HEAVY OBJECT:Volume9 Chapter 3
Chapter 3: Obsessive Faith >> Ocean Battle of Lost Angels
Frolaytia Capistrano smoked her long, skinny kiseru in the officer’s room of a small aircraft carrier waiting in the Indian Ocean.
She was comparing the situation surrounding Lost Angels with the reports from the intelligence agents undercover on the scene.
Talent trafficking was the sale of potential geniuses to corporations and laboratories.
The Flyaway was thought to be a part of such a plan and it had been defeated, but they had no proof it was the ringleader or that everyone involved had been destroyed.
Putana Highball, who had joined them from the Faith Organization, had reported a few additional facts.
Most of the children had been moved elsewhere.
They were supposedly going to the “Star”.
And the name Nataraja was involved.
“This isn’t enough to say much of anything.”
Frolaytia filled the room with sweet-smelling smoke as she spoke.
The information on her laptop zoomed out from a map of Lost Angels to one of the entire world. A number of red X-marks covered the map.
Those were not the locations of wars.
They were all located in large cities belonging to safe countries.
People were vanishing from large cities of the Legitimacy Kingdom, the Information Alliance, the Capitalist Corporations, and the Faith Organization. Plus, these were not just normal people.
They were all geniuses driving a field of research and their talents were in a variety of fields: biochemistry, mechanical engineering, low-temperature chemistry, aviation physics, and extreme environment research.
The victims were men, women, boys, and girls of all ages.
The talent trafficking Quenser and the others had mentioned was limited to young “potential geniuses”. This series of incidents included the elderly who had already achieved a stable position on the forefront of their field, so it felt like something else.
(This means the cable car incident may have only looked like the Capitalist Corporations style of talent trafficking. It may have been something else entirely. They might be targeting adults and the elderly and these targets just happened to be young.)
On top of that, the missing geniuses were experts in their fields, but combining their specialties together centered on a truly interesting genre.
“Outer space… The Star, huh?”
She thought about the location of Lost Angels. It contained a major base for constructing and maintaining Objects. That brought countless subsidies and spies to the area which had ruined the rule of law there, but there was a single project that had led to the city’s initial development.
(I believe it was a large-scale launch site. Although they changed their plans once they managed to import a mass driver from the Capitalist Corporations.)
According to Putana Highball, one of the abducted children had said the others had happily gone to the “Star”.
Of course, there was no way the Legitimacy Kingdom’s surveillance network would fail to detect the launch of an unidentified rocket or shuttle. If a dot on the radar could not be identified, no one could complain if it was shot down by an Object’s anti-air lasers.
However, it was too soon to laugh this off.
Something about it bothered Frolaytia.
(Honestly, that place really is a city of freedom and disaster. It keeps finding new ways to give me a headache.)
At the very end, she focused the map on the Indian Ocean.
A giant red circle was drawn there.
“And it all has to happen when a new Object is headed our way.”
Quenser and Heivia still had not been ordered back to the rest of the battalion.
That meant some kind of trouble was going to rise to the surface before long.
“This is what you call the Lost Angels way, Putana,” said Quenser as he grabbed one of the plastic shopping baskets stacked up at the supermarket entrance. “If we wanted to, we could have the Legitimacy Kingdom fleet send us more weapons and ammunition, but if we caused any trouble with those, we’d be announcing to the world that we’re from the Legitimacy Kingdom. When we don’t know what’s going to happen or where, it’s apparently best to keep a supply of handmade explosives to erase any clues we might leave behind.”
“I see. I don’t know much about explosives, but are they that easy to make, teacher?”
Heivia was not with them.
It seemed to be the way of the world to send that jack-of-all-trades out on odd jobs.
“Plastic explosives shouldn’t be that difficult. Basically, you just have to mix a stretchy rubber adhesive in with the explosive. The problem is the fuse.”
Quenser passed right by the perishables and moved to the spice corner.
“A fuse is needed to detonate a plastic explosive. It’s a delicate explosive, so static electricity can easily set it off. If an amateur carelessly mixes it all together with a juicer or mixer, they can blow their own face off. Switching the device on can be a fatal mistake.”
“Is it that difficult?”
“The ingredients are easy to get your hands on. You have to be careful mixing them together, but the main ingredient is this right here.”
Quenser grabbed a heavy bag from the shelf and tossed it into the basket.
“Sugar. Those disarmament treaties are completely useless.”
He grabbed a few more ingredients and the two of them made their way to the register.
After leaving the supermarket, Putana used a handgun to drive off some delinquents messing with the (stolen) motorcycle she and Quenser had been using.
“Oh, did Millia give you that as proof of her trust?”
They heard a siren from somewhere nearby, but it had nothing to do with them. If every attempted theft was reported, the police would never get anything done. It seemed something had happened at another store.
A Female Police Officer could be seen slipping out the back entrance.
“That’s just a costume,” said Putana.
“She’s either the criminal or her job is to sneak into the scene of the crime and nab some evidence. She’s something like us.”
“Ugh… I was thinking her hips were a little too sexy for a public servant.”
“More importantly, teacher.”
“What is it now, Putana?”
“Why are we wearing swimsuits?”
“I’d be too scared to mix together an explosive in that run-down motel. I asked Millia and she told me to use a car repair workshop on the beach. But the best way to get the ingredients there is to hide them in a cooler and only fishers or beachgoers would be carrying a cooler around.”
“Then why not dress as fishers?”
“A young guy and girl? Going to the sunny beach to do nothing but fish!? If anyone thought that was realistic, they’d have to be pretty damn bookish!”
Putana had to hide her handgun on her person, so she wore a light jacket over her green bikini.
At any rate, Quenser stuffed the contents of the shopping bags into the cooler and placed the cooler’s strap over his shoulder. As always, Putana climbed on the motorcycle and he pressed up against her back.
They rode the motorcycle to the southeastern beach.
Quenser was used to riding without a helmet by now and he spoke to Putana while glancing over at the roadside restaurants.
“What do you want for lunch?”
“I feel like a spinach saag curry. It goes better with saffron rice than naan and if you add some melted margarine to the rice for flavor…”
“We had curry yesterday!”
“That was keema curry,” casually replied Putana while driving along a seaside road. “It’s completely different.”
Lost Angels was in top form as always. A quick glance around showed men with stockings over their heads running out of a bank.
“Ahh, ahh. They make it too obvious. That fat one’s the Jeweler who lost everything, isn’t it? He’s really hit rock bottom.”
“But, teacher, there’s a Worker up on that telephone pole.”
“Oh, I’ve seen him around, but I guess he’s in charge of cutting the power and camera lines.”
Nothing in that scene showed the slightest hint of interest in the World Clock or mankind’s lifespan. Of course, that made sense when they had no guarantee of their survival three minutes into the future.
They drove along a land bridge crossing a subway line running parallel to the road and finally reached the car repair workshop. The building looked like a collection of concrete and sheet metal. Putana drove the motorcycle inside after they opened the garage shutter.
A muscular man in a tank top and work pants awaited them.
“Millia’s already paid me and explained the situation. You can use whatever you want in here, but if you destroy anything, it’ll cost you extra.”
“Should I run some random machinery to make a bunch of noise?”
“Our work isn’t that noisy. We’ll be quietly mixing some ingredients like someone enjoying some classical music, so you can keep the place quiet.”
Hearing that, the repair workshop workers all left.
Quenser climbed down from the motorcycle and spread the cooler’s contents out on a random work bench.
He put on some special static-resistant gloves and used cups and scales to measure out the ingredients he placed in a mortar. He then carefully mixed them together.
Putana seemed to not have anything to do.
“If you’re feeling a sneeze coming on, hold it in. If I drop this on the floor, we’ll be blown to pieces.”
“That’s perfect. How about we have an important talk?”
He heard a metallic sound.
Putana Highball stood right in front of him and she was aiming a handgun at his chest from three meters away.
It was close range but still too far to reach out and grab the weapon.
Also, his hands were full of a delicate explosive mixture.
“Hey, Putana… This is a joke, right?”
“I was waiting for this moment,” she answered in a monotone voice.
When he heard that, an unpleasant sweat finally started pouring from Quenser’s entire body.
“Wait. Wait, Putana! There’s no place for you in the Faith Organization anymore! If you want the Legitimacy Kingdom to protect you, then you can’t do this!”
“That doesn’t matter!!”
Quenser stiffened at her explosive shout.
The mortar in his hands shook a bit.
“Do you even understand? That Object being stripped bare on the ocean is my Sarasvati!! That was a part of me! It was my life! And it is being dismantled on my own advice! Do you have any idea how humiliating that is!?”
Quenser had trouble breathing.
He looked up to heaven and confirmed that the bastard known as god was not going to help out a liar like him. Only then did he open his mouth again.
“Shooting me won’t bring the Collective Farming back.”
“I already told you. That doesn’t matter. My Sarasvati is being tormented without even being allowed to die and the cause of it all is standing right in front of me. What’s wrong with wanting to at least take his head as an offering?”
Putana’s hand trembled as it held the gun.
It may have been more than just anger. She may not have actually decided where she would go or what she would do after shooting Quenser.
“I had my life taken from me. Even if I’m going to come to an agreement with the Legitimacy Kingdom, I have to settle this first.”
“If I kill you, I might be punished for it. But I’m a former Elite and I have plenty of classified Faith Organization information, while you’re just a student. Isn’t it obvious which one the Legitimacy Kingdom will choose? …Even if I kill you, I can work out an agreement, so I’m going to do it.”
“You don’t actually believe that, do you? If so, you would have pulled out your gun in the motel. Whatever you might say, you felt deep down that it would be too dangerous to act when you weren’t away from our home base.”
“Then what about you? Can you give me a single reason why I shouldn’t kill you?”
She was serious. It was not clear if her plans were as solid as she believed they were, but she was at least prepared to pull the trigger.
Once he realized that, the puny student named Quenser cast aside his own hesitation.
He threw the highly flammable mortar to the ground.
The bursting sound was much louder than a firecracker and whitish smoke filled the entire room.
Putana flinched back and the ringing in her ears kept her from hearing the footsteps.
But even through the smokescreen she accurately sensed the gaze leaving her.
With her gun in hand, she frantically ran forward through the white smoke, but Quenser was nowhere to be found in the repair workshop. He must have run outside.
Fortunately, he would be on foot while she had her motorcycle. But when she looked over, she found a screwdriver stabbed into the off-road motorcycle’s back tire.
(He sure is thorough!!)
She clicked her tongue and slipped outside through the shutter.
She saw some distinctive footprints in the fine sand of the beach next to the asphalt road. They had been made by the sandals Quenser was wearing.
She ran around the repair workshop searching for him.
She found someone in the gap between two buildings, but it was not Quenser. They looked like a Woman in a Dress, but then they tossed aside a long-haired wig. Based on the long case for a pool set leaning against the wall nearby, he(?) was probably a Sniper.
Putana crossed the land bridge.
She heard the clattering of a train on the subway below.
(Strange. He can’t drive a car or a motorcycle. He shouldn’t be able to run that far on foot, so where did he go?)
She heard a sudden shout from behind.
She turned quickly around and saw her target had jumped down below the land bridge. Or more accurately, he had jumped onto the roof of the train.
He placed his hands around his mouth like a megaphone and shouted to her.
“There’s a lot I want to talk about, but it’ll have to wait until we’re back in the usual room!!”
By the time she climbed up onto the guardrail and tried to aim her handgun down, gazes of intense anger surrounded her.
Her caution shifted her attention from her target to her surroundings. The car repair workshop’s workers were surrounding the swimsuit girl.
The muscular man in a tank top spoke in a deep voice.
“I told you up front that destroying the equipment would cost extra, didn’t I? Let’s have a chat back in the office.”
Quenser had planned it all.
Putana Highball stuck the handgun back in her jacket’s pocket, clicked her tongue quietly, and still gave a wordless scream to release her excess anger.
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
“The Legitimacy Kingdom was supposed to leave sooner than this, weren’t they?”
“That’s why it wasn’t supposed to be like this. They were supposed to retreat after the Sarasvati’s maintenance was complete or, in the worst case, after the Garuda destroyed their Object.”
“If our plans have been thrown off, we have to find a way to compensate.”
“Yes. We must eliminate any possibility of the Nataraja being discovered.”
“Let’s send out the other one. This time, we will drive the Legitimacy Kingdom away from the ocean.”
“Will that end it?”
“We will complete our escape from earth without delay. Our eternal journey in search of paradise will finally begin.”
“Now that we’ve gotten thoroughly sick of chicken burgers and lassi, the higher ups have given us some orders to kill some time. …Hm? What’s with this tense atmosphere?”
Quenser answered Millia with some bitter laughter.
Putana was standing next to him in her swimsuit and jacket and she glared at him so intensely he was afraid she was going to snap his neck right there.
Heivia had been working on other things, so he looked over at them in confusion.
“What’s this, Quenser? Did you push a little too forcibly for some premarital fun?”
“Of course not. It’s just that being a popular guy isn’t easy. We’ve gotten a lot closer since that last incident and she just can’t keep her smoldering gaze off of me☆”
He heard the brown girl loudly grinding her back teeth.
However, she seemed to still have enough sense to not pull her gun out in the middle of the run-down motel room.
The fact that she had waited until they were in the repair workshop to attack was proof that she did not want to start a fight here.
“A Faith Organization Second Generation Object is crossing the Indian Ocean toward Lost Angels. Our codename for it is Oriental Magic. It’s a formidable foe with an air cushion and a laser beam main cannon.”
“What about it? It isn’t going to head onto land and directly attack the city, is it?”
Their commander in a bikini top and baggy cargo pants unconcernedly nodded in agreement with Heivia’s comment.
“This city is a Faith Organization military port, so it isn’t unusual for their Objects to show up. However, our Legitimacy Kingdom fleet and the Baby Magnum are currently out at sea. Do you really think they would risk drawing our fire just to load up on supplies here? Yes, that would mean bringing an empty Object in need of supplies to the front line.”
“So it’s here for some other reason?”
For example, it could want to drive the Legitimacy Kingdom away from Lost Angels’s ocean entrance.
For example, it could want to take back or sink the captured Collective Farming that was being dismantled out at sea.
For example, it could want to quickly finish off Pilot Elite Putana Highball who had vanished with plenty of military secrets.
“Major Capistrano has reached the same conclusion and she wants some information to help confirm her suspicions. But don’t get too worried. There are others gathering information, too. We just have to do what we can. Searching through it all is their job.”
“What exactly are we going to do?”
“That’s the perfect question, Quenser. Of the information we have, there’s one thing we never managed to follow up on: the term Nataraja.”
Putana had run across that information.
It had been in the cellphone memory of one of the perpetrators behind the talent trafficking (or an incident closely resembling that) disguised as an accidental hit on the cable cars.
“It’s unknown if this has anything to do with the Oriental Magic on its way here, but it can’t hurt to have more information. If what we’re actually looking for lies elsewhere, one of the other groups will find it, so we need to focus on this. And with that said…”
Millia Newburg grabbed the projector’s remote and the ceiling filled with white light.
“We want to investigate the Nataraja, but most of those connected to it are dead or missing. We don’t have any other clues. That’s why I think we should start with him.”
A map of Lost Angels appeared on the ceiling and a complex winding route was marked on it. The red line ran from the southern Great Fence to the international airport.
“Mulqueen Sonora. He’s a ten-year-old boy with a PhD from California Biochemistry University. He’s the child Putana rescued and handed over to the unit guarding the Faith Organization base. The unit is known as the Clovers or the white collars.”
The brown girl’s eyebrows moved slightly, but Millia continued regardless.
“He’s the closest hint we have, but we can’t question him with the Faith Organization in the way. Fortunately, little Sonora is set to be transported to the airport and flown back to his safe country. That means we can get our hands on this information source if we attack his escort team.”
Heavy sounds came from behind Quenser and the others. The members of the intelligence division who had trouble hiding were known as the assault team and they were getting ready as they listened. They supplied firepower. They lived in a world where the names of armored cars and buildings they had blown up were exchanged instead of business cards.
“I have a question.” Quenser raised a hand. “I assume this will mean knocking the car over and dragging the boy out of it, but isn’t that pretty risky? To be honest, the odds of Mulqueen Sonora dying from the impact of the car rolling over are probably more than 50/50.”
“Do you have another suggestion?”
“The people staying in them may be gone, but why not check the hotel rooms? We might be able to find some information left behind in phones, computers, or journals.”
“The children who disappeared were geniuses from the Capitalist Corporations. Plus, the hotel they stayed in was owned by people they had some influence over. It was the Hotel Grand Jackpot, the biggest casino in the city. That’s Mustard Cowboy’s fortress, so if those of us from Azul Hive charged in there, we’d be starting a gang war. That sounds a lot more dangerous to me. We could even get a ton of sightseers caught up in it all.”
“Now you get it. We’ll split into two groups for the attack. One to make the attack as planned and the other to cut off their escape if things go awry. After you all secure your own transportation, go to the marked spot on your map and remain on standby. That’s all.”
Several sets of footsteps filled the room.
Quenser looked around amid them, but his awful friend Heivia was already leaving the room with Millia. Heivia was joining the assault team for the mission to abduct Mulqueen, so there was no way to speak with him without their commanding officer knowing.
He switched his thoughts over to Plan B and grabbed Putana’s arm in the parking lot out front.
“Putana, help me out here!”
Her voice was low as she replied, but he practically embraced her so he could speak with her in private.
“You saved Mulqueen Sonora, so you don’t want him to die by your hand, do you? Let’s do something about that. If we can acquire and hand over the necessary information before the assault team attacks the escort team, we can eliminate the entire justification for this attack mission. We can settle this without letting that boy die.”
“What exactly are you suggesting?”
“The Hotel Grand Jackpot. I’m going to sneak into that source of dirty money for Mustard Cowboy…for the Capitalist Corporations soldiers. What about you, Putana? Will you join me?”
Before he could wonder what she meant, a heavy shock ran through his stomach.
He doubled over, his feet were swept out from under him, and he was slammed to the scorching asphalt.
As he struggled to breathe, Putana Highball crouched down near him, pulled out her handgun, and pressed it to the center of his forehead.
She then whispered to him in her monotone voice.
“This doesn’t mean I have forgiven you.”
“Cough, cough! I-I don’t care if you just think I’m useful. The first step is getting a means of transportation.”
This time, they were in a sky blue convertible.
In what had become the usual course of events, Putana was driving and Quenser was the baggage in the passenger seat. The engine was a little loud, but it was a comfortable ride. Quenser messed with the radio and found a pirate broadcast announcing the current odds for the black market gambling.
Putana spoke up as they passed a large tour bus full of what looked like School Trip Students.
“That’s a PMC camouflaged as tourists. That does seem like something the Capitalist Corporations would do.”
“You’re kidding… Can you tell because they’ve been marked like how dogs go around peeing on stuff?”
Their goal as they raced through Lost Angels was not the expected attack point that Millia had given them. They were on their way to the Mustard Cowboy-run Hotel Grand Jackpot, a five star luxury hotel with the city’s largest casino.
Based on what Millia had said while bored during late night work, more money changed hands there than anywhere else in the city, but that was not due to the gambling. Basically, it was a luxury gathering spot for gang leaders to talk things out, make deals, resolve problems, and make connections. Paying bribes and depositing money in an underground bank were illegal activities, but nothing could be done if large sums of money moved from Person A to Person B in a bet at a legit casino. If they controlled who won the games of poker using code words in their conversations, the casino could be used for money laundering and deposits. To the Capitalist Corporations, the Legitimacy Kingdom was behind the times by nervously opening attaché cases in the harbor at night. Of course, that was according to the group that had failed to get their hands on that harbor.
That was just how dangerous a place the hotel was.
It would be absolutely filled with guns.
“Teacher, we’re disobeying orders, aren’t we?”
“If we pull it off, it’ll all cancel out in the end.”
“Is that the Lost Angels way of doing things?”
“No, it’s more like a summary of my entire life.”
The Hotel Grand Jackpot was in the western financial district. The district seemed filled with mirror-paneled intelligent buildings, but walls here and there were covered in yellow graffiti. That was the team color of Mustard Cowboy.
“Where do we go in?”
“The front entrance. It’s the city’s biggest casino and a luxury hotel, but it also has a restaurant and gym open to the public. It’s easier to get in as a customer than trying to sneak in.”
They were using a stolen car, so they could not leave the convertible with the valet driver at the entrance. They abandoned it in the street in front of the hotel and walked right in the main entrance.
The lobby was no different from any other hotel’s. There was the usual row of counters and a lounge selling coffee that was likely quite expensive. There were no gaudy bunny girls walking around shaking their butts. The money-making casino probably did not really begin until one took the escalator down to the casino section.
“This place really is run by the Capitalist Corporations,” said Putana. “The atmosphere is entirely different.”
“Just to be clear, we’re from Azul Hive and they’re with Mustard Cowboy. If they decide to solve this problem as a gang rather than as the military, we won’t be protected by any treaties related to prisoners of war.”
“Wait a second, Putana. It’s that guy.”
Quenser spotted someone dangerous, but he did not jump behind a column. That would only draw more attention. He could not remember if the man’s name was John or George, but it was the former Mustard Cowboy leader they had abducted before.
The bearded man was muttering to himself as he crossed the lobby with several men in the kinds of suits stock brokers would wear.
“Honestly, I made sure to get that fake ID and handgun and here I am. I decided to steal the printing plates for the dollars or euros they rely on and taking over their business, so why am I here helping out some commoner nun?”
“Sigh. I get the feeling you could die a dozen times and it wouldn’t fix your weak mind and lack of planning. It would probably take one death per flaw.”
“Yeah? Then why are you working with me?”
The gang members passed by while speaking back and forth.
Fortunately, they did not seem to notice Quenser and Putana. They seemed to be headed toward the escalator to the casino rather than the elevators to the hotel rooms. Quenser and Putana started toward elevator hall by cutting across directly behind those gang members.
They boarded an elevator and Putana asked a question.
“We’re supposed to be searching the missing children’s rooms, but do you know what floor they were on?”
“Based on what?”
“In a hotel for VIPs, the options are limited when you want to rent out an entire floor for a group. It has to be an unpopular floor. The elevators wait at the very top and very bottom, so it takes the longest for them to reach the floors in the middle. Now, Putana, how are the elevators laid out in this hotel?”
“Floors 1-5 are shared, but the rest is split between 6-25 and 26-50.”
“What matters is that these people were being welcomed as VIPs. That means the hotel couldn’t let them know they were being put on an unpopular floor. The hotel would put them on a higher floor to distract them with the wonderful night scenery.”
“The center of the upper section. That means Floor 38.”
The elevator stopped on their destination floor and the door parted.
“Of course, that’s all something Millia told me when we were killing time.”
They entered the hall and found a long line of doors. The place had been rented out as a group, so any of the doors would lead to the rooms those genius boys and girls had stayed in.
“Even if they’re gone, I think the doors will be locked,” pointed out Putana.
“We’ll do this the Lost Angels way.”
“Blow off the doorknob with a shotgun?”
“We’ll be a little gentler than that.”
Quenser approached the icemaker, reached behind it, and pulled out the plug.
“Hey, Putana. This isn’t a military facility that stores important secrets. In case of unforeseen trouble, they’ll prioritize the safety of their guests and have all of the rooms unlock. For example…”
Quenser stuck his hand below the icemaker and grabbed some balls of dust.
He wrapped them around the power plug and stuck it back into the outlet.
This was the stereotypical cause of an electrical fire found in user’s manuals.
“When a small fire sets off the fire alarm.”
Heivia Winchell slowly stopped a garbage truck behind a narrow alley leading to Kiwi Street. The truck looked like a rectangular hunk of steel and he was making some attack preparations along with the assault team.
One might think stolen cars were all high-riding sports cars, but there was sometimes a demand for heavier vehicles like this. They were especially important when someone wanted to make sure they knocked their target off of the road, when someone wanted to make an assault amid gunfire, or when someone wanted to abandon them in the road to change their target’s plans.
Millia Newburg sat in the passenger seat.
She was trying to suppress a grin and she had a simple reason.
“Quenser and Putana have vanished. Do you think they’re refusing the mission?”
“Don’t joke. If they refuse to submit or receive their paperwork and then they vanish, they’ll be treated as deserters. Don’t they know that?”
“Well, Quenser’s a student and Putana’s a POW. They might just barely squeak by if it comes to a serious court martial. Of course, we use corporal punishment here on the scene.”
“If that’s all it’ll get them, maybe I should’ve run off with them.”
“Ha ha. I’m sure they have some kind of plan.”
Millia reached for some caffeinated gum of unknown ownership on the dashboard and tossed a piece into her mouth.
The bright sun poured onto the street three meters ahead of them and plenty of cars passed by, completely unaware of the attack Heivia and the others were planning. A convertible full of nearly-nude women passed by and a Pizza Deliveryman drove cheerfully by on a scooter.
To distract himself from his tension, Heivia spoke to his commanding officer.
“Come to think of it, the pizza shop in front of the station has started a new fair, haven’t they?”
“I’m surprised seeing that guy makes you hungry. He’s a spy who goes around delivering bombs in between actually delivering pizzas.”
“Unfortunately, we sometimes use his services, so we can’t just fill him with lead.”
Whatever happened, it seemed Lost Angels would always be Lost Angels.
Heivia was fed up with it all and Millia began giving instructions to the other assault team members located elsewhere.
“Kiwi Street, we’re prepared for the attack. Report on their progress.”
“Blue 03, the package has turned from Orange Street to Lemon Street.”
“Blue 18, an identical model vehicle spotted on its way to Lemon Street. I believe it’s meant to confuse us.”
“Blue 29, we’re in position. Waiting for permission to cut the package’s line.”
If they were even slightly afraid of an attack, the escort team would not take the long, long highways forming a cross as they ran east to west and south to north through the city. They would turn again and again through the net-like layout of roads running through Lost Angels in an attempt to reduce the risk of an ambush.
Could an accurate and certain attack be made in that situation?
The answer was yes.
“You have permission. Cut the package’s line.”
Millia Newburg’s tone was entirely casual.
Private matters were private matters and work was work. For that reason, this woman was willing to wield guns and set up bombs.
A high-pitched bell rang through the straight hallway.
Quenser and Putana ignored it as they grabbed the knob to a nearby room.
The knob turned without needing to check the electronic key.
Putana spoke after they slipped inside.
“Are you sure the fire won’t spread and cut off our escape?”
“I sabotaged the icemaker. If the fire gets too strong, it’ll melt the ice and get covered in tons of water. This isn’t going to turn into a huge fire and kill a bunch of civilians.”
Quenser looked around the room as he answered.
It seemed to be a single room because it had only one bed and the sofa by the side table was only large enough for one. There were no personal items scattered around. There was only a suitcase covered in stickers by the wall.
The suitcase was locked, but it was made of a thick synthetic fiber. He cut it open with the knife in his survival kit and checked on the contents.
“Clothes, a toothbrush, a guidebook, and…is this allergy medicine?”
“It doesn’t look like there’s a phone or computer. No camera or video games either.”
“I don’t see a journal or notebook either. It looks like they cleaned up everything before disappearing.”
Quenser and Putana exchanged a glance.
“Come to think of it, that boy said the others had happily gone to the Star.”
“Well, we need some information. If there was any digital data, it had to be something they went out of their way to hide. If we check on it, it might give us an important hint.”
“How do we do that?”
Quenser grabbed the TV remote and hit the “details” button instead of tuning to a specific station.
“They checked in three days before, asked to have their clothes washed, and were charged for an off-hours cleaning service. No room service or pay TV, huh? Ha ha. What a teacher’s pet.”
“How does this help?”
“Listen, they were here for three days. If they did have a computer, they would have used the internet. They would’ve gotten withdrawal symptoms otherwise.”
Quenser checked the phone on the side table.
“It’s an IP phone. Is that to cut down on the fees? If so, there has to be a router or modem… No, or does the phone double as one?”
“What are you going to do?”
“When working late at night, Heivia was downloading some adult video and the screen froze up. He froze up, too. He had me help him get it running again, the electronic simulation division got involved in exchange for the secret address Heivia had, and we got our hands on some pretty sophisticated file recovery software. I’m gonna run that on here.”
“But this is a phone with a router, right? I doubt it has a hard disk like a computer does.”
“Are you serious? Then how do you think the router’s settings file gets updated?”
He used a cable to connect his military handheld device to the IP phone and a ton of letters and numbers filled the small screen in no time.
“See? Traces of all the data they looked at is still in the temporary files! I’m never gonna trust public internet again!!”
“You learned all of this from Millia, didn’t you? Quit looking so proud of yourself. You’re embarrassing yourself.”
Before long, the letters and numbers had been converted to human-readable data.
The child must have passed the time surfing the internet because several URLs were apparent. It was all on topics that did not paint humanity in a positive light: environmental pollution, the negatives of clean wars, financial problems, racial discrimination, the estimated remaining amounts and consumption rates of various resources, and the World Clock.
“It looks like they visited SNSs and forums too. Looks like I can’t do much about that without the IDs and passwords used.”
“You’re looking at all that, you peeping tom?”
“Just to be clear, if we don’t get any useful information here, the car carrying Mulqueen Sonora will be attacked and he has more than a 50/50 chance of dying.”
He could not access the sites the child had accessed, but he could browse the data that was uploaded to them. There was quite a lot of it and the file was in a special format.
“What…is this? This is pretty specialized software used when drawing blueprints.”
“Don’t you find it odd? This is used to the store the data for Object designs.”
There was so much data that it took some time for the small handheld device to open the file. They could only wait for the “loading” bar to slowly fill up.
Finally, the data was displayed.
It was indeed a diagram.
Quenser was dumbfounded.
This was not an Object.
It was shaped like the mantas he had seen on a documentary.
But if the scale given was accurate, it was over ten thousand meters long.
Heivia waited in a garbage truck at the entrance to the alley off of Kiwi Street and he heard sirens in the distance.
The package’s line had been cut.
What that code phrase meant was simple
Reports from the assault team continued.
“Blue 09, I’ve finished cutting the traffic light’s cable.”
“Blue 17, the water pipe has burst.”
“Blue 34, the fake traffic accident has been set up at the corner of Lemon Street and Grape Square. Abandoning our vehicles and retreating.”
Mulqueen Sonora’s escort team would be most afraid of coming to a stop. Even if the windows were bulletproof and the tires were stuffed with sponge, a door could be forced open if they were surrounded and violently attacked.
That was why Heivia and the rest of Azul Hive were causing trouble around the city.
That would create traffic jams on the roads they wanted.
To avoid a situation where they could not move forward or back and were pretty much asking to be attacked, the escort team would definitely avoid any traffic jams. If the routes through the network of roads were limited, the chance of making an attack would go up.
Their enemies were experts too, so they would know someone was setting them up.
But they would have no choice but to go along with it.
“Blue 11, the package has moved from Lemon Street to Kiwi Street. Ten minutes until the expected point.”
“Understood, 11. Heivia, start the engine.”
“Blue 12, beginning action. Urging the package forward from behind.”
“Dammit. Are the deserters not going to pull off a miracle after all!?”
Heivia turned the key as he spat out those words.
Millia was looking a little worried, too.
“I’ll tell you when to go. You just have to push the accelerator down to the floor. We’ll slam into the first car from the side and bring the entire escort team to a stop. The rest of the assault team will attack the back car to keep them from backing up and we’ll help ourselves to the delicious toppings squished in the middle of the sandwich.”
It was a simple enough plan, but that was the ideal outcome.
A single mistake or unfortunate coincidence and it would all fall apart.
It may have changed form somewhat, but it was still a military action and that meant loss of life was possible.
Quenser and Putana looked at the unknown blueprints they had found in the hotel room. The mysterious machine was shaped like a ten thousand meter manta, which made it larger than an Object.
Notes were written at various points:
Anti-cosmic ray coating.
Solar power panels.
2500 person capacity.
Low-temperature extreme environment preservation pods.
Seed and embryo freezing technology.
Putana Highball seemed dumbfounded, but she somehow forced out a quiet voice.
“That boy mentioned that everyone went to the Star. If so, is this…?”
“An artificial planet.” Quenser gulped. “This is on an entirely different level from the rockets and shuttles of the past. This is a colossal spaceship with a proper living environment that’s meant to circle the sun like a needle on a record, just as Mars or Jupiter do. No, maybe the solar system is just for practice and they’re actually planning to join another star system. If they have cold sleep tech, they can ignore the time it takes to get there.”
Technically, a planet needed to rotate to have a stable orbit. With this, there would be a risk of slipping out of orbit, but it was possible it could make corrections with its various engines.
It mostly secured energy from sunlight, but it seemed it was also designed to terraform the satellites of other planets for various kinds of fuel and resources. There was even a report on growing potatoes and corn for biofuels. That was the basis of the Re Terra technology built into Putana’s Object.
“But is this even possible?” Putana looked dubious. “This giant ‘Star’ is ten kilometers long. Even if they did construct it, wouldn’t its own weight prevent it from escaping the earth’s gravity?”
“There’s a suggestion here about building it in satellite orbit, but I doubt that would work either. After all, it’s just too big. It would be torn up by all the debris up there before it was finished. Holes would be torn in the hull as soon as it was made and new holes would be made as soon as they patched up the old ones. Even if they did complete it, it would be too weak and it would break apart pretty quickly.”
“Then what is this?”
“I don’t know,” said Quenser. “But it looks the word Nataraja is definitely related to this artificial planet.”
The blueprints had completely unrelated thoughts written alongside the necessary information.
It was almost like someone had been doodling in the margin of their notebook while bored in class.
It said, the following:
Humanity will destroy itself in another three hundred years. If they want to die, that’s fine by me, but I don’t want to be dragged down with them.
It will all be over soon.
Once the Nataraja is complete, we can overcome even the worst Kali Yuga. We were chosen, so we will escape this earth and all its problems.
“Teacher, this might be a form of eschatology just like Armageddon.”
“Kali Yuga is the age when the teachings of the gods have been lost and it refers to modern times. When it ends, all of human civilization is destroyed and Nataraja…that is, Lord Shiva burns it all away to make a brand new world.”
It was not clear what all that referred to in reality, but looking at the plans for that giant “Star” was not going to help calm them down.
“Let’s go over what we know.” Quenser sat directly on the side table. “The missing geniuses are fed up with modern society and all of its problems. If possible, they want to leave the earth in search of a new paradise.”
“And the result is this Star?”
“They used their fields of research to help construct this giant artificial planet. They may have received passports to the new world in return. The cable car incident was not talent trafficking. It wasn’t a kidnapping. It was an act for the children to disappear.”
“It’s true clever weapons developers wouldn’t be allowed to leave or defect so easily.”
“And based on what I’ve heard from Frolaytia and Millia, these geniuses are turning up missing in safe countries all over the world, so it isn’t just the cable car incident. The plans for the artificial planet said it can hold 2500 people. In the worst case, they might have that many geniuses working with them.”
“In other words, this problem goes beyond Lost Angels.”
“They might have built a secret network spanning all four world powers. And it would have to slip past the surveillance to connect the geniuses surrounded by the military and research facilities.”
This was a plan to put a great number of geniuses in cold sleep and send them outside the solar system.
But could the artificial planet realistically escape earth’s gravity after growing so large?
And how was this related to the Oriental Magic approaching the Indian Ocean?
At that moment, the fire alarm suddenly stopped ringing.
Putana looked up in surprise and glared at the door.
“I sense eight gazes filled with killer intent… They’re coming this way!”
“Is this as far as we get!?”
Quenser yanked out the handheld device’s cable.
He continued operating the device while looking at the small screen, so Putana spoke up in annoyance.
“What are you doing!?”
“A lot of the data couldn’t be converted to text, so I’m having the program decrypt the rest. How much it can do with one click is up to the electronic simulation department’s secret weapon, though!”
After finishing the necessary process, he shoved the device in his pocket and asked a question of his own.
“Putana, you have a gun, right? Head to the emergency staircase. They should have an emergency escape tube there. Use that.”
“What about you?”
“I’d like to fight too, but a certain someone kept me from making my fuses. Can you take responsibility for that?”
She clicked her tongue and made her way to the room’s door.
She fired a few times before turning the knob and kicked the hole-filled door into the hallway.
She ignored the collapsed thug spraying blood everywhere with a submachinegun in his arms and she fired further down the hallway.
“Let’s go, teacher!”
“We can’t use the elevator. Get to the emergency stairs!”
The Hotel Grand Jackpot was Mustard Cowboy’s (and therefore the Capitalist Corporations’) home. They would keep sending in reinforcements during a long, drawn-out battle, so they would eventually overrun Putana with pure numbers.
That was why she sprayed bullets to make them flinch back rather than trying to kill them all.
The two of them ran down the hallway while the enemy could not move.
The emergency staircase was attached to the outside of the building. It looked bad and there was a risk of drunks jumping off of it, but if the emergency stairs were inside the building, they would become a giant chimney during a fire and there was a danger of everyone using them dying of carbon monoxide poisoning. They were on the outside to prevent that.
Quenser jumped down to the landing and removed the latch on a metal box.
He pulled out a seventy centimeter wide tube made of synthetic fibers. He attached the end to the stairway railing and threw the rest of it over the edge.
“Putana, hurry up!”
“We’ll stand out too much if we go down in that!! They’ll be waiting for us at the bottom and it will take over three minutes until we reach the ground, so if they unhook the top partway through, we’ll be in a freefall!!”
“That doesn’t matter! Hurry over here!!”
An unpleasant sweat was collecting on Heivia’s hands as he held the garbage truck’s steering wheel.
Millia must have been used to this sort of situation because she looked nervous but not worried.
The rest of the assault team was giving reports over the radio.
“Blue 12, the package is still on its way down Kiwi Street. There are no unrelated cars in between us anymore.”
“Blue 20, I will keep any unrelated cars from getting in.”
“Blue 15, 12 was hit. Continuing action.”
“Blue 07, finished picking up 12. Withdrawing. Good luck.”
“Here they come,” said Millia. “At worst, you can miss the first car. Just make sure you hit the escort team and stop them in the middle of the road. That will leave the package at a standstill.”
“Calm down, boy. Don’t be so afraid of messing up that you make yourself mess up.”
“If I mess up here, a civilian will die! And a ten-year-old kid at that! I’m confident I can pull this off, but a human life is resting on my shoulders!! Of course I’m going to be breathing a little heavily!!”
“If you don’t like worrying, then try not to think about anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. Tuning your brain is a standard technique for a soldier.”
The time approached.
Heivia clenched his teeth and squeezed his hands around the steering wheel.
They looked like thugs in flashy suits, but they were actually spies from the Capitalist Corporations. They had gathered on the landing of the hotel’s emergency staircase.
They heard scraping cloth coming from the opening to the emergency escape tube.
Someone was sliding down it.
One of the men removed the safety device on the railing and threw it out into the air.
As there was a weight partway down, the synthetic fabric fell straight down to the asphalt without the wind carrying it.
A soft thud rang out and they contacted the team on the surface via radio.
“We’ve eliminated the intruder. Just to be sure, check the body on the surface.”
“Blue 15, beginning countdown at 100.”
“Heivia, the package is less than five kilometers away. They’re closing in at twenty-five meters a second. Are you ready!?”
“Dammit!! I’ll do it! I just have to do it, right!?”
Quenser and Putana were hiding in a room one floor down whose lock had also been released.
“Won’t they figure out pretty quickly you only dropped a fire extinguisher down?”
“It doesn’t matter if they figure out the trick. We just have to make sure we’re long gone by then.”
They had put on the clothes they found in the closet and generally changed their hairstyles in front of the mirror. Quenser was wearing a white suit and Putana was wearing a dress with a miniskirt so short her butt was just about visible. The poor taste made it obvious what kind of guests had been staying in this room.
They slowly left the room.
The elevators had recovered, so they boarded one and made their way to the first floor.
The glass-covered elevator shaft gave them a view of some thugs riding another elevator straight up, but it was too late.
“Okay, we need to report this. We’ll spoil the others’ fun with our information on the artificial planet.”
Putana’s eyes sharpened. She may have been planning to put a bullet in Quenser’s forehead as soon as she was certain Mulqueen Sonora was safe.
“Millia? Millia! What’s going on!?”
“Can you not get through?”
“It’s not just that the radio isn’t reaching. There’s more to this.”
The quick elevator reached the first floor entrance.
As some thugs rushed to the landing site of the outdoor emergency escape tube, Quenser and Putana hurried out the main entrance. They could tell Mustard Cowboy was as confused as they were. The men were looking down at their cellphones and radios and repeatedly messing with the settings.
Whether he had been successful or not, the bearded former leader they had seen before was walking on the road out front.
“See? I told you the printing plates for the money were in that fortress of a casino! Of course, that fire alarm did kind of save our asses!”
“That’s our boss. I’ll follow you to the ends of the earth.”
“I’ve got that nun to take care of, so let’s scram.”
Right in front of Quenser and Putana’s eyes, they hopped into the sky blue convertible parked on the curb and started the engine.
“That’s our car!”
“Wait, teacher. We don’t want a firefight here.”
They checked their surroundings while leaving the hotel on foot and spotted a Hot Dog Stand van parked on the curb. It must have been overhauled in a hurry recently because the frame was clearly quite old and falling apart. The man in the driver’s seat was raising his middle finger toward the blue sky.
(Huh? Isn’t that the guy who steals device data over Wi-Fi?)
Quenser checked where the man was looking.
“There we go.”
“There’s a UAV flying through the northern sky. That thing is jamming us!”
“But that’s a high-grade RC. If it was using an ECM, wouldn’t it lose control, too?”
“Not if it’s using lasers to communicate or if it’s autonomously controlled by a program. Also, that attack in the hotel was strange. Someone may have sent an email to the guards to get it started.”
“Someone related to the Star?”
“I can’t think of anyone else who would be worried about information on the Nataraja getting out.”
Regardless, if they did not get the information to Millia Newburg, the others would continue as planned and attack Mulqueen Sonora. No matter how perfectly they prepared, they could not guarantee the safety of that mission.
“It isn’t armed, so this is pure electronic warfare. …Putana, can you shoot it down?”
“Don’t joke. This is a 9mm automatic.”
“Then we’ll have to find some other way.”
Quenser looked around and ran out into the road.
The sound of screeching brakes filled the sunny city.
“Putana, the driver’s seat!!”
She shoved her gun forward as told. A man in his early twenties was visible on the other side of the windshield. He went pale, let go of the steering wheel, and raised his hands. Luckily, he was not the type to take a gamble on accelerating to knock them out of the way.
Quenser forced open the driver’s side door and grabbed the young man’s collar.
“Sorry, but you’ll be helping us.”
“I know this Ice Cream Truck sends out a pirate broadcast.”
Quenser looked to the windowless metal box on the back of the truck.
The young man’s face was soaked with sweat.
“Ha…ha ha. What on earth are you talking about?”
“Don’t play dumb. You were spreading half-truths during that cable car incident, so how about I throw you out in front of the Baby Magnum? If you’re really an innocent civilian, the Princess won’t crush your truck. But if you’re guilty and an expert soldier, she won’t see any reason not to kill you as an enemy combatant.”
“Heh…eh heh…eh heh heh. Wh-what would you like?”
“There are two ways of breaking through radio jamming: choosing a bandwidth not blocked or breaking through with an even more powerful signal. You can handle that, can’t you?”
Even back in the alley, they could faintly hear the target’s engines. The assault team was keeping them moving from behind, so their tires were screeching in their hurry.
Heivia would slam his garbage truck in at a right angle to cut them off.
That would end it.
If successful, they would get valuable information. If they failed, they would turn an innocent ten-year-old boy to mincemeat.
Was this really worth the risk?
Was this information worth betting a human life like a chip on the poker table?
Heivia slowly breathed in and then exhaled.
“10, 9, 8…”
The countdown continued.
It felt like grains of sand falling down the disturbing hourglass that measured someone’s remaining life.
His eyes had fallen to the steering wheel, so he looked back up. He stared at Kiwi Street up ahead.
His left foot held the clutch halfway down, he removed his right foot from the brake pedal, and the sole of that foot stroked the surface of the gas pedal.
He prepared to slam that foot down.
But just before he did…
“Kssshhh!! This is Blue -1! We have acquired the information from the Hotel Grand Jackpot! I repeat, we have acquired the information from the Hotel Grand Jackpot! Ksshh. You’ll probably only get this same information if you attack the escort team!! I recommend a change of plans!! Ksshh!!”
A strange wrinkle came over Heivia’s brow.
(That idiot has to contact us now of all times!?)
He was not sure what to do. Their cooperation had been thrown off and that kind of minor thing could lead to accidentally killing Mulqueen Sonora.
He frantically glanced over at Millia, but she remained silent.
The engine sounds of the escort team had almost arrived.
“5, 4, 3…”
The countdown continued.
Heivia clicked his tongue and stepped on the gas pedal. The garbage truck finally began to move. If he lifted his left foot, the clutch would fully connect and the truck would burst forward into Kiwi Street. It would crash into the lead car from the side and the bulletproof cars carrying the ten-year-old child would crash into it from behind one after another.
He heard a dull sound as Millia Newburg bit her lip and shouted into the radio.
Heivia and the others watched the group of black cars drive past.
Heivia pressed down the clutch at the very last second. The truck engine roared fruitlessly and it moved no further forward.
In that instant, his eyes briefly met with those of the boy innocently pressing his hands against the window to peer out at the scenery.
Before they could begin to make an emotional connection, it all vanished into the flowing scenery.
Still, guilt very nearly broke the dams holding back Heivia’s tears.
Finally, the rest of the assault team contacted them.
“Blue 15, change of orders confirmed. Breaking away from behind the escort team.”
“Blue 07, awaiting permission to support 15.”
“Blue 15, this is only my personal opinion, but this is a weight off my shoulders. Thank you.”
Millia switched off the radio without saying anything back.
She leaned forward, scraped her forehead on the dashboard, and slowly sighed.
She seemed stunned at her own actions and spoke in a self-deprecating tone.
“It is for me, too.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
“You’ve said that countless times already.”
“They were supposed to be taken out in the Capitalist Corporations’ home base, but they escaped safely and forced through the UAV’s ECM. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. If information on the Nataraja is brought back to the Legitimacy Kingdom, knowledge of its existence will spread.”
“That doesn’t matter if they don’t know its exact location.”
“You don’t mean…? No, that’s too dangerous.”
“Either way, we have already sent the Second Generation Kali there. You should have been prepared for this.”
“But it wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
“We will move the Nataraja.”
“If we move it now, we’ll be announcing its presence to the world. It’s too dangerous.”
“This is the only option left for the Star now. Or should I say, for the future of those exposed to the Fourth Age of Kali Yuga?”
Quenser wiped some unpleasant sweat from his brow inside the Ice Cream Truck’s kitchen portion (that was mostly used to cool the large communications equipment).
He gave a quiet sigh.
“It seems the attack on Mulqueen Sonora was aborted. We just barely got by on that one. Now, Putana, how about we go punch Millia and the others?”
“Teacher, why didn’t you tell me you were feeling suicidal? I have a 9mm automatic right here, so you only had to let me know.”
“Ah, eh? That’s still going on? Really!? Please no! And there’s nowhere to run in this small truck!!”
Quenser leaned hard against the wall while bursting into tears. Thinking it was some kind of gag, Putana watched coldly, but the situation suddenly changed.
The wall rotated around like in an Island Nation ninja mansion.
To save space, the counter for exchanging money and ice cream was made to fold up into the side wall while driving. Quenser had leaned against it as a shortcut outside.
Putana pulled her handgun from the pocket of her far-too-short dress and clicked her tongue.
“Teacher!! Oh, damn. Where did you get off to!? And this was the perfect chance to put a bullet between your eyes!!”
She quickly climbed out over the counter and set out on a journey to search for the boy.
Meanwhile, Quenser quietly sighed from below the truck.
“I really thought I was a goner there.”
When he crawled out, the ice cream truck’s private TV broadcaster spoke to him.
“C-can I go now? You aren’t going to ask me to help you transmit classified data, are you?”
“Sure, sure. You can go. I’d like to send the data on the Nataraja, but I’d be afraid the temporary files would stick around in your devices. I’ll hand deliver this.”
“Ha…ha ha. I see.”
“Oh, but one thing. You sell ice cream for camouflage, right? If I pay, could I get some chocolate chip mint?”
The battlefield student finally left the truck with some bright green ice cream.
He thought to himself while enjoying the cold sweetness.
Putana was gone, but the Capitalist Corporations’ Mustard Cowboy had a lot of influence in this western region. Plus, they had just caused some trouble in the Hotel Grand Jackpot. Even without that, she was being constantly pursued by the Faith Organization’s Viridian Edge. If she wanted to guarantee her safety, she would leave the western region and regroup with the Legitimacy Kingdom’s Azul Hive.
(That means we’ll meet back up in the usual motel. The communication situation is still awful, so I can’t contact Heivia, Millia, or the others either.)
He looked up into the blue sky.
The electronic warfare UAV was still flying high above, but luckily, it had no weapons. Still, he did not want to be stalked from the air and have troops sent in based on the aerial photographs. He looked around, crunched through the cone holding the ice cream, found the stairs down to a subway station, and ran down.
Lost Angels’s subway was about the worst possible ride and was only recommended for “indebted men who want to commit suicide or women who want to be impregnated ASAP”, but he had no choice here.
Quenser felt a little dejected when he saw the great variety of clientele: a mohawked man with a strong odor of paint coming from the mouth, a depressed-looking office worker with a full suit on his upper body and only briefs on his lower body, and a young wife smiling happily as she pushed around a stroller that for some reason carried a battered piece of driftwood. Regardless, Quenser let the train rock him back and forth as he made his way to his destination as quickly as possible.
To escape reality, he turned his eyes toward the LCD advertisement installed above the automatic door, but then his face clouded over.
It only displayed a simple text headline: Another clash between the Legitimacy Kingdom and the Faith Organization? A battle between Objects has been confirmed in the Indian Ocean off of Lost Angels.
(The Legitimacy Kingdom in an Object battle on the Indian Ocean? Did that Second Generation called the Oriental Magic attack the Princess!?)
He would not find any more detailed information here.
Those with the information waited in the run-down motel.
An invisible hell covered the blue ocean.
The Princess had not been killed because she sat inside the Baby Magnum which could take a direct hit from a nuclear weapon, but otherwise her eyeballs might have boiled and her entire body might have been cooked away.
She glared at the source through the cameras and sensors linked to the giant monitor.
It was the Faith Organization’s Second Generation Object named the Oriental Magic.
It was about seven kilometers away. It hovered a bit above the ocean’s surface using its air cushion propulsion device, its laser beam main cannon included a cylindrical excitation system larger than the cannon’s barrel, and it also had a Gatling system containing several giant cannon barrels.
However, the Gatling system was not just a rotating machine cannon.
It made a sound like a broken buzzer as it scattered five meter spears around. They were never aimed at the Princess and they landed all across that area of ocean. They would then float with their long, narrow bodies sticking vertically from the water, just like a fishing bobber or a buoy.
More than eight thousand of them were fired every minute.
The spears covered the unobstructed ocean like a strange plantation. Whenever the wind or waves rocked the ocean surface, they would gently wave like ears of rice.
“Kssshhh!! Prin…cess….ksshh!! It happened…again! Ksshh….This exceeds…ksshh…the saturation level…ksshh!! Even for an Object’s…ksshh…anti-air lasers! It’ll never end…if you focus on that!!”
“I know that!!”
The communication issues were not a problem with the Baby Magnum.
The Oriental Magic was emitting radar waves in every direction. They were sometimes strong and sometimes weak, but at their highest, they were powerful enough to roast all of the seabirds in the area.
Radar might sound like something special, but they used the same microwaves as a microwave oven.
They had heated the Baby Magnum’s outer shell of onion armor to a faint orange and countless sparks were flying everywhere.
(That’s a lot of power. If this thing approaches the maintenance fleet, everyone will be turned into human torches!!)
These specs seemed to completely ignore the optimal solution for radar.
It made the Princess suspect this was only disguised as radar because of the international criticism they would receive if it was registered on paper as an electromagnetic weapon meant to cook people alive.
That invisible hell was expanded around the Oriental Magic.
At thirty kilometers, there was a risk of it negatively affecting the human body. At ten kilometers, death was guaranteed and one’s blood might even boil despite being inside a warship.
The Object was already on the edge of that first range.
The Princess had to settle this before that range of guaranteed death reached the Legitimacy Kingdom fleet.
She operated the seven main cannons and fired low-stability plasma cannons at the enemy in front of her.
“I can’t hit it!! No matter how many times I try!!”
It was true the Oriental Magic was using her pre-fire movements to predict where she would fire and take evasive action, but even when the Princess predicted those evasive actions, her cannon blasts were not even scratching the other Object.
This was no longer an issue of the Pilot Elite’s skill.
There was a discrepancy between the ballistic path in her head and the one the cannon blast actually took.
It was almost like…
“There’s a deviation in the ballistic calculations?” blankly muttered the Princess.
Meanwhile, the Oriental Magic continued forward with nothing blocking its way.
Surrounded by the massive field of deadly microwaves, it approached the fleet the Baby Magnum was meant to protect.
By the time Quenser arrived at the run-down motel, the Legitimacy Kingdom’s Azul Hive gang was just about ready to get moving.
It was no longer time to be punching anyone.
As a greeting, he was chased around by a stolen car and very nearly hit in the butt by the bumper.
“Wah! Wah!! Waaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!?”
“Okay! Stop, Heivia! Now, Quenser, do you have anything to say to the nice woman who just had the driver stop only twenty centimeters away?”
Millia leaned out from the car’s sunroof with a smile and Quenser answered her question while collapsed on the ground with tears and snot covering his face.
“E-e-eeeeeeeek!? I-I’m sorry… I won’t ever disobey your orders again! I’m sorryyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!”
“That’s some nice crying, but I don’t buy it. …Say, that’s an awfully nice smell coming from your mouth.”
“Oh, that’s because I ate some chocolate chip mint ice cream while I was out.”
“Run him over, Heivia. What does that brat think he was doing while his commanding officer was stuck in a sour-smelling garbage truck?”
Having cleverly given up on her search and quickly returned to the motel, Putana sat in the back seat of the car and she raised her hand to give a suggestion.
“Millia, if you are going to execute him, leave it to me. I will give it my all.”
“I feel like you really would kill him, so no. More importantly, get in, Quenser. Some excitement has reached the fleet out at sea, so we need to head out there and support them.”
“Eh? Um, what? What do you mean support them?”
He quickly opened the car’s back door and climbed inside.
Heivia answered from the driver’s seat.
“Sneaking around delivering presents like Santa Claus isn’t enough anymore. The fleet is in trouble, so they want a little help.”
Millia waved her hand in the passenger seat. Putana must have already told them what they had found, so he handed his handheld device to her.
He shared the artificial planet information with the others.
As usual, Quenser sat next to Putana. They looked friendly enough packed in next to each other, but he had no idea when she was going to shoot him at point blank range.
After Quenser got in, several stolen vehicles made their way to the southeastern commercial harbor. That was the source of Azul Hive’s funding.
The cylindrical submersibles they had used when stealing the Collective Farming were stored there. They were the type one rode on top of rather than inside of.
The vehicles stopped on the dock, they unloaded the submersibles, goggles, and oxygen tanks from a pile of containers, and the soldiers made their way back out to sea.
“Our information says the Oriental Magic is constantly sending out powerful radar waves while making its way toward the Legitimacy Kingdom fleet. The insurance organizations that are already screaming about cell phone signals causing cancer would faint if they saw this. Apparently, human flesh would turn as white as boiled chicken at a kilometer away.”
“Then how are we supposed to get close!?”
Heivia’s childish falsetto protest was not enough to stop Millia.
“Submarines prefer to use sonar over radar. Why is that?”
“Are you saying the wall of seawater will weaken the electromagnetic waves enough for us to be safe?”
Quenser found it hard to believe even as he said it, but Millia nodded.
“Despite the overwhelming power they’re using, they still seem to be thinking about efficiency. Instead of sending the microwaves uniformly in three dimensions, it’s more like a two dimensional disk. Think of it like a lighthouse. The light won’t reach the dark ocean. Or rather, it doesn’t need to reach it.”
Still, those numbers had only been roughly detected using an underwater drone. Given the timing of the battle, they would not have had time to get more accurate readings.
There was no safe path.
They only had a path that would keep them alive for the time being.
“Once we’re on the battlefield, make sure you never move to the surface. Stay at least five meters down although ten meters would be ideal. But keep in mind that heading too far down increases the risk of decompression sickness when you come back up. The next time you breathe natural air will be on the deck of the cornered fleet. Let’s go!!”
On Millia’s order, Quenser and the others used the small submersibles to dive down into the lukewarm seawater.
Quenser did not know all that much about the ocean, but he still noticed something strange while operating his submersible. The schools of small fish were moving oddly. They were not approaching the surface and he doubted they were simply afraid of seabirds. He spotted a few fish up above floating on their sides, but the other fish showed no sign of trying to eat them.
He was already seeing the damage being done.
The way the scenery was overwritten by a twisted form of learning gave him a chill.
Heivia spoke over the radio from the neighboring submersible.
He was looking straight up.
Several objects resembling long, skinny spears were sticking down from the swaying ocean surface. They looked like strange stalactites or icicles, but they were probably the opposite. In other words, they were actually sticking up above the water.
“Are they like a fishing bobber? Their center of gravity has to be lower down to stay vertical, so the underwater portion is actually larger than the exposed portion.”
“I get that, but what are they? They’re covering the surface for as far as I can see.”
Millia answered that one.
“They’re apparently equipment the Oriental Magic is firing everywhere with a Gatling system. So far, none of them have exploded like a remote cannon or mine. There are unconfirmed reports of them emitting powerful magnetism, so the electronic simulation division suspects they’re auxiliary sensors.”
“Killer radar and extra sensors everywhere? Talk about neurotic. Does the Pilot Elite suspect they’re being stalked if their toothbrush is five centimeters from its usual spot?”
Putana listened to them while silently looking up with a grim look on her face.
It looked like she was having difficulty accepting something.
The Oriental Magic used its air cushion propulsion device to float from the ocean’s surface, but the massive layer of compressed air below the two hundred thousand ton mass created tiny waves within the ocean as well. The faint stinging on the skin informed them of the monster’s approach.
“That thing can zip around the battlefield at five hundred kph, so why are we catching up to it?”
“That’s because the Princess is holding it back of course.”
They could tell the Princess was moving along the ocean with its naval floats attached. After all, its stability shark anchor plunged deep into the ocean and that giant extendable pillar very nearly smashed them to pieces.
They frantically moved out of the way, but a few of the submersibles were knocked about and flipped over by the massive water current.
Quenser lost control of his.
He was thrown from the submersible as it rotated around like a leaf in the wind. He flailed his limbs around, but he could not stop the momentum carrying him toward the surface. He was headed full speed toward being cooked in the human microwave oven of the killer radar.
But then someone grabbed his hand.
“Please don’t get yourself killed. Then I can’t do it myself.”
Putana had apparently become a tsundere.
“Puny humans can’t keep up with a battle between giants!” said Millia. “Putana, carry Quenser with you from here on. If he stays here, he’ll just be crushed by our own ally. That Object wouldn’t notice any more than we would if we stepped on an ant!”
At any rate, they had to continue on.
They turned their backs on the Princess who continued fighting on the surface and sent their submersibles ever onward.
“Kssshhhh!! Ksshh!! Kssssshhhhhhh!! Ksshhh!! Ksssshhhh!!”
“What are you doing, Quenser?”
“It’s no good. I thought I could get a word in to the Princess, but the noise is so bad I can’t get through.”
“Well, of course not with all those radar waves.”
“I guess we can only reach other people underwater with us.”
Quenser began to shift his focus away from the radio, but something stopped him.
One channel was left open.
“What is this? Oh, I get it. It’s the line for the laser transmissions from the auxiliary cameras on the drone. …But wait.”
“Really, what is this? Why is this down there?”
Quenser had one arm around Putana’s waist while the other held his handheld device. His face froze over as he stared at the small screen.
The underwater drone had taken a one-way trip toward the ocean floor to become scrap metal.
It gave a view beyond the vast darkness below that was not visible to the naked eye.
Was it dozens, hundreds, or thousands of meters to the bottom?
Something lay on its side in a place completely cut off from them despite being in the same ocean.
It resembled a manta measuring over ten thousand meters long.
Most likely, it was the giant artificial planet known as the Nataraja.
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
“They noticed us. The Legitimacy Kingdom saw the Nataraja!”
“We already knew we would be exposed. That’s why the Kali is on a rampage overhead.”
“That’s true, but it wasn’t supposed to be like this!”
“Just to be clear, our freezing process has already begun. We can’t stop it now. You were prepared for that when you came onboard, weren’t you?’
“But it wasn’t supposed to-…”
“And either way, the frogmen can’t get their information out of the ocean. The powerful microwaves will jam the signal.”
“Also, those microwaves function as an anti-radar ECM. They can’t perform a large-scale search from the surface now. The Kali’s cannon fire and the air pressure from the air cushion are vibrating the water enough to prevent both active and passive sonar from searching the ocean. You understand what that means, don’t you?”
“This ocean has been blacked out?”
“Enough that we could wave our hand right in front of their nose and they wouldn’t notice. It doesn’t matter where the Nataraja was five seconds ago. Even if we move only a kilometer away from there, we can hide in the infinite darkness down here.”
“But the Nataraja is so large it will stir up the water if it moves. We can’t hide like a submarine.”
“The entire point of Kali’s rampage is to let us move. …And it’s all for a single purpose.”
“To escape earth, hm?”
“To surpass Kali Yuga, mankind’s dark age, and gain a new paradise.”
“I can’t believe this.”
Quenser’s dazed comment quickly grew to a shout of anger.
“I can’t believe this!! I thought they were making some gigantic artificial planet, but is this what they were doing!?”
“Teacher, what are you talking about? I thought the Star we discovered at the hotel was meant to leave the earth and all its conflict behind so they could reach a new paradise?”
“That’s their goal all right, but we had the method wrong,” groaned Quenser. “The Nataraja is a ten thousand meter long artificial planet. They couldn’t launch it into space even if they did complete it. Just like debt snowballing out of control, it wouldn’t be able to support its own weight. That’s why they gave up on that and remade their escape plan into one that didn’t require flying.”
“They built their star to take a centuries or millennia long trip through waterless and airless outer space, so the people inside would still be protected if it dove underwater. And what if no one back up on the surface knew they were there?”
The plans for the ship had contained hastily added notes on a low-temperature environment.
In other words, cold sleep.
That system froze a human at an extremely low temperature to store them for so long it could be called eternity.
“They’re waiting for humanity to destroy itself.”
“I don’t know if they planned for one or two thousand years or even for just a month or a week, but they’re waiting for the balance between the Legitimacy Kingdom, Information Alliance, Capitalist Corporations, and Faith Organization to fall apart, some truly hopeless problem to reach us, and for the human race to go extinct. And once that eliminates all the problems, they’ll head back up to the surface. Like the old planet shedding its skin, the Nataraja itself can be seen as a small continent. They can move up next to a tropical desert island and create a biofuel resources base.”
“Nataraja…that is, Lord Shiva is said to destroy the dark age of Kali Yuga himself and then create the new age. In that case…”
“Their escape from Earth isn’t breaching the atmosphere,” declared Quenser. “They’re escaping into their artificial planet within the planet.”
Supposedly, geniuses had vanished all over the world in all of the world powers.
Those geniuses’ lives had likely been a constant fight against the ugly adults. Simply hearing about talent trafficking was enough to know just how unimaginable their hardships were. Plus, that had to only be the tip of the iceberg.
That was why the current planet had left them in despair and they had secretly built an artificial planet to escape it.
And after vanishing while disguising it as abductions and accidents, they had gathered at the Star.
They were the next human race.
Only the skilled and clean people who would not bring any of the current problems with them were allowed on that ark.
“But how much did they prepare for this? They would need energy to support the ten thousand meter structure, energy to support the life support infrastructure, and energy to keep it hidden.”
“Wait a second. Are you saying they’ve opened a hole in the bottom of some storage base’s tank!? I know the Capitalist Corporations’ long-term civilian space flight plan was scrapped because it used up way too much energy for mere entertainment, but still!!”
“They don’t care at all about the old earth, so why would they bother leaving anything for us? They’re keeping the data for the World Clock or whatever looking normal while they’re actually stealing all the fuel, food, and rare earths they need to survive! And they know the world will fall into chaos once that’s found out and the data anesthesia runs out! What kind of future is waiting for us? Will all of the military vehicles stop running as we fight to grab what food we can all while we can’t stop the world’s food from rotting away at room temperature? You’ve gotta be kidding me!”
A new icon began flashing on the edge of the screen.
It indicated some data analysis had finished.
“That’s not some swimsuit pinup photos, is it?”
“It’s the data that was left on the hotel’s IP phone. The router was built in, so it recorded all of the data sent out from the room. It’s their data. …What is this? Energy storage filter list? Lure data and a comparison to the real values?”
According to Putana, all of the genius boys and girls except for Mulqueen Sonora had continued on to the Star.
The data on the supposed artificial planet had also come from that hotel.
Quenser had expected to find more detailed information, but he had accidentally reached for the lid of Pandora’s Box.
“The real amount the world has stored?”
The numbers were different from the official reports.
They were far, far removed from the values everyone believed in.
What was it he found there?
“Hey, Quenser, what’s the matter? Hey!”
“You’re better off not knowing.”
“This is…this is just hopeless. The world would completely boil over!!”
Electricity and fuel truly would vanish from the world. The little bit brought by solar or wind power would be meaningless. They could try to use Object reactors for general power, but they did not yet have any way of setting them up like that. In other words, everything would rot away like trash. A single type of the saprophytic bacteria that consumed trash would prosper and all other microbes would have no place left. But that single type of saprophytic bacteria would be wiped out when exposed to its weakness of heat or ultraviolet light.
That would lead to a world without microbes.
In that world, the piles of trash would never rot. They would simply be eroded into dust and the rain or mist would turn it into sticky sludge. The sea of sludge covering the surface would become the enemy of bacteria, plants, animals, and all forms of life.
Quenser understood why the geniuses had hidden the existence of their artificial planet.
If something like that was “within reach”, no one would allow it. Some would simply try to take back the stolen fuel and resources while others might arrive with a smile as they asked to be let onboard.
That ark of salvation would transform into a plank of Carneades that washed out blood with blood.
That was why they had to hide it at all costs.
Quenser looked back while clinging to Putana’s waist.
“It’s possible the Oriental Magic attacked the fleet so forcefully because they didn’t want the fleet staying in this area of the ocean for so long. They attacked before we could discover them.”
“Wait a minute. Are you saying that Nataraja thing is using this commotion to escape to some other part of the ocean!?”
“Yeah, and while wasting a bunch of the stolen resources that we all need to live. Hurry, Heivia. We can’t head down to the bottom of the ocean with our current equipment. We need to get to the fleet and tell Frolaytia and the others about this!! With the killer radio waves and cannon vibrations, we can’t search above or below the sea, so we’re practically blind. We won’t be able to track it whether it moves one hundred kilometers away or just one hundred centimeters away!!”
Quenser and the others arrived at the Legitimacy Kingdom fleet.
They were nervous enough for their throats to dry up when they surfaced, but fortunately they did not become human torches.
A rope ladder was lowered for them to climb up onto a small aircraft carrier. They roughly secured the small submersibles with ropes and adhesive. They looked a lot like the magnet-attached human torpedoes seen in old war movies.
Frolaytia met the soaking-wet group in a conference room and she got down to business without bothering to greet them.
“Technically, it was the submersibles I wanted here, not you. As you should know, we can approach the battlefield from below using them. It gives us more options than waiting for the final moment as that killer radar approaches.”
“If it’s that bad, why not move the ships back?” asked Heivia.
“You’re not serious, are you?” replied Quenser with a shrug. “We’re up against an Object here. If it wanted to, it could move at five hundred kph. If the Princess messes up holding it back, it’ll chase us to the other side of the planet with its killer radar on at full blast.”
“Exactly. The situation is hopeless. With this much interference, they can even pretend they didn’t receive our White Flag signal. We need to make sure the Princess wins no matter what and that means breaking through the Oriental Magic’s stronghold.”
While speaking, Frolaytia connected the projector to her laptop with a cable.
She displayed some quickly thrown together documents on one wall.
“The biggest bottleneck is that the Princess’s main cannons can’t hit the enemy. We’ve done some scans, but the Oriental Magic’s own movements aren’t all that clever.”
“You mean there’s something diverting the Princess’s shells or screwing with her ballistic calculations?” asked Quenser.
He looked to the projector and saw the many “spears” sticking vertically from the ocean surface.
“We can’t perform any decent scans with all the electromagnetic waves, but we still have some partial information. They seem to be sporadically emitting extremely powerful magnetism, but it isn’t all of the spears all the time. It’s like a game of whack-a-mole. Which ones activate must be randomized, but there are always three of them emitting magnetism.”
Quenser groaned quietly when he heard that.
Despite the approaching threat, his curiosity as a promising engineer reared its ugly head.
“The three-body problem? That does sound like something people obsessed with a ‘Star’ would come up with.”
“It can be the moon, the earth, or the sun. All celestial bodies have a gravitational pull and all of them are pulling on each other as they move around. Now, here’s the question: how do you find what kind of influence is caused by three celestial bodies pulling on each other?”
“What? How should I know? The rotation of the earth and the revolution of the moon are probably explained by a chalkboard full of cryptic equations. That’s not a very good riddle.”
“No.” Quenser shook his head. “The answer isn’t known. No one can reach an accurate answer.”
“Wait. You’re kidding, right?”
“I’m not. You can easily calculate out the influence of two, but there’s nothing we can do when it gets to three or more. Lately, they can reach ‘approximate values’ using a supercomputer, but that’s like saying pi is more or less three. The exact answer is still impossible to find.”
“Yes, this is a control system that artificially creates that three-body problem.” Frolaytia pointed at the projected document with her long, skinny kiseru. “Powerful magnetism can bend the paths of plasma, electron beams, coilguns, or railguns, but if it’s a simple pull in one direction, the post-interference trajectory can be calculated out and corrected for. …That’s when they bring in this randomized three-body problem. Honestly, it’s giving me a headache.”
Still absolutely soaking wet, Millia frowned.
She seemed to be having trouble picturing the situation.
“Major Capistrano, didn’t Quenser just say a supercomputer can produce an ‘approximate value’? Can’t you reassign the Object’s electronic processing time to open up some space for that? For example, you could abandon control of the smaller anti-personnel cannons.”
“We thought about that, but it was no use. The approximate value for a rocket’s trajectory would take months to calculate. With the spears’ magnetism constantly being turned on and off randomly, reaching an instant calculation is impossible. Not to mention that we wouldn’t be able to correct for the error introduced by the approximate value. The shells are useless if they don’t hit. We won’t get a participation trophy just because we graze the Object two centimeters off the side.”
“Um, what about laser beams?” asked Putana. “Those are pure light, so I don’t think the magnetism would affect them.”
“They seem to have another defense system for that. They’ve made unbreakable bubbles by mixing a special rubber adhesive with water and scattered them around to bend any light that hits them. In any other situation, I’d want to take a video and pass it on to the technology division.”
The low-stability plasma cannon, railgun, coilgun, rapid-fire beam cannon, and laser beams could not reach the Oriental Magic.
That meant the Princess could not win as long as that system existed.
“I want one of these.”
Frolaytia used her kiseru to point at the spears on the screen.
“Dive down and collect one. How do they work, how do they coordinate with each other, and how can we break this system? If we can figure that out, we can find a way out of this. At the very least, we can place the Princess in the same ring.”
In other words, their mission was as awful as ever.
Heivia and the others looked on the verge of tears. It almost seemed they were going to give up on it all, board a submersible, and run off on their own, but then they realized something.
The entire unit could not afford for them to reject this mission.
More importantly, running away here would not solve the Nataraja problem. It was using up all of the resources it had stolen to maintain its ten thousand meter form. If those resources were not retrieved soon, everyone would have to bear the debt. The entire world would become a waste dump which would leave the explosive expansion and extinction of the one kind of saprophytic bacteria. That would lead to a world of sludge with no microbes. Every continent would be covered in gray sludge and that would leave no escape.
So they had to do this whether they liked it or not.
They had no choice but to succeed.
(Fortunately, the two objectives are pointed in the same direction. If we can silence the Oriental Magic, we can search this area of ocean like normal. The Nataraja is huge and it wasn’t originally designed to dive down like a submarine. They set up this situation because they were afraid of being heard as they moved through the ocean, so the Nataraja won’t be able to escape.)
Quenser forcibly encouraged himself like that.
With doom only ten minutes away, he tried to give his heart a running start.
But he was being too naïve.
The next problem arrived only a moment later.
The entire small aircraft carrier shook and tilted as if an explosive blast had hit it.
This was different from a simple fire or explosion in the ammunition storage.
They could hear the short, dry bursts even from the conference room.
“You’re kidding me. Did they directly board the ship to eliminate anyone who knows about the Nataraja’s secret!?”
Heivia was utterly shocked, but he still caught the submachinegun Frolaytia threw his way. He smoothly loaded the first round while Millia and Putana pulled out their own handguns.
Frolaytia tore the internal phone line receiver from the wall.
“Where are they coming from!?”
“A huge hole was blown in the port side near the waterline! It was probably one of the Faith Organization’s Spear Squids. To avoid an Object’s anti-air lasers, they remain in the water to the very last second and hop up only twenty meters in front of their target!”
“Who got in through the hole?”
“There’s a single midsized transport submersible sticking in through the hole. But, major, be careful what route you choose to evacuate. This thing has a ton of amphibious powered suits inside it!!”
Heivia looked up at the ceiling when he heard that.
This was a military warship, but it only had rockets and shoulder-fired missiles for handheld self-defense. If the soldiers were given too much firepower, they could easily blow away a fuel pipe or the ammunition storage if they panicked. People often thought of a military ship as a hunk of steel, but they were filled with flammable materials. That was why they generally let the ship itself or a fighter take care of things when the situation called for a missile.
However, the enemy had made it onboard.
Gathering all the handguns and submachineguns in the ship would not help when their opponent had powered suits.
There were hundreds of people onboard, but they would be tormented to death at this rate.
“Heivia and Putana, help me out here.”
But Quenser quickly spoke up.
Heivia was dumbfounded as the mere student elaborated.
“Let’s drive out those amphibious powered suits! Frolaytia, please tell us the shortest route to the hangar. We can get one of the missiles loaded on the fighters there. If I swap out the fuse, I can use it like a normal bomb to blow away the powered suits!”
“Yeah, that’s right. No matter the situation, the army has to make do with what’s available to them. Let’s go with that.”
Quenser’s handheld device received a transmission. Frolaytia had sent him a map of the aircraft carrier.
“Sorry, but I’ll be headed to the bridge. Whatever they’re after, we need to prepare for the worst and set the emergency lock on the classified information. That should require my authorization. Lieutenant Newburg, can I borrow some bodyguards from your intelligence division?”
“Yes, I suppose. Although I’m little confused why a base commander would want to stick around at a time like this.”
“That’s simple: because this battalion was left in my care.”
That could not be as simple as she claimed. With all the high-level classified information she had, she could not afford to be captured. She most likely had a “special bullet” in her breast pocket just in case.
They all left the conference room and turned in different directions.
Frolaytia spoke without looking back.
“Make sure you survive this.”
They hurried on their separate ways. Quenser’s group was on the way to the hangar to obtain the missile they needed to use against the amphibious powered suits while Frolaytia’s group was on the way to the bridge to protect the classified information.
The ship was intermittently filled with disconcerting shaking.
“Who are these people anyway?”
“What? They’ve got to be the people working with the artificial planet…no, the ocean shelter called the Nataraja.”
“Not that. The Nataraja intends to abandon the human race living on the old planet. They want to hide their position at all costs, so I doubt they’ll be collecting these people. So why are they obeying the Nataraja?”
“They probably don’t want to be saved themselves,” said Millia Newburg. “They don’t care as long as they can save whatever it is they call ‘the world’. They think they’re too filthy for that perfect world. They can say that with a smile on their lips and a gun in their hands, so the Nataraja is using them as disposable soldiers.”
“Guilt might be at the root of it all,” added Putana.
At the very least, the Nataraja had the Oriental Magic helping it. And maybe the Flyaway from the northern mountains as well. The powered suits attacking the aircraft carrier clearly were not amateurs.
They were all highly-trained professional soldiers.
Perhaps only the ones who had grown disgusted with their jobs had been recruited.
“I’m not gonna get caught in the middle of their burnout syndrome. It sounds to me like they’re afraid of dying alone, so they want us to all die together.”
Heivia and Putana took the lead, Millia stayed back as the rear guard, and Quenser walked between them as the only one without a gun. They made their way down the corridor, but the going was tough. The corridor was tilted diagonally, one steel wall was split because the ship itself had twisted from the initial blast, and shrapnel had skewered into the opposite wall. The pipes running through the ceiling must have broken in places because white steam was blowing down here and there.
Heivia could not help but groan when they arrived near the hangar.
He had heard intense gunfire coming from their destination.
“Were the powered suits targeting the hangar, too!? It’s starting to look like they’re just going to sink the entire ship to silence us!!”
There were a few highly flammable areas of the aircraft carrier that were especially dangerous. For example, the engine room and the ammunition storage. The aircraft hangar was just as dangerous and important. The fighters naturally had missiles hanging from their wings and jet fuel filling their tanks. Any kind of fire was completely off limits there. If it was set on fire, the damage could quickly surpass what the ship was designed to endure and it could erupt from within.
“That’s even more reason we can’t ignore this. If we don’t drive them out, we’ll all be fish food.”
“I get that, but I’m not about to play the hero and get roasted like a turkey. I’ve already decided I’m going to die on top of a woman.”
With sweat covering his face, Heivia pressed in next to the small door for maintenance soldiers to enter the hangar. Putana moved to the other side and they lowered the watertight door’s lever to open it.
Immediately, a scorching wave of heat stopped them in their tracks. Orange light swept horizontally across the room they were just about to step inside.
Heivia frantically grabbed Putana by the back of the neck and pulled her back.
Flames continued to rage on the other side of the half-opened door. This was not an accidental blaze. Someone was clearly switching it on and off.
“That’s a flamethrower,” groaned Millia.
They were in trouble if the amphibious powered suits had brought weaponry like that. The heat of flamethrowers was frightening, but their greatest threat was the lack of oxygen they created in closed spaces. In older wars, that had been used to take care of enemy soldiers hidden in trenches or tunnels, but it would be just as cruelly effective in the corridors and cabins of an aircraft carrier.
But a moment later, Quenser saw something unexpected.
The ones wrapped in flames and running around in a panic were masses of exposed metal. It was the amphibious powered suits.
He also heard an overpowering shout coming from the hangar.
“You fools!! Did you think we couldn’t fight without any rockets!? Did you forget an aircraft carrier is in no short supply of jet fuel!?”
The two idiots exchanged a glance.
“Hey, that sounded a lot like the old maintenance lady’s voice to me.”
“What a coincidence, Quenser. But we might be hearing the same hallucination in a case of mass hysteria. Let’s do this carefully.”
The two of them hesitantly peered inside the hangar.
It was a complete disaster.
Several blackened powered suits lay on the ground while tongues of flame still burned here and there. They were covered in thick armor, but if the external heat reached their internal processors, it was no different from burning the motherboard with a lighter. The silicon circuits would be fried and the suits would be brought to a stop.
The one ruling over it all was a veteran old woman carrying a jet nozzle that seemed to have a refueling hose jury-rigged onto it.
“Wahh!! That’s clearly her!”
“Hm? Yeah, I tend to get really fired up when it comes to an outmatched force resorting to guerrilla warfare. I am from the country Nobunaga conquered, after all.”
“Are you insane!? How can you use a flamethrower in the hangar!? Aren’t you afraid of setting something off!?”
“If I let them in, they would’ve blown up the entire ship, so I didn’t have a choice. And I did put together a countermeasure. I took the missiles, the fuel tanks, and anything else that’s really dangerous and covered them in the electrified fire-resistant coating of a dust collector. It may not be much, but it’s the silicon powder used in weapon paint. And nothing blew up, so there’s that.”
“That’s just scary. In fact, now I’m curious what this old lady was like when she was younger.”
The old maintenance lady ignored Heivia’s annoyed comment and turned her eyes in a new direction.
She looked to the brown girl named Putana Highball.
“Are you the pilot of the Collective Farming I’ve heard so much about?”
“No, I am the Elite of the Sarasvati.”
Putana’s unnecessary correction only elicited an “I see” from the old lady.
She then said one more thing.
She did not explain what that was in reference to.
“Ksshh!! This is the engine room. The powered suits have arrived right in front of our door. We’re returning fire, but we don’t have enough firepower. Anyone who can, please come help!!”
“Did those fools send troops to all of the fuel-related facilities? Are they trying to split the entire ship in two!?”
The old maintenance lady clicked her tongue and Heivia spoke up.
“What should we do? Remain here or head to the engine room!?”
“Neither. There’s something you all need to do. And something else that Elite needs to do.”
Putana frowned and the old lady grabbed a notebook-sized tablet from a nearby wooden box before tossing it to Quenser.
“The monitoring data related to the Baby Magnum. It’s incomplete due to those killer radar waves, but it’s enough to know things aren’t going well. The Princess is being worn down pretty bad. At this rate, she’ll be crushed before we can find a way out of this.”
“Dammit!!” swore Quenser as he looked to the screen.
The Baby Magnum’s mobility was its main selling point, so it would continually evade the enemy’s cannon fire, block the enemy’s escape with its seven main cannons, focus those main cannons once the enemy was stopped, and fire them all into the enemy. That was the ideal strategy.
But the data on the screen showed it all falling apart.
First and foremost, the Baby Magnum’s cannon fire was not reaching the Oriental Magic. The enemy was being careful and never approaching within five kilometers, so the Baby Magnum had to use a much more dangerous strategy of forcing its way in close and trying to get the enemy to fall back on its own.
And because of that…
“What is this? Is she sacrificing the outermost main cannons?”
“For the attacks she can’t completely avoid. But it’s a double-edged sword. They can’t take hits like that forever. And if they explode, it’ll throw off the Object’s balance. If the Oriental Magic uses its main laser cannon in that moment, it’s all over.”
The Princess would understand that, but she could not protect the fleet behind her any other way.
The disturbance in the monitoring data showed just how much she was struggling and suffering.
And even after all of that, the Baby Magnum was slowly being pushed back. The maximum range of the Oriental Magic’s killer radar waves was pushing in on the maintenance fleet.
Even if Quenser and the others could search out a weakness in the countless “spears” standing up from the ocean, they saw no way that would actually help. There was no guarantee it would speed up the process.
The old lady did not expect that either.
She said something else instead.
“I have only one idea of how to escape this situation, but it requires disobeying military regulations. Are you still willing to hear me out?”
“What exactly is it?”
“The Collective Farming is moored here for analysis and we have the one and only Pilot Elite who can use it in battle. The reactor is still running for analysis of the system. As long as she has the unlock key we added on, Putana Highball can bring it back to life.”
Everyone turned toward the brown girl.
She responded with a self-deprecating smile.
“You want me to save this fleet and end up in a court martial? And all to save the enemy fleet that stole my Sarasvati and essentially stripped me bare!?”
“If you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it. Either way, we don’t have the authority to force a POW to fight.” The old lady explained the facts with a grim look on her face. “If that happens, we’ll either sink with the ship or be roasted by the killer radar waves. In a way, you’ll be getting your revenge.”
It was now Putana’s turn to look at everyone else.
Unable to bear the silence, Heivia let a comment slip out.
“W-will everyone really let that happen? What about our huge-breasted commander?”
“Hmph. I’m sure she expected us to do this. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have let a former enemy soldier keep her gun in front of an officer. It’s just that her position prevents her from directly ordering us to do this.”
“Even if that’s true, where would we find the unlock key the Legitimacy Kingdom added?”
“That boy has it right there.”
The old lady’s comment almost made Quenser drop the tablet.
They had everything they needed.
Putana narrowed her eyes and opened her mouth.
“What’s in it for me?”
“Will an argument from emotion work?”
“Your idea of justice is not the same as mine.”
“How about you sink the Collective Farming in the sea afterwards and make it look like a malfunction? If you detonate the reactor while you’re at it, it won’t be possible for us to continue analyzing it. You can make an offering of your Object.”
Putana’s eyelids twitched a bit.
It was clear the old lady had found a weak point.
“Fine then. The word ‘offering’ has a nice ring to it. I need to offer it up to heaven myself.”
“We’re in your debt.”
A moment later, a heavy impact shook the entire hangar.
In fact, it might have shaken the entire aircraft carrier.
Millia stared toward one of the waterproof doors.
“That was close by!!”
“Go, boy! The Collective Farming’s help and the analysis of those spears are both necessary for our survival. Get that Elite in her Object before she’s killed!!”
They heard another explosion.
The entire floor tilted like a slide. Heivia and Millia immediately grabbed on the sides of containers held down with wires, but Quenser and Putana were too slow. They could only slide down with the tilt and were quickly carried seventy meters away.
There was no way to regroup due to the tilt, so Millia shouted down at them.
“Getting shot while waiting around would be too boring, so we’ll meet up in the ocean!!”
Quenser yelled back, grabbed Putana’s hand, and made his way to the nearest steel door.
All of the corridors were in an awful state. The entire ship must have bent because the walls and ceiling were split. White steam and bluish-white sparks were falling down like a weeping cherry tree. Fortunately, there was no noisy gunfire or explosions.
“What route do we take!?”
“We need to climb to the deck up top. The Object is held between two aircraft carriers with countless wires, so it would be fastest to get there that way.”
They ran up some narrow metal stairs.
Once they reached the flat flight deck, they found several impromptu research rooms that looked like armored metal containers. They would probably get in the way of jets taking off or landing, but analyzing the Object was more important than normal weaponry.
Quenser used the tablet the old lady had given him to check on the numbers and roles of the different research rooms. He entered one that was filled with computers and cables, but he ignored all that and grabbed a mannequin in one corner.
“Putana, this is your special suit, right? You can change into it later, but you’ll definitely need it.”
“Currently, I have close to zero chance of defeating this enemy. I can buy some time, but do not expect too much.”
“I understand that. We’ll do something in the ocean before you’re sunk.”
As soon as they left the container research room, they heard a great roar.
The door of the elevator that carried fighters down below shot up like a manhole during a sudden downpour.
A scorched metal arm grew from the door.
A monster was crawling up from the hangar below.
“A powered suit!?”
Quenser frantically pushed Putana’s slender form.
That was all he managed.
A multiple-launch rocket launcher blew away the container research room.
Putana Highball fell onto her butt.
The black smoke and dust obscured her vision. The disastrous scene was only revealed once the sea breeze blew the smokescreen away.
The container research room was taller than she was, but it had been blown to pieces and the walls and ceiling were scattered everywhere.
Quenser Barbotage had pushed her out of the way and he was lying face-down on the ground. Metal wreckage covered him from the waist down.
“Dammit. Hurry up and go, Putana.”
There must have been firearms in the research room because they were lying all over the ground. He was trying to reach a shotgun that would be relatively easy for an amateur to use, but he could not reach it. That proved that he was pinned either at the legs or the waist.
Putana quickly grabbed at the container wall, but a human’s strength was not enough to move it. It did not even budge a few millimeters, so it felt like it was welded directly to the deck.
“It’s no use, Putana, so hurry to the Object! The powered suit is still moving!!”
“You can’t defeat that with a shotgun!”
“I can destroy its camera lenses or sensor heads!!”
“You can’t even shoot a 9mm handgun!”
The powered suit produced a rough metallic sound. It must have carelessly fired all of its rockets, so it was selecting another weapon.
“You weren’t this kind of person. You weren’t like those powered suits that don’t care if they die as long as they can help someone save the world!”
“I know that. I know I’m just trying to look good.”
He breathed heavily and stretched his hand even further out.
His fully extended hand touched the shotgun’s grip.
“But I can’t help but wonder. If we fail here and you can’t get to the Collective Farming, what will happen to the Princess who’s still fighting? What will happen to everyone else who’s counting on her to win!? So please, Putana! Please!! Get in that Object to go save the Princess!!”
This time, Quenser’s hand got a solid grip on the shotgun.
He aimed not toward the powered suit but toward the brown girl.
Putana shook her head.
Still, she took a few steps back.
She moved toward the Object.
Quenser said the same thing the old maintenance lady had.
But what he meant was probably a little different. He said more afterwards.
“I was ecstatic. At the time, I laughed and thought that was the best possible method. We didn’t have to fight a war, the Princess didn’t have to head out to battle, the enemy Elite didn’t have to die, and we could still win. It seemed like a dream come true and I was so happy. But I was wrong.”
“It may have changed form, but war is still war. I set up a cheap surprise attack and stole your life from you. I finally understand that. So I’m sorry, Putana.”
A metallic sound burst out.
The powered suit’s palm had changed form and a harpoon-like tip jutted out.
It was probably a speargun but with enough power to tear through a steel wall.
Quenser held the shotgun’s stock to his shoulder despite not really knowing how to hold it and he gave a shout to numb his fear.
That finally gave the girl the push she needed.
She grabbed the tablet that had fallen nearby.
She turned her back on the boy whose legs were pinned and she ran as fast as she could. The sounds of the powered suit continued, but the speargun did not skewer her back. Instead of a laser pointer, the shotgun had a circular guide light and Quenser relied on it to fire just before the speargun did. The scatter shot hit the arm and body to shift its aim just enough.
But it was obvious what the powered suit would do after that interference.
It would temporarily take on a new target.
Putana did not turn around despite the repeated gunfire she heard.
She made her way to the Object held between the two small aircraft carriers by wires. The wires both held the Object in place and allowed the maintenance soldiers to move around. They would walk on one while another two acted as railings. She followed that upside-down triangle layout toward the spherical body.
Two people had said that to her here.
And of all people, they were soldiers of an enemy nation.
Her parents, teacher, instructor, and priest had all insisted piloting the Object was the right thing to do, so she had not even questioned it when they trampled on the dream she had drawn in crayon while little.
What had she truly wanted to protect?
What path had she truly wanted to take?
She had gotten unusually angry at the talent trafficking in Lost Angels’s northern mountains. She had seen herself in that, but wasn’t that because she was not entirely satisfied with her upbringing?
When the Sarasvati had been taken, she had felt like she had lost a part of herself, but had that really been pure anger? The Sarasvati had trampled on her true dream, so hadn’t her hatred of the Legitimacy Kingdom come from her fear of no longer being able to justify the fact that she had thrown away her dream?
The identity within her was stripped away, bit by bit.
Or perhaps the safety device the Legitimacy Kingdom had installed to effectively control her and her unique power was beginning to break.
She reached the back of the spherical body. When she brought the tablet close, a wireless signal opened barriers one through seventy, exposing a straight slide-like tunnel. She ran inside. What awaited her at the very end was the cockpit of the colossal weapon that she had relied on and that had relied on her.
All of the monitors were dead and none of the lights were on.
The only light source was the tablet and it linked with the Pilot Elite voice recognition system.
So she spoke.
Quenser Barbotage and the old maintenance lady whose name she did not know had said something to her that no one else had during her life.
She thought of them as trustworthy comrades a she spoke.
“I’m back, Sarasvati. It’s time for war.”
All of the monitors immediately came to life.
She stripped off the short dress she had worn from Lost Angels and she donned the special suit of a Pilot Elite. She attached the many belts and they tightened to hold her in midair. Ten or more endoscope-like sensors extended to observe various parts of her body.
She became a weapon.
She combined with a colossal weapon that had the destructive power of a god.
With his leg caught in the rubble, Quenser held the shotgun as he had seen others do. The only reason the shots hit was the excellent automated assistance including the circular guide light.
But that was not enough to destroy the approaching powered suit.
Each time he fired, the pain shooting through his shoulder felt like a bicycle was running over it. Also, the noise stabbing into his ears made him feel dizzy. The powered suit grew unsteady every time it was shot, but it did not stop walking. Eventually, a shallow cut appeared on Quenser’s cheek. The enemy had not fired. One of his shots had ricocheted back.
And even that did not last long.
An odd sound came from the shotgun. No matter how often he pulled the trigger, it would not fire. He was out of ammunition. When he realized that, the powered suit was already looking down on him.
Neither of them said anything.
He did not have time to feel any obvious fear.
The powered suit simply lifted its leg as if to crush an empty can.
A moment later, a great force from the side swept the powered suit away like a toy.
The suit had to be heavy enough to hold its ground if a small car hit it, but it was not some bizarre super weapon that sent it flying for over five meters.
It was a snapped wire.
The countless wires supporting the Object began snapping once the monster started moving. They shot outwards like a stretched rubber band cut by scissors and one of them had flown across the deck.
The powered suit still tried to get up.
Yet if it had played dead, it might have been overlooked.
A dark shadow covered the entire flight deck that was easily large enough for a basketball game. It was like a giant peering into a miniature garden. But this giant had a huge cultivator attached. It looked like a street cleaner with the rotating brush exchanged for dull metal blades.
The two arms supporting the rotating blades lowered them from the steel sky.
A tremendous sound followed.
With the sound of crunching metal, the aircraft carrier’s flight deck was pried open like a can. A deluge of orange sparks flew out. The destruction was so great it was impossible to tell what had happened to the powered suit in the middle.
The entire aircraft carrier tilted.
Quenser reached toward the flight deck so he would not slide down. That was when he realized he had been freed. The wreckage of a metal wall pinning him down had been knocked off of him and into the ocean when the aircraft carrier tilted.
“Teacher, I have no intention of taking responsibility for your life.”
When he held his aching ankle and looked up, her voice came from the Collective Farming’s speakers.
“If you want to survive, stand on your own two feet.”
Nothing more needed to be said.
Quenser used his own two feet to jump from the edge of the flight deck and into the ocean. He then swam to the small submersibles attached to the hull by ropes. Meanwhile, the Collective Farming left the two aircraft carriers and crossed the great ocean to support the Baby Magnum.
Work to defeat the Oriental Magic was in progress both above and below the water’s surface.
Quenser joined Heivia, Millia, and the others in the ocean.
Millia spoke over the radio while taking the lead.
“The closest of the ‘spears’ are about five kilometers away, but the problem is the depth. We’ve been staying at around ten meters, but we’ll have to cut that distance in half to investigate them.”
“Are you serious? Can’t cellphone signals kill sperm? I think I heard someone say not to keep them in your pants pocket for that reason.”
“Worst case, this will boil your balls white,” said Quenser in annoyance. “Millia, how about we attach a rope or wire to it and drag it into the water? That way, we can investigate the exposed portion without going up to the surface.”
“You saw how big those ‘floats’ are, didn’t you? Are we really strong enough to pull them down?”
“We just have to destroy whatever it’s using for buoyancy. If it has a layer of air, we can open a hole and let water in.”
“Then we would need wires to keep it from sinking.”
As they discussed the issue, they arrived at their destination.
They could see the sharp spears sticking down from the ocean surface like icicles or stalactites.
“The edge of the asparagus field has already spread within five kilometers of the fleet. If the Object itself rushes in, the ten kilometer line of death won’t be far off.”
“Then let’s get started. We need to attach the wire with rubber adhesive. We’ll play rock-paper-scissors to see who gets to do it.”
When Millia immediately lost despite having suggested the idea, she quickly began pulling rank. Unable to disobey his commander’s selfish orders, Private First Class Heivia was stuck with the job as the lowest ranking person there.
“Wait! What about the student over here!?”
“I’m a guest, of course. Now get going, errand boy.”
Quenser was heartless when dealing with anyone who was not a beautiful girl. That was a universal law.
One of the intelligence agents had managed to grab a tool kit during the commotion, so they had an electric drill to work with.
As Heivia nervously attached the wire, he received a ridiculous demand from below.
“Heivia, when you’re done, drill some holes in the side. If it’s like a fishing bobber, the top half is a balloon and the bottom half is a weight!”
“D-don’t be ridiculous!! If I go up to the surface, I’ll be throwing myself into a human microwave oven!!”
“Quenser. I know it’s reckless, but how about you attach the ‘spear’ to your submersible and dive straight down? If we can bring the thing down by even a few meters, Heivia can work more safely in the ocean.”
“Oh, that’s just great!! All of a sudden, it’s set in stone that I have to do all the work up here!!”
The burden was enough to cause a disconcerting rumbling in the submersible, but the buoyant spear was forced down into the water. Heivia used that short time to drill several holes on the upper half of the side.
“Oh, yeah. And you could electrocute yourself if you sever any of the cables inside, so be careful.”
“Bfh!! Tell me that before I’ve done it all!!”
White air bubbles blew out, so they seemed to have successfully gotten the seawater to flow into the layer used to provide buoyancy.
After supporting the falling spear with the wire and the submersibles, they gathered around it to investigate the equipment.
“This is the top and this is the bottom. Now, listen. It might still be running, so don’t go anywhere near the top.”
“Huh? Why not?”
“It has a huge magnet powerful enough to bend an Object’s main cannon, so what do you think would happen if it activated here? It might tug on our belts and smash us all into one happy chunk of mincemeat.”
“Don’t strip, Heivia. That’s just pathetic. If I’m right – oh, and it looks like I am – this thing’s magnetism is set in a single direction. If you’re not in the direction of that trumpet opening, it won’t affect you.”
“How can you tell?” asked Millia.
Quenser pointed to the unit on the top.
“If this was a normal magnet, the submersibles would have been wiped out when we passed below the battlefield the first time. And while railguns and coilguns are one thing, you don’t find magnets powerful enough to bend a low-stability plasma cannon just anywhere. Most likely, this uses the same kind of cluster electromagnet used inside plasma cannons or to protect JPlevelMHD reactors.”
“That tech has its roots in the tokamak fusion reactors of an older age, right?”
“That trumpet opening might use the Meissner effect. That refers to the perfect diamagnetism created as a byproduct of superconductor technology. Simply put, this trumpet concentrates the magnetism in a single direction instead of letting it scatter in every direction. It’s a lot like a shaped charge.”
“Hm? But wait.”
Heivia moved below the spear that was lying on its side.
“You say it’s using a crazy powerful electromagnet, but how’s it running? If it was battery powered, it would need a pretty big one.”
“Its power source probably isn’t contained inside.”
“Are you saying it’s connected to the Object with an underwater cable?”
“I doubt it. Here’s your answer.”
Quenser pointed to another unit on the top of the spear.
It was shaped like a twenty centimeter decorative plate.
“It uses wireless power. Specifically, microwave power transmission.”
“Micro…ah!? You don’t mean…!?”
On the Indian Ocean, the Princess sat utterly confused inside the Baby Magnum’s cockpit.
Her usually reliable main cannons were of no use, she could find no solution to the artificial three-body problem, and now the supposedly captured Collective Farming was providing covering fire without sending out an identification code.
But even in that extreme situation, she did not forget her job.
To untangle the threads as much as possible, she stared at one of the countless opened windows.
A normal radar scan could not gather much information with the powerful microwaves filling the region, but she could still guess at the situation using the pieces of data she did receive.
She felt like a criminal standing in the city square for a public execution.
That was just how just many irritating gazes she seemed to feel concentrating on her.
And there was a reason she felt that.
(I had thought it was strange.)
Her enemy’s Gatling ejector had scattered spears across the region of sea. The plate-like devices attached to the side were slowly turning their heads.
They seemed to be focusing on a single point.
They accurately followed the Oriental Magic’s movements as if receiving something from it.
(It’s far too powerful for simple radar. I thought it was a cruel killer microwave weapon, but it isn’t. It’s actually…)
“Microwave power transmission. Are all of those ‘spears’ receiving power from the Object and transforming it into magnetism!?”
“That’s right, Heivia. Something was bothering me about that killer radar because it seemed unnecessarily over-the-top. I could understand it if we were in some complicated array of trenches or the deep rainforest, but do you really need something like that to kill people on the open ocean? Just tackling them with the two hundred thousand ton Object would do the trick. So it seemed natural to assume it had some other purpose, right? The radar and anti-personnel usage was just some chemical seasoning used to hide the true purpose.”
“And that purpose was wide-area microwave power transmission tech, huh?”
Millia spat out the words as she grabbed the edge of the plate-like part and found it moved around like a sunflower.
“Normally, there isn’t much point in sending out Object-class cannons and letting them borrow the reactor’s power. The shockwaves of firing a railgun or coilgun and the residual heat of firing a laser beam or low-stability plasma cannon would destroy the thing. On the other hand, if they add on enough armor to withstand that, the tank or bomber would be crushed by its own weight.”
“But that doesn’t matter with these. They’re only emitting highly directional magnetism, so there is no recoil or residual heat. And as an added bonus, it only uses technology originally used to protect reactors or cannons, so it fits in quite well.”
“Come to think of it,” cut in Heivia with another question. “These ‘spears’ are being randomly switched on and off to prevent analysis using the three-body problem, right? But would they be able to communicate properly through all these microwaves?”
“Heivia, what’s the only main cannon that can get through the pseudo three-body problem made with magnetism?”
“The laser beam… Oh, so that’s it.”
“Look, it has an infrared emitter. It probably uses that. Laser transmissions can be harder to use than electromagnetic waves, but there are ‘spears’ all over the place. I bet they have a spider web of a network set up.”
As he spoke, Quenser covered the infrared emitter’s lens with rubber adhesive.
That would prevent the electromagnet from suddenly activating and swallowing them up.
“We probably should have brought laser transmission equipment of our own. Then we could have coordinated with the Princess and Putana up top.”
“It’s almost impossible to use laser transmissions between the ocean and the surface. The surface bends it too much. Haven’t you ever done the experiment where you shine light diagonally into a water tank?” After explaining that, Quenser went over their conditions one by one. “A float, an electromagnet, wireless power transmission, and laser communications… The pieces are gradually coming into view. As long as we know what it needs, we can get rid of that to interfere with them. The real problem is the number of ‘spears’.”
“Do you have an idea?” asked Millia.
“Yes,” answered Quenser. “I’ll explain on the way. But this is just a theory, so could you leave some of the intelligence division to continue investigating this thing in case we hit a dead end?”
“Sure, that’s fine. But ‘on the way’? Where are we going?”
“The fleet. I need to prepare some things to take out all of the ‘spears’ at once. I’ll get what I need from the fleet.”
“Hey, Quenser, will you really find exactly what you need? We’re not talking about ammunition cases in a zombie game here.”
“Not to worry. We’ve already seen what we need.”
Quenser and the others left their fellow intelligence division members as they turned back toward the fleet.
However, the situation soon changed.
They saw the entire small aircraft carrier before rising to the water’s surface.
There was a simple reason: it was filling with water and beginning to sink.
“Dammit!! Were they not able to push them back!?”
Heivia frantically operated his radio and Frolaytia’s staticky voice reached them.
“Ksshhh. Due to the great damage, we abandoned the ship and…ksshh…moved to the neighboring one. The powered suits…kssshhh…happily stayed onboard to…ksshh…declare victory, so we blew them away…kssshhh…by setting alight the fuel pipes. Overall…ksshh…it wasn’t a problem, but more importantly…kssshhh…why have you turned back? Kssshhh… Is there something you…ksshh…need?”
As he approached the sinking aircraft carrier, Quenser grabbed some wooden boxes and metal drums floating in the ocean.
“Electric pumps, tubes several meters long, bags to hold air, and some electrified coating powder. …I should be able to manage with what’s here.”
After grabbing what they needed, Quenser and the others turned right back toward the battlefield.
Meanwhile, he explained the plan forming in his mind.
When Heivia and Millia heard it, they smiled quietly in the water.
“I see. Quite a unique idea.”
“Honestly, I’m not some detective. If you you’d told me right away, I wouldn’t have been so worried.”
After returning, the intelligence division soldiers took the equipment and scattered across the battlefield on Millia’s orders.
The remaining three could only wait until those soldiers arrived in position.
In the meantime…
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
Quenser did not recognize this voice and it was using a different bandwidth. It was not being transmitted by the Legitimacy Kingdom, but nor was it from the Oriental Magic on the water’s surface. The powerful microwaves for the killer radar…no, for the wireless power transmission kept almost any communications from reaching the ocean.
In that case, where else could it be from?
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
Quenser’s words brought a harsh look to Heivia and Millia’s eyes too.
This could be their best chance to locate the Nataraja, but they did not have the appropriate equipment and they could not coordinate with the fleet or the Objects.
Did this person know that or not?
In fact, were they calculating the risks at all?
“I don’t know who you are, but why are you getting in our way? We aren’t trying to conquer the world or destroy the existing civilization. Yes, we wanted to be reborn. We will stop our hearts with cold sleep and be born anew when the breath of life returns to us. This planet will be the same. We will redo it all with the Nataraja. That is all.”
“And how much have you wasted for that selfish desire? How far have you moved the hands of the World Clock? There had to have been lives lost, too. That counts both the ones you eliminated because they were ‘in your way’ and the ones you’re using up on the surface. …You’re free to hope for some other place to live, but we’re going to make sure you make up for the damage you’ve done.”
“Hey, how long do you think this world will last?” asked the mocking voice. “The answer is it won’t last. It’s already ending. It sounds strange, but it’s true. The World Clock? That thing had reached the end before we were even born. The world was done for from the moment the UN collapsed and the world map shattered like stained glass. Its heart has already stopped and the blood in its veins is only moving on inertia. That’s the age we live in. A long-term space flight? That was nothing but Capitalist Corporations propaganda. The most they could do was bluff by making a ship in the desert that would never fly. Not even the VIPs devouring this planet were able to escape into space, so no one at all will be saved. All that remains is to see how long it takes for the planet to remember. It’s already dead and it’s only hope is to be reborn. Do you understand now, boy?”
“The Faith Organization, the Legitimacy Kingdom, the Information Alliance, and the Capitalist Corporations may look like solid new categories, but they’re all frantically trying to cover up the contradictions and errors. For example, the Faith Organization contains every single religion. There’s no way that would work. They either refuse to accept any other or see themselves at the top. When you gather those religions together, it only brings conflict. That’s why they’re constantly hoping for a common enemy to bring them all in line. If they don’t find one, then they start an internal witch hunt that ends up burning each other at the stake. Lost Angels is just one obvious witches’ forest, a breeding ground to safely secure the easiest internal troubles. And to be clear, that’s just one example.”
“By our estimations, we’ll be lucky if the planet’s anesthesia lasts for another two hundred years. There’s no way it will last for three hundred. So there’s no point in thinking about world domination. Once people lose all of their fuel and resources, they can’t even wage war. Even Object maintenance relies on existing energy sources. All the desperately gathered water and food will start rotting on the edges and the explosive growth of saprophytic bacteria will reach the clothing, homes, forests, and mountains. Entire cities, countries, and continents will rot. And after the one type of saprophytic bacteria covers the world, it will be easily wiped out by a single cause. But this ending is one you all created yourselves. We have only shown you the future that awaits you. …That’s all we’ve done, so why are you so persistent? You were the ones that created this destruction.”
“You’ll only be left with dried-out trash heaps that will never rot, but the rain and mist will turn them into a sticky world of sludge. That will prevent animals, plants, and even germs from reproducing. The ground will quickly decay with the sun blotted out and the supply of rain and air cut off. Of course, it’s possible the sludge will become a new type of fuel if it’s dried out, but that would be interesting, too. After all, the cities, countries, and continents would be covered in piles of solid fuel. Even a tiny spark from friction or static electricity would set a continent ablaze. Forest fires spread at about fifty kph, but this would be much faster. It would devour the people like an underground pack of beasts.”
The world had no chance left.
The current age saw war as normal.
The population had grown without control, no one seriously tried to conserve no matter what they claimed, they greedily consumed the food supplies, they erased forests for their own luxury, they were about to tap out the resources, they were ignoring all non-war technological development, and they were losing themselves in the fighting while looking away from all else. Winning or losing would not save anyone, but the soldiers were still obsessed with victory as if only to get the right brain chemicals pumping and the civilians mocked others for not thinking for themselves while they themselves blindly accepted the information they were given.
The planet was overflowing with those things.
This was the age after the World Clock’s hands had reached the end.
So they would reset it all.
They would turn back the hands of the clock.
They were not doing anything as savage as carrying out a mass slaughter. This was more than just stealing fuel and resources so the rest of the world would dry up. Unusably massive amounts of solid fuel would cover the world and the fires on the earth’s surface would chase the fleeing people to the edges of the continents. They would not be killed because there was not a drop left. They would be killed because they drowned in it all. It was a frightening reversal.
And after considering what that meant and weighing it against the current age, Quenser Barbotage gave his answer.
“Give it a rest, you brat. Your delusions don’t matter.”
He heard someone gasp on the other end of the radio.
But not at the fact that Quenser had spoken.
Yes, Quenser had seen through this unseen individual and determined they were a “brat”.
And he continued.
“Are you in middle school? No, you’re even younger. You talk with an air of importance and you might have a machine altering your voice, but you’re actually around ten I bet. That was obvious enough after I heard this great plan of yours. If a brat like you is the leader, were all the adult geniuses considered expendable?”
“You want to go somewhere else? Who is it that says they want that? Who is it that says the world is filthy and the adults are ugly, yet tries to run off without working to resolve all that in your own generation? With cold sleep, an artificial planet, and escaping the earth, your actual methods are on a huge scale, but it all comes down to the childish reasoning that wants to abandon all responsibility. You think we’ll all die off without you having to do anything, but that just means you think someone will eventually make your dream come true. …Don’t look down on this world, you brat. Thinking you can get away with anything because you’re a kid is just more childish logic.”
Quenser spat the words out.
“Listen. It only looks like kids get away with what they do because, unbeknownst to you, someone else is covering for you. It’ll be your parents, your teachers, or one of the other adults you hate so much. So you can’t use your special privileges forever. Once the adults can’t cover for you anymore, it’ll all come crashing down on you. …To sum it up, you’ve gone too far and now it’s time to pay the piper.”
The voice grew lower than before.
What would these oozing, sticky words have sounded like without the alteration?
“They were covering for us? Them!? Don’t joke!! You have no idea what kind of environment we came from!!”
“You saw Lost Angels, didn’t you? But that’s only the model room version of a criminal city created for Faith Organization propaganda. They faked it as a convenient example of what happens when people lose their faith. The real thing is nothing like that. You haven’t even seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to real malice!!”
“What does that matter?”
It was true that just hearing about talent trafficking made it impossible to imagine the kind of ugly benefits and smirking adults that had surrounded the geniuses that went to the Nataraja. And that was probably only one small portion of it.
“From the moment you thought you could unconditionally trample on other people’s convenience for your own convenience and not let them complain, you proved you’re just some brat. If you were just swinging a stick around, someone would have taken the blame for you, but once you’ve gone this far, no one’s going to cover for you. You brought this all on yourself.”
“Like I said…”
Something caused an odd sound on the other end of the radio transmission.
“Nothing that convenient actually exists in this world!!!”
“It’s the very fact that you can’t see it that makes you a hopeless brat.”
Going somewhere else.
Finding a world with no ugly adults where they were the oldest.
“You can cry, but I won’t forgive you,” said Quenser indifferently. “There aren’t any chances left in your life.”
They had predicted that the Nataraja project was split between the cold sleep group that actually boarded the artificial planet and waited for the next earth and the surface group that would fight to keep the artificial planet hidden.
The surface group was willing to die and they were likely motivated by guilt.
They had seen the children’s dream and it was so bright that those adults cursed how small they themselves were.
That probably explained it all.
It went beyond the ugly leaders that the young geniuses considered their enemy. They saw everyone but themselves as ugly and had no problem eliminating them. That included the adult geniuses who had grown up under the same circumstances. They kicked them down, laughed, and said it was their just deserts. This was a war brought about by those childish dictators.
Quenser reached a new understanding of the situation.
From the middle of the battlefield, he mercilessly presented the truth to the mastermind who claimed he could keep things clean because he had not dirtied his hands.
“I will destroy it all. If you want to dream of the stars, then curl up with your pillow, cold sleeper.”
A muffled popping rang out.
It may have been an earsplitting explosion above the water, but not to Quenser and the others under the water.
“Acting tough to that brat is great and all, but is there really anything we can do!?”
“Didn’t I explain it to you already?”
Quenser let go of what he held.
It was a plastic bag full of air.
Millia operated a battery-powered electric pump. The tube attached to it extended out from the ocean’s surface like a snorkel.
One after another, round inflated bags rose toward the surface like helium balloons.
As soon as they were exposed to the air, the powerful microwaves roasted them and caused them to burst.
The intelligence division members would be doing the same thing elsewhere.
“My men say they’ve distributed the proper amount!”
“Then let’s do the rest as planned!!”
Quenser controlled his small submersible. The wire attached to the back was connected with rubber adhesive to the spear floating near the surface.
Quenser, Heivia, and Millia moved in different directions.
They each pulled a spear around with a wire.
“Anything you do is a waste of time.”
The same unfamiliar voice came from the radio.
It belonged to the mastermind on the Nataraja.
“The Second Generation Kali on the surface will not die. Surely you’ve noticed the three-body problem by now. Combining that with optical refraction technology neutralizes the ballistic calculations of any main cannon. As long as the Kali continues disturbing this area, we can freely swim through the dark ocean!!”
“Did you want me to agree with you? This isn’t a customer service center, so I’m not about to say anything that would calm you down.”
“We won’t lose!!”
“The three-body problem isn’t as perfect a defense system as you claim it is.”
As soon as Quenser said that, he heard a tremendous explosion and something tore into the Oriental Magic’s spherical body.
“Quenser! I have a report from the ‘periscope’. The Princess’s low-stability plasma cannon got a clean hit on the Oriental Magic! Another two or three hits and it’ll sink!!”
“Did you hear that? What do you have to say now?”
“Impossible…! It doesn’t add up… No, we set up the three-body problem so it wouldn’t add up, so how did you find the answer!?”
“It’s called the restricted three-body problem.” Quenser laughed. “You can’t accurately calculate the influence of three or more astronomical bodies pulling on each other. That’s the three-body problem. But that’s not true under certain exceptional conditions. For example, if three bodies with identical pull are arranged at the vertices of an equilateral triangle or if they’re all lined up. That’s the restricted three-body problem. You don’t need a huge supercomputer for that. A simple formula gives you the answer and the very first shell will hit.”
“That isn’t the issue. Are you saying you kept waiting until the conditions just so happened to fit the restricted three-body problem?”
“No. We could always connect submersibles to the ‘spears’ with wires and drag them around. By putting each one in the proper position for an equilateral triangle or a line, it raises the odds a bit.”
“No, not that!! Which ‘spears’ were turned on and off was determined randomly. Just because you positioned some of the ‘spears’ in an equilateral triangle or a line doesn’t mean those three will actually be used.”
“Of course,” Quenser readily admitted. But he was not done. “But the random number generation of whack-a-mole is way easier to analyze than the three-body problem. We only had to give each ‘spear’ a number and send their positions to the Princess and Putana up above. We bet it all on the genius brains of those Pilot Elites.”
“You communicated with them? But the wireless power microwaves would have kept you from…”
The voice trailed off and seemed to realize something.
“Oh, those popping sounds. You sent something to the surface, didn’t you!? Did you create a simple signal of zeroes and ones using the presence or absence of that popping!?”
The student did not answer the question.
He said something else instead.
“As long as the Oriental Magic is stopped, the ability to search the Indian Ocean returns to normal. We’ll know the second something ten thousand meters long starts moving. Checkmate, brat.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure.” The mastermind slowly breathed out. “Even if you have eliminated the three-body problem defense, you haven’t actually sunk the Oriental Magic. This isn’t over yet.”
“It’s two against one.”
“But one of them is worn out after continually evading for so long. We only have to target that one.”
“Does the Princess look that weak to you?”
“No,” said the mastermind. “But the thoughtless and naïve try to protect their allies. That’s why the newcomer will die first.”
A massive pillar of air bubbles appeared far in the distance. It looked like a white cascade, but it came from something over fifty meters tall sinking further and further down.
Underwater, nothing should have been visible beyond a few hundred meters, but Quenser still clearly saw the monstrous weapon sinking into the sea. That was just how big it was.
This was not the Princess.
In addition to the strategic weapons, it included a distinctive road roller and cultivator.
There was nothing he could do.
He could not reach her by stretching out his hand. And even if he could, his arms could not support something that weighed two hundred thousand tons.
He could only watch as the mass of metal sank into the dark, dark depths of the ocean with the brown girl closed inside.
“Ha ha ha ha ha!! Seems like it worked. And now it’s one against one, so it isn’t so easy to say who will win! And let’s not forget that your Elite is exhausted!”
He had known that this could be the result whenever someone stood on the battlefield or an Object was sent out.
“I’ll kill you, you brat!!!!”
“How!? You can’t rely on your precious Objects. Or are you going to head out into the vortex of microwaves to face the Kali yourself?”
“That’s not what I meant.”
Quenser clenched his teeth and spat the words out like mud.
“Everything is set up now, you brat.”
Someone else spoke as soon as the mastermind trailed off.
“Quenser, I have a report from the ‘periscope’! The dust collector effect is working and it’s covering the surface of the ‘spears’!!”
“This is Millia. I’m hearing the same thing. It seems to be altering the direction of the microwaves being scattered everywhere. The plan was a success.”
Someone cut in.
It was the Nataraja’s mastermind.
“What…? What did you do now?”
“We made a dust collector,” said Quenser. “That’s the technology that removes dust from air ducts or blows powder coating onto metal panels. It mostly uses static electricity and electrified particles, but have you figured out what this means yet?”
“You don’t mean…”
“The aircraft carrier had tons of electrified powder coating for fire resistance. It’s probably made by breaking down the materials for blast furnace walls, but that was all we needed.”
“You mean what you sent to the surface wasn’t just a primitive signal to the Objects? It also scattered that powder coating across the ocean!?”
“The dust collector effect sent the floating powder coating to the ‘spears’. More accurately, it covered the disk-shaped antennae for receiving power.”
The scorching answer session continued.
“Those antennae were meant to collect the microwaves and convert them into power, but they were transformed into electromagnetic mirrors that reflect the microwaves. And funnily enough, the antennae were made to change direction like a sunflower to more efficiently collect the microwaves. …Simply put, they’re all set to constantly follow the Oriental Magic.”
“Oh, no! That’s what you did!?”
The mastermind seemed to have realized something, but it was too late.
For one thing, the Nataraja was at the bottom of the ocean and would have no way of directly contacting the Oriental Magic on the surface. That was all thanks to those microwaves.
And that meant nothing he could do would make it in time.
“Hey, what do you think will happen if the full power of the microwaves that Object is emitting is concentrated on a single point? Those electromagnetic waves are powerful enough to negatively affect life at thirty kilometers and to cause a slaughter at ten kilometers. Wouldn’t that energy far exceed your average main cannon?”
A brilliant flash of light surged out.
Visible light was a portion of electromagnetic waves, but focusing microwaves would never give them a visible wavelength.
That light came from the Oriental Magic melting as it turned red and scattered sparks due to its own massive microwaves.
That light signaled the destruction of the ultra thick armor that could withstand a nuclear blast.
An enormous mass plunged into the ocean in the distance. It had lost its original form and become a fluid, but it still sank into the deep, deep depths just as Putana had.
At the same time, the communications grew clearer.
The Princess’s voice arrived from the Baby Magnum which was the only Object remaining on the surface.
“It’s over. I’d like you to explain later what exactly happened, though.”
“Sure thing. We can talk till morning in your room.”
Even as he made his carefree comment, Quenser glared deep into the ocean.
The naked eye could not see into that deep darkness, but he spat some words into those depths.
“Now there’s no one left to protect you.”
“So there’s no one left to protect your dream. The next time you open your eyes, you won’t be in the paradise you’d imagined. You’ll wake up to just another morning in a world beyond the end of the World Clock where common evils and unfairness run rampant.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this! It wasn’t supposed to be like this!!”
“Get the Nataraja moving right now! The Indian Ocean is too dangerous! We need to get out of here!!”
“With the Kali destroyed, we can’t keep the ocean electromagnetically locked down. If something this big moves through the water, it will be detected immediately. We can only stay put.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this!! O-oh, I know. If all we can do is wait and the Nataraja is done for, we need to escape as soon as-…!!”
“Do you really think we can? Now that the preparations for cold sleep have begun, we can’t leave until the process is complete. Ending it midway will cause your body’s cells to rupture.”
“That just means we have to buy some time. If we contact some adults who we can let know about the Nataraja and invite them along with us, we can get the soldiers fighting with each other and use the confusion to retreat to some other part of the ocean. So there’s nothing to worry about. We only have to abandon the adults in the very end. Only we’re allowed on the Nataraja. Only us.”
Ksssssssssshhhhhhhhhh! Kssshhh!! Ksssshhhh!!
“It wasn’t in the software. It was hardware trouble. There’s a large burden on…you’re kidding…”
“What is it!? It wasn’t supposed to…”
“An incredible mass is bearing down on the Nataraja! Its estimated weight is two hundred thousand tons!! Could this be…!?”
“I finally arrived. You can’t pull off a vanishing act with an entire Object on top of you, can you? Just because you’re ten kilometers long doesn’t mean you can take a hit from a two hundred thousand ton meteor without issue. Having the force concentrated on a single high heel is painful, isn’t it?”
“Who…are you!? Did you use a powerful enough signal to break through the cosmic ray shielding and access the internal radio network from outside!?”
“Outside!? That couldn’t be. How powerful do you think the water pressure is out there!?”
“I’m in the Object you sunk. Is calling it the Sarasvati enough for you to understand? Ahh, it feels so great being able to say what I want without being so formal all the time. The military is exhausting.”
“After you were sunk…you fell all the way down here!?”
“Maybe it’s because I’m an Elite, but I don’t like being stuck on the receiving end of everything.”
“So I’ll do what I know you least want me to do.”
“What is this!? There’s a powerful laser beam directed toward the surface!!”
“Now the Legitimacy Kingdom knows where you are. And as long as I’m holding you down, you can’t run off anywhere.”
“I-it wasn’t supposed to…”
“Let’s both wait as long as it takes. Let’s wait for the people who are sure to come save us even in this extreme water pressure.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be like thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiissssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss!!”