the radio again.
“How about we kill some time by reviewing the mission?”
Suggesting that in her spare time seemed to have stoked Putana’s competitive spirit.
The brown girl violently twisted the throttle lever and Quenser’s scream rose in pitch.
Up ahead, Millia moved into the opposing traffic to get around a slow-moving truck and she spoke calmly with cars zooming by on either side.
“Our job today is to support the 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion. Specifically, we’re going to be supporting their Object, the Baby Magnum.”
“The northern mountains are considered a part of Lost Angels, but the other side of the mountains doesn’t fall into the safe country category. A battlefield country juts sharply in there and there’s someone there just asking for a nice heavy punch.”
While ignoring three lights in a row, Putana continued pursuit, but she was not closing in any.
More than just the difference in engine specs, Millia was a skilled driver.
“Our opponent is a Second Generation Faith Organization Object named the Flyaway.”
“Because it’s frivolous?”
“The name does have a meaning, but not in a good way. That’s why they want the Princess to blow it to smithereens.”
Putana’s control of the handlebars grew a little stiff when she heard the Faith Organization mentioned.
The distance between them opened up, even if by only a few meters.
Millia Newburg passed by a few cars as if shaking her butt in Putana’s direction.
“The simplest way to explain its fighting style is ‘always flee’. As soon as things get dangerous, it releases its main cannon and uses the reduction in weight to escape the battlefield.”
“Its main cannon? But isn’t that full of military secrets?”
“That’s why the main cannon is like a beehive made of large containers. It’s got a ton of large-capacity batteries and bug legs, so it can run around on its own for a bit even after being abandoned. It can’t fire without the reactor, but it can regroup with the Object or be picked up after escaping the battlefield. And if you try to stop it by firing on it, it’ll melt like candy. Either way, you lose your chance to get those secrets.”
“Another pain in the ass…”
“Agreed. The information we’ve gathered says it uses its beehive-like coilgun to scatter eighty percent of its ammunition in the first five seconds, abandons that main cannon, and uses it as a diversion to escape. And if it’s about to be caught, it won’t hesitate to send out the White Flag signal. …It uses that combination of surprise attack and retreat for months at a time while waiting for its enemy to be worn down.”
In an age where clashes between nuke-resistant Objects had become daily topics of conversation, the six or seven billion people on earth had not gone extinct due to a few ridiculous implicit understandings about the battlefield. The White Flag signal was one of those. If one of the Objects was destroyed or unable to continue fighting, that signal would be sent out to avoid a slaughter of the people in the undefended maintenance base.
“The White Flag is supposed to be for emergencies, so if they keep using it like that…”
“Yes. They’ll create a situation where people are so fed up with it that they ignore it. This one idiot could easily ruin one of the rules of the battlefield. That’s why we have to settle this before it happens.”
There were a few different ways to do that.
1. Destroy it with a single attack before it could use the White Flag.
2. Obstruct its propulsion device so it could not escape after abandoning its main cannon.
3. Somehow prevent it from transmitting the White Flag.
Of course, if they could pull off #1 with no real preparation, this enemy would not have been a problem in the first place.
“The battlefield is in the treacherous mountains I mentioned before and that’s where the Flyaway works best. It uses its eight legs with a static electricity propulsion device, so it almost seems to slide up slopes as steep as sixty-five degrees. If it wanted to, it could slip back and forth between this side and that side of the mountains.”
The Princess used a multi-role First Generation Object, so it was designed to work just as well in a desert or the Antarctic Ocean. However, that meant it did not specialize in any one environment, so she would be slower than the Flyaway on a mountain slope.
“To put it another way, would the Princess be able to take it out if its legs were dealt with?”
“I’m glad you catch on so quickly. No matter how special its design is, the Flyaway still uses static electricity to float. If we do something to the ground below its feet, we can still interfere with its movement.”
Lost Angels was a city of two million, but as they traveled north, the buildings gradually grew shorter and a wasteland covered in fine, orange sand grew more obvious. Looking down the path of tall metal towers carrying high-voltage lines brought a wall of treacherous mountains into view.
Those were the northern mountains.
The tallest of them was not even two thousand meters and there was no hint of snow.
Instead, a hydroelectric power station and a ropeway were visible on the slope even from the distance.
“We don’t need any mountain climbing equipment. There’s an observatory on the peak, so you can get up by winding road or by cable car. We can easily take our bikes up to the top, so don’t worry.”
“A winding road? So a series of hairpin curves? …That means I still have a chance!!”
Millia likely understood that as well, but she still needlessly opened up the throttle and produced an explosive backfire to provoke the new girl.
But all of a sudden, the mountains up ahead shook.
A great cloud of dust blew down from the mountains and there was nothing the puny humans could do even though they saw the wall approaching.
Their vision narrowed considerably like they were caught in a sandstorm, the bright sunlight itself was cut off, and the area grew as dark as dusk.
A stinging pain ran across their cheeks. They had no helmet visor or goggles to protect them, but they continued the race. After switching on the headlights, Putana opened the throttle despite the limited visibility.
“Ugh. Peh, peh!! What just happened!?”
“Damn, that was sooner than predicted. This must be what they call an unexpected turn of events. It looks like the Princess has run into the Flyaway!!”
The Princess took shallow breaths inside the Baby Magnum’s cockpit.
Beads of sweat trailed down her relatively unexpressive face.
The alarms sounded quite distant.
She could hear someone’s voice in her ear, but it took her a while to comprehend the words.
“Prin…cess… Save your confusion for when you return safe and sound! It’s too soon to sit there in a daze!!”
The transmission from Frolaytia acted like a slap to the face and the Princess somehow managed to grab one of the countless levers again.
Her eyeballs and their pupils gave targeting instructions to the machinery.
Her target was the Second Generation Faith Organization Object named the Flyaway.
It looked like a massive eight-legged insect clinging to the steep slope.
Its main cannon was made up of moving containers, so it could be abandoned like a lizard’s tail.
But it was not exposure to that threat which had made the Princess’s heart race.
She felt no real danger from an Object that would have its main cannon crawl around as a diversion and escape after the first attack.
She heard a crumbling sound as the mountain slope broke away below her.
But there was something strange mixed in that was not earthen dust or broken rock. She also saw a curved metal rail and a few pieces of metal that looked like they had burst from within. Before they had been destroyed so spectacularly, they may have been advertised as follows in a Lost Angels pamphlet with some photographs to go along with it:
Take a ride through the miraculous night scenery of Lost Angels.
How about a midair stroll in the world’s fastest cable cars?
The Princess clenched her teeth and groaned as she used her gaze to aim.
But before her seven main cannons could roar, the Flyaway crossed the mountain ridge and escaped to the other side of the mountain.
That other side was Lost Angels, a Faith Organization safe country.
Starting from the route it took, the Flyaway had repeatedly violated the rules of war, so it had apparently not cared too much when it fired either.
The Princess brought a hand to her mouth and just barely held back the urge to vomit.
No matter how many powerful Objects she had destroyed or gun-wielding soldiers she had killed, that was completely different from killing innocent civilians. This slaughter that left the bounds of what could be called “war” caused her consciousness to flash in and out.
Her eyes turned toward one corner of the large screen.
More than ten seconds had passed since the “accidental shellfire”, but the wreckage of the cable cars continued to fall from the cliff like it was rolling down a hill.
The Princess did not know how many dozens or hundreds of people had been onboard, but that movement made it all too clear that no miracle would allow them to return alive.
“This is F-F-F-Flashtime News (à la a DJ’s scratch)!! Today’s headline: Legitimacy Kingdom vs. Faith Organization, Mistake in the Mountains? There’s been a great tragedy involving all eighty-nine cable car passengers. Not much investigation has been done since the place is still a battlefield, but the odds of survival are looking grim. And it seems the victims were mostly children here on a trip. Both sides’ PR offices are giving conflicting explanations, so there’s a fear the truth may never be known.”
With their mission put on hold, Quenser and the others had returned to the run-down motel.
Quenser gave an annoyed sigh as he watched the news playing on the old TV in one corner of the room.
“If they investigated the scene, it’d be obvious it was the Flyaway’s coilgun that did it.”
“This guy isn’t a representative of public opinion around the world. There was an Ice Cream Truck driving by outside, remember? This is a pirate broadcast sent out by that thing, so no one believes it. When he was pissed at the outcome of a race he’d bet on, there was an entire day where every channel was nothing but the asshole of a ‘beautiful’ bulldog. On that day, trying to watch some TV while eating was a mistake.”
“No one here is remotely ecological.”
“You mean that World Clock thing? If they put out a report saying the energy used by safe country wives in the living room had grown to ten times that used by the military in battlefield countries, do you think those virtuous civilians would believe it?”
There was no tension in Millia Newburg’s voice.
Heivia spoke up while sipping on some bland instant coffee that tasted like a chain store’s coffee diluted with muddy water.
“Regardless, we can’t ignore this forever, Quenser. The White Flag was bad enough, but now the bastard piloting the Flyaway has completely forgotten his table manners. If we leave now, the same thing will keep happening around the world.”
“Those mountains are his home turf, so he’s bound to get carried away. If we poke at him, he’ll respond, so it won’t be hard to get a rematch.” Quenser held a hand to his chin as he spoke. “The Princess will deliver the finishing blow, but the problem is how to mess with the Flyaway’s footing. Also, he can slide along those treacherous slopes with his eight legs, so how can humans like us catch up to or cut him off. If we can’t stop him, not even the Princess can get a shot in.”
That was when a girl raised her hand.
It was Putana Highball who had remained perfectly silent all this time.
“I have an idea about that.”
“Let’s hear it.”
Given Millia’s approval, the Pilot Elite continued.
“I’ve heard of secret tunnels filling those mountains. Lost Angels is a safe country and the other side of the mountains is a battlefield country, so those tunnels allow people to lose any pursuit when they’re transporting weapons, drugs, dirty money, jewels, or anything else.”
“So there’s a network of hand-dug smuggling tunnels? That sounds like something Mustard Cowboy – that is, the Capitalist Corporations – would do.”
“The Legitimacy Kingdom doesn’t have any tunnels?”
“Azul Hive is based in the southeastern commerce port and we get our funding from there. We can bring in as many weapons and people as we want, so there was no need to make any tunnels,” explained Millia. “Now, let’s get back on topic. The tunnels through those northern mountains are probably based on the drug tunnels connecting the Capitalist Corporations’ main country to Central America. I didn’t want to get involved with something so complicated, but I guess we have no choice.”
While making those preliminary calculations, she weighed the risks against the benefits and found the benefits won out.
“It’s only a rumor, but those mountains are supposed to be as full of tunnels as an ant colony. They may be hand-dug, but I hear they’re big enough for a small motorcycle to drive through without issue. But if this is true, it’s one of the cornerstones of their business. They’ll have made it so we can’t easily grasp its full scope. In other words, it would take too long to enter the mountain with surveying equipment now.”
“Then what do we do?” asked Heivia with a frown.
Their bikini commander answered immediately.
“Let’s do this Lost Angels style. We’ll abduct a Mustard Cowboy leader and get the information we need that way. They’ll actually be a soldier eating on the taxpayer’s dime, so there’s no need to hold back. Plus, I happen to know the perfect target.”
She operated one of the military computers filling the walls and displayed what looked like a resume with an attached photo. But to be clear, this file had not been written by the man in the photo. It came from a list of dangerous people created using information gathered by the intelligence division.
“George Coral. Male. Age thirty-six. Five registered homes in this city alone. He’s a former leader of Mustard Cowboy who had made a name for himself in Lost Angels’s western financial district.”
“Former?” asked Quenser.
“He was purged after that incident with the stolen lightship focusing lens.” Millia sounded amused. “Technically, he’s still running around the city. He’s only a poor little lamb who had everything taken from him, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has Mustard Cowboy’s information. Attacking a current leader would mean starting a citywide war, so this should be far easier. It’s the perfect chance to get our hands on an accurate map of the smuggling tunnels.”
“That settles it then. If we sit around, he’ll be killed by Capitalist Corporations soldiers. You can’t get a dead man to talk, so it would be best to nab him ASAP.”
No one opposed Heivia’s opinion and several sets of footsteps moved toward the run-down motel’s exit.
Quenser looked over at Putana.
“What is it, teacher?”
“Well… Whoever’s piloting the Flyaway is a Faith Organization Elite just like you. I thought maybe you could give us a hint there.”
Putana looked like she was spitting on the ground as she answered.
“They’re a disgrace to the Faith Organization.”
There were piles of trash even among the countless high-rise buildings of western Lost Angels. For example, there was a garbage dump at one corner of an intersection. A bearded man lay face up, practically buried in the piles of black garbage bags that were probably no longer used anywhere else in the world.
His former dreadful and impressive aura was gone. An RC Girl may have been flying a toy around because she held a remote control while looking up into the blue sky, but not even she paid the man any heed.
The man’s former subordinate gave an exasperated comment.
“You are still in the western area?”
“Shut up… This is my territory, my turf, my domain. Dammit, who’s swimming in that rooftop pool now? Is it Kenny? Or maybe Rob? I’ll find whoever it was that stole my stuff and fill them with holes.”
It may have been this unpredictability that had allowed him to live this long. He had been the boss, so they never would have thought to find him buried in a pile of trash.
That was all it was.
Once they corrected their image of him, he would likely be found by the Mustard Cowboy soldiers before the long hand of the clock made a full circle, receive a bullet between the eyes before it made a second circle, and be thrown out into the ocean before it made a third.
“It would be best if you left the city and quickly,” said his former friendly subordinate.
“Are you mocking me? Listen. I’m putting together a plan for a comeback. I’m not gonna die here. Why? Because it isn’t my time to die yet, goddammit! First, I’ll get my hands on a gun. I can just punch someone around here and take one!!”
“What do you hope to accomplish with a 9mm bullet?”
“If you want to know, then come with me. I’ll show you the kind of luxury you’ll never find in the tax-funded lifestyle of a soldier. C’mon!! If you’re looking for George Coral, he’s right over herrrrre!! If you’ve got a problem with that, then come face meeeeee!!!!!!”
As soon as the man stood on the top of the trash heap and gave a roar, something happened.
With that casual comment, Heivia crashed a stolen four-wheel drive vehicle into the trash heap by the intersection.
He did so at full speed and without touching the brakes.
With a great crash, the piled-up black trash bags were knocked every which way like bowling pins.
George Coral, the kingpin at the top, flew through the air and slammed heavily into the vehicle’s roof. The group of School Trip Students crossing a nearby crosswalk in a line of boys and a line of girls all widened their eyes in surprise.
Heivia was filled with excitement.
“Ha ha! That tech-illiterate digital exhibitionist’s smartphone was a lot of help. I never thought we’d find the idiot this quickly!!”
A College Girl in a Monokini intentionally tripped in feigned surprise and made sure the friction with the ground slide her swimsuit down, but unfortunately, Heivia did not have time to go along with her exhibitionism. After reminding himself he could use the internet to see her changing any time he wanted, he focused on the task at hand.
After all, the man who had fallen on the roof managed to jump down as if rolling off the back of the vehicle and he had started making a run for it as soon as he landed on the asphalt.
He was getting away.
“What the hell!? The guy’s still alive and kicking!!”
“You hit the pile of trash, not him! Backup, backup! Run into him and break his hip. As long as you don’t kill him, we can still get him to talk!!”
Obeying Millia Newburg’s fairly cruel instructions, Heivia threw the vehicle into reverse with the tires screeching against the asphalt.
The shocked bearded man frantically changed direction and climbed onto the scaffolding of a building under construction.
Despite the sound of bending metal and of a heavy impact, the four-wheel drive vehicle missed its target.
George Coral was running up the scaffolding. He was well-built despite being a former leader.
“Oh, honestly! We can’t do anything in this thing!”
“We have to chase after him like monkeys? What a pain in the ass!!”
“No, we can leave this ‘aerial battle’ to the newbie. We’ll grab another vehicle and pursue on the surface. Whether it’s providing support or cutting off his escape, there has to be more we can do.”
As Millia instructed Heivia, she brought the radio to her mouth.
“You heard me, Putana! Chase him down in that off-road motorcycle you like so much!!”
As soon as she spoke, the roar of an engine passed over the four-wheel drive vehicle.
It did not pass “by” it.
The off-road motorcycle used the upward sloping road to make the kind of large jump seen at a circus, passed over the four-wheel drive vehicle’s roof, and landed on the scaffolding.
“Wow. I guess she is a Pilot Elite after all.”
“But why is Quenser clinging to her back?”
“He volunteered to keep an eye on her. He’d be too scared otherwise. He’s the one she would want revenge against, so I bet he doesn’t want to let her out of his sight to prevent any surprise attacks.”
The construction scaffolding was narrow.
The building’s wall and the pillars of metal pipes shot by at tremendous speed only fifty centimeters to either side. They easily drove up the long, narrow metal panels placed diagonally instead of stairs.
“Oh, god! Oh, god! Oh, god! Oh, god!”
“Teacher, why are you even on my bike?”
They were three stories up.
George Coral had relaxed once he had escaped the vehicle, but he stiffened in shock when he turned toward the engine noise behind him.
Putana Highball showed no mercy.
She safely drove through and blew away the professional soldier who had become a gang leader.
The bearded man’s arms and legs flailed wildly, but doubt and fear filled him as the shock of landing never came.
His muscular body had flown over the scaffolding and into empty air. He had broken through the net meant to keep people from falling, slowed down because of it, and finally fell to the ground below.
After confirming that, Putana opened the throttle of her off-road motorcycle and unhesitatingly jumped down from the building’s scaffolding.
A three-story freefall began.
As Quenser flew through the air, he felt a chill on his spine when he saw a Worker clinging to a telephone pole at eye level. That had reminded him just how high up they were.
The pressure in his stomach from the fall was different from that of simple acceleration, so the student let out a scream.
Putana pressed the back wheel down as she accurately landed the motorcycle right next to George Coral’s head where he had fallen ahead of them and did not get back up. She forcefully swerved around to turn the light motorcycle’s front wheel toward the bearded man’s head. With fine control of the brakes, she stopped at the last second as if lightly biting his head between the tire and the ground.
At this point, it was no different from pressing the muzzle of a gun against his forehead.
“Do as I say,” calmly instructed the girl. “Otherwise, I will splatter your brains on the ground here.”
Tears filled George Coral’s eyes and he heard two short horn blasts.
A station wagon stopped nearby.
He heard several doors open and close and then a woman in a bikini top and baggy cargo pants walked up with a smile on her face.
“There technically are Faith Organization police in this city, so hurry and load him up. …Now, then. How long a day this will be is entirely dependent on how patient you are, Mr. George Coral.”
“Uhh… You pieces of shit…”
The bearded man breathed out, his limbs went limp, and his eyes squeezed shut.
It seemed his return to stardom in Lost Angels was still a long way off.
Quenser, Heivia, Putana, and Millia reported on their progress while taking the station wagon randomly down the large Grape Street.
“This is the microchip hidden in his necktie pin. He was also quick to talk since he feels no obligations to a group that threw him out. Thanks to that, we didn’t have to put on a raincoat and go stand in the bathroom with a knife in hand.”
Their information source, George Coral, was no longer in the station wagon, but not because they had fired a bullet into his head and chucked him from the speeding vehicle.
“What did he ask for in return?”
“An instant fake ID and a Capitalist Corporations brand handgun. I’m sure he’ll be found out within three days, but he probably plans to do something by then. And it’s hardly a problem for us if some infighting breaks out within Mustard Cowboy.”
Abandoning one’s morals brought a lot of possibility.
That was the best part about Lost Angels.
At any rate, they now had an accurate map of the smuggling tunnels through the northern mountains.
If they could take a shortcut through those mountains, even they could cut in front of the Flyaway’s path as it slid along the slopes.
They could strike back against that insane Second Generation that had blown away so many civilians.
Quenser spoke up while fiddling with his radio.
“Hi, Frolaytia? Our preparations are complete. How’s the Princess?”
“A little longer and I would have mixed a sedative into her tea. She’s about ready to give into her anger and start Armageddon. In other words, her head is boiling over. She’ll rush in the instant I remove the leash, but I have no intention of sending her in without a plan. Do you have an actual idea as to how you’ll trip that thing up?”
“Let’s meet and talk sometime.”
“What? Have you been so dyed by the intelligence division’s ways that you’re worried about someone intercepting the signal?”
“(No, that isn’t it.)”
“(Why are you whispering?)”
“(How should I put this? Um… There’s this girl real nearby who wants revenge on the level of a murdered parent, so I’m a little afraid of revealing any clever ideas around her.)”
“(In a way, you really are living the life of an intelligence operative, Quenser.)”
He gave a nervous look to the side received a puzzled look from the girl in a green special suit modelled after a nurse uniform.
Even Lost Angels had the karaoke boxes that had originated in the Island Nation.
Of course, since they were essentially soundproofed, private rooms that could be rented by the hour, they were mostly used by the customers of the women who stood on the street corners in dresses that did not cover much of anything.
And that was why Frolaytia was in an extremely bad mood after meeting up there.
“Quenser… I don’t see an ashtray, so could you hold out your hands? Yes, like you’re scooping up water.”
“If you’re stressed out, why not sing a song!? This is a karaoke box, after all!!”
“Why did you bring me to this love hotel?”
“If a fancy officer showed up at the run-down motel, we’d be advertising that it’s an intelligence division hideout. The place would be blown away by a rocket or bomb the next day.”
Incidentally, Legitimacy Kingdom bodyguards had rented the two neighboring rooms while disguised as customers and a bulletproof SUV was casually waiting in the alley closest to the emergency exit. The defenses put in place for an officer were on an entirely different level.
Frolaytia grabbed a pitcher, poured a carbonated drink into a glass, and grabbed some fried chicken from a large plate of greasy foods.
“What are you planning to do here in Lost Angels?”
“As I said, we got an accurate map of the smuggling tunnels the Capitalist Corporations use. If we use them, we can sneak up on the Flyaway.”
After asking permission, Quenser reached for the same large plate as his commander and munched on some fries.
The onion rings must not have been very good because neither of them took any.
“He uses a static electricity propulsion device just like the Princess, so it’s possible we can stop him from moving using a weakness there.”
Frolaytia must not have liked how salty the fried chicken was because she dipped it in a small plate of mayonnaise.
If they used a giant charged sheet commonly known as a Floor Heater, they could pump in a whole bunch of power to mess with the static electricity letting the Object float.
“We can’t rely on a large system like the Floor Heater. The tunnels were hand-dug and only a light off-road motorcycle can get through. They were made to let unregistered guns and drugs through, so we can’t hope for much.”
After Quenser shoved several fries into his mouth, Frolaytia took a sip of her carbonated drink and then spoke to the boy.
“Then what will you do? The battlefield covers the entire mountain range, so it’s a large area. Also, I’m sure he’ll be worried about his own footing. Is there really a way to trip him up without getting caught by his many sensors?”
“It’s only a theory, but yes,” said Quenser.
Frolaytia grinned and urged him to continue.
“Let’s hear it.”
“There’s something that can mess with his static electricity while also affecting a wide area. All we have to do is transport it through the tunnels and onto the mountain slope.”
“But what exactly is it? You already told me you can’t use the Floor Heater.”
“The tunnels are narrow, but if we aren’t transporting a ‘solid’, we can send quite a lot through at once.”
“You don’t mean…”
Frolaytia was surprised and Quenser placed a handheld device on the table.
It displayed a satellite photo of the mountains.
The slope was covered by several metal pipes that looked like water slides enlarged several dozen times over.
“There’s a hydroelectric power station…in other words, a dam. We just have to use a large pump to draw out the water and send it through the ant colony of smuggling tunnels. Static electricity propulsion devices can’t directly cross rivers or oceans, so they have to attach naval floats first. As the Flyaway gets carried away, we’ll create a fountain of water at his feet and turn the entire slope into a giant waterfall. That’ll stop him.”
“And if the Princess keeps enough distance to not get caught too, she just has to fire one of her main cannons…”
“That will be an issue of speed. After the first attack, the Flyaway will remove its main cannon to lighten itself. That means the Princess won’t have to think about evading anymore. If she can blast him before he realizes what’s going on and sends out the White Flag signal, we’ll win.”
It was nothing but a theory.
If the Princess and the intelligence division creating the waterfall could not work together, it would all go up in smoke, so it was a risky gamble.
However, a definite chance for success was beginning to form.
They would be able to strike back against the bastard who had sacrificed so many civilians.
“I leave the decision up to you.”
“Of course you do. I’m the maintenance base commander.”
Naturally, if the report was submitted under the name Quenser Barbotage, a battlefield student and therefore an amateur, the higher ups would not take it seriously. The Collective Farming incident had been a special case.
However, things would be different if it had the name of Major Frolaytia Capistrano.
“I hope you will ‘consider’ it.”
“Understood. I’ll give it some ‘thought’.”
They began to move late at night.
Partway along the winding road up the northern mountains was a space that functioned as a rest area and a shop. It was a lot like a highway service area and it was likely supported by the people working at the dam and observatory.
Lost Angels’s nights were supposed to be covered in thick fog, but the mountains seemed to be an exception. The fog was probably a product of the cold mountain wind blowing down into the lukewarm ocean, but that humid sea breeze was absent here.
Millia Newburg was speaking with someone over the radio while sitting on the hood of a classic car (that she had of course stolen).
Perhaps to keep them awake, the car’s stereo was playing a pirate broadcast at high volume.
“This is F-F-F-Flashtime News (à la a DJ’s scratch)!! Lip Service, the attorney’s office well-known even within the Capitalist Corporations, is gathering attention by opening an online consultation service. The office specializes in family troubles, so they’re a must-have for fixing any trouble with future geniuses being sold to big companies AKA talent trafficking.”
She spoke to Quenser and Heivia who were filling their stomachs with the cold steamed chicken and salad pasta left in the cheap store.
“The team we sent ahead has taken control of the hydroelectric power station. We’re about to prepare the large pump. The travel team needs to switch over to the off-road motorcycle.”
“What’s the Princess doing?”
“She’s on standby. After getting carried away and starting the battle before we were ready last time, she’s being a lot more cautious.”
With that, all of the Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers got moving.
They searched through the parking lot that had a number of cars and motorcycles parked in it even late at night.
“Putana, won’t you make yourself sick if you eat curry this late?”
“Teacher, I don’t understand how you can call something food if it doesn’t have more than eight kinds of spices mixed together.”
“I’m just thankful I can eat something other than rubber-like rations even though we’re at war. Hey, Quenser, whose ass will you be riding this time?”
“If I’m going to be clinging to someone’s waist, you should know I’ll choose the girl.”
“Teacher, that isn’t something to look so proud of. And please just get a license.”
While they complained, they stole motorcycles with practiced motions.
Having your means of transportation taken from you in the mountains late at night was a frightening thought, but the damage near the keyhole suggested these had been stolen already. That meant their “owners” had brought this bad luck upon themselves.
“I hate these hot nights and their lack of women. Maybe I should call out to one of those women on the street corners.”
“I wouldn’t if I were you. Spread your noble blood around like that and you’ll have someone killing you in your sleep decades down the line. It’ll be like a scene out of Whatever-It’s-Called Suspense Theatre.”
“My brain knows that, but…y’know, people sometimes have to follow their hearts. Like when I see that beauty in a dress over there with the horny-looking expression.”
“That’s a trap. You can tell from the location of the pelvis.”
Heivia did a spit-take, but Quenser ignored his intensely regretful friend and gave the Woman in a Dress a skeptical look. What was he(?) doing on this mountain road?
Before he could find an answer, Millia spoke up.
“Those of us on the transport team will go in the trucks. We have to carry the large pump and other equipment in ahead of time, after all.”
“Understood. Putana, keep some distance from the trucks. We don’t want to look like we’re traveling together.”
“Let’s have a few of the motorcycles go on ahead. It can’t hurt to make sure there isn’t an ambush waiting for us.”
With that decided, two of the motorcycles took the lead.
Quenser’s group watched as the trucks left.
Finally, with a roar of engines, the intelligence division’s travel team continued up the winding road in two lines of motorcycles.
They were wary, but fortunately, they did not notice an obvious attack or interference.
They did hear some dry gunshots in the distance, but that was normal in Lost Angels. A tow truck drove down the opposite lane with a luxury racing car in tow and a group of modified cars chased after that Car Thief disguised as a road service.
Quenser clung to Putana and she spoke without turning back.
“Don’t worry. I don’t feel any gazes on us.”
“The military satellites are also mostly focused on the city of Lost Angels, so they aren’t paying much attention to these mountains. Of course, that’s why they can’t blame anyone else for the cable cars being blown away.”
Hearing that made Quenser shudder.
He did not know how much truth there was to that, but he doubted it was a mere bluff or assumption. This girl could use her scopophobia as a weapon, so just how much of a threat to the Princess would she be inside an Object?
(I’m really glad we got rid of that possibility ahead of time.)
“Nothing! Did my smoldering gaze send a tingle down your spine, Putana?”
Before long, the group of motorcycles arrived at the hydroelectric power station partway up the mountain.
Millia Newburg gave them a casual wave from the parking lot.
“Let’s get started. We’re using Quenser’s idea. We’ll set up the pumps to draw the water from the reservoir, so you all lay out the pipeline in the smuggling tunnels.”
Quenser and Heivia hopped down from the motorcycles and walked over to the back of the trucks, but Heivia frowned after opening the metal doors.
“What’s this? There’s only enough for one hundred meters! That’s not enough to get the water all the way through the mountain!!”
“How many trucks do you think we’d need to carry that much pipework around? We’d stand out too much if we did that and it’s all over if the Faith Organization gets suspicious.”
“Then what do we do!?”
“I’ve marked certain spots on the map. We’ll divide the ant colony of tunnels into the human pathway and the water pathway. We just have to cover up all of the branches from the water one to make it a single route. If we pour water in there like a flash flood, it’ll work just like a pipe.”
Quenser pointed his thumb back at the hydroelectric power station.
“Lost Angels’s power is unstable and blackouts are common, right? The data we have says the power company had started to add more turbines but stopped construction for a variety of reasons. There should be bags of quick-dry cement piled up like sandbags, so let’s borrow those.”
“Well, isn’t that nice. You’re suggesting we steal civil property like it’s nothing. You really have been dyed in the colors of Lost Angels, haven’t you?”
“Did you know cement has an expiration date? They’d have to throw those things out like box lunches at a convenience store anyway. Another nation’s military is disposing of it for them, so they should actually thank us.”
“Yeah, and readily making excuses like that is also part of the Lost Angels way of life. Let’s call this being ecological. That stuff would be wasted in the hands of those morons.”
The two idiots continued to complain as they smashed the lock to the giant storehouse next to the power station. The bags of cement looked a lot like bags of rice or flour, but they were a lot heavier.
The very first one just about crushed Quenser.
“You idiot! Quenser, don’t you know being frail is only a plus for sheltered rich girls!?”
“What is this…? Am I a slave being forced to build the pyramids?”
While Quenser groaned from the floor, the delicate-looking Putana Highball quickly placed three of the bags over her shoulder.
“Teacher.” Her expression was perfectly composed. “I think it’s about time we talked about what you owe me by this point.”
“Please no! If I do that with a genius Elite, I’ll end up buried in debt!!”
Quenser could not actually lift the bags of cement, so he ended up grabbing one by the edge and dragging it along.
They tied them to the back of their motorcycles with wire.
And of course, only those who could drive could sit in the driver’s seat.
“I really do think we need to talk about what you owe me.”
“No, wait. I don’t think you should judge a guy based on whether he knows how to drive a motorcycle or not. Even when I learned to play the guitar, it didn’t make me popular!!”
Heivia and Putana drove their off-road motorcycles into the smuggling tunnel, leaving Quenser and his complaints behind.
Millia came over to check on the boy as he spread a map on the hood of a car and checked the route with a military flashlight.
“Is everything going well?”
“Yes, assuming my calculations are correct, using the giant pump to pour water into this one point will split along a number of routes but ultimately turn the opposite slopes of these three mountains into a water slide. If we can lure the Flyaway in, we can seal off his static electricity legs. There’s no escape for him.”
“From here, we can’t tell what’s happening on the other side, so you tell us when to send in the water.”
In less than an hour, Heivia and Putana returned.
“This guy’s been flirting with a beautiful woman while we were out there sweating and doing construction work. Just how much are you going to enjoy the Lost Angels way of life!?”
“Rewarding the slacker feels like a rebellion against society to me,” added Putana.
After waiting for the other off-road motorcycles to get back, Quenser, Millia, and the others completely sealed off the tunnel entrance after connecting the two meter wide plastic pipe running from the giant pump.
Millia clapped her hands.
“Okay, head to the other side of the mountains through another tunnel. It’s time for round two.”
“Got it. Hey, Putana, you heard her, so let me ride your ass again.”
Quenser hopped onto the back of Putana’s off-road motorcycle. Since he was researching cool ways to get on, he had likely gotten used to being treated as baggage.
As a jack of all trades, Heivia had no girl with him and he was muttering under his breath with a look in his eyes that suggested he was in serious need of some counseling.
“Maybe I should just throw away my license.”
“Listen, Heivia. You only score some points with their protective instincts if you can’t do it. If you can but you don’t, you aren’t going to catch any girl’s heart.”
“Teacher, can I just throw you off now?”
Regardless, Putana and Heivia drove their motorcycles into a different smuggling tunnel hidden partway up the mountain path.
There were no lights inside, so they only had the unreliable illumination of their headlights. The tunnel was less than two meters wide and the ground was bumpy since it was hand-dug. Also, it had only been dug out, so there were no pillars or concrete to reinforce it.
Instead of an occult test of courage, it felt more suited for a frightening theme park attraction.
“This really feels handmade. It’s like a tunnel someone made for a summer project.”
There were concrete walls here and there, but they were probably what Heivia and the others had made from the quick-drying concrete.
The pathway for dozens of tons of water was on the other side of those walls.
After traveling about seven kilometers, they left the tunnel on the other side of the mountain.
They braked and viewed the mountain scenery from the tunnel exit.
“Looks like the Princess has gotten started,” said Heivia while still sitting on his motorcycle.
A low, heavy roar echoed around them like storm clouds approaching from the distance.
That was the sound of a static electricity propulsion device.
“Sounds like we’ve poked at the hornet’s nest well enough. That king of chickens is showing himself!!”
Something like a giant insect sat on the slope like a row of fangs belonging to some ferocious beast towering into the heavens.
That nuke-resistant insect had eight legs and a removable main cannon attached to its fattened spherical body.
It sent out the White Flag signal with reckless abandon and it had no problem making civilian sacrifices to get a shot in.
Quenser gulped and named the crazed insect.
“The Faith Organization’s Second Generation Object, the Flyaway!!”
Despite everything else going on, the main player on the battlefield was the Princess and the Baby Magnum, so Quenser held his radio in one hand as he waited with the others.
“The enemy falls back as soon as he fires his first shot, so to catch him in our trap, you need to delay his first shot as much as possible and lure him as far forward as you can. Don’t give him a chance to aim. Keep firing to force him to move left and right while you back away bit by bit. That will draw him over this way.”
“He believes he can escape no matter what, so he’ll get bolder. It shouldn’t be too hard to have him get carried away. If you’re confident enough, you can even pretend to slip on the steep slope. He should jump at that chance.”
“So I just have to ensure my safety while intentionally stimulating his greed? That should be easy.”
As Quenser spoke with the Princess via radio, Putana observed the boy from the side.
That Pilot Elite would bring about the conclusion, she held everyone’s lives in her hands, and everyone relied on her.
That should have been Putana’s place, too.
“Hm? What is it?” asked Quenser.
An ear-splitting explosion tore through the mountains.
The Baby Magnum’s coilgun main cannon had ripped through the air at supersonic speeds to create a sonic boom as it instantly flew toward the Flyaway.
Using that as its cue, the Flyaway also began to move.
The enemy Object moved in a small circle on the steep slope to avoid the shell and then approached the Baby Magnum.
Its main cannon was made from a honeycomb of containers and it creaked as it aimed.
It specialized in a spray of attacks that filled an entire surface.
To put it another way, it was a one-time attack that had to be held in reserve.
Or so they had thought, but it was acting oddly.
Explosive sounds burst from the Flyaway again and again.
Instead of its main cannon, it was firing smaller railguns and rapid-fire beam cannons that were of no use in an Object vs. Object battle.
“That bastard is destroying this mountain!!”
Quenser and the others frantically got down as a concerning crumbling sound came from overhead…no, near the peak of the mountain. A full-on landslide had apparently begun further down and a wall of dust completely enveloped and hid everything near the surface.
The Princess’s Baby Magnum was no exception.
All of the dirt flowed down the slope, the slope itself began to fall, and it all continued further and further down. That overwhelming current slowed the Baby Magnum’s movements. Staying put on the slope was the most it could manage and it could not keep up its sharp movements.
“Not good. The Princess has been stopped! If that thing gets close, she’ll be turned to Swiss cheese by its main cannon!!”
“But there’s nothing we can do. Even if six of her main cannons are blown away and the spherical main body is blasted open like an empty can, we’ll still win if she can move at the end. We need him to get carried away and get close. Otherwise, our trap won’t work!!”
The Flyaway approached further when it saw the Princess’s confusion.
It was now within range of its main cannon.
“Not yet!! If he’s only on the edge of the effective range, he’ll just escape backwards once it starts. We need to lure him into the center of the effective range so he’ll be swept away by the water slide no matter which way he tries to escape!!”
The Princess could no longer put on an act.
Based on how much she was struggling, it seemed certain the Flyaway was going to win.
The Flyaway continued to advance.
It approached the vertical slope looking down on Quenser’s group.
The student pressed his thumb down on his radio’s switch.
The shortened number sent out a sign to Millia Newburg and the others waiting on the other side of the mountain. That single button set the giant pump in motion, so dozens of tons of water would be sent from the reservoir and onto the slopes of the three mountains, turning them into water slides.
The running feet would be stopped.
“Okay!! Millia, do it! Now!!”
He heard a light click and then a low rumbling shook the entire mountain. The tunnel Quenser’s group had traveled through had been separated for human use, so the water would not flow through it. Still, the vibration of the water in the other tunnel reached them here.
“Hey, Quenser, something isn’t right.”
“It isn’t making a water slide. It doesn’t look like any water is flowing out of the other tunnel exits.”
Quenser turned around in shock.
Small fragments were falling from the ceiling of the hand-dug tunnel there.
“Oh, no… Oh, no!!”
“Quenser, explain this,” demanded the Princess over the radio.
“The Flyaway’s bombardment caused the hand-dug tunnels to collapse! The impromptu pipeline for the water is full of cracks and is useless! Princess, change of plans. Fire your main cannon to the coordinates I’m about to-…”
He trailed off as the situation continued to develop.
“No, wait. If the water pipeline isn’t working, where is that rumbling coming from!?”
“The plan failed because the water did not follow the proper route,” said Putana. “That means…”
“Dammit.” Quenser’s face stiffened. “Is it flowing down this tunnel!?”
They did not have time to brace themselves.
A tremendous torrent of water burst from the mountain and mercilessly knocked them into the air.
The fountain of water was much smaller than in the original plan.
It would not have been enough to stop the Object had it been caught by it, but it was more than enough to sweep away some flesh-and-blood humans.
They rolled and slipped down. Quenser’s group fell down the giant slide along with quite a lot of dirt and rubble.
They were caught by something partway down the mountain.
If not for that, they may really have fallen all the way to the bottom of the cliff.
“Damn…it… What just happened?”
Quenser still could not move properly, but he reached for his radio. However, there was no response when he pressed the button. Whether due to the fall or the mud, it seemed to be broken.
(You’ve got to be kidding me.)
An ominously deep rumbling continued on the slope above and the Flyaway was still on the move.
It was the type to shoot once and then flee, so it did not have time to focus on something other than its true target.
(He’ll get away again at this rate. The Princess will be worn down if this ridiculous game of tag continues. We need to find a way to blow him away tonight!!)
He steadied himself by grabbing onto something like a broken pillar sticking out from the muddy slope, he looked around again, and he finally realized where he was.
“The cable car station?”
“Yup, the one with the one-way trip to heaven thanks to that slaughter of civilians. It’s a good thing the cable cars were stopped after the accident and no one was left inside the station.”
He heard his awful friend’s voice.
Still clinging to the pillar, he looked back and saw Heivia covered in mud.
“What happened to Putana?”
“I don’t know, but she’s wearing the same kind of special suit as the Princess, right? I doubt she would die so easily.”
At any rate, the two idiots moved from the unstable, muddy slope and into the half-destroyed station building.
Now that they could finally catch their breath, Heivia asked a question.
“What do we do now?”
“What we need to do hasn’t changed.”
“The water slide plan? That was a failure! There’s nothing we can do now that the tunnel for the water has collapsed!!”
“Are you sure? There’s still a chance we can pull it off.”
“You mean cause a landslide like the Flyaway did? But he was whizzing across the slope he made collapse!!”
“That’s not what I meant. Regardless, we have to move to where we can set this up.”
Quenser switched on his military flashlight and cut across the collapsed building.
He was searching for a maintained mountain-climbing trail, but he stopped before reaching the exit.
“There’s a staff room.”
“Hey, it couldn’t hurt to check for a map or something. The locals might have marked animal trails not on the official maps.”
The door was already broken and dirt from the landslide had gotten inside.
Everything was covered in mud, but they still found some documents.
“A business journal? No, it’s too small for that. A private journal, then? It’s not from the station staff…so the drivers? Did they take turns making entries in here?”
“That thing’s not going to tell you the secret to defeating that monstrous weapon. Quit getting sidetracked.”
Quenser frowned as he flipped through the pages.
Most of the pages were too covered in mud to open, but some were unharmed.
This is what they said:
“May 1: They came by again. I can’t exactly complain when they’re giving me money, but with how much trouble this is, I wish they’d do it somewhere else.”
“May 13: Today’s the day. I don’t know what the point of this is, but I’ll just do as I was told. I only have to send out the cars without anyone on them, so it’s not all that difficult a job.”
“What is this?”
They’re giving me money
Today’s the day.
I’ll just do as I was told.
I only have to send out the cars without anyone on them.
“Hey, Heivia. The story was that all eighty-nine cable car passengers died, right?”
“Hold up. Are you saying…?”
Suddenly, a transmission from an ally reached Heivia’s radio.
“I can’t get through to teacher’s radio, but is he there?”
“I’m down below, but I seem to have found something unbelievable.”
Putana Highball was clearly a little bit shaken.
“No, maybe I should say it’s what I haven’t found.”
“Let me guess.” Quenser cut in from the side. “You’re at the site of the accident, but you can’t find the corpses that should be strewn all over the place. Is that it?”
Putana Highball stood near the bent, twisted, and broken cable car rail.
Moving around her military flashlight was enough to spot the cars that had fallen and lost their connections.
“Yes, that’s exactly it, teacher. I can’t find anything that might be corpses.”
The accident had occurred earlier that same day. With bodies covering a large area, it would take at least a day or two to recover them all.
Nevertheless, there was not even one in evidence.
In fact, there was not even a single bloodstain or possession of the deceased.
“That’s an area of suspicion,” explained Quenser. “If either the Legitimacy Kingdom or Faith Organization’s investigation team holds a press conference, their credibility will only be about 50/50. If they insist there were no bodies or that the people vanished, the other side will claim they stole the evidence and it will all end in a giant gray zone. Someone used that situation to pull off a large-scale kidnapping.”
“Then what happened to the people who were supposed to be on the cable cars?”
“Wait a second. Wait, wait. One of the computers here is still functioning. There might still be some surveillance camera footage on here.”
Putana turned off her military flashlight and held her breath.
The bottom of the valley grew pitch black, but she confidently sharpened her eyes.
(I sense a gaze.)
The gaze was sweeping about in every direction. She guessed they had noticed the light but did not know how many people were there. This gaze did not home in on her as if obscenely licking across her body.
(There’s just one of them. Probably a scout, or…)
She moved through the mud to avoid the gaze.
She circled around a cable car lying on its side and made her way behind the owner of the gaze.
She lightly tapped the metal surface with the back of her hand.
She shined her extremely powerful military flashlight toward the person who turned around in surprise.
The beam of light seemed to stab into their brain and she aimed for the moment they froze in place. She took advantage of the high-capacity battery’s weight to use the flashlight like a club and beat them on the side of the head.
They groaned after collapsing to the dirt, so she beat them a second and third time to knock them out cold.
She fished through their pockets and found a cellphone, a wallet, and an ID.
“I found a Faith Organization scout,” she whispered into her radio. “However, he isn’t from the Garuda’s…I mean, the Flyaway’s unit. I think he’s from Viridian Edge, the Faith Organization gang back in the city.”
She also found a handgun, but it was the type with a maintenance chip contained in the grip cover. It had a GPS transmitter embedded inside. The transmitter required a special tool to remove, so she gave up on it.
Once the transmitter stopped moving, the main unit would quickly notice something was wrong.
Regardless, Putana checked the data on the cellphone.
It seemed he really was part of an intelligence agency. The machine’s default password lock was one thing, but the data inside was encrypted and there was nothing she could do. However, she could still see the filenames and a few terms stuck out to her.
Back in the cable car station, Quenser and Heivia checked through the surveillance camera footage on the functioning computer.
They were most interested in the footage from just before the accident.
“Oh, goddammit,” groaned Heivia “There it is.”
The grainy footage showed several masked men walking across the cable car station’s platform. A few dozen people who seemed to be on a trip were being led outside the building with their hands up.
Lastly, the cable cars in question were sent out empty.
“It’s a large-scale kidnapping. But what for? Are they going to be making a bunch of ransom calls with helium voices?”
The masked men must not have expected this footage to remain.
It was possible the bribed worker…no, driver had failed to delete it to keep as a sort of “insurance”.
“We have no way of tracking down the masked men, but what about the kidnapped people? It looks like a lot of them are kids, but we can actually see their faces. Is there no kind of hint?”
“I don’t have any powerful facial recognition software if that’s what you’re asking. …No, but wait.”
“What is it?”
“These kids all have the same badge on their chests. Can you zoom in on that?”
“It’ll probably still be really grainy.”
Quenser did as he was told and Heivia fell silent.
After a while, the rich noble spoke up.
“These kids are probably from the Capitalist Corporations. They’re from California Biochemistry University. That school of geniuses loves taking in kids who skipped grades, so they produce tons of nine or ten year olds with PhDs. But while they do great in academics, the kids have no social experience, so people call them a twisted factory school.”
“Why do you know so much about this? Do you have a thing for genius girls or something?”
“It’s not unusual for the Legitimacy Kingdom’s royals and nobles to get genetic disorders unique to their bloodline. They can’t exactly let it get out, but it’s pretty common for people to be secretly funding projects to research their rare diseases.”
“In that case…”
“These weren’t just any old kids who were abducted. They’re all researchers with PhDs in the biochemistry field. Worst case, their heads might be packed full of technical data related to Pilot Elites.”
“Then this kidnapping wasn’t for a ransom.” Quenser gulped. “This is talent trafficking. Are they going to sell them on the black market as current or future talent?”
Putana Highball recalled that dreadful word.
That form of organized crime was especially common in the safe countries of the Capitalist Corporations. Small children expected to be geniuses were abducted and they were legally recognized as someone else who “simply looks a lot like them” thanks to an army of corporate lawyers abusing the fact that a DNA test will not get a 100% match even with a sample from the same person. Afterwards, they were sold to a large company that wanted their talent.
There was an element of luck in whether the child would actually become a genius, but Putana had heard that made it a target for financial speculators.
(This was a case of talent trafficking?)
As she looked at the cable cars lying here and there, she felt anger scorching her nerves.
She did not know what the word Nataraja in “their” cellphone meant, but…
(Were they targeted by a local group while here on a trip? Or was the trip itself part of the kidnapping plan?)
She had no guarantee, but she felt she should assume it was the latter.
Capitalist Corporations safe countries had specialized school PMCs to completely guard the children from talent trafficking, but there was an opening as soon as they entered a country without that system.
Not to mention that anywhere near Lost Angels was an odd choice for a trip. It seemed likely it was chosen because it would make the children easy to abduct.
After some thought, Putana brought the radio to her mouth.
“I knocked out one of their scouts, so the main unit should show up soon. However, that also means their main unit is probably still nearby. If I check around here, I might be able to take out the talent trafficking group.”
“The main unit? You mean the abducted children might not have been taken away just yet?”
“It’s possible. For one, it can’t be easy to sneak out more than eighty people. It would be reasonable to assume they would wait until it was dark to start moving, don’t you think?”
“Understood, Putana. But you don’t have a gun, do you? We’ll head there and-…”
A rumbling shook the mountains.
The Baby Magnum and the Flyaway were still battling on the steep slope. And since the surprise attack had failed, the Flyaway would have the upper hand on its home turf.
“You two head back up. If the Baby Magnum is taken out, we lose our escape route. Even if we did rescue the eighty or more people, it would be impossible to sneak all of them out without being caught by the Object’s sensors.”
The girl in a green special suit directly denied him as she stared into the darkness.
“I will be taking the credit today, teacher.”
Quenser and Heivia both clicked their tongues in the half-destroyed station.
“What do we do, Quenser!?”
“Putana has a point. Even if we do rescue the hostages, they’ll be slaughtered just for being with Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers if we don’t take out the Flyaway. More importantly, we don’t know where Putana is and we’ll never find her if we just randomly search through the mountains!”
Also, if the cable car incident had been part of a talent trafficking plot, then there was a good chance the Flyaway was in on it. It was not clear whether he was leading the crime or if he had been paid off, but either way, he would try to erase the evidence if it fell apart.
“Dammit. Then let’s hurry up and deal with the problem up there. Without the Object’s anti-air lasers, we can have a helicopter sent in.”
They were reluctant, but every second they waited only worsened the situation.
Staying where they were would not improve things.
“Anyway, we need to climb back up to where we slid down. …Hey, Quenser. What’s that you’ve got there?”
“The driver’s journal from before.”
“What use is that now!?”
“Don’t be so sure it’s useless.”
They rushed from the station building and chose a relatively gentle route up the slope. All the while, they heard the intermittent rumbling of Object cannons.
The Baby Magnum was not the only one firing.
“Hey, something isn’t right.”
Heivia came to a stop and his cowardly fear – his proper fear of an Object – rose to the surface.
“The Princess isn’t the only one firing. In fact, it looks like the Flyaway is sending out the fiercer bombardment!”
“Why? The Flyaway’s main cannon is meant to be abandoned, right!? Isn’t that thing supposed to use all of its firepower at once and then run away!?”
After Quenser and the others slid down the mountain slope, a lot had happened between the Baby Magnum and the Flyaway.
First of all, the plan to transform the three mountains into giant water slides had failed.
That meant the Flyaway had an overwhelming advantage in speed on the steep slopes.
In no time at all, it had taken up the ideal firing position.
The container main cannon attached to the front of the machine gave a roar and it sprayed a fan-shaped downpour of coilgun fire at tremendous speed.
The sounds of the air being torn apart mixed together and reverberated throughout the area like a high-pitched whistle.
The Baby Magnum’s spherical body was worn down, orange sparks surrounded it, and two of its seven main cannons were torn off and blown away.
But it was not crushed.
It did not break.
Even in that hopeless position, the Princess moved her machine around to use the smallest possible movements to avoid a fatal blow in the torrent of shells.
Her opponent’s container main cannon was mostly a one-use weapon.
No matter how close to death it brought her, she could strike back as long as she overcame this fierce attack.
Finally, that moment came.
The Flyaway released the container main cannon just like a lizard tail. With some ammunition remaining, it would wander around the battlefield using something like insect legs. That left the slight possibility of it reconnecting and firing again. While the enemy was worried about that, the Flyaway would make its escape. That was the cannon’s role here.
But firing the main cannon without a connection to the reactor was impossible, so the Princess could ignore it.
She quickly accelerated the Baby Magnum.
She approached all at once while the Flyaway fell back and fired its smaller cannons toward the mountain peaks. It was trying to create landslides to stop the Baby Magnum.
(The movement of the landslides doesn’t change. If I can predict the pattern and make course corrections, I can reduce the lost time.)
She kept at it and continued her pursuit.
The Baby Magnum slid into position at the proper distance and angle to kill the Flyaway before that other Object could cross the ridgeline and vanish.
But then the Flyaway’s front two legs bent sharply.
It looked a lot like when an innocent child twisted and ripped off an insect’s legs.
However, this meant something else entirely.
For one thing, those were not legs.
They had a muzzle on the end.
“A low-stability plasma cannon!? The Flyaway has two main cannons!?”
The Princess frantically switched over to evasive action, but it was far too late.
The Flyaway had more than one ideal strategy.
The first was to wear down the enemy Object by continually spraying shells and releasing its main cannon while abusing the White Flag signal to ensure its safety.
The second was to wait for the enemy to expect the first strategy and let its guard down when the main cannon was removed. Then, it would fire straight through its enemy with its second main cannon in a surprise attack.
The blinding beam of a low-stability plasma cannon flew toward the Princess at close range.
Quenser and Heivia felt an unpleasant sweat cover their bodies when they saw the beam of light sweeping through the air.
“Dammit, what has the electronic simulation division been doing!? Their specs were completely wrong!!”
“Complaining isn’t going to help. Whatever the situation, we have to make sure the Princess wins!”
“But how!? He’s faster on these steep slopes and he’s firing a second main cannon even after abandoning his container one! This is getting worse and worse, so the Princess is just going to be worn down!!”
“And I’m saying we have to turn that around somehow. Come with me!”
The mountains shook ominously as the two of them worked at climbing the slope.
They felt an extra large tremor, so the Flyaway had probably damaged the Princess with its plasma main cannon, regrouped with its container main cannon, and started firing the remaining coilgun shells.
How far had the Baby Magnum been worn down?
Was the Princess okay?
Could they all leave this battle alive?
Heivia nervously turned toward the noise, but the student was not looking toward the Flyaway. He walked along with his eyes glued to the muddy driver’s journal.
“Wait, wait, wait. What are you going to learn from that thing!? There’s a horrifying monster right in front of us, you know!?”
“Shut up. And Heivia, hand over your radio. Mine’s broken.”
“Fine, but what are you going to do!?”
“That thing’s so full of secrets that we’d never have a complete idea of its systems if we checked over everything one by one. More importantly, the Princess might not last that long. It’s being a little forceful, but we have to move things along ourselves.”
“What can we possibly do after all this!? The water slide using the smuggling tunnels was a failure and he can whiz along the slope during a landslide! Can you really put together a way of defeating it like some kind of adlibbed recipe!?”
“Like I said, we’ll use this.”
Quenser gently shook the muddy journal and said more to Heivia who clearly did not understand.
“We’ll take them out with what they left behind.”
“For example, people can sense light across their entire body. There was even an experiment that found shining a powerful light on the back of the knees could adjust the time people woke up in the morning. Because people have some faint sense of light even with their eyes shut, it is possible to prepare for in attack from any direction if trained properly.”
Putana recalled the words of the witch doctor who had examined her body.
“But that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening with you. A lot is still unknown about the process you use to directly sense other people’s gazes. When we line up a bunch of identical cameras, you can accurately tell us which ones are active, and that isn’t normal. Yes, yes. This is a truly fascinating case.”
Even the girl who used it did not understand exactly how it worked, but she did know how to use it as an Elite’s weapon.
Putana slowly closed her eyes in the almost pure darkness at the bottom of the valley.
The surges of invisible pressure were much like flashlights being rudely pointed this way and that. After estimating their locations and directions, she opened her eyes again and continued on while avoiding each one.
Not much had been done to keep rocks from falling into the valley, so some rather large ones were sitting here and there. She also saw some military-looking canopied trucks. They seemed to be ones that had blown a tire on the hard rocks. No one remained inside the trucks and there was no sign of the talent trafficking children stuffed inside the back. Instead, extra shotguns and light machineguns had been left behind, so they had apparently not had time to destroy them all.
(Are they still stuck here because of the blown tires?)
Putana weaved her way between the trucks.
She sensed several gazes, but one of them had an odd color to it.
She moved through the darkness to approach the gaze that trembled in fear and she reached an arm around from behind the person.
It was a boy of about ten.
“Be quiet,” she whispered while dragging him behind a truck.
She turned the boy around to get a look at him and placed her index finger on her lips.
She then whispered a question from close by.
“Are you one of the children from the cable cars?”
The boy nodded again and again.
“They all went over there.”
“To the Star. …They’re all going to get on the Star. I decided it was too strange and ran off at the last second, though.”
She doubted the kidnappers could trick the children onto a car or airplane. They were young, but they were geniuses who already had PhDs. With that much involvement in the world of adults, those cold-eyed children would see nothing in that kind of farce.
In that case, was it some kind of metaphor?
What mattered was that this boy had parted ways with the other children.
“Did any other children escape with you?”
“No. They all happily continued on to the Star. And yet none of us has actually seen what it is.”
That was when the randomly searching gazes gained a singular focus like iron sand being sucked in by a magnet. An unpleasant sensation ran down Putana’s back and the gazes focused on the other side of the truck.
Whether a shadow or footprints, they had detected something.
Someone would be sent here to check, so she could not wait around any longer.
Still crouching down, she placed her hands on the boy’s shoulders and looked straight at him.
“Listen. You need to turn around and keep running in that direction. If you keep running in a straight line with the truck in the way, you will remain hidden from the hunters for a bit. Ignore any difference in height and keep running even if you have to climb over a hill.”
Without letting him speak, she removed a hand from his shoulder and pulled out a card-sized firearm attached with reusable tape to her nurse-like green special suit.
It was a one-use flare gun.
“This will send a scramble signal to the white collars, Faith Organization navy experts that work with the Object rather than Viridian Edge. A unit commanded by the major won’t have been corrupted. After making it one hundred meters…no, two hundred, point this straight up and pull the trigger. The military satellite will detect the flash signal and the white collars will come to rescue you.”
“You aren’t running away?”
Her way was cut off by Viridian Edge, the Faith Organization intelligence agency disguised as a gang, and the Clovers also known as white collars were also from the Faith Organization. As a runaway, she might as well have been surrounded.
However, she did not let that fact show on her face as she responded.
“I have something I have to do, so you go on ahead and tell them honestly everything that happened here. It would be bad to hide anything. Do you understand?”
The boy seemed hesitant, but his small fingertips finally touched the flare gun.
He grabbed the grip.
“You’ll be okay, won’t you?” he cautiously asked her. “You’ll be safe, won’t you?”
She did not reply, but she rubbed his hair instead.
After pulling a pump-action grenade launcher from the back of the truck, she gave him a sharp command.
“Get going! Hurry!”
He left the truck as if struck by her words.
The sound of his footsteps gathered countless gazes in his direction, but Putana cut them off by moving out from behind the truck with the grenade launcher over her shoulder.
“Putana, Putana! I heard what happened from Quenser and Heivia. The smuggling tunnels have all crumbled or flooded, but we’re searching the routes for a way to send reinforcements to the bottom of the valley. Do you think you can last that long!?”
Millia spoke over the radio, but Putana paid little attention.
“There is no need. I will end it all before you even arrive.”
“Hold on. I thought Elites were supposed to be the steel queens of a clever and clean battlefield.”
A noise much like the removal of a champagne cork sounded behind her.
The burning of the chemicals in the flare scattered bright red light overhead and Putana Highball calmly responded with that light behind her.
With a movement of her index finger, the girl used explosives to mow down the spies disguised as gang members.
The battle had begun.
In the Legitimacy Kingdom, it was known as the Flyaway.
In the Faith Organization, it was known as the Garuda.
The male Pilot Elite inside that Second Generation Object’s fully-protected cockpit was irritated. He still had the upper hand against the enemy Object pinned to the steep slope, but that meant he had gone this long without getting a lethal shot in.
He had released his coilgun main cannon, picked it back up with the tube-shaped manipulator, and reconnected it.
After firing it again, it had no remaining ammunition. He could always abandon it, but he wanted to avoid any possibility of the technology being captured.
The low-stability plasma cannon disguised as the front two feet was only meant for close-range surprise attacks. Its power was far lower than the container one and he could not seem to get a clean hit in after the enemy just barely avoided the first shot.
It was probably about time to leave.
For one thing, it was strange for him to spend more than ten minutes on a single battle.
His enemy was damaged enough that he could easily escape even with the container main cannon.
The communication line to the maintenance base zone entered the back of his mind. He only had to press the button to contact them and the base commander would send out the White Flag signal. That was how it was set up.
“Ksshh…kssshhh! Hey…ksshh…can you hear me, you piece of shit…ksshh!?”
Someone had cut in over the radio.
It was an extremely weak signal with only the most basic encryption.
It was not the Faith Organization’s format, so it was probably from the enemy, the Legitimacy Kingdom.
“That sure was an awful thing to do: Bribing a cable car driver, kidnapping a bunch of children on an overseas trip for talent trafficking, and then placing the blame on us. You probably felt pretty safe because the back and forth between PR offices would leave it all a giant gray zone even if some evidence was found. …But did you really think it would turn out like that?”
The Object’s large-scale communication equipment could immediately locate the source of the signal.
Determining the exact location was hardly difficult in the empty mountains.
“We’ve got the driver’s journal and it seems the security camera footage was left behind. We already know what you did. The only question is how exactly to reveal it to the public.”
“The cable cars were empty. I didn’t actually kill anyone.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. If you look at how the cable cars work, they can’t be sent out completely empty. You might have saved the children since they were your merchandise, but you blew away the driver along with the cable cars. We’re going to make sure you pay for that.”
“He wasn’t innocent. He took our money.”
“Don’t act so righteous when you killed him to keep him quiet. Besides, if you hadn’t offered him the money, he never would have left the straight and narrow. You know what? That man you killed took the job to search for his daughter who had disappeared one day. He didn’t do it for the money; he did it so he could catch you people.”
“So as I said, we’re going to make sure you pay for that. You can’t stop us now. You can sit there in your nuke-resistant room trembling in fear as you wait for the lid to be peeled away, you villain.”
However, the Pilot Elite grinned.
The search was complete.
The signal was coming from behind some rocks at the top of a mountain approximately three hundred meters away.
He immediately aimed there and accurately fired the low-stability plasma cannon at the source of the signal.
In an instant, the entire slope boiled and whoever was sending the signal was vaporized.
Putana Highball held a pump-action grenade launcher.
It looked like a fatter shotgun. She loaded a grenade by sliding the foregrip attached below the rest of the weapon and she pulled the trigger to fire. Instead of a bullet, it fired an explosive the size of a can of coffee. Once it landed, it scattered shrapnel and an explosive blast, creating a ten meter radius of casualties.
Each time she fired, the roughly-dressed soldiers flew through the air and even the military trucks spewed flames and tumbled along the ground. This weapon was far more powerful than a normal gun. Even if her opponent hid behind some rocks, she could fire the grenade in an arc so it landed beyond the rocks and turned her targets to mincemeat.
Someone yelled at her with blood covering their face.
Multiple handgun and submachinegun triggers were pulled at once.
Dry gunshots rang out again and again, but none of them reached Putana. She was not hiding behind cover. She instead twisted her body in midair like a gymnast or figure skater and slipped past every last line of fire.
No, it was not the lines of fire she saw.
She sensed the gazes of the ones wielding the guns.
She fought back with the explosives.
Small explosions occurred here and there, screams were drowned out, and lives were cut short.
(It will take at least ten minutes for the real Faith Organization soldiers to arrive after noticing the flare. I have to hold them back until then.)
She hid in the black smoke and fired grenade after grenade from the open ejection port.
She slid the foregrip and turned the muzzle toward her former allies.
Wind blew along the bottom of the valley and cleared away the smoke.
All of the gazes stabbed into her and bullets flew toward her with twice the intensity of before.
No matter who was firing them, bullets were bullets.
Putana fired her pump-action grenade launcher while constantly twisting around to avoid the gazes, but there were too many of them.
The dry gunshots were accompanied by heavy impacts in her ribs and just above her navel.
“Ha…ha ha! Take that, you disgrace!!”
She clenched her teeth and pulled the trigger while doubled over. Whoever had gloated was blown to smithereens.
A Pilot Elite’s special suit was made to endure any climate or environment, but it also contained high-level protection against bullets and blades. A submachinegun scattering 9mm handgun bullets would not be fatal unless she took one directly to the forehead.
However, it was not as effective as the bulletproof vests in movies and dramas.
(Ow!! My organs are crying out. I can’t let myself get hit five or six times in the same spot!!)
The bullets would not pierce her body, but that was all. The shock of impact still propagated inside, so multiple hits could easily break bones or injure organs.
More importantly, if the damage locked up her movements, she would be hit again and again.
She would no longer be able to use her ability to accurately sense gazes as an attack.
(There’s no turning back. If I swallow the pain and take out more of the enemy, I can reduce the number of bullets coming my way!!)
She pulled the grenade launcher’s trigger some more.
Her repeated evasion and attack had almost become a pure attempt to crush her enemy.
She yelled loud enough to cough up some blood as she wore down Viridian Edge’s numbers.
Or so she thought.
Just as a distant military truck seemed to shake, something fell from the back of the truck.
It was a mass of composite armor.
It used humanoid arms and legs and it wielded a weapon.
“A powered suit!?
The roughly-dressed spies had only needed to buy enough time for it to activate.
Putana clicked her tongue and released more grenades from her weapon, but the can-sized explosives could not destroy that armor even with a direct hit.
She could only watch as the powered suit leisurely pulled the cocking lever of its heavy machinegun.
It loaded the first round and aimed the muzzle toward her.
That weapon had enough destructive power to slice a bulletproof vehicle apart, so she would be turned to mincemeat even with her bulletproof special suit.
She first jumped behind a military truck.
A moment later, a storm of bullets blew by and the entire truck was enveloped in explosive flames and blown away.
The Flyaway blew away the entire mountain slope like it was crushing a bug.
The radio signal vanished, so no traces would remain of the soldiers accusing the Pilot Elite.
“Did you really think that would work, you idiot?”
Quenser laughed quietly as he hid on a different slope, far removed from the blast site.
He held a handheld device that had been linked to the radio sending out the “obvious” signal. The Flyaway had only destroyed Heivia’s radio which had been relaying the signal. The radio and the handheld device had been communicating via a laser signal, so that connection had not been detected at the same time.
“Wait, wait, wait. Tricking him’s all well and good, but what do we do now!? It might be true that we can catch him off guard now that he thinks we’re dead, but he’s too fast, heavy, and – most of all – solid! What can we do to fight!?”
“You don’t need to think that hard.” Quenser sounded cheerful. “After all, it’s already over.”
Heivia’s confusion was immediately followed by the mountain slope being torn away. This collapse was much larger than the previous landslides. Almost the entire slope of a mountain slid straight down, along with the Flyaway that had fired on it.
“Wh-what the hell!?”
“Hint 1: These mountains are filled with smuggling tunnels made by the Capitalist Corporations. We used them as a water pipeline, but that failed. Now, where did that water end up? It had nowhere to go, so it would still be filling the mountain.”
Quenser raised a finger each time.
“Hint 2: Safe country cities sometimes experience landslides on a much larger scale than the hill or mountain should have allowed for. These are called deep-seated landslides. When an underground reservoir gathered on a mountain quickly exceeds its limits after a strong burst of rain, the entire slope can slide down.”
“Wait a second! You don’t mean…!!”
Quenser bent his fingers down to clench a fist.
“That idiot fired a finishing blow when the mountain slope was already full of water. What do you think happens then?”
A frighteningly powerful landslide swept down, carrying the Flyaway with it. Its eight legs – or was it six if you removed the ones camouflaging its second main cannon? – used their static electricity propulsion devices to their fullest in an attempt to hold its ground, but…
“Hey, what’s going on? That damn insect is sliding right on down!”
“Of course he is. This deep-seated landslide isn’t just dry earth. I told you the mountain is full of water, remember!? The static electricity propulsion devices are weak against water, so there’s nothing they can do with this muddy landslide!!”
That was why Quenser had only needed to get him to fire a shot at his own footing.
He had only needed a radio to disguise his location and some kind of material to anger the Pilot Elite.
Even a journal left by someone no longer among the living had been enough.
“Did you look down on him for being a normal person? Well, you lost to that cable car driver you killed.”
The Flyaway gave up trying to stay put and instead tried to maintain some control while falling down into the valley.
However, it did not manage even that.
It wobbled and lost its balance.
“Have a nice long taste of muddy defeat!!”
Once it collapsed, it was over.
Like a snowball rolling down a hill, there was no stopping it. Whether on its main cannons or legs, it rolled and rolled, crushing its own equipment under its weight. The king of the mountain fell to the bottom of the valley in no time at all.
The Baby Magnum’s remaining main cannons and even its spherical body were heated to a glowing orange, but it still aimed those remaining cannons toward the valley bottom.
However, it did not fire.
The two idiots could guess what the Princess was thinking.
“Hey, do you think that guy is still breathing inside that cockpit?”
“Let’s bet on it. I’ve got one hundred euros on him being dead.”
Struck by the explosive blast, Putana rolled along the ground. She managed to hold onto the pump-action grenade launcher, so she adjusted her grip on it and aimed at the powered suit while still lying on the ground.
However, she did not directly target it.
That would not have broken through its armor.
The military truck right next to the powered suit probably had plenty of weapons and ammunition piled up in the back, so she mercilessly fired an explosive into it.
A tremendous explosion occurred and sizzling pain raced across Putana’s skin even from a distance.
As soon as she got up, her expression froze over.
The powered suit had been knocked onto its back, but it had not stopped moving.
It slowly got up with creaking movements. Its heavy machinegun may have been bent because it did not bother picking it up.
Instead, it rushed toward the brown girl.
She frantically adjusted her grip on the grenade launcher and fired toward the powered suit’s feet. When it flinched back, she detonated another military truck. However, it still was not enough firepower. The powered suit was not even knocked over this time. It continued moving closer and grabbed her in its giant hand. She was squeezed by fingers that could be used to demolish a building.
“It’s too bad, Putana.”
Someone went to the trouble of talking through the speaker.
“I never was able to become a Pilot Elite, so part of me looked up to you. I can’t help but feel so very, very sorry for you as I wonder how you could have fallen so low.”
Putana wanted to respond, but her ribs were creaking, her diaphragm was blocked off, and she could not breathe properly.
But that was why the powered suit did not notice the “ending” approaching behind it even at the very last moment.
A massive landslide poured into the bottom of the valley and swallowed up the powered suit from behind.
The mass of mud and brown water swept everything away.
It had enough force to send the massive rocks and military trucks rolling along. The powered suit was no exception. It was knocked to the ground and then swept about in the water.
At some point, the pilot may have noticed that the powered suit had let go of its target.
However, there was nothing to be done. With no sense of up or down anymore, the puny weapon was swept away like a bug down the drain.
Three minutes after the Faith Organization military satellite detected the optical pattern of the flare, fully-equipped soldiers rushed to the bottom of the valley.
They were the Clovers.
They were also known as the white collars and they were navy experts, so one might think they were unused to fighting in the mountains or anywhere that required wearing camouflage and firing handheld weapons. However, that was not the case. They were as well trained as any marines that specialized in landing operations.
Their pure white uniforms would have been too dangerous even in the middle of the night, so they wore black cloaks over them as they descended from a transport helicopter by a single rope.
“Putana’s signal came from here.”
They were surprised by the deep-seated landslide that had transformed the valley bottom into a muddy river.
As they climbed a little from the valley bottom, they found a boy on a slight hill.
They recognized what he held.
“That’s Elite equipment. It probably belonged to Putana Highball because she superstitiously preferred outdated models.”
“Then what happened here?”
The Clovers looked to the boy.
He kept his promise.
He honestly told them what had happened without hiding anything.
“Everyone was swept away by the river.”
A splashing sound could be heard far downstream of the muddy river created by the landslide.
Putana Highball was using both hands to somehow crawl out of the water.
“Pant, pant… Ugh… Cough, cough!!”
She coughed the water from her mouth and caught her breath.
She then lay on the ground staring up into the night sky.
What would she do now?
A few options presented themselves to the brown girl.
She could find some way of contacting them or return to the run-down hotel on her own in order to meet back up with the Legitimacy Kingdom intelligence division calling itself Azul Hive.
She could also pretend she had been drowned in the muddy river and escape the surveillance of both the Legitimacy Kingdom and the Faith Organization.
No amount of work would bring the Sarasvati back, but that did not change the fact that the Legitimacy Kingdom group had been the ones to steal it from her.
On the other hand, she would lose their support if she turned on them. It was obvious what fate would await her if she had two world powers pursuing her at the same time.
Would she obey and live?
Or would she fight back and die?
She thought for a while, but she was suddenly interrupted.
Someone’s face jutted into her upturned field of vision.
“Glad to see you’re still alive.”
It was Millia Newburg.
She smiled and held out a hand.
“No matter how it happened, we took you in, so I’m not about to lose you here.”
At the very least, she did not feel the “gaze” of a military satellite.
How had the woman found her after she was swallowed up by the muddy river?
She decided not to think too much about that.
It seemed she had only one option left.
“The Flyaway has stopped moving. The Pilot Elite is probably soaking the cockpit like tomato juice from a juicer. Well, the rest is a job for the technology division. They’ll be taking it apart and bringing parts home while worrying the reactor was set to self-destruct.”
Putana grabbed Millia’s hand and unsteadily rose to her feet.
The woman’s (obviously stolen) motorcycle was stopped nearby and they both climbed onto it.
Putana wrapped her arms around the officer’s back as the motorcycle took off.
“Now, that settles that. I’ll admit Lost Angels is a worthless city, but it’s a huge plus getting to eat something other than soap-like rations while on a mission. Let’s drink as much as we can today!!”
“But I think today has already ended.”
“Then let’s keep drinking until ‘tomorrow’ is over. That’s two in such a short time! Two! And both of them were captured instead of destroyed. Of course, we can’t get conspicuous medals because we’re from the intelligence division, but we’ve done enough for the Legitimacy Kingdom to get a bronze statue at a school, don’t you think? No one’s gonna get after us if we have a bit of a party.”
Putana’s Sarasvati was one of those prizes.
The brown girl clenched her teeth a little and heard some static.
It seemed to come from the headset on Millia’s ear.
She heard Quenser and Heivia’s voices coming from it.
“I found Putana,” said Millia. “I’ll take her back to the city, so you head to the restaurant ahead of us. The workers probably won’t be happy about how muddy you are, but they’ll warm up to us once we eat and drink and leave plenty of money for them.”
“Oh? So Putana didn’t run off? I’m surprised.”
“Does that mean she’s going to stick with us no matter what she actually thinks about us?”
The conversation was being held over the headset, so they must not have known Putana could hear them.
They had no idea that could change if she was pressing against Millia’s back with her arms around the woman’s waist.
“Hah hah!” laughed Millia. “Given her situation, she might not be able to survive any other way. I guess this was to be expected.”
“You heard her, Quenser. Aren’t you glad she isn’t some obsessive girl who’s willing to get revenge at the cost of her own life? Now you don’t have to live in fear anymore.”
“Yeah, I really am glad. I was seriously afraid she’d find out we’d been acting on an idea I came up with.”
Putana quietly bit her lip behind the commander where no one would notice anything.
When she spoke, it was only in her heart.
(I pretty much already knew that, you know?)
The rusty flavor of revenge spread through her mouth.
Her story was far from over.