HEAVY OBJECT:Volume 17
- 1 Novel Illustrations
- 2 Prologue
- 3 Chapter 1: Santa Claus in an Icy Hell >> Arctic Passage Rescue Operation
- 4 Chapter 2: Between the Year’s End and the Year’s Beginning >> Uyuni District Salt Flat Suppression Operation
- 5 Chapter 3: In Search of the New Year >> Mont Blanc Borderline Mopping Up Operation
- 6 Epilogue
- 7 Afterword
Dear army men.
Army men know everything, so I have a question.
Is Santa Claus real?
John from my neighborhood says no. He says Santa would be caught by something called radar if he flew in the sky. John is smart and his dad is an army man, so maybe that is true.
Claudia from the same institution says yes. But she says Santa is only one person and he is very busy this time of year, so she cried and said he won’t visit a poor institution like ours.
I want to know if Santa Claus is real.
I wish I could set up a camera, but I don’t have the money.
Do you army men know Santa?
Have you seen him on that thing called radar?
If you have a chance to speak with him, can you tell him he can skip me but to give Claudia a present so she won’t cry?
Chapter 1: Santa Claus in an Icy Hell >> Arctic Passage Rescue Operation
One of the Legitimacy Kingdom’s most well-known safe countries was the South Britain District.
The wintry Thames snaked through the central city of London, transport helicopters flew across that river, and 8-wheeled armored vehicles cautiously and slowly drove along the roads.
This was an unusual level of alert for a safe country, but the couples on the sidewalks only laughed together and occasionally aimed their phone cameras at the soldiers.
“Are we seriously on a mission to shoot down Santa?”
“Our busty commander must be so overworked she’s finally lost her marbles.”
While large snowflakes fell on the old city that night, Quenser and Heivia spoke with visible breaths after stepping out of one of the 8-wheeled armored vehicles that were equipped with 120mm guns.
“Why in the world are we using maneuver combat vehicles? The roads are way too small for these.”
“They want to do some PR with them after spending so much tax money on them. It’s all about how things will look on TV. And the stuff on the top looks really cool. It’s like a tank.”
Heivia was trying to complain, but that gadget nerd was not cooperating.
“They have a propeller on the back, right? The vehicle itself is airtight, so they can use the air inside to float along in the water. You think they plan to cross the half-frozen Thames with them?”
“To put it as nicely as I can manage, what possible reason could they have to do that?”
“Wow, Heivia. You’re how old and you still think the military has a good reason for anything it does? It’s nothing more than ‘the other guys have these, so we need them too’. Humanity has been wasting everyone’s tax money for more than 2000 years based on that logic.”
They were terribly jealous of the couples in puffy sweaters and coats. When they were stuck on a night mission so cold their breaths stabbed whitely out in front of them, nothing killed their motivation quite like seeing those men and woman huddling together and sharing some steaming fries or roast chicken.
“Let’s hurry up and shoot down that Santa SOB so we can get out of here.”
“What a joke. This is really just a 2-hour escape artist special, isn’t it?”
Whether or not Santa Claus existed was irrelevant.
They only had to “create” their own Santa.
Just like a meteorological weapon gave a 100% chance of a white Christmas regardless of where the cold wave or cold front was.
Basically, they just needed some official news reports saying they had shot down Santa Claus and arrested him in the public square. With the live TV broadcasts and global internet streaming, they hoped to have as many witnesses as possible so Santa’s existence was accepted as public information.
No matter how silly it sounded, official records had a certain power.
For example, shoelaces coming untied was an ordinary phenomenon that could be explained with the laws of physics and did not require an occult explanation, but it was shocking to discover how long it actually took to prove it.
Heivia walked alongside the line of armored vehicles and trucks while armed with his usual assault rifle and a multipurpose shoulder-fired missile.
Their job was simple. First, a neatly aligned array of drones would fly by in the night sky above the city. Their lights would shine like a row of car taillights to give the appearance of reindeer and a sleigh and then the soldiers in the city would fire surface-to-air missiles at a specific point in the sky. Then they only had to capture the scorched Santa Claus waiting for them at the “crash site” set up in a park.
The bored mass media would jump at anything that would give them numbers.
And if they did not have to pay the production costs, all the better.
So if the TV cameras captured the instant of the arrest, the reporters would have gotten the exact scoop the military wanted. Muscular soldiers were not going to be combing the Scandinavian wilderness with bug-catching nets in search of Santa Claus, but this year’s Christmas would be full of smiles regardless.
Technology had come a long way.
Mysterious lights zigzagging through the night sky were easily create with drones on sale for the Christmas price of only 99.99 euros. That meant you could create UFOs or Santa’s sleigh. Unless someone had gone to the trouble of setting up a telescope on this snowy night with clouds covering the sky, no one would be able to tell what they really were at a glance.
However, there was a problem.
“Drones aren’t as convenient as they let on. They crash pretty easily due to poor maintenance or an unexpected gust of wind and I’ve been hearing more and more news stories about them losing control due to jamming signals or IR. You can blame the online stores for that one. People can bring down those unmanned toys to get as many retail items as they like and the people who ordered the items can make up for the loss with insurance, so it’s win-win. Of course people are going to start developing interference tech.”
“Isn’t that why this job was left with us in the military instead of the police or volunteers?” whispered back Quenser while participating in what looked like part of an amusement park parade. “When you’re planning a surprise party, there’s always some asshole who will try to ruin it and laugh in your face, so we’re supposed to be on the lookout for anyone like that and suppress them as we go.”
The boy held a military mobile device that was different from a commercial smartphone or tablet.
“This is E1,” said someone over the device. “The sergeant’s group up ahead has entered the Thames.”
“So those damn armored vehicles have already gotten started, huh?”
“Despite carrying more than 20kg of equipment, they shouted at the top of their lungs before jumping into the frigid water,” they continued. “Are we supposed to follow those idiots in? What are our orders?”
“Wait, it wasn’t those amphibious vehicles!? How cold is the water right now!? That’ll legit kill you!!”
“I bet they wanted to show off because there was a group of cheerleaders nearby,” said Heivia.
There were a few different ways to intentionally jam or bring down a drone, but the aforementioned assholes were not espers and could not do it with the power of their minds. EM and IR signals might be invisible to the human eye, but not so to machinery. And once that signal was located, it could be killed.
“This is Monica, the battlefield idol reporter who can both sing and kill. Word is that the Legitimacy Kingdom military is about to begin an operation to shoot down Santa Claus, so several areas here in London have been blocked off to traffic.”
The TV stations would jump at anything that would bring in money and numbers, so they were facing the cameras and giving a serious report on this farce. In the studio, the self-proclaimed “experts” were having a heated debate over whether or not Santa was real, so the live broadcast kept switching between them and the local reporter.
“They’re all a bunch of actors,” groaned Heivia in annoyance.
“Of course they are. That’s how show business works. Also, that’s my childhood friend Monica. I want to stay as far away from her as I can manage, so let’s get to our position already.”
Quenser and the others were not just marching through London. They were in the process of deploying troops to different points around the city. Simply put, it was a lot like boarding a bus that circled the city and getting off at their designated stops.
“Look, Heivia, they’re selling commemorative gold Christmas coins.”
“I feel bad for the part-timers who have to stand on the street corner selling all of them by the end of the day. In a few days, they’ll be selling New Year coins instead.”
There were a lot of people who liked that kind of thing in the Legitimacy Kingdom. Although that would mostly be royals and nobles who dreamed of having their own face or full body engraved in gold.
Quenser and Heivia left the turret-equipped armored vehicles near Piccadilly Circus, a shopping street in Soho.
Jingling bells played from the speakers equipped all around them.
“Are you sure we should be using this song without permission? Isn’t this Oh Ho Ho’s Christmas song? Won’t she be mad?”
“Why are you sticking up for the rights of an enemy nation we’re at war with year-round???” Heivia looked up into the snowy night sky with his missile hanging from a sling belt. “Oh, I see it. That’s the ‘flying sleigh’, isn’t it?”
“Apparently we aren’t shooting it down right away. It has to fly around London once first as a sort of performance.”
A few dots of light were flying through the snowy night sky in perfect lines.
In reality, it was only 8 multicopter drones arranged in a 2x4 formation, but only the two rows of lights were visible from the ground.
“Strange zigzagging lights in the sky aren’t enough to surprise anyone these days, huh?”
“Yeah, even though the existence of drones doesn’t actually reject the possibility of alien spacecraft.”
The two idiots discussed the issue while leaving the line of small shop windows on the main road to instead slip into the back alley and climb a metal ladder.
“Ugh, it’s cold even with gloves.”
“Just get going, twig boy. Staring at your ass wasn’t how I wanted to spend my Christmas.”
The building was better described as stone than concrete.
Once on the roof of that stylish multi-tenant building, they kept low and walked across the snowy roof to reach their exact assigned position.
Heivia rested the long tube on his shoulder and looked through the sight on the side.
“So are we ready to go?”
“Don’t turn it on yet. I checked the manual and it only lasts three minutes.”
Shoulder-fired missiles were a lot like fire extinguishers. They were only meant for emergencies and they were meant to be single-use. They gave you some chance of victory, but they were not going to blow up any and all tanks and fighters. The big jobs still had to be left to the experts.
“God, it’s cold. Why do we have to freeze our asses off in the snow without anything to eat? Are there any Island Nation hot springs around here? Y’know, those ones that are supposed to be good for your health because they contain Immortanoid, so if you bathe in them daily, it’ll activate your cells and extend your life by 30%.”
“Immortanoid? Isn’t that stuff radioactive?”
“It’s a longevity mineral. It’s all the rage among the nobles, so it’s gotta be safe. That stuff will keep you alive forever. It’s started a health boom and become a target of investment, so I heard a gram of it is worth 200 times a gram of pure gold. If it’s that expensive, it’s gotta work, right?”
Quenser could hardly believe what he was hearing and he started to wonder if those so-called “experts” on TV would shove miniature nuclear reactors in their gut if it would healthily extend their lifespan.
Something cut by overhead while making a ton of noise.
This was not the drones disguised as a sleigh.
It was bigger and lower.
“The military sent out some damn tiltrotors?”
“They’re the cameramen.”
“Let’s just hope a crosswind doesn’t flip them right over,” complained Heivia while lowering the launcher tube and bringing his radio to his mouth. “B4 to HQ. We have arrived at our point. We will now wait for the countdown.”
“Roger that, B4. We have confirmed some laser interference from the Ferris wheel and parliament building. It is small scale for now, but it means there are enemies out there. Be on the lookout for unforeseen accidents.”
“What kind of asshole does that?” asked Quenser. “Are they like those idiots who run out onto the field during a soccer tournament with a smoke bomb in hand?”
He had been muttering below his breath, but the radio must have picked it up. The strict class rep type of female operator actually went to the trouble of answering his question.
“According to another team that arrested one of them, they are almost certainly a citizen’s group known as Realism. They truly believe that it is service to the world and to the education of children to let everyone see the world as it is. They are disliked by pretty much everyone because they pick fights with pretty much everyone, but they seem entirely oblivious to this fact.”
“They make their ideal sound nice and all, but aren’t they the same as some flasher opening his coat on the dark street at night? Plus, it sounds like they’ve appointed themselves as the arbiter of what is ‘real’ and what is not. If they’re so closeminded they’re going to seriously argue all the world’s textbooks need to tell everyone they can’t get off without stretching out their legs and fingering their asshole, I’m not about to let them join the Santa Claus debate.”
“Honestly… B4, righteous anger is fine and all, but do not let any children hear you saying things like that. Ksshh.”
Some noise was already running through the radio signal.
It was a small thing, but Quenser’s mobile device was displaying a silent warning.
“There’s someone here too. I’ve detected a garbage EM signal transmitted on all bands. It’s a jamming signal!”
“Let’s measure it from two points. Distance and direction!”
The jamming signal was ongoing.
The flying lines of light were not going to crash to the ground immediately, but there was not much time. The flying LEDs had to maintain their sleigh shape, so it was all over if the lines fell out of order.
And the suspect had to be somewhere in Piccadilly Circus at the center of Soho’s shopping street below. It was the Christmas season, so the area was full of couples and families. Plus, the suspect might not be out in the open. They could be in a parked car or inside a store.
“Let’s do this.”
Heivia tossed the shoulder-fired missile to the snow, pulled out his own mobile device, and moved to the very edge of the multi-tenant building’s rooftop. Quenser moved as far away as he could get and they used their two mobile devices to check their reception of the jamming signal from Point A and Point B.
“70m away at 10 o’clock.”
“I’ve got 80m at 7 o’clock. Let’s see who’s standing at the intersection point…him!”
A young man was messing with his phone below a fir tree strung up with lights.
At first glance, he looked like he could be waiting for his date to show up, but he had a large, waterproof paper bag at his feet. It did not make sense to already have a large bag before going shopping with his cute girlfriend. It was not wrapped and he made no attempt to hide it, so it did not seem like a present either.
“Could that be the device? Realism spotted,” said Quenser. “What do we do now? Climb down the ladder and sneak up to him???”
When Heivia responded by attaching a suppressor to the barrel of his assault rifle, the invention nerd did a double take.
“Are you serious?”
“We don’t have time to climb back down every single time some idiot shows up and we’re waiting for the countdown up here anyway. I want to stay put if at all possible.”
Heivia stepped far enough back from the edge of the roof to not be seen from the ground, readied his assault rifle, and quietly fired a single bullet.
However, he had not targeted the young man on the ground.
The bullet hit the decorated fir tree, causing a bunch of snow to fall from its branches. That alone weighed a few dozen kilograms, so it appeared to have crushed the young man.
The warning on their mobile devices vanished.
“B4, enemy suppression complete. If you have time, send a patrol to collect him. Since the weight of the snow broke the device, he might’ve broken a rib or two.”
“HQ to B4. Please do not say things like that where it might be recorded. Do not drag me into the trouble you caused. But well done all the same.”
Luckily, the lights in the night sky did not bump into each other and fall to the ground. The drone formation maintained its proper course and flew off to a different part of the city.
Quenser breathed a white sigh.
“I guess we just have to wait here until the reindeer and sleigh finish their circle.”
“Unless it gets shot down in the City or Lambeth and never makes it back here. …Still, modern drones sure are fast. They’re moving faster than the average motorcycle, aren’t they?”
Like with airplanes, distances and speeds were hard to judge at extreme distances. The eight lights appeared to be swimming through the snowy night sky, but they had actually already left Soho.
Waiting out in the snow without even some hot coffee to drink was a dreary task. Especially when the city below was full of couples. They had no choice but to kill some time with their mobile devices while covering them up to prevent the backlights from showing.
“Monica here. I’ve made my way to Trafalgar Square which is blocked off with yellow tape and with coils of barbed wire, so it looks especially threatening. It’s so scary! The square is full of command vehicles covered with more antennas than our broadcasting vans, so we suspect those are the on-site commanders for the Santa Claus operation.”
After quite a while, Quenser was dragged back to reality by the blinking light on the top-priority window that popped up to cover the screen.
“Oh, whoops. Heivia, hey, Heivia. It’s time. Ready the missile!”
“Shut up, can’t you see I’m super busy?”
It was unclear just what kind of video site the boy had accessed with that military equipment, but when Quenser heard loud moaning leaking from the headphones, he smacked his awful friend on the back of the head to drag him back from the fantasy world on the other side of that screen.
“Naughty boys get taken to a training camp from hell by the young women of the Special Training Unit.”
“Hey, don’t even joke about that!! I’ll do it, okay!?”
The military’s Special Training Unit was a friend of mothers everywhere. That warning was a surefire way to get your kids to go to bed on time, which showed just how feared that unit was. Nothing could have been a greater contrast to Santa Claus.
“Look, the countdown is about to end. Let’s shoot down Santa and get back to the maintenance base.”
“Dammit, I have to wait so long the snow piles up on my head and I only get to meet a bearded old man for my trouble? Can our next mission be to capture a dark elf running around in the forest?”
“Oh? You’re into cosplay, Heivia?”
Heivia rested the launch tube on his shoulder as he complained.
Quenser had nothing to do at this point.
The rows of drone lights doing a tour of London had returned here.
“HQ to all personnel. The countdown is at 20. On your mark.”
“Is the magic show all set up? If we screw this up, the TV shows and internet will never let us hear the end of it.”
Heivia scoffed while powering on the launch tube.
The armored trucks had increased the number of patrols, so there had not been any more interference.
The countdown continued toward zero over the radio.
“5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Merry Christmas!!”
The kind of multipurpose missile used to destroy tanks and attack helicopters flew from the tube Heivia had aimed toward the night sky. That said, the powerful blast of white smoke erupting from the back of the tube seemed to stand out more than the missile itself.
Heivia’s missile was not the only one.
More came from other rooftops, from the armored vehicles on the ground, and from the helicopters and tiltrotors flying in the sky. A total of more than 200 missiles flew from all over London like the city was a giant hedgehog and they all focused in on a single point of the night sky.
However, they did not actually have to reach that point.
Even if these were military weapons, they were still industrial products (and highly delicate ones at that), so there was always a risk of malfunction. If they fired that many real ones in the crowded city, one could fall to the ground without detonating and become unexploded ordnance. Thus, the warheads had been swapped out with harmless low-heat fireworks.
First, bright rings of red and green light expanded out.
The low rumbling shook the ground after a short delay like with thunder.
The snowy night sky was filled with a total of 200 colorful lights.
“Is that a wrap?”
They did not need to shoot down the eight drones.
Airplanes were only visible in the night sky because of their special beacon lights.
So if the drones shut off their lights at the end of the countdown, it would look like they had vanished from the night sky. The military only had to unblock the roads at the same time so the civilian TV and internet broadcasting crews could rush into Trafalgar Square. An old man in red would have been hiding below a white sheet until then, so he only had to act like he had just been shot down. And he would look somewhat scorched thanks to the harmless smoke set off on the ground. A real escape artist would make sure they were already gone by the time the countdown began.
“What the hell?” said Quenser while viewing his mobile device.
“What’s wrong?” asked Heivia. “Don’t tell me a drone or low-heat firework fell and hurt someone on this happy day.”
“No, it’s not that. It’s Santa Claus!!”
“What’s wrong with the bearded old dude?”
“That’s my point. It’s supposed to be some old guy with a white beard, right?”
“So why am I seeing a blonde woman in a red bikini spreading her legs for the cameras? What kind of crazy miscasting is this!? Did someone not get the memo that this whole operation started with a letter from a little kid!?”
The TV cameras captured the shocking truth!!
Santa Claus exists, but he is a busty blonde woman in a red bikini that is coming untied and a miniskirt that has slid out of place!!!!!!
“Um, due to a slight misunderstanding, we shamed ourselves in front of the entire world, so our 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion is being punished. Rejoice, because our schedule for the rest of the year is going to be jam packed while we are dragged all over the world. Just assume that you are not getting any New Year’s leave.”
Major Frolaytia Capistrano had the eyes of a dead fish.
Carelessly opening the door of sexuality within a pure boy was a very serious crime.
His dreams must not be destroyed, no matter how thankful he might be himself!!
Quenser and the others were riding on transport planes at the moment. They were moving from the South Britain District to the Legitimacy Kingdom’s northern occupied territory so they could ultimately reach a region beyond even the Object-less Northern Restricted Zone. Specifically, the Arctic.
“Frolaytia sure is in a bad mood today.”
“Can you blame her?”
The two idiots could not help but complain. While it looked like Dom Queen Frolaytia was sitting down to talk, there were no chairs in the transport plane’s cargo space. Their commander was instead resting her butt on the sexy Santa in question who was down on all fours.
“Ah, ahhh. A-all I did was take over last minute because the old man said his back was aching from the cold.”
She was a glasses woman with fluffy blonde hair who did not seem very strong-willed.
She looked college aged or a little older.
The fabric sticking out form her miniskirt was probably a swimsuit rather than underwear, but the roundness it contained was still impressive. The term “forbidden fruit” fit it perfectly. She was the kind of beautiful woman who unfortunately looked perfect with tears welling up in her eyes. Where had she been in the 37th all this time?
“Elise. Bear with it. And don’t forget your manners.” When her “chair” lost its balance and tilted below her, Frolaytia lightly slapped that ass with her empty hand. “We are being punished in the military fashion instead of the corporate one. That means we will begin our next battle under very unfavorable conditions, so prepare yourself for what I am about to tell you. First, I need to explain the situation in the Arctic.”
She shook her long, narrow kiseru as she spoke. That fact that she did not allow any of it to fall on Miss Elise Montana’s butt suggested that silver demon still had some kindness left in her heart.
“You have probably heard that the Arctic’s ice grows thinner by the year thanks to global warming. Unlike the past, icebreaker ships can forcibly break their way through, so it has become a hot area where all four world powers hope to extract oil and establish new sea routes.”
A large cargo ship used tens of thousands of euros’ worth of fuel in a day, so being able to take the shortest route meant a lot. Also, a new route would mean more freedom of movement for Objects as well.
Panama, the Hawaiian Islands, Gibraltar, and the Cape of Good Hope.
Just as wars had been fought around the world over cornerstones of transportation, the Arctic was starting to be seen as a worthwhile spot for controlling the current Age of Objects. Its importance meant it was a scene of intense fighting, and that meant more lost soldiers.
Quenser had trouble deciding whether he should be on his best behavior here or if he should intentionally irritate his commander as a way of indirectly punishing the miniskirt Santa, but for now…
“Who’s causing the trouble this time?”
“All four world powers really, but we are directly interested in the Legitimacy Kingdom and Information Alliance.” Frolaytia re-crossed her long legs atop her chair. “The problem is the intense cold wave that has caused temperatures to plummet across the entire Arctic in the past few days. The ice has grown nice and thick again, so both the Legitimacy Kingdom and the Information Alliance have all their ships trapped in the ice. Not even icebreakers are enough to escape. That means the rules of naval battles no longer apply. It looks like we need to follow the rules of land battles by walking across the thick ice to approach and blow up their stationary fortress artillery.”
Naval experts could only fight on the sea.
Even if they had received general all-around training, they could not do what actual marines and armies could do.
So were Quenser, Heivia, and the others being sent in as additional personnel?
“I will tell you everything you need to know this time.”
Frolaytia swung down her kiseru with a solid sound.
“Eek!?” screamed the fluffy blonde.
However, the busty silver-haired woman was a terribly kind person, so she had made sure to first place an ashtray on the butt of her glasses Santa seat.
“Eeeek!” The chair trembled. “H-huh? You keep building the tension and then nothing???”
“Doesn’t Elise look kind of happy as she trembles?”
Sharp-eyed Quenser’s observation went ignored.
“The direct conflict between the Legitimacy Kingdom and the Information Alliance comes down to the Julius Caesar, an aurora observation ship that was forcing its way through the ice near the North Pole.”
“Based on the name, I’m going to guess that ship is ours.”
“Basically, it is an Arctic cruise ship that has no interest at all in cruising the rest of the seven seas. Its ads ask if you would like to take the world’s shortest cruise around the globe. And since they do make a full circle of the Arctic, it’s technically true.”
Quenser did not care about the aurora, so he did not see the appeal. He was much more interested in seeing Santa’s boobs.
“It was officially disguised as a Christmas and New Year’s aurora observation tour, but the passenger list shows an unusual number of the Legitimacy Kingdom’s ultra-wealthy. Also, the ship was riding awfully low in the water for the number of crew and passengers, so they appear to be carrying something rather heavy. Now, if you depart from Scandinavia, cross the North Pole, and keep going, you will arrive at a small island in the Bering Sea which belongs to the same blank zone as Alaska. And as is so common in the blank zones left around the world after the collapse of the UN, a secret bank for depositing pure gold was secretly established there.”
If Quenser was being honest, he cared about that even less than the aurora.
The military had put together this rescue operation awfully quickly when these people really should have been punished for moving their secret gold to that bank. This reeked of collusion between the public and private sectors. And even if he revealed the criminality and the gold was recovered, none of it would end up in his pocket. It would all be confiscated by the government and treated as public property and that would be that.
“For some reason, it has been trapped in the Arctic Ocean." Frolaytia disinterestedly wiggled the foot of her crossed leg. “Even with the ice thinned out by global warming, breaking through requires a fair amount of power and they likely burned out their diesel engine by loading themselves down with too much gold. Thus began a war between the Legitimacy Kingdom who wants their money back and the Information Alliance that wants the information of that gold that they feel has fallen into their laps. Of course, both sides officially insist they are working to rescue the civilians who were trapped in an unfortunate accident while also working to eliminate the greedy enemy army that is obstructing their heroic service.”
Heivia gave a snort of laughter at that.
Both at the Information Alliance for thinking this gold had fallen into their laps and at the Legitimacy Kingdom for thinking it was “their money”. They clearly arrogantly believed they could take as much as they wanted if they imposed heavy taxes.
“Christmas only comes once a year, so why are they wasting it on that crap? They have dollar signs in their eyes year-round, don’t they?”
“That is what makes this such a pain-in-the-ass job no one wants to mess with. And the major cold wave threw off the initial schedule, so things are utter chaos out there. As thick as the ice is, it isn’t enough to carry an Object. And the obvious profit at hand has both sides sending in more and more troops. …An obvious quagmire, isn’t it? And even if we win this battle, it only earns us a single point. Guarding a Christmas parade in the sunny southern hemisphere would earn us just as many points, so that would be the far better mission.”
Simply put, it was time for yet another shitty job.
After all, the cold wave was so bad not even icebreaker ships could get through. Military uniforms provided more than just camouflage, but fighting in the Arctic would still require cold weather gear designed for the Arctic. Once they had permission to borrow that equipment, Quenser, Heivia, and the others pulled plastic-packaged uniforms out of a wooden box labelled “battlefield equipment”.
“What is it, Potato #1?”
“We’re going to be fighting in the white Arctic, aren’t we? Then what is the meaning of this?”
Quenser unfolded a uniform colored bright red.
And it had fluffy white additions.
These uniforms were redder than those of Buckingham Palace’s guards. In fact, were they even military uniforms? If you walked around a safe country city like this, every last person who saw you would call you Santa.
“I said this was a military-style punishment, didn’t I?” Frolaytia rubbed her own temples with her empty hand. “To be clear, I have to change into a miniskirt Santa outfit myself. These are officially being called a new type of anti-sensor camouflage, but I have my doubts regarding its actual effectiveness.”
“We might as well be sticking out our asses and asking to be shot.”
“Pretty much. You could say we have all been put in for high-payout life insurance policies.”
“I never signed up for that!!” screamed Quenser, but Frolaytia only winked.
Some parts of the world could be even crueler than the battlefield where bullets constantly whizzed by.
“Which is why the payout will have no one to go to and the government will have no choice but to confiscate it ‘to avoid trouble’. Isn’t this a wonderful system where they can eliminate the troublemakers and make money while they’re at it?”
But the 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion could not have made it this far if they would obediently fight and die as they were told. Ever since the trouble in Alaska, they had clung to life with a stubbornness that put cockroaches to shame.
“Dammit, I’m surviving this no matter what it takes,” said one of those boys who could not read the room.
“Yes. I can’t think of a single reason why we should die here and give those out-of-shape officers a fat year-end bonus. As always, go kill the enemy and come back alive.”
“Um, Frolaytia? Is there anything else we should worry about?”
“The Information Alliance intends to do the same.”
Objects were monstrous weapons that moved their 200,000-ton weight at over 500km/h, but they were still slower than traveling by air.
That was why the Baby Magnum was traveling along international waters outside the Scandinavian Peninsula to avoid the Object-less Northern Restricted Zone.
“Hm, hmm. Hm, hm, hm, hmm.”
“You sure are in a good mood.”
The Princess was humming to herself in the spherical cockpit when the old maintenance lady’s voice arrived over the radio.
The 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion had been issued red and white Santa-like uniforms, but that did not really mean much for the Baby Magnum. With a 50m and 200,000-ton mass, simple visual camouflage did not seem very effective, so not one really cared what color it was.
Her special suit, which had some elements of a sailor uniform design, was red with fluffy white additions.
However, she generally never left the cockpit, so standing out was not an issue for her. She saw it more like a special holiday outfit.
She kind of liked it except for the fact that the coloring was so similar to that awful Information Alliance Pilot Elite.
“We’re in the Arctic, so we might just see Santa on his way back home.”
“What?” cautiously asked Quenser.
“That bearded man is from the Northern Restricted Zone, isn’t he?” The Princess sounded legitimately puzzled by his question. “He flies around the world on the night of the 24th, so he should be getting back around now.”
“Ah ha ha. Quit playing dumb, Princess. Don’t tell me you still believe in San- bwagh!!!???”
“Systema Special Attack: Miniskirt Santa Lover Strike!!”
“Bwah! Quenser, what the hell, man!?”
“Shut up, damn you! I won’t let you say a word more!”
Quenser and Heivia seemed to be scuffling after one of them realized something while the other did not, but the red and white Princess only tilted her head.
She had a few beautifully wrapped boxes below her seat. They remained unopened due to the urgent mission.
“I-I hear Santa Claus was once detected by a ballistic missile radar network, so maybe you’ll spot him if you’re lucky, Princess!”
“Yes. I have my active radar on, so I should detect him if he’s flying anywhere in the Arctic!”
The Princess sounded entirely innocent, but that explained why the Baby Magnum had not run into any other ships despite taking the shortest route between Ports A and B. In an Object vs. warship battle, a radar lock meant being sunk, so everyone had to be frantically moving out of the way.
“(Does this count as a hostile act, Frolaytia?)”
“Didn’t I tell you the battle has already begun, you numbskull? Besides, Scandinavia is experiencing Armageddon year-round, so they’re a little too used to fighting. This won’t even make the amateur online news unless a forgotten nuke or zombie weapon makes an appearance.”
The others must have all been together somewhere because the Princess could not make out what they were whispering to each other. Regardless, she just wanted to arrive as soon as possible.
“I hope I find Santa.”
“Wh-what will you do if you find him?”
“Well, I think I’ll wave at him.”
“Wave?” asked Quenser. “You mean with one of Baby Magnum’s main cannons???”
“Aim that huge-ass gun at him and he might just put his hands up and drop his big bag of presents,” added Heivia.
Even further north than the Northern Restricted Zone, the island of Spitsbergen jutted up from the thick ice covering the Arctic Ocean. After the many transport planes landed on the combat airfield there, they set up the necessary radars, hangars, etc. to use it as the 37th’s maintenance base zone.
“Are you kidding me? Where’s the Baby Magnum? That thing can move 500km/h on the ocean, can’t it!? Then how come it can’t keep up!?”
“The Arctic isn’t a continent. She can’t move on top of the ice that could break in unpredictable ways, so it’s unclear if she should use her land or sea undercarriage. She can’t head this deep in right away.”
“What’s the point of the base if we don’t have an Object?”
But they were on a strict time schedule, so the potatoes in red would have to do this themselves. In fact, they got the feeling the cruel old folks of the military leadership had intentionally set it up this way to pay them back for the embarrassing failure.
A white wind blotted out the world.
The sky looked pure white, so looking up was not enough to tell if it was day or night.
It was an almost complete whiteout.
Their mobile devices displayed an error, but it was probably around -20 degrees.
“We can either take a helicopter or an armored vehicle to the battlefield. Which should we choose, Heivia?”
“As long as it keeps our red uniforms out of sight, any metal box is fine by me.”
Surprisingly, the armored vehicles proved more popular.
Driving on the ice sounded scary, but it must have seemed better than riding an unstable helicopter through the powerful crosswinds.
“Or is this a result of our Object worship? Anti-air lasers are admittedly scary.”
“But neither side has an Object this time, right?”
Quenser and Heivia were late to make their choice, so they ended up in a helicopter, although it was more of a big-bellied surface attack helicopter than a large transport one. It had a two-person cockpit and missiles and rocket launchers hung from the fixed wings that jutted out to either side, but it could also load soldiers into the rear cargo room. When Quenser slid open the door and peeked inside, he found a space larger than a van. It could probably fit around 10 people if they squeezed in tight.
“Damn. Setting records for long-term sales might sound reassuring, but that just means it’s an evolutionary dead end that can’t be upgraded, doesn’t it?”
“Would you prefer to ride one of those tiltrotors? They’re brand new.”
“No, thanks. All those complicated joints and moving parts scare the hell outta me!!”
“Whew,” said another voice from the side.
The two idiots must not have been the only ones too slow to get a spot on the armored vehicles because a Santa-colored woman climbed in after them.
That college-aged woman with fluffy blonde hair and glasses looked perfect with tears in her eyes.
It was Elise Montana.
“Fuck, it’s the walking disaster zone!! Why do we have to share a helicopter with you of all people!?”
“Wait, please don’t drag a woman as pretty and kind as me to a filthy public restroom and tie me up with duct tape! And definitely don’t write lewd things all over my body with permanent marker!!”
Elise curled up in a corner of the metal box and covered her face, but her fantasies were clearly overblown since they went beyond anything those two idiots would have ever thought up. Frolaytia’s threats must have affected her very badly indeed, but those potatoes were not about to take advice that came from a source like that.
Their future remained uncertain as the roar of the engine grew louder overhead. The rotor picked up speed and the metal box shook. The attack helicopter left the ground, but Quenser was too distracted to notice.
When the helicopter first shook, the fluffy blonde lost her balance and fell toward him. And even if she was the walking disaster zone who had gotten them into this mess, boobs were boobs. When they fell toward the boy, his face was buried in them.
“N-no, you mustn’t! The world’s rules say this is supposed to wait until marriage!!”
Now was no time to be enjoying the unexpected gift.
A quiet metallic noise echoed through the cargo room. While Miss Elise flailed her arms around, her hand happened to catch the pin of a grenade directly attached to her red Santa outfit.
They had about 5 seconds until detonation.
Heivia had to make a split-second decision: grab the grenade from her uniform and throw it out, or just chuck Elise out of the helicopter? He ultimately chose the former.
With a dry boom, the attack helicopter tilted from something other than a crosswind.
“Are you kidding me, you walking disaster zone!?” shouted the tearful delinquent noble. “That was well past anything we can laugh off as clumsiness!! If you had less than a D-cup, I would’ve kicked you right out that cargo door just now!!”
“And how in the world do you trip so your ass ends up on Quenser’s face and your face is shoved between his legs!? It makes no sense for you to be this ridiculously clumsy without me benefiting in any way!!”
Things were this bad and they had not even run into the Information Alliance troops yet. The enemy did not even need to worry about working through their year-end inventory. If the 37th was given some time off with that deadly klutz around, they would probably wipe themselves out.
At any rate, the large attack helicopter finally managed to arrive in the battlefield sky.
Without sensor support, the view outside was colored almost entirely white by the blizzard and ice fog.
They had slowed down a lot to keep their balance, but they were still moving at more than 200km/h.
Some artillery fire erupted nearby.
It sounded too light for a giant ship’s gun.
Had the weather changed or had the blast changed the air pressure?
Whatever the case, the white curtain of small ice crystals briefly vanished.
“Wow, they’re really going at it.”
“Wait, wait, wait. They’re really close. Way too close! What’s going on!?”
A ship’s gun could accurately hit a target from 20-30km away and a missile from more than 100km away, yet the Legitimacy Kingdom and Information Alliance warships were enclosed in a thick layer of ice from so close no binoculars were needed to see each other.
“Are they pretending to be old-fashioned pirates?”
“The weather is bad and the aurora might be shining overhead. If there was a magnetic storm, their radio navigation and radar would be useless. Being this close to the pole has always caused issues with compasses. They probably didn’t notice they were so close due to the white curtain.”
Both fleets must have been hurrying to the north pole in order to secure that luxury cruise ship packed full of gold. They had both entered the Arctic from Scandinavia, so they had apparently been sealed in by the thick ice while unaware that their courses intercepted in a giant X-shape.
“A single blast from a ship’s gun would take them out at this range.”
“But that would detonate their fuel and ammo and both sides would be caught in the huge explosion similar to a fireworks show accident. Those things aren’t designed to fire on each other from that close.”
Using the ship’s guns even against the infantry on the ice could be mistaken for an attack on another ship, leading to a shootout between the fleets. That meant they had to fight using the people and weapons lowered to the thick ice instead of using the ships themselves. That had to be the source of the gunfire and artillery fire echoing into the air. The thought of joining that brass band parade was depressing indeed.
The attack helicopter could let the troops out anywhere, but the ice might break if it tried to land on it. Instead of attempting a dangerous descent on a wire in this blizzard, it would be safer to use the sturdy heliport on one of the ships.
After spotting a small Legitimacy Kingdom destroyer, they descended toward the observation craft heliport on the stern.
“Dammit, it’s finally starting. Maybe we should just stay on this helicopter the entire ti-…”
As soon as Heivia said that, another attack helicopter exploded in the white cloudy sky nearby.
“Myonriiiiiiiiiii!!!???” screamed Quenser.
“What the hell!? So their anti-air weaponry is working!?”
The potatoes inside the one helicopter frantically ducked down as the main rotor of the other one sliced through the air toward them.
They had no time to worry about anyone else now.
Something thick could be heard scraping at the exterior of the transport helicopter.
“Myonri, you moron! This is what you get for not choosing to ride along with a big star like me. A jack of all trades like you should’ve known that.”
“Hey, watch out, something just stabbed into this thing!! Was that rotor Myonri’s way of telling you to shut up as she died!?”
Their helicopter suddenly tilted at an angle. Some kind of alarm went off and they heard angry shouting from the cockpit. It was obvious at a glance what was coming next.
“They’re making an emergency landing, so grab onto something!!”
“Then they can’t go for the ice! If we break through, we’ll just sink into the frigid ocean. Aim for the ship! Aim for the heliport!!”
They could not expect a clean landing on the belly. They hit the heliport while half rolled onto the side, the main rotor remained tilted like a fan, they cut across the flat plate like they were being tugged by an invisible rope, and the tools scattered around were launched like bullets.
“We’re so dead. We’re gonna fall. We’re just barely on here and tilting like a damn seesaw.”
“You’re supposed to use this as an excuse to kick Elise out, you idiot.”
“Where did this terrible opinion of me come from?” asked Elise. “There’s something wrong with how you measure people’s value!!”
The potatoes crawled out of the large helicopter that had a broken rotor and spewed black smoke. It had flipped onto its side, so they had to leave using the slide door that was now pointed up.
“Hmm. Oh, could you support me from below? Nhhh!”
“Heh heh heh. Struggle all you want climbing out, lady. Yes, more, more!”
Quenser was the capable kind of guy who could lift up someone’s butt with both hands while maintaining a gentlemanly expression. Heivia had wasted his chance by climbing out ahead of her.
“A girl who can’t do pull-ups on her own is a wonderful thing. Hah hah hah!”
“God, I hate working here. She’s already brainwashed him.”
They soon received an overview of the situation from the navy landing guidance officer and the others who had nearly been turned to mincemeat by that horizontal pitching machine.
“Th-the huge ship’s guns and missiles could sink their ships, but that would probably mean mutual destruction. Fortunately, we have no reason to hold back with anything else.”
“We are using the anti-air guns that fire a good distance off the ground and the side deck’s Gatling guns that don’t cause very large explosions, so be careful.”
“Not that any of that can sink a warship. Ha ha ha. But it is all powerful enough to make mincemeat out of those you who will be running around on the ice. Good luck.”
“Every last one of them is scum,” grumbled Heivia. “They’ve gotten so used to their comfortable warm-water bidet they’ve forgotten how to wipe their ass properly.”
“But based on those rules, they can’t receive supplies from anyone,” replied Quenser. “At least we’re not fighting a war against hunger. Try to stay positive.”
The group about to be thrown into the middle of the barrage and the group facing starvation inside the ship both failed to view the other group as fellow Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers. That was one failing of a vertical society.
“So where’s the ship’s armory?” Heivia scratched at his short brown hair. “And what kind of guns and cannons does the navy have on hand? Carbines? PDWs?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. We have nothing to give to you.”
The landing guidance officer honestly seemed surprised they were asking, so the two idiots were caught off guard.
He lightly waved around the red baton-like lights also seen at construction sites.
“You’re the unit being punished for screwing up in a safe country, right? No one expects you to defeat the enemy and end this battle. Your role is to run out onto the ice in those bright red uniforms, raise a war cry, and draw the enemy fire. We’ll be safe as long they’re shooting at you.”
“And why would we waste expensive weapons on someone like that? These precious military supplies were bought with the people’s tax money, so if you want a better weapon that badly, why not kill an enemy and steal one?”
The potatoes responded by removing the safety on their gun and loading the first bullet.
The muzzle was of course aimed at the guidance officer.
For some reason the shocked guidance officer crossed the red baton-like lights in front of him.
Perhaps he hoped a red beam would shoot out.
“Pardon us, mister, but we were ordered to kill an enemy to steal their weapons.”
“And the military is a vertical society, you see. Yeah, and this ugly guy here’s wearing the rank insignia of a lieutenant. None of us can hope to match that, so a lowly private like me has gotta obey that order.”
Some confusion followed, but in the end, Quenser blew open a thick steel door so they could borrow the ship’s plentiful equipment.
The world grew just a little bit kinder.
“Dammit!” swore Heivia. “All they’ve got are weapons. Now we can’t change out of these red uniforms!!”
“Would you rather steal the sweaty and lice-ridden ones they’ve been using while holed up in here?” asked Quenser. “And we’ve really cleaned the place out. The armory is completely empty. Won’t the people left on the ship be slaughtered by some Information Alliance commandos or something?”
“If you want to sound remotely convincing, you might want to stop stealing so much. You’re carrying more bombs than anyone.”
The bastards wearing Santa costumes (as a punishment the higher ups thought up mostly just for fun) climbed down the steep gangway on the side of the destroyer and found themselves on the deadly ice.
“Ugh, I hope the ice crystals and snow or whatever else cover up all the red on our uniforms.”
“Heivia, if our uniforms freeze solid, we’ll essentially be pillars of ice.”
The Arctic was covered in ice, but since it was also snowing, it did not function like a skating rink. It crunched below their feet.
Quenser’s group met up with the other potatoes who had arrived by armored vehicles. Then they equipped Nordic skis.
“Let’s try to reach the closest one: the Information Alliance cruiser Cruise Missile 050. It focuses on using its namesake while leaving all the anti-ship attacks to its escort ships and anti-air unit, but it can’t use those missiles right now, right? It’s a sitting duck.”
Sinking the ships was the easy part. They only had to approach the side, attach the necessary amount of explosives, move safely away, and detonate it. Even though they were trapped by thick ice on all sides, they were still floating in the ocean, so a hole below the waterline would let in the seawater needed to sink the ship.
This was different from a tanker abandoned in the desert.
There was only cold water below them, so they remained in a state where it was unnatural for so much weight to be floating.
“Those huge warships are like small fortresses. We can’t let our guard down just because they can’t move. But once we sink one, the Information Alliance will lose one shield to hide behind. That means less space for them to move around in, so let’s get in a preemptive strike and gain an early lead in this struggle over safe territory.”
“Hey, something’s approaching while you blather on. Is that a recon armored vehicle!?”
“Get down and scatter!! We don’t even get Christmas off from fighting!!”
The Legitimacy Kingdom and Information Alliance warships were trapped in the thick ice while within visible distance of each other. There was approximately 2km between those fortresses, so they were close enough for those neighbors to kill each other with a heavy machinegun at any time.
And since the ground was made from the frozen sea, there were no mountains or valleys.
The only prominent cover was the giant warships and the vehicles they had lowered down with cranes. Standing out on the white ice was like asking to be shot.
The armored vehicle was around 700m away. It was only a scout, but it still had a machinegun. And it was a heavy machinegun that required a team of four to operate.
“What do we do!?”
“Get down, get down!!”
“They’re not going to overlook us just because we’re lying down on this flat ice!!”
They heard the deep sound of propellers slicing through the air.
They looked up to see a large Legitimacy Kingdom transport craft soaring through the white sky. No, it was not just a transport craft. It had autocannons, rapid-fire guns, and other weapons aimed outwards from the sides of its thick fuselage.
It was customized for attacking the surface.
Quenser immediately grabbed his radio.
“Requesting air support! Blow away that armored vehicle up ahead!!”
“Hah hah hah. Why would a punished unit get that kind of service? I’m up here to shoot you in the ass. My commander ordered me to shoot you for disobeying orders if you ever come to a stop. And I get to decide what counts as ‘stopping’, so even if you survive the enemy attack, we’ll just find some excuse to kill you anyway. Have fun☆”
“Heivia, fire a missile straight up.”
With the fwoosh of a launching missile, a white trail of smoke stretched sharply up into the sky and a spectacular explosion erupted overhead. Armor panels, gun parts, and other wreckage rained down over a wide area.
Quenser tearfully grabbed the idiot’s collar and shook him back and forth.
“Why would you actually shoot, you dumbass!? I was so obviously joking!”
“Shut up. Accidents happen, all right? The military is made to sacrifice individuals for overall victory. And someone who isn’t even aiming their guns at the enemy sounds like the perfect candidate for that. Also, get out from behind there if you’re going to complain! I scattered those shields with my missile blast!!”
They were kissing morality goodbye, but this had given them some cover on the flat icy ground. Even the smaller pieces were the size of light vehicles, so they could at least avoid being helplessly turned to Swiss cheese by the armored vehicle’s machinegun.
“Hey, hacker! Erase those communication logs!!”
“I feel like we’ve finally crossed a line here.”
A series of explosive sounds followed, but it was not the fallen wreckage exploding.
The Information Alliance armored vehicle had belatedly started firing its machinegun at them. That might not seem like much compared to a tank’s gun, but each shot was still a giant anti-materiel bullet larger than their thumb. A direct hit to their Santa uniforms would tear them to pieces.
“We have a shield now, right!?” shouted Quenser from behind a propeller and a drum-shaped engine. “Hurry up and fire a missile to silence that can of corned beef!”
“Shut up! I just used that missile, remember!? It’s going to take a little longer to reload, so find some way to buy me some time!! 30 seconds will do!!”
“It takes 30!!”
“Then get to work instead of arguing, dumbass!!”
“You need to buy me the time!!”
Elise Montana was curled up and acting like a victim despite being the entire reason they were here, so Quenser kicked her out from behind cover. Thanks to the snow and ice below her, her attractive butt slid more than expected, making it look like a bizarre game of curling.
“Ah, ahh, awahhhhhh!!!???”
While the armored vehicle’s crew stared at the busty glasses woman’s bust or glasses, they hesitated long enough for Heivia to lean out from the other side of a scorched piece of scrap metal and fire the missile resting on his shoulder.
Tearful Elise scrambled back behind cover with the deafening explosion slamming into her back. Her trembling hands grabbed at Quenser.
“How, but, h-h-how could you do that to m-me!?”
“Shut up and wipe the fog off your glasses. We need to get moving. That was just a scout, so there will be more coming!!”
They heard several sounds much like sparkling wine corks being removed.
“Those are mortars!!” shouted Heivia. “Heads up!!”
Heads up or no, they would be killed if those fell on them, so the rule-breaking potatoes moved fast. Before the explosives could fall in a large curve like a long throw in baseball, they dove behind their next cover – another piece of wreckage from the custom transport craft that had rained down around them.
Heivia looked back while hiding behind the rear of the cockpit that had nearly been sliced clean off.
“Dammit, those aren’t 80mm. They broke right through the thick ice trapping the ships here, so there’s nothing left where we just were. And they’ve climbed up on top of that can of corned beef.”
“Hey, can’t you take them all out with a missile!?”
“Again, I just fired one. So buy me time to reload!!”
The busy blonde who looked better in a Santa costume than anyone jumped when she heard that.
More than just tearful, she had a veritable waterfall of tears flowing down her cheeks as she clung to Quenser.
“I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!! That will never work again, so use what little brains you have to think up a way for me and my unbelievable beauty to survive! As long as I make it, then feel free to get yourselves killed! Please muster every bit of stupid cleverness your stupid mind can manage!!”
Quenser did as he was told by stripping off a piece of her red uniform and kicking her out with her plump legs bared.
“Heivia used her giant curling butt to target the distant armored vehicle.
“Hey, can I do the stripping and you do the blowing up next time?”
“You’d take it way too far, so no.”
Elise Montana tugged down on the bottom of her coat with both hands (without noticing this only accentuated her large chest) and obediently returned to the same cover those two were using.
“Ah, ah ha ha. It’s cold. It’s so cold. Please give me back my pants. Hurry, hurry. Brr. Chatter, chatter, chatter!!”
“Huh? She isn’t acting all bashful and stuff.”
“It’s 15 below, remember? In extreme situations, people tend to be more worried about survival than sexiness.”
There were no advantageous positions on the open terrain. The trucks and snowmobiles could be seen as nothing more than larger targets, so they actually increased the risk. More and more infantry moved out into the open. They apparently planned to use machinegun fire to hold Quenser’s group in place while the infantry circled around behind them to the right.
“What do we do?”
“Memorize where the shields are.”
The two idiots threw a long, skinny smoke grenade in a large arc over the wreckage they were hiding behind. When the metal can fell on the ice, it scattered colorful smoke with a loud bwoosh sound. That obscured the enemy’s view. The heavy machinegun was certainly a fearsome threat, but it was meaningless if those thumb-thick bullets could not hit.
“The next shield is 50m away at 10 o’clock!”
“Eh? Eh? You want us to run out into that horizontal storm? The bullets are still flying even if they can’t see us!!”
“Then you can stay here on your own. C’mon, we’re going!!”
They wanted to crouch as low as possible, but the Nordic skis made that difficult, so they pushed their bodies forward with their legs and the ski poles to reach the next shield. It was like jumping from stone to stone in a pond. If they slowed down along the way, they would be hit by the bullets and reduced to a pond of blood. The snowy ice was a lot rougher than a skating rink.
“Eek, eek, eeeeek!”
“Your opinion of people sure is a relative thing, isn’t it? After hearing hopelessly incompetent Elise sob like this, this scrawny boy over here starts looking like some kind of veteran hero.”
As soon as they made it behind the torn-off tail wing, the glasses woman tore off her skis and curled up on the ground. She may have been trying to cut herself off from the reality around her, but it looked a lot like an Island Nation prostration.
Quenser slapped at the round butt sticking out his way.
“P-please just leave me alone.”
“If you insist. The Information Alliance soldiers will circle around here soon enough, but we’ll respect your wishes and not help you while you just lie there. Although the enemy will probably think you’re seducing them.”
Elise Montana immediately got back up.
At the same time, Heivia tossed Quenser the missile launcher tube, switched to his assault rifle, leaned out from behind the wreckage, and fired a quick burst. However, his only allies here were an explosion addict who could not even use a gun and that blonde walking disaster zone who had no apparent skills. If he kept firing from the same spot for too long, the counterattack would focus there, so he was constantly on the move either circling to the opposite side of the wreckage or climbing up on top of it to aim down like it was a fence.
The two with nothing to do did their best to cheer him on.
“Wow, glad I’m not Heivia right now.”
“Kyah! Work yourself to the bone for me!”
The loss of Myonri was proving painful already.
Heivia was forced to take her position as the jack of all trades.
“You two!! Can’t you at least try to help by pretending to hold out guns to distract them or something!? Y’know, like a game of whack-a-mole!!”
“No, thanks. I don’t want to get hit by a stray bullet when I don’t even have a weapon.”
“How about you take a look at the situation here? We’re being pushed back, so I can’t stop the Information Alliance infantry from gradually getting closer.”
“Once they get here, they’ll circle behind us!!”
Quenser undid the clasps and removed the Nordic skis that were only getting in the way.
As soon as someone circled around the wreckage and peeked out at them, tearful Elise grabbed one of her skis in both hands and swung it around while Quenser jabbed out with his ski pole. He managed to stab the enemy right in the throat – in the gap between the helmet and the bulletproof jacket.
He heard a gurgling scream.
Except the Information Alliance soldier had managed to pull the pin from a grenade on his chest during the confusion. Once he knew he was done for, he must have decided to take out as many enemies as he could for his allies’ sake.
His heart was as good as his looks.
Quenser kicked the dying soldier out of the way and frantically tried to get down on the ground, but he ran straight into useless Elise instead. They ended up in a tangled heap on the ice.
A muffled explosion rang out.
Elise made a silly noise while lying on her back and holding Quenser’s head into her big boobs.
That good-looking guy had guts, but detonating the grenade without giving a warning first had been a mistake. He ended up taking out several of his fellow Information Alliance soldiers instead of Quenser or Heivia.
“You can get away with anything if you’re good-looking, can’t you?” said Elise.
“Mgh, gh. Speak those cursed words one more time and you’ll regret it,” complained Quenser.
“Pfh. If it makes you mad, it means you know it doesn’t apply to you. Peh heh heh.”
Quenser attached a stun grenade to that busty blonde and kicked her out from behind cover.
Just as everyone’s eyes were drawn to the cylindrical rod stuffed into her cleavage, a nonlethal flash and bang ruled the battlefield.
Quenser’s desperate cry proved meaningless because his awful friend was holding his eyes and writhing in pain. That busty glasses woman was just about the worst combat partner there was, but she undoubtedly had a devilish charm. Quenser had no choice but to grab his bloody ski pole and attack the collapsed enemy soldiers.
No matter how much their athleticism had been optimized with the sports engineering of a digital society and no matter how much their bodies had been built up with the perfect diet, they were as helpless as babies while collapsed on the ground.
“What the hell? My head hurts so bad,” said Heivia. “Urp, did you really have to kill them all while they were down? What’s the point of the nonlethal weapon then?”
“They would’ve woken up as quick as you did. Did you want them to grab their guns again?”
Once the enemy’s stock of infantry was used up, they only had their trucks and snowmobiles that were loaded with high-power machineguns and mortars but were fairly limited in use. The Information Alliance’s boxy canned goods (designed for cold climates) tried to pull back toward their warship, but Heivia’s missile stabbed through the air and blew them away before they could.
“Did you just use me as a jack-in-the-box!?” complained tearful Elise.
“Don’t worry. It was a nonlethal stun grenade.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I still have a throbbing pain there. Look how red it is!!”
“Eh heh heh. Elisey, you’re gonna need to give me a better look than that.”
While staring at the busty part of the busty blonde since she was so generously opening her collar and showing off the pink mark left by the stun grenade, Quenser put on a kinder expression.
“Seriously though, I think that had about a 20% chance of killing you.”
“That’s even worse than I thought. Um, isn’t that riskier than a round of Russian roulette?”
At any rate, this was their chance.
Before enemy reinforcements could arrive, they moved from wreckage to wreckage and arrived at the warship they had set as their goal. Cruise Missile 050 was one of the Information Alliance ships acting as a stationary base while trapped in the ice.
Quenser’s job was simple now that he was right up next to it.
After measuring the thickness of the wall with an ultrasound echo, he cut off the right size of Hand Axe plastic explosive and attached it to the wall. The explosive alone would have been too unstable, so he included something like a metal bowl. The trick was to thinly spread the clay-like explosive along the interior of the bowl like it was margarine.
“What difference does that make?”
“It’s called the Munroe effect, Heivia. The wall is only in one direction, so letting the blast spread in all 360 degrees would be a waste of energy. The blast is a lot more powerful if you focus it on a single point like a spear.”
Heivia decided only a freak could understand what a freak was talking about, so he tuned it out.
Once the fireworks were set up, they only had to move far enough away.
“Elise, move 20m back.”
“Everyone else, move 100m back.”
Before she could question it, Quenser hit his radio’s switch and triggered a fairly large explosion to ring in the new year a week early.
Even if it was 200m long, a ship was still a ship. Once the cruiser had a hole in the side large enough for someone to crawl through, the seawater poured in and it began to tilt.
After getting up from a sexy pose with her legs collapsed beneath her, Elise shouted a complaint while red in the face.
“You son of a bitch! What did I ever do to deserve this!?”
“Elise, if you stay there, you’ll be dragged into the ocean by the broken ice. And what did you do to deserve this? Have you already forgotten the entire reason we were sent here, you needlessly sexy glasses woman!?”
It meant a lot to demonstrate how it was done.
It was like jumping from stone to stone in a pond. They would approach the Information Alliance ships trapped in the thick ice, attach bombs, and blow them up to sink them.
“Infantry sinking a warship deserves a medal, don’t you think?”
“A fighter pilot sinking a ship would get a medal, but a ship blowing up a ship with one of their huge-ass anti-ship missiles is considered business as usual. Explosives are explosives, so this will be categorized like normal on all the paperwork.”
Once they had actually sunk one, they discovered that blowing a hole in warships did not actually make them sink. When they tilted too far, either the fuel pipes inside would bend and break or the contents of the armory would fall from the shelves and crash into each other. Either way, the ship would blow up from within and scatter wreckage everywhere like a volcanic eruption.
And that was perfectly fine with them.
Once they knew it was coming, they only had to make use of it. There was nowhere to hide on the uniformly flat ice surface, so those randomly-scattered “gifts” were a lot of help.
“Killing the enemy to steal from them really is the way to go. The more we attack, the fewer of them there are and the more cover we have to hide behind. It all works in our favor.”
“Yeah, I wonder what that destroyer is up to right now. Do you think the Information Alliance has sunk it in a counterattack yet?”
Quenser’s group continued on while recoloring the hopelessly white battlefield to construct their own safe zones. Eventually, the wind died down.
The Legitimacy Kingdom and Information Alliance fleets had ended up frozen in place without realizing they were approaching each other in an X-shape. It was not perfectly straight, but the enemy fleet was generally arranged in a long line.
“There it is,” said Heivia while using his assault rifle’s scope to look into the distance. “That ship is completely different form the others. It’s civilian. Check your mobile device’s map. Is that the aurora observation ship!?”
“Yeah, that’s the Julius Caesar. How did we manage to reach the goal first?”
That was when the color white flashed in front of their eyes.
The sunlight seemed to blur whitely despite the lack of wind and then Quenser found he could not see even 5m ahead of him.
“What!? A whiteout!?”
“It’s ice fog. Basically, the frozen fog is reflecting the sunlight! This is really bad. Don’t rely on your compass. We’re so close to the north pole that the needle isn’t going to tell you anything worthwhile!!”
Was that low rumbling due to the inclement weather?
Quenser meaninglessly looked up into the white sky.
“Lightning in this wide-open space? We’re gonna get struck down by divine punishment at this rate.”
The tearful complaints naturally came from Elise Montana.
“B-b-b-b-b-but we still have a chance, don’t we? We’ll be frozen solid if we stay out here, but there’s that aurora observation ship, right? B-b-brr, I don’t think I can keep going unless we get some hot soup or something on that ship. Chatter, chatter, chatter.”
She was asking for the rescuees to rescue the rescuers, but it was true the Julius Caesar had no chance if their rescuers were wiped out by the cold or the lightning. And they had to reach that ship to save them, so they had to trudge on regardless of Elise’s suggestion.
“What exactly are we supposed to do?”
They only had their memories to go on. They did not want to end up walking in circles within that white screen, so Heivia kept his eyes down on the ground while moving his Nordic skis and ski poles.
“We’ve arrived at the goal like we were told, but that ship is trapped by the thick ice, right? How do we save them? Surely we aren’t supposed to keep fighting the Information Alliance until the ice thaws in the spring.”
Technically, the higher ups of both armies were interested in the gold onboard the ship and not the crew and passengers, but the problem was the same either way. Gold was heavy. It would be suicidal to try and carry it back through this firefight just because the ship could not move.
“Pant, pant. There is it. We’re almost there. We were going the right way after all.”
“A little more to the right, Elise.”
“Yes, yes. You’re trying to trick me into walking in circles, aren’t you? I’ve figured you out at this poin- hgee!?”
The beautiful young woman vanished into a 3m-deep hole. It was a crack in the ice – a crevice. A very unsexy splashing sound soon followed. Quenser and Heivia had a legitimately hard time deciding if they were going to bother dragging out someone who had entirely ignored their warning, but they ended up throwing down a synthetic rope since she was a busty blonde glasses woman. If any one of those attributes had been missing, they probably would have pretended to have simply lost sight of her and walked off, whistling nonchalantly.
Despite being soaked in sherbet-like seawater, she looked more pathetic than sexy and she desperately pleaded with them while her glasses froze over.
“Hurr- brr, hurry, hurry to the ship! I need a hot stove, some soup, a blanket, and so much more!! This planet needs warmth!!”
“Eh heh heh. I can warm you up right now, Elise.”
“That’s a ship for the rich, right? I wonder if they have an Immortanoid bath or something. That longevity mineral would be perfect for beauty, health, and peeping.”
“Brrr. Y-y-y-you two never change, do you!?”
The aurora observation ship was pretentiously named the Julius Caesar and it was actually larger than the destroyer they had initially landed(?) on. It was supposed to break through the thick ice as it went, but it was now motionless while partially tilted on its side. It must have tried to break through more ice than it was designed for, lost its balance, and then had the seawater refreeze around it.
But it could have been worse.
If it was the type of icebreaker that brought its bow up on the ice to break through with its weight, it may have completely rolled over onto its side after losing its balance.
“That ship is full of garbage rich people who were secretly trying to carry their mountain of gold to a secret bank, right? I’d say anything could happen once we’re inside, but that would imply something good might happen.”
“Heivia, how can you say that when you’re a noble too? Hm? Is that the gangway?”
Quenser pointed at the side of the ship through a gap in the white curtain of ice fog. A cross between a metal ladder and a stairway had been half-frozen to the hull of the ship. If that was down, someone must have left the ship. It seemed unlikely, but had some adventurous passenger or crewmember decided to walk around outside?
“Even without the battle, this is home to the world’s strongest animal, the polar bear. I’m not about to go help out someone that suicidal.”
“Let’s not discuss what martial art is best in a fight, what sports team you support, or what animal is the strongest. Those topics without a real answer gather self-proclaimed ‘experts’ like nothing else.”
Anyway, they were lucky they did not have to throw a rope up and pretend they were rock climbing.
Their Nordic skis would only get in the way on that narrow gangway, so they removed them from their boots, strapped them to their backs, and made their way up those metal stairs. Since the Information Alliance might have already secretly taken over the ship, the potatoes made sure to keep their weapons at the ready as they reached to top of the gangway and climbed onto the Julius Caesar’s side deck.
“I-it’s so cold.”
Elise held her very (non-sexually) wet body in her arms and shivered. The thought of a heated space in their near future must have reminded her how cold it really was outside.
That was her own fault, so the potatoes ignored her and spoke to each other.
“Those VIPs’ bodyguards aren’t going to shoot us, are they?”
“That’s a scary thought. I don’t want to die from friendly fire during the countdown to the New Year!”
“Uhh,” groaned Elise. “Are you two entirely incapable of recalling the things you yourselves did not long ago?”
If they were capable of that, they would have to give up the title of idiot.
Quenser and Heivia came up with a plan while pressing up against one of the waterproof doors arranged at even intervals along the wall.
“Let’s announce who we are. If anyone reacts in a suspicious way, we can silence them with a preemptive strike.”
“Okay. We’re after the gold, after all. But their bodyguards are sure to be well-trained, so silencing them will be a lot easier said than done. Hell, we probably won’t even have time to approach them, so we can’t hope to throw them down with judo or aikido or something. We’ll have to use bullets.”
“Let’s do it with my bombs.”
“As in blow them to smithereens?”
“As in use a concussion blast. No nails or metal balls mixed in and the amount of explosive is kept low enough to only rattle their brain. It’s generally done as a type of grenade, but I should be able to pull it off with my plastic explosive. If I keep the inside hollow and adjust the amount, I can hit them with a nonlethal blast. The range might only be 2 or 3 meters, but if I throw it, it’s guaranteed to knock the enemy out if we have to fight for control of the ship. That’s a lot easier to use than a tranquilizer gun that has to get a pinpoint strike on a gap in their jacket, right?”
“Okay, genius boy, I like the sound of that. Let’s do it.”
Basically, he was going to throw balls of military explosives at civilians. No one bothered listening to Elise’s complaint that they had left ethics behind long ago. That was just how things were when you were winning the battle.
They turned the handle in the middle of the thick waterproof door and finally entered the ship.
The interior was built like a classic mansion full of wood grain and bright red carpet. This was clearly built for the rich. While ships normally kept everything from the framework to the food trays as light as possible, this one was overflowing with wasteful decorations.
As a cruise ship primarily used for carrying passengers, it was built a lot like a tall resort hotel rearranged to be on its side. It had a lot of cabins and the straight corridors were very long. On the other hand, the elevators were primarily for cargo and crew, so the normal passengers would apparently use fancy spiral staircases.
A map posted on the wall even showed a round room labeled “Observatory”. It was probably equipped with one of the giant reflecting telescopes found in Hawaii. And despite traveling in the Arctic, it even had an indoor pool. The ceiling of the top floor was made of glass, so people could view the aurora while floating in the warm pool in their swimsuits.
Quenser quietly grumbled a complaint while tearing off a piece of Hand Axe plastic explosive and rolling it into a piece the size of a golf ball. The pen-like fuses he normally used were too big for that, so he made sure to dismantle one and jury-rig a smaller version.
“What is with the interior decorating? I have a bad feeling about this.”
“What good is a prophecy as vague as Nostradamus? Say things like that and you’ll find your remarried mother introducing your crush as your new sister.”
“Don’t worry. That just makes it better.”
Meanwhile, a young maid stepped out from a linen room to the side of the corridor. The silver-haired maid shrieked, crouched down, and moved to protect the small child next to her.
“What do we do?” shouted Quenser. “Go with the concussion blast?”
“No, don’t. This doesn’t even look like a gray zone. She’s not trying to fight!”
Now that they had encountered someone, it was obvious that the terrified maid was frozen in place while staring at Heivia’s gun. She probably had no idea what the small ball of clay in Quenser’s hand could do. That concussion grenade was not going to work well as far as intimidation went. If it could not stop someone until he actually used it, it was not the best peaceful nonlethal weapon.
Quenser felt jealous of the young boy held so tightly in the professional maid’s arms, but that boy looked past her shoulder and tilted his head.
“Yeah. We’re from the Legitimacy Kingdom. Despite the getup.”
“Then you’re a knight!”
Heivia groaned and fell silent while Quenser held his sides and laughed up a storm. That was a hard thing to respond to when you had a legit noble rank.
“But why is a knight dressed like Santa?”
“We’re not dressed like Santa. This was forced onto us as a punishment!”
“But I saw that lady on the news. They said they shot down the real Santa Claus.”
“Hgee!? Does the damage ever end!? H-how far did the footage of my Bikini Santa spread? Is that digital tattoo going to cover the entire world as a permanent scar on my reputation!?”
Soaked Elise bristled and shouted, but the child’s eyes were sparkling and his body was shaking.
“John said Santa didn’t exist, but he was wrong. I need to tell Claudia!”
The silver-haired maid shouted at the boy and ran after him, so they both vanished down a spiral staircase.
Quenser and Heivia clicked their tongues, but they could not aim a gun at those civilians to stop them. From here on, they had to assume their presence could be revealed at any moment. They needed to focus on the location of cover and keep multiple escape routes in mind at all times.
“Damn, but I guess this is better than having them follow us around and then get hit by a stray bullet or something,” sighed Heivia.
“And they must have thought my concussion grenade was just some kid’s piece of clay. Maybe a different shape would help stop people without having to use it.”
“You called it clay yourself. And the blast is just as powerful with a ball or a cube, so why not give it a shape that’ll scare people?”
Quenser was the kind of guy who could take his friend’s advice. Once he worked hard to give it a very realistic penis shape, Elise Montana blushed and hit him very hard.
“What is wrong with you!?”
“It has to be all shrunk in the cold if it’s going to remain a concussion grenade! If I made it a full-on erection, the blast would kill them!!”
“That is not what I meant! And how rotten is your brain if you can jump straight from that heartwarming scene to this!?”
“Oh, and Elise? I find it very interesting that you recognized what this was straight away. If you were really the innocent and ignorant young woman you act like, I would have expected something more along the lines of ‘Oh, how cute. What kind of animal is that?’ ”
She hit him again.
Quenser collapsed to the floor, held his cheek, and shouted up from the red carpet.
“But I don’t want to make it into a pussy!!”
“Bfhh! How many times do you want me to hit you!?”
“As many times as I can get!! C’mon, give me another!!”
Elise hissed at him like an upset cat and Heivia asked a question with his eyebrows raised.
“By the way, where are you gonna stick the fuse in that thing?”
“Wherever it would fit best…hmm, up the urethra, I guess?”
“Sorry, but that’s going too far for me. Seeing that kind of kinky stuff makes my balls shrink in fear.”
His awful friend could stand to be more adventurous.
Quenser had no choice but to use the same volume of explosive to create something threatening but not a penis.
“Eww,” said Elise.
“Why do you work so hard to make it look so real?” asked Heivia. “You’re just going to blow it up.”
“It’s called having pride as an artist. There, all done: the cockroach stun grenade!!”
As soon as he stuck the fuse in the rear end like a cruel child’s prank, a (male) crewmember in an actual sailor uniform appeared around a corner.
His eyes widened when he saw them and he reached for the holster at his hip.
“Eat my concussion grenade! Drop your weapon or I swear I’ll throw it!!”
The intimidation factor was through the roof.
The sailor panicked so badly he started firing wildly from the hip, so Quenser and the others had to kick open a nearby cabin door and take cover inside.
Heivia climbed on top of the idiot and strangled him.
“You son of a- you piece of- I can’t believe you!”
“Bwegh!? Just let me throw it already!!”
He tossed the cute cockroach out through the broken door and hit the switch on his radio. After an earsplitting blast, the gunfire came to a complete stop.
“Did I get him? Did I???”
“Don’t ask me. If you aren’t sure, kick Elise out there to check.”
“What ever happened to my rights!?”
Since no further attacks came despite the commotion they were causing, they concluded they had successfully neutralized the sailor. When they hesitantly peeked out into the corridor, they saw him collapsed face down surprisingly close to the door.
First the maid and the boy and now this sailor. They had avoided killing anyone, but the gunfire and explosion would have been heard all over the ship. They were here to rescue the people on the ship, but it hurt their position to have all this happen before they could identify themselves. They had to assume there was now a greater risk of being hit by a surprise bullet.
They continued down the long corridor.
“This really is a big ship. It’s gotta have more than 1000 cabins, so where are we supposed to search and who do we speak with?”
“That might be a problem under normal circumstances, but the pressure will get to people and being alone only amplifies it. Those rich chickens are bound to be gathered in some big room like the opera house or basketball court.”
“We are talking about a ship floating in the ocean, aren’t we?”
Quenser did not have any actual destination in mind. He was only thinking of searching the big rooms first and checking through all the individual cabins if that did not work.
“They’re here,” whispered Heivia in front of a pair of double doors.
It was unclear what the room had been for originally, but it was serving as a party hall at the moment. Long tables formed a makeshift reception counter to the side of the door, but there were no receptionists there to check invitations. There were only a few empty chairs.
Quenser was an amateur in both guns and martial arts, but even he could sense something here. This was not the cold atmosphere of an empty school at night. He could sense something warm coming from that door, like that one class alone was spending the night to prepare for the cultural festival.
“They’re through here. I hope it’s just the fat and lazy VIPs, but they’re sure to have tons of personal bodyguards with them. Be prepared for a risky situation.”
“How exactly am I supposed to be prepared for that?”
They were still worried, so Heivia opened the double doors and Quenser chucked the busty blonde inside.
They waited a few moments, but there was no roar of gunfire.
They only heard someone pounding on the double doors from the other side.
“Eeeek!! Open up! Please open up!!”
“She seems to be doing well. So is it safe?”
“Don’t let your guard down. This might be one of those cases where only the pretty are spared.”
Quenser readied his cockroach bomb and Heivia grabbed his assault rifle while they pressed against the wall on either side of the double doors and slowly opened them.
They were met with something truly unexpected.
However, this was not an extra-large magnum bullet or shotgun slug blasting through the wall and their bodies as well. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
It was a voice.
The people gathered in the dance hall all spoke as one.
He had forgotten.
It had entirely slipped his mind.
“(Oh, that’s right. That little kid called him a knight and he’s some famous noble boy back home, isn’t he? It makes sense people would recognize him on a boat full of rich and stingy Legitimacy Kingdom people.)”
The ladies and gentlemen there all wore tailcoats and evening dresses, so it was hard to believe this was the frontline of a war. In fact, they might not have been aware this was a battlefield. They might think of the ship as an isolated safe country.
The dance hall was tall enough to cover multiple floors of the ship, so it was as large as a gym. The floor was covered by fluffy carpet, the ceiling was lined with giant crystal chandeliers, fireplaces with real fire were installed at set intervals along the walls, and the stage was meant for a jazz band or orchestra instead of plays. The food was not arranged on long tables like at a buffet. The truly wealthy did not go get their own food and drinks. The many maids would probably look across the entire dance hall, weave between the people to cover as much of the area as possible, and provide the party guests with whatever they needed.
A large banner was hung up near the tall ceiling.
It said, “New Year’s Charity Tour!! The children braving such painful surgeries deserve to see the real aurora!”
Quenser snorted with laughter.
“So they have so much money they can just throw luxury around like it’s nothing, huh?”
“I-i-i-if they have so much to spare, surely they can give us some hot drinks and a change of clothes.”
Shivering Elise Montana wanted some fresh clothes, but that was liable to land her in a tight-fitting maid uniform. That thought amused Quenser enough to keep his mouth shut and see what happened.
Heivia was surrounded by people a short distance away.
That awful friend of a noble did not look exactly pleased with the situation.
“Sir Heivia, if you are here, does that mean the Legitimacy Kingdom military’s rescue operation is going well?”
“That is wonderful news. This is exactly the heroism I would expect from the Winchell family heir.”
“I am sure the children will be delighted. Hee hee. Because we can tell them that the picture book Prince Charming really does exist.”
Then a wealthy woman glanced over at someone else with a fan covering her mouth.
“Heh heh. But it seems you have also brought along the real Santa that the military arrested.”
Elise (who had found a way to make a soaked military uniform look hot) was forced to face her worldwide shame yet again.
Quenser sighed and thought back to the base assumptions of this mission.
Then he lightly elbowed the side of the busty blonde glasses woman who was trembling both from the cold of her wet clothes and the heat of her embarrassment.
“(Nh, hh…eek??? Wh-what? Are you still not done sexually harassing me?)”
“(Pipe down, Miss Sensitive. You need to be on your guard.)”
A few things here seemed out of place.
There were some boys and girls even younger than Quenser and Heivia – only about 10 – mixed in with the party guests. They were wearing tuxedos and cocktail dresses, but their nervous expressions and awkward movements showed they were not used to this. Quenser felt more of an affinity with them, so they were likely commoners.
One small boy in a tuxedo noticed the bomb-wielding battlefield student was looking at him, so he hid behind a woman in an evening dress. Only then did Quenser realize he still had a cute cockroach in hand. The wealthy woman rubbed the small boy’s head with a thin smile.
Heivia turned back to say something and Quenser shrugged.
“Sorry, but I’m a commoner. I doubt I could join that conversation. I don’t know all that noble etiquette.”
“That’s not what I was asking. What are we going to do now?”
The surrounding ladies and gentlemen’s ears pricked up when they heard that question.
In fact, they even cut in like they were in charge.
“If we might be so bold as to ask…”
“How exactly do you intend to evacuate everyone? Will you be using a helicopter or a tiltrotor? Or are you sending in a submarine to break through below the thick ice?”
“We have all the children to think about, so we would like to focus on preserving human life. Would you be kind enough to tell us what you are planning in advance?”
Something bothered Quenser.
It did not sit right with him.
These nobles were so absurdly rich they could share their luxury with others, yet they would abandon their money to prioritize the lives of mere commoners without even a blood relation? Not a chance. And he was not just prejudiced or biased against nobles. That was truly how the Legitimacy Kingdom worked.
But that was not the main point here.
Quenser’s group had to make their next move sooner rather than later. They had arrived first, but the Information Alliance soldiers would arrive at the aurora observation ship before long. If it came down to a direct fight over the ship, who could say how far the damage would spread.
They had to change things here, but what would that require?
He had to remember the base assumptions of the mission.
“In that case…”
“Yeah, I get the feeling we’re thinking about the same thing here.”
Quenser and Heivia started speaking and the rich nobles leaned forward eagerly.
“Wh-what will you do? How exactly will you evacuate us!?”
Quenser let the other boy say it.
This would receive less backlash coming from a fellow noble.
And Heivia Winchell did not hesitate to do so.
“Instead, we’ll throw all the gold into the ocean. Then the Legitimacy Kingdom and the Information Alliance will lose any reason to attack the ship.”
The two sides were not after the human lives; they were after the gold these rich nobles were trying to hide in a secret bank. The human lives were only at risk because that gold was on the ship.
In that case, they only had to let go of that gold.
“Gold is heavy, so if you load it into a ship container and drop it from a crane, it should break through the thick ice and sink to the bottom of the ocean. Then the battlefield will shift there. I imagine it would be a fight between submarines. But whatever it would be, no one would want to attack the ship any longer, so you can wait here until the spring thaw.”
“Um, but, Sir Heivia!?”
“What’s wrong with that? Gold doesn’t rust or corrode in seawater. It’s such a valuable precious metal because you can trust it to remain the same no matter what you do to it, right? As long as you know how much you dropped down, you can recover it just fine. You could leave it there for 100 years and the amount wouldn’t change.”
The attacks might not stop unless they could prove they had dropped all of the gold from the ship, but they likely had paperwork ready for the secret bank. And since the ship was floating in the water, the depth at which it “sank” into the water depended on its weight. If the listed weight and its current floating height were compared, they should be able to prove the veracity of their claim.
“By the way,” added Quenser. “Even if we did try holing up in the ship, the gold would end up at the bottom of the ocean along with the ship itself if the Information Alliance decided to fire an anti-ship missile or ship’s gun at us. Gold isn’t changed by fire or seawater, so they won’t lose any of it even if they have to dredge it up from the bottom of the ocean afterwards. That leaves them with no reason at all to hesitate. The gold won’t function as a shield.”
Everyone fell silent and Quenser could not blame them.
At first, it might seem like the two idiots were presenting an obvious and reasonable idea, but they were ignoring one piece of the puzzle that the rich nobles refused to budge on.
They could not let the gold be stolen by an enemy nation like the Information Alliance.
But if the Legitimacy Kingdom took it into custody, it would mean revealing the existence of all the gold they had hoped to hide in that secret bank. They did not want to lose any of their money to additional taxes, so they could not let the Legitimacy Kingdom have the gold either.
Right now, the gold was within their reach.
Even if they knew its weight kept them from escaping here.
But if they let it sink to the bottom of the ocean, not even those rich nobles could access it. They would require the help of either the Legitimacy Kingdom or the Information Alliance militaries. They would be unable to prevent their assets from being stolen before their eyes.
So they could not do that.
They knew it was the safest option, but they could not choose that optimal answer.
“No, you misunderstand.”
However, a gentleman in a tailcoat said something that entirely surpassed Quenser’s expectations.
“Sir Heivia, there is no gold on this ship.”
At first, the Legitimacy Kingdom potatoes had no idea what he meant.
After all, wasn’t this entire battle predicated on that gold’s presence? If the ship was not on its way to the secret bank, the Legitimacy Kingdom and Information Alliance would not have been so hellbent on sending troops to the Arctic.
So there was only one conclusion:
“You’re still blinded by greed after all this? What happened to focusing on preserving human life!? You’re the ones that said you wanted to save the kids’ lives!!”
“You can hide the gold if you want since we can’t exactly search such a large ship in a timely manner, but holding onto it only increases the risk. Like we said, the Information Alliance has no real reason not to attack the ship.”
If that happened, Quenser’s group only had to escape with the children brought along on this charity event. The Legitimacy Kingdom only wanted the money and they could recover it from the ocean floor just fine, so Quenser’s group had no obligation to get blown up along with the stubborn rich nobles.
If they wanted to die, they were free to do so.
That may have been the difference between a commoner and a noble right there.
“No, you still misunderstand,” whispered a woman in an evening dress while stroking the head of the small boy hiding behind her. “There is something here we must protect at all costs. That much is true. But it is not gold, so dumping it into the ocean and recovering it later is not an option.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The most important thing for us is the experience and technology needed to support the children’s painful surgeries and keep them alive. Sir Heivia, we must protect that no matter what it takes. Is there no way of moving the ship or staying here and fighting? We will help in any way we can.”
This time it was soaked Elise who elbowed Quenser in the side.
“(So are they actually good people? It sounds like they are paying the medical costs for these children who might as well be complete strangers.)”
That would make for a moving story, but something seemed off to Quenser.
If that was the story here, these nobles would definitely be advertising that fact. They would have a TV crew on the ship or record this conversation on a phone to upload it to a video site. For the rich, charity was a way of spending money to buy popularity, yet that piece was missing from the puzzle here.
The rich nobles, who had never worked a day in their lives, went on to tell the truth of the matter.
“The artificial joints and organs supporting these children are made from a very valuable rare earth known as Immortanoid. In other words, they are carriers. We can implant the necessary amount inside their bodies to smuggle it wherever we need to go.”
“Thanks to the market price being intentionally driven up, I believe that longevity mineral is worth 200 times the price of pure gold. As long as we have the surgeries performed overseas, the authorities will never notice and no security guard is going to demand a child removes their medical implants just because a metal detector gate found a suspicious reading.”
“But Immortanoid will permeate water to create a mineral spring, so unlike gold, its nature is easily changed. Its value will likely plummet if it is dropped into the ocean.”
They were not reluctantly revealing the truth as a last resort and they were not tearfully confessing their sins out of guilt.
They were simply explaining it because it was relevant to the topic at hand. Almost like they were bringing up a piece of trivia about rain because people were discussing the weather.
There was a pause.
And then Heivia Winchell shouted with every last ounce of his strength.
It was actually the child himself who jumped at how loud Heivia’s voice was.
And he was still hiding behind the evening dress woman as if he had been taught that was the safest place for him. Even though he was forced to have his body sliced open, stuffed full of unnecessary implants, and sewn back up every time those rich nobles needed to transport something. He must have been forced into such a desperate situation that this seemed like the better option. People suffering from heavy abuse could not take a step off of the hopeless path back home even though they knew they would be beaten when they arrived. Because if they were late, they would be yelled at and beaten even harder. Being spared that was the only form of “salvation” these children knew.
“Hm? There is no need to resort to foul language, Sir Heivia.”
“Immortanoid is a longevity mineral. Its weak radiation is said to activate the body’s cells and it is a rare earth worth 200 times the value of pure gold. Normally, people like them could never dream of receiving this kind of treatment.”
“And it is only natural for commoners to work for nobles. We are not making them carry anything dangerous like drugs or weapons. In fact, carrying Immortanoid in their bodies will only improve their health. This is a mutually beneficial arrangement, is it not?”
They felt no guilt.
They were not aware they had even done something wrong.
This felt like a glimpse of how nobles treated commoners.
(Santa Claus doesn’t exist, huh?)
Had that child really been saying that Santa would never visit them whether he existed or not?
Those children lived in a locked-down form of peace.
They had been imprinted with the idea that taking just one step outside of that meant living in constant fear of starvation and death. Those young souls had been forced to believe that it was best to have their unnecessary branches cut away, to have supports tied on, and to give bloom to the exact flowers the adults wanted.
But that process was not complete.
When that child had seen Elise Montana, he had decided Santa does exist and run off to “tell Claudia”.
He had clearly seen the arrival of something he found unbelievable: Santa Claus.
The idea of someone who would arrive from outside that closely-managed world and reach out a helping hand for nothing in return had seemed so implausible, and yet someone wearing red had arrived after all.
In that case.
“Heivia,” said Quenser while handing his awful friend what he held in his hand.
Then he walked up, took the hand of the small boy hiding behind the evening dress lady’s back, and gently pulled him away.
He moved outside of a 2 or 3 meter radius to take just the one step off of the rails prepared for that boy.
And Quenser Barbotage spoke just one word.
With a powerful boom, a shockwave slammed into the air and those goddamn nobles collapsed to the floor.
The concussion grenade had a range of about 2 meters and the dance hall was larger than a gym and filled with ladies and gentlemen, so the one blast was not going to knock them all out.
The bodyguards in black did not seem in a big hurry to protect the shitty VIPs who had hired them.
“To be honest, we’re thankful,” said the security chief while bowing. “It’s probably wrong to act like we were on your side all along, but maybe we just needed someone to give us the opportunity.”
“Who are you?” asked Quenser.
“I am technically a noble,” The middle-aged man smiled a little. “But if you will allow me some irreverence toward that title, I would ask that you do not assume all of us are quite that heartless.”
There was an absolute wall between commoners and nobles.
But that allowed them to partially ignore the need to establish ordinary relationships with each other. They could think of each other as residents of entirely different worlds.
But what about between nobles?
That closer position had bound them. They had been unable to directly face the problem because they feared incurring the wrath of the great power those richer nobles carried.
But they had chosen to act now.
They had had enough.
Another chance might not come along, so they had decided to take the risk and try to save those children while they could.
And it was not just the bodyguards.
While they said nothing, the maids and the crew in sailor uniforms silently stepped out of the way. They could not don military uniforms and they could not fight against nobles, but they still tried to come up with something they could do.
Heivia must have understood all that.
But instead of mentioning it, he spat out a question.
“What’re you gonna do with your bosses?”
“The nobles seem to have fallen ill, so we will let them get some rest. They can rest all they like inside the ballast tank on the lowest level. It cannot be opened from within, so if the battle is lost and the ship sinks, they will be forced to share its fate.”
“Heh. That should make for a good wakeup call for them. Welcome to a battlefield country.”
“And if it is not too much to ask of you, could you possibly speak with the children once all this is over? This is something we cannot do ourselves.”
“Hm? What did those kids ask Santa for???”
The security chief smiled at Heivia Winchell’s question.
And he gave the answer.
“They asked for a true knight to show up and rescue them.”
It was possible not even the children themselves knew how serious they had been about that.
They may have asked for something they knew was impossible so they would not get their hopes up and they would feel no shock when it did not happen. It may have been their way of giving up on all hope of anyone ever coming to rescue them.
So could they now tell those children that some unbeatable soldiers had shown up to do just that?
Of course, there was no thread of logic leading up to this conclusion.
The mission to shoot down Santa Claus had started with that Christmas card sent to the military, but it should have ended in success and Quenser and Heivia’s presence in the Arctic was pure coincidence. And while they had set their sights on the aurora observation ship, their mission had not been one to save the children.
Nevertheless, through several layers of coincidence and happenstance, here they were.
A few mistakes and misunderstandings had forcibly kept that thread going when it should have come to an end so many times along the way. If they repeated this scenario 100 times, they would probably fail to notice the children in need and pass them by every single time, but for some reason, they had ended up knocking out the rich scum aboard the aurora observation ship this time.
This result defied all logic, so perhaps it was best described as a miracle.
“Heh,” quietly laughed Heivia Winchell.
A true knight.
That concept was like a dream that the children could not abandon even after seeing how ugly real nobles were. Which was why they had tried to go through that ritual so they could finally forget all about it.
After living in the world of nobles, Heivia knew all too well that the title was far too stained by profit-seeking and that the noblesse oblige they loved to talk about was nowhere to be found.
But someone was clinging to that nonexistent dream.
And he was not narrowminded enough to shake free of that desperate grasp.
“Fine then. It’s time for the knight to throw down his gauntlet and ready his rapier.”
They could no longer choose to intentionally fail their mission by running away and abandoning the kids and the maids to their fate.
The Julius Caesar had no gold onboard.
Instead, there were about 20 commoner children onboard. Yet the excessive number of artificial joints and organs implanted in their small bodies rivaled the value of a great mountain of gold since they were made from the rare Immortanoid.
A health boom had been started for investment purposes.
After pushing up the price of the longevity mineral as far as it would go, it was worth 200 times the price of pure gold.
It was said its weak radiation would activate the cells and extend one’s lifespan by 30%. That claim was laughable, but it was easy to imagine how some people would benefit by naming it a longevity mineral and spreading the word around. Humans were the foolish creatures who, if it was said to be good for your health, would pay large sums of money for goop made by boiling down the seaweed found growing just about anywhere.
What do we do? Do you think the Information Alliance will believe us that there’s no gold? I mean, we’re the enemy who boarded ahead of them.”
“Why would they believe us? They’ll just assume we’re trying to buy enough time to carry out all the heavy gold. That means they’re attacking the ship no matter what the reality is.”
And if he Information Alliance did arrive at the correct answer, what would that change?
Those children were the people of an enemy nation.
Once they learned the children had a fortune equal to a mountain of gold hidden in their bodies, they were sure to pull out a scalpel and slice them open like a dissected frog to get at the precious Immortanoid. These were the people who had started a war to get at this fortune, after all. Who could say what the actual soldiers thought. They might even think they were rescuing or protecting the children, but it was highly doubtful that their higher ups would care one whit about those human lives. They would confidently and triumphantly slice up those children in the hospitals they had been sent to for safekeeping.
“Do we hole up in the ship, or do we take the kids out and lead them back to the maintenance base? Either way, we can’t leave things as is. The rules of the battle have changed, dammit.”
“Let’s try to stay positive. Those kids are a lot lighter than gold and they can move around on their own. Those goddamn nobles were right about them being convenient carriers. We should have a few options other than dumping the treasure in the ocean and redoing everything.”
That was when a loud creaking sound reverberated throughout the dance hall.
“What the hell is it now?”
Elise Montana had been taking a look around elsewhere, but she ran back into the dance hall. She held her military mobile device out toward them.
“Something big is coming this way. It’s an Information Alliance ship! It’s far bigger than a cruiser! It’s over 80,000 tons!!”
“For real? That’s as heavy as a battleship. And since when did they still have a weapon like that leftover!?”
“Wait, what do you mean it’s ‘coming this way’? You mean it isn’t trapped by the ice?”
Instead of waiting for an answer, they all checked Elise’s mobile device.
The name on the side of the ship was Electric 019.
The footage came from photographs and videos. The scale was difficult to judge with nothing but white around it, but it was definitely big. Bridge windows were generally the same size for every ship, so Quenser realized he could use that as a reference point to grasp the scale of what he was seeing.
The battlefield student groaned at what he saw.
He was little more than an amateur, but there was something even he could tell at a glance.
“That isn’t just 200m; it must be 300m.”
Modern design standards focused on small size and maneuverability for any weapon other than an Object, but this took the opposite route. Perhaps there was an eccentric faction within the Information Alliance that was displeased with the current Object-centric system, or maybe this was the result of a bizarre evolutionary branch created by the Object-less Northern Restricted Zone.
“Even a conservative estimate puts those main cannons at 50cm,” groaned the student. “This isn’t just normal firepower. Those have to be railguns or coilguns. I’m amazed such heavy weaponry is being developed for anything other than an Object, but since it’s a naval weapon, maybe they disguised it as electromagnetic catapult research.”
“Hey, isn’t that thing moving? I though the thick ice had trapped everything in place!”
“It has a weird blade covering the bow. It’s bent in a V-shape like a snowplow.” Quenser noticed something. “Is it using its extraordinary power and weight to forcibly break through the ice? No, it’s more than that. Look at that icebreaker blade, Heivia. There’s steam coming from where it’s contacting the ice.”
“Are they heating up the metal blade with the engine’s heat, or are they giving it a high frequency vibration? The damn thing’s melting the ice as it goes. Is it like slicing through foam with a hot wire?”
“Whatever the case, it doesn’t look like this was originally part of the ship. The blade stands out from the rest. I bet they threw it together from the parts on hand, but this just means the enemy was a step ahead of us. Since they’ve moved close enough that we can see them, they must intend to blast the aurora observation ship with a direct shot similar to a tank’s gun.”
“Why bother with that? They could just throw their ball in a long arc over the watery horizon…or the icy horizon, I guess.”
“That would blast the ship to pieces, but with an even more powerful direct shot, the shell will pierce through the ship and out the other side. Just like with a tank or armored vehicle, they can demand we surrender while gradually blasting away pieces as if with armor-piercing rounds.”
“Remember the problem with my concussion grenade? You can’t negotiate if the other side doesn’t fear the weapon until you use it. This means they want to talk too. They may have their doubts that the ‘treasure’ really is in the form of gold. And torture is a much better way of getting someone to talk than execution.”
That ship would be blindly tearing up a civilian ship from one end to the other without knowing where anyone onboard was. They did not care at all about the human rights of the people onboard. Once they learned the treasure was actually the healthy rare earth(?) stuffed inside those children, they would be delighted to come “retrieve” it. They would be happy they did not have to fish anything out of the water with a crane.
Heivia’s expression was bitter, but he did not overlook what mattered.
“If they have their doubts, then they won’t sink the ship right away, right?”
“Yeah. If the treasure turns out to be paper currency or checks, fire and water are the enemy. So they’re going to apply as much pressure as they can in order to figure out what it is. They want us to give away the answer.”
Of course, all of this was based entirely on assumptions.
No matter what the people on the aurora observation ship claimed to be the truth, the Information Alliance could not eliminate their doubts that the enemy soldiers might be lying or hiding some crucial fact. They would wonder if they had enough information and wonder how much information would ever be “enough”.
That was just how things were when you were winning the battle.
In the end, there was always a chance they would decide to sink the ship right this instant.
“How many of the noncombatants, like those kids, the maids, and the crew, do you think they’ll let go?”
“Are you seriously asking that, Heivia? The Information Alliance will see them as low-priority people. Since they want to make enough of an impact to get us to talk, they might kill those harmless civilians first of all. They don’t know the treasure is actually inside those kids.”
He must have already suspected as much because Heivia did not press the issue further.
Those kids had asked for a true knight to show up and rescue them.
How it had happened was unclear.
There was no rhyme or reason to how that had led to this.
The path from the Santa Claus mission to this Arctic battle had not been planned out in any way and the Legitimacy Kingdom was only interested in the money. It was laughable to think they were interested in the rescuing the children. After all, they did not even know those suffering young lives existed.
Nevertheless, Heivia’s group had learned of that wish and here they stood.
It was a coincidence that defied logic.
In other words, a miracle.
“They won’t let anyone escape and we can’t hole up in here. That means our only option is to head out there and fight that 80,000-ton monster ourselves. We may not have to travel past the horizon to reach that Information Alliance battleship, but the journey is still going to be straight out of hell.”
“Are you suggesting we give up? Do we walk up to those kids, crouch down to look them in the eye, and tell them we can’t help them after all? Do we blame it on circumstances beyond our control and tell them to abandon all hope of things ever getting better for them?”
“I’d rather die, dammit.”
“Then let’s give the Information Alliance hell.”
Just as Heivia and Quenser had reached a consensus, the delinquent noble noticed someone looking at him.
It was that small boy.
That carrier boy had been cut open with a scalpel and stuffed full of Immortanoid joints and organs that he did not even need. The adults had abused the concept of charity to use him for their own profit, so that depressingly “ordinary” soul had to have despaired in all forms of good and justice. No, he was probably too overwhelmed to even feel that kind of hatred.
“Hey.” Heivia crouched down to put himself at the boy’s eye level. “Don’t you worry. We’ll handle it. The Information Alliance can send a warship or whatever else they want, but we won’t let them lay a finger on you, so there’s nothing to worry about.”
“How?” That blunt question cut right to the heart of the issue. “How can you protect Claudia? John said nothing can be done for us. He isn’t from the institution and has everything he wants, so he always comes to laugh at us.”
“Hey, I said not to worry.” Instead of answering the question, Heivia said something else. As if piercing straight to the foundation of what was wrong here. “I never said anything about only protecting Claudia, did I? And I don’t care what this John says. Listen, we’ll take care of everything and I mean everything. So you don’t need to write yourself out of those ‘what if’ scenarios. You deserve to be happy too. So let’s start from there, okay?”
The boy tilted his head.
It was like he had woken up to find a present by his pillow and assumed it could not possibly be for him.
He was not used to being given things. He did not know how to step outside of the greenhouse.
Those rich scum had gone on and on about charity and justice, but they had in fact stolen every last possibility of a better life for those children. Any branch that stretched out toward freedom would be snipped away to ensure it only gave bloom to the flowers they wanted.
So it had to start from here.
The words that slowly flowed forth like some kind of curse were the result of how twisted that boy’s idea of normal and ordinary had become. So no matter how horrific it might seem, Heivia could not look away.
Those words definitely left that boy’s small mouth. A normal person would have a hard time understanding it, but the boy had been forced to conform to this view of justice.
- “I was born with a terrible disease.”
- “That put my mom and dad through a lot of trouble.”
- “I heard they ended up in a lot of debt.”
- “I couldn’t go to a normal school.”
- “But someone came to help me.”
- “I can’t turn my back on them after they helped me.”
- “They say this is the right thing to do.”
- “But I can’t stand to see Claudia in pain anymore.”
- “I just wanted Santa Claus to bring a true knight for her.”
- “You can leave me.”
- “I can carry them all.”
- “I can carry all the other kids’ stones.”
He kept making rejections.
More and more and more rejections.
He was refusing to be saved.
But Heivia Winchell softly cut in while still crouched down.
And then he continued as if slicing through something invisible with a knight’s sword.
“You can relax.”
The boy broke down into tears.
It was such a normal thing, but they had never been allowed it before.
The security chief sighed from a short distance away. He had been watching that painfully twisted greenhouse without doing anything to help, so he felt like he was seeing someone grant the wish he had failed to grant.
The boy’s words were a barely intelligible mess, but Heivia Winchell definitely heard something in that mass of noise.
He heard the boy asking to be saved.
“I swear to you I’ll end this. None of you will ever transport Immortanoid again and we’ll sink that greedy battleship. I, Heivia Winchell, swear on the blood running in my veins and on the tradition of my name that I will not abandon any of you. So there’s nothing – not a single thing – to worry about.”
Then the noble son gently placed a hand on that small head.
He may have been in over his head here.
He may not have been the most morally upstanding person in the world.
But at this moment, he had to be the unbeatable knight in shining armor here.
That was his duty.
“Hey. Anything I say is probably going to sound like empty words after the garbage people you’ve been exposed to, but let me ask you one thing. Do you know why nobles like me eat better food, sleep in nicer beds, train in cutting-edge gyms, and pay for it all with the tax money taken from the commoners?”
He recalled some musty old words.
He had heard this line from his father on a daily basis until a certain incident had led to a falling out with his parents and siblings.
Nobles were those who were given land by the king to protect the people who lived there.
Nobles were those who were first to race into battle when the need arose.
Nobles were those who could do the jobs no one else could.
In other words…
“It’s to hone the strength needed to protect you.”
“By the way, Elise, why did you go to all that unnecessary trouble?”
Her brain must not have been working despite the glasses because the busty blonde only looked confused, so Quenser waved his own device at her.
“Your mobile device. You could have just sent us a message instead of physically carrying it to us.”
“What, did you not check what it says on the screen? Um, look right here.”
Their first and last challenge had begun.
If they made a single mistake or were hit by a single stray shot while moving around outside the Julius Caesar, they would be literally blown to pieces.
They had just the one chance here.
“There it is. It’s here,” excitedly said Elise Montana while observing things outside through a gap in the curtain. “It’s the ice fog. The reflected sunlight is turning everything white!!”
“Good, now we can stay hidden!”
The Legitimacy Kingdom and Information Alliance fleets had been trapped in the thick ice after moving unnaturally close in a large X-shape. The sensors had malfunctioned and vision had been poor, but the fact remained that the hastily-readied fleets had not been equipped for an extreme low-temperature environment.
They could do this now.
Or rather, if they let this opportunity pass them by, the fearsome festival of ship’s guns would begin blasting them away along with the scrap metal they were hiding behind.
The gathering of small ice crystals was a weather phenomenon, so it was all up to chance. They had no idea when it would clear up, so Quenser, Heivia, and Elise ran down the gangway and attached their Nordic skis to their boots. The snow covering the icy ground created a crunching feeling through the skis as they moved.
The disconcerting sound like the ground being torn to pieces reached them even at this distance. The Electric 019 was supposedly around 5km away, but the shaking reached their feet through the white ground.
“If they really intend to attack the aurora observation ship from one end to another, they’ll want to fire on it from as parallel a position as possible. It’s all over once they get into position. They have about 5km left, I think.”
“5km?” said Elise. “That’s only going to take them a few minutes, right? Even a battleship that big can move at several dozen knots, right!?”
“In the normal ocean, yes. But this one is forcing its way through ice thick enough to trap the average warship. It can only move about as fast as a bicycle.”
That still meant less than half an hour.
If they screwed up here, they would not get a second chance.
“Heivia, Elise. Do you remember the process?”
“Yes!! If you’re worried about anyone, it should be Miss Busty who finds miraculous new ways to be clumsy!!”
“I-I-I-I’m trying my best too!!”
Quenser glanced down at his mobile device and saw the display was almost entirely frozen. But not literally frozen by the Arctic cold.
There was another reason the military device was barely functioning.
“Let’s get started.”
On that signal, the three of them began moving toward the Information Alliance’s Electric 019 that had vanished behind a thick white screen. If they were right about this, they could never reach the side of that battleship no matter what. That meant they could not approach it and set up a plastic explosive like with the other ships.
Of course, nothing else they could do from the outside would damage a ship of that size. They would need Object-level firepower to defeat it in the traditional sense.
But they were not trying to fight in that way.
They had a single goal.
“It’s using microwaves,” said Quenser with his breath visible while he desperately stabbed his ski poles into the snow and ice. “The same as in a microwave oven! That battleship sends powerful microwaves out from that V-shaped icebreaker blade to vibrate the water molecules and raise their temperature enough to melt the ice!!”
“That does make sense,” added Elise while her large chest shook in time with the movement of her skis. “Something was clearly wrong when our mobile devices couldn’t communicate with each other inside the same ship. There had to be some kind of invisible signal getting in the way.”
“When coming up with a solution, they had to work with whatever they had on hand, so this was perfect for them,” said Heivia. “Do you think they maybe tore the radars off of the trapped cruisers and remade them into an icebreaker blade? A ton of military equipment emits high-power microwaves, after all!!”
“Oh, yeah. You’re technically a radar analyst, aren’t you? What are you doing out here on the front line when the pay’s the same???”
“I want to get back to the maintenance base so bad!!”
That meant they only had to cause some trouble there.
If they could get rid of the microwaves, not even that extra-large battleship could break through the ice. In fact, the ship’s own weight would work against it. The result would be worse than simply being unable to stop right away. What would happen if it was forced onward without being able to break the ice?
It would be helpless to stop it.
The battleship’s own power would crush it like an empty can.
“We can’t get anywhere near that battleship when it’s emitting microwaves powerful enough to melt meters of ice in real time,” said Quenser.
“I’m aware of that,” said Heivia.
“So we’ll have to stop it from a distance. And that’s where your sniping skill comes into play. It’ll be your finger on the trigger. We’re counting on you.”
Quenser let go of the object in his hand.
It too was handmade.
It was made from party decorations, so the materials had been easily obtained on that aurora observation ship: aluminum foil, helium gas, a rubber balloon, fishing line, etc.
In other words, it was a handmade silver balloon.
After filling the balloon with helium, he had fully covered the outside with aluminum foil.
“It’s at the 100m line!”
“I can’t see it in this whiteout!!”
“The ice fog is everywhere, so use the string extending from my hand as a guide. The balloon should be at the end of that.”
They circled around the Electric 019 until they had a tailwind toward the battleship. Since they could not approach the ship, they had to release a balloon and let it approach.
Also, the 100m was not its distance to the battleship.
That was its altitude.
“My hair is feeling all frizzy,” said Elise. “The small ice crystals in the air are colliding and creating static electricity, aren’t they? The electrification is starting even here on the surface!!”
They had no time for hesitation, so Heivia clicked his tongue and readied his assault rifle.
Lightning could in fact be induced.
A familiar example would be a lightning rod.
However, constructing a large metal pole on top of a building was not the only way. Basically, anything was fine as long as you introduced a highly conductive electrode into an electric field containing enough energy to induce a corona discharge.
For example, by dangling a metal wire from the bottom of a rocket.
For example, by unleashing a straight stream of pressurized water using a pump with even more pressure than a fire truck.
That field of research was known as lightning induction and it had seen partial practical results. It was no longer difficult to send lightning to a specific location as a form of divine punishment.
And lighting was a great mass of energy.
By sending it to the right location, it could distort and break down a powerful wall of microwaves.
So one hit to the Information Alliance’s Electric 019 would protect everyone.
A loud gunshot rang out, but Elise let out a sorrowful cry.
Nothing more than a balloon covered in aluminum foil was fairly weak when it came to lightning induction. To use the corona discharge, they really wanted their conductive material to be as pointed as possible like with a lightning rod.
That was why Quenser had tossed some Christmas decorations inside the balloon. Specifically, pointed stars.
The conditions needed for lightning induction were finally in place once the balloon had popped and its contents flew out.
They had not wanted lightning to strike early, so they had encased the stars in the balloon as a sort of on/off switch.
That was the plan anyways. However…
“Did I miss? No!!”
The white curtain kept them from seeing what had happened 100m above them, but the string Quenser held had definitely gone slack. The balloon had popped, but it had not caused the lightning induction they wanted.
“Was the electric field at a different altitude than we expected? Elise, you said your hair was feeling frizzy, right? Let’s do it a little lower next time! 80m!!”
“How many chances do we have left!?” asked Elise. “I doubt this whiteout will last forever and anyone around here would have heard the gunshot. They have to know we’re here, so if they fire a ship’s gun based on the sound, only a huge crater will remain here!!”
“They’re breaking through the ice as they go, so they shouldn’t be able to accurately detect where the sound came from!!”
“You can’t know that when we aren’t on their ship!”
“Then do you think you can escape a battleship’s EM cannon on foot? Cause I know I can’t. That means destroying it before it can fire is our only chance!!”
They shoved the decorations made of colored metal leaf into the deflated balloon, inflated it with a can of helium, and attached the fishing line. Then they covered it with the decoy aluminum foil.
And they let go so it took flight.
“Reach it, reach it,” repeated Quenser as a type of prayer as the balloon rose at the other end of the fishing line.
Repeating the same thing after failing once was nerve-racking, but changing things up without thinking it through would only lead you astray. Their theoretical calculations had been accurate, so as long as they could make up for the slight margin of error brought by reality, they could induce this lightning.
Heivia let out a white breath and aimed his assault rifle into the sky.
There was no problem here.
They should be able to do it.
“I-it’s clearing up.”
They heard a fearful voice as Elise Montana looked all around them.
“The ice fog is clearing up!! If we don’t hide, the battleship will notice us and focus its fire on us!”
Quenser clicked his tongue and used a short cooking knife to cut the fishing line. Then he practically embraced Heivia while collapsing behind a nearby pile of scraps. He was still wearing his skis, so he nearly twisted his ankle.
They had to redo it all.
“Are you sure this will work?” asked Heivia in a dark voice while covered in snow and ice crystals.
Once the white screen cleared up, they were stuck in place.
Their makeshift cover was only good for hiding them. A shot from the ship’s guns would obliterate them along with the scrap metal.
And they could not wait forever. Once the Electric 019 arrived in position, it would mercilessly fire on the aurora observation ship.
It was a real dilemma.
“Are you sure this entire method isn’t just wrong!? We’ve trapped ourselves with this idea of ours and wandered into a dead end!”
“Quiet, Heivia. This is only a short gap in the white curtain, so we’ll have our safe zone back soon enough. We just need to get one hit in. If we can induce lightning where we want it, we can win this!!”
Heivia aimed his rifle at his ally.
You must never aim at an ally and we must all work together to win this battle. That sounded nice and all, but he had his own reasons for needing to survive this.
His finger was on the trigger.
And he quietly asked a question.
“ ‘I just need one more’ is a warning sign when gambling. You can get two 7s pretty easily at the slots and going from two-of-a-kind to three-of-a-kind in poker is really hard. You aren’t letting the pressure get to you because those kids’ lives are on the line here, are you?”
“That might be true when you’re relying on a meaningless jinx like ‘instinct’ or ‘luck’, but we’re talking about real logic and statistics here. You’ll lose big if you change your well-thought-out plans based on your fear of some invisible factor like an unlucky streak.”
The student looked the other boy in the eye even with the muzzle pressed against the center of his forehead.
He gave the obvious answer.
“Do you want to know how to win a million euros at the horse races? Prepare 100 million euros, use an emotionless program to purchase tickets in a way that gradually builds up a small profit margin, and keep at it until you have 101 million euros. After all, it’s a mere 1% difference from your starting amount. As long as the statistical and probability theory your program uses is accurate, you can win like that. It’s not about luck or a winning streak. Sound logic and repetition will earn you a surefire victory. Listen, even if you hit a temporary setback, you aren’t going to improve things if you get scared and change your plan on a whim. Doing that will only lead you away from victory and you’ll end up losing again and again until you’re drowning in debt.”
Elise waved both her arms at them.
“P-please get down! We can’t count on the whiteout right now, so you can’t let your colorful heads poke up above the scrap!”
Heivia removed his assault rifle’s muzzle from Quenser’s head.
They endured the wait behind cover.
They endured it and suppressed so much tension it felt like their hearts were leaping out from their throats.
They could feel the shaking of the battleship breaking the ice.
Quenser saw a change in the wind.
“I-it’s back,” said Elise. “The ice fog is back!!”
“That ate up a lot of time. We don’t have much to spare, Heivia!!”
They world was enveloped in white, but Quenser repeated the exact same process as before. After being stuck in place like that, this was so stressful it seemed to be taking years off their lives.
His hands were numb from the cold.
Or were his fingertips trembling from fear and tension?
He had trouble setting up the balloon in the same way as before. He wanted to lash out in frustration, but he told himself that would not improve matters.
Yes, they would not get many more chances at this. He knew that. It was all over once the Information Alliance Electric 019 detected them, but this frigid world might also cause the balloon’s rubber to crack. It did not matter how many spare balloons they had if all of them were rendered useless.
“This is terrifying,” said Heivia to honestly express his mental state while holding his assault rifle’s grip.
The air was cold enough to freeze his eyelashes, but he was pouring with sweat.
Anyone would be afraid.
Anyone would want to run away.
They could not run from the fear of death here and messing up this one shot would seal the fate of the aurora observation ship’s passengers and crew. There had to be something wrong with anyone who felt nothing in this situation.
“Then are you going to give up?”
Quenser was not speaking to anyone else.
He was really speaking to himself while working with the fishing line.
“Are you going to head back to that boy and tell him we can’t do it after all due to circumstances beyond our control?”
In that final moment, Heivia Winchell laughed.
Quenser did not usually think about it.
He just saw that boy as an awful friend.
But the fact that Heivia could say this may have been the proof that he was a noble.
“I’d rather die than do that.”
He pulled the assault rifle’s trigger.
A moment later, a great boom and flash of light seemed to split the world asunder as it dropped straight down and mercilessly pierced the bow of the Electric 019.
It took a long time.
In fact, it took more than half an hour, but the gray ship made of steel and composite armor was slowly but surely destroyed like an aluminum can in a vise. First, the icebreaker blade was crushed and fell off. The ship was enormous, so it could not stop right away even though everyone onboard had to know it could not keep going.
The crew may have had a chance to escape outside.
Assuming the continuing bending of the walls did not seal the thick waterproof doors shut.
“The Information Alliance has made a temporary retreat. Or rather, they seem to be waiting to see what happens. They appear to be reassessing their fundamental strategy based on the assumption that an unknown meteorological weapon based around lightning has been introduced to the battlefield,” said busty silver-haired Frolaytia. “Anyway, it was fortunate that gave us the time we needed to evacuate the children from the ship. The greedy Information Alliance will gain nothing when they attack the aurora observation ship again. I say we let them waste months stripping off the wallpaper and tearing up the floorboards in search of some nonexistent gold.”
“Did anyone bother to remove the nobles from the ballast tank?”
“Leave them be. The Information Alliance is sure to greedily search every last part of that ship, so they might just happen across that bonus prize.”
That sounded a bit much for a simple scolding. Nobles would probably be able to find their way back home using diplomatic means, but they might still have to spend the remainder of the holidays in a cell the size of a phonebooth inside an Information Alliance internment facility.
“What will happen to those children?”
“We need to do something about their artificial joints and organs. If word gets out they are filled with valuable products, they could still be abducted by someone up to no good. Those will be replaced with standard-priced commercial products. Let’s hope this is the last surgery they ever need.”
“And who’s paying for that?”
That question might sound harsh, but unlike for nobles, it was an unavoidable part of life for commoners. If those children’s families had not been in financial trouble, the nobles could not have used the treatment of the children’s illnesses as an excuse to use them as their pawns.
But Frolaytia actually smiled in response.
“Their cooperation has eliminated the risk of all that Immortanoid being hidden in a foreign secret bank, so the proper taxes will now be paid. The government is most thankful. They say the additional taxes will add up to a large enough sum that a small ‘cooperation fee’ can more than cover for the surgeries. The strict government workers might actually send a fruit basket this time.”
Then she gently placed the long, narrow kiseru in her mouth.
After a pause, she continued.
“Oh, are you interested in that too, Major?” asked Elise. “Um, are you perhaps interested in hot springs as part of your Island Nation hobby?”
“I have no interest at all in radiation therapy administered anywhere outside of a specialized medical facility. That just sounds dangerous. More importantly, Elise, are you aware at what percentage Immortanoid is found in the ground?”
“Um, it is worth 200 times the value of gold because it is so rare, right? I assume you would only find a fingertip’s worth if you dug through an entire desert.”
“You assume wrong,” Frolaytia smiled a little. “The answer is zero. Exactly 0.00%.”
Between the Lines 1
This is the story of a world far removed from that battle.
Specifically, it occurs behind a domed stadium. A simple container-style building had been set up within the large material storage yard to provide a dressing room. In the modern age, a 3D printer was enough to build a house.
The silver-haired, brown-skinned Information Alliance officer named Lieutenant Colonel Lendy Farolito mentally gnashed her teeth while viewing the video news on a largish tablet device.
(A mission to shoot down Santa? Dammit, Legitimacy Kingdom, that’s actually a really good idea!! That kind of heartwarming military news is supposed to be our specialty. Ahhh, they beat us to it! They beat us to Santa Claus!!)
The Pilot Elite of her maintenance base peered over at the tablet from the side.
That girl with gorgeous ringlet curls had just finished passionately singing at a Christmas concert for about two hours, but she was intently focused on the screen here.
However, she was not interested in whether or not Santa existed.
“Ho, oh ho ho. This…this music playing in the background!! That is my Christmas song, isn’t it!? How dare they use it without permission! Royyyallltiiies, royyyallltiiies!!!!”
She started sounded something like a zombie from the Capitalist Corporations.
It was the Information Alliance style to start wars over this kind of thing, but Lendy figured nothing major would happen this time. War required the veneer of justice. If they squashed the Christmas spirit underfoot by starting a war over royalties for a major song, it would only hurt their public image. They would benefit more by playing the sensible adult and overlooking it just this once.
Similar to TV commercials and online banner ads, it was worth paying a lot of money for something as unquantifiable as a good image.
“What are you doing?” asked the Elite.
“We receive leave over the New Year’s holiday instead of Christmas, so I mentioned we are holding a military exercise at a Caribbean resort, remember? The budget for that is a little low, so I was thinking I could earn a little something extra to make it a really luxurious vacation.”
“So you’re investing tax money for personal gain?”
“Call it asset management of public funds.”
The Information Alliance was like a manifestation of virtual currencies and electronic money, but that meant it was difficult to get rich quick using the investment methods already widely known to the public. That was why Lendy was headed in a different direction.
“Hee hee. A bank. It’s a bank. The age of banks is upon us.”
“Huh? That’s where people store their money, right? I don’t see how that leads to profit.”
“Really? This is a new form of business where you spread disinformation among the residents of an unstable country to work up a panic, convince them their bank accounts are about to be frozen and all their assets are going to be worthless, give them a chance to convert that money into a rare earth that will ‘never lose its value’, and make sure to charge a commission for each transaction. Mwa ha ha. This gives me a 100% chance of profit! It’s guaranteed money!!”
Chapter 2: Between the Year’s End and the Year’s Beginning >> Uyuni District Salt Flat Suppression Operation
Let’s all enjoy the end of the year together!
The final big event of the year begins now!! Are you ready for the Royal Cleaner!?
Now, this was a major problem.
Inside the maintenance hangar large enough to contain the entire 50m Object, the blonde Princess looked something like a small animal with too many acorns in its cheeks. It was honestly very cute, but she would probably hit you if you said that in front of her.
“It feels like no one even needs me anymore. Quenser and the others get to have all the fun.”
“We were thrown out into the Arctic without those armor panels or even the bare minimum of a bulletproof jacket!! It was awful! It was so awful I can barely stand it! It was just the worst!!”
Quenser Barbotage was half speaking his mind and half trying to earn himself some sympathy, but the more he said, the worse the Princess’s mood got. She was curled up in the corner and refusing to look him in the eye.
A short distance away, the old maintenance lady breathed an exasperated sigh while holding a huge hydraulic tool.
She could not believe that damn fool did not understand the basic fact that talking on and on about how “awful” everything was could be devastating to the kid who missed out on the field trip.
“I hear you met Santa, Quenser.”
“The kids on that ship said Santa saved them, so you must have seen him, right?”
The information had gotten twisted along the way, but correcting her would not be the kind thing to do here.
“Ha ha ha. Well, it wasn’t as exciting as you’d think.”
“What kind of person was he?”
“I’m on the naughty list, so I didn’t get a present.”
Also, the Baby Magnum was the foundation of the 37th and only the Princess could pilot it. Any damage to her mental health could harm their future operations, so the old lady casually joined the conversation.
“Here, Princess. If you’re so bored without anything to do, I have plenty of work I can give you. There’s a lot of salt in this area, so we need to clean your Object as often as possible.”
“It isn’t the quality of the work that helps make memories. Simply spending time together strengthens our bonds. And this can double as that Royal Cleaner event too.”
She was still reluctant, but the Princess lifted her butt from the ground. More than just looking reluctant, she actually kept her lips pouted like a small child as she grabbed the cleaning equipment with both hands. The equipment was larger than a mop. It was most likely a larger version of the polishers that used polishing discs on the exterior of a car.
Meanwhile, Quenser actually looked surprised and glanced over at the old lady.
“You actually keep up with that kind of stuff? And here I was wondering why everyone was talking about that Royal Cleaner thing all of a sudden.”
“Because I’d rather not become a geek who can’t even make small talk.”
That one hurt coming from a wrinkly old lady.
In reality, the old lady’s geek levels far surpassed Quenser’s, but that just meant she knew exactly what to say to hurt the kind of person who had gotten way too into one particular interest.
The battlefield student dripped with sweat and gestured wildly while trying to explain himself.
“I-I-I-I know what it is! I’m up on all the latest trends! That’s the new event they created to fill the empty spot between Christmas and New Year’s, right!? And it’s a time for cleaning!! Everyone gathers together and cleans up the town!! I was only pretending. Yes, only pretending not to know so I would blend in!!!!!!”
The safe countries would likely be full of young people dressed in swimsuits, maid uniforms, and other outfits that kept the filth off of their normal clothes during this midwinter cleaning. While the event was meant to be about cleaning, it was mostly enjoyed for the sense of unity and to have a big party while dressed up in costumes. But since they were cleaning up as volunteers, the adults could not get mad at them like with the wild partying that happened at Halloween.
Based on the cheers and excited cries coming from outside the hangar, the festival had reached the maintenance base zone as well. The maintenance team was simply too strict for that.
“(Well, life in the Island Nation was enough to see plenty of this before. Businessmen are always inventing and altering traditions to create whatever kind of event they need to make some money, so this hardly new. Just like with Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s, the people just want to party and don’t give a damn where the holiday came from or how it was originally celebrated.)”
The old lady sighed and tossed Quenser a metal water sprayer nozzle that was leaning against the wall nearby. It had a thick tube attached and it was far more than just a firefighting hose. That thing looked more like a small beam weapon.
“You can take care of the main cannon joints. Sand and salt are the enemy, so spray it all off. Use the ALS to detect any left behind.”
“Sure, sure. What wavelength?”
“385 nanometers. It’s nothing but normal salt, so stick to the basics.”
The Baby Magnum itself was a huge sphere, which meant little space to stand on, so it was surrounded by steel beams and scaffolding like a jungle gym. It also had stairs and simple lifts, so it looked a lot like a small piece of modern architecture.
Quenser circled behind the Object, attached his lifeline to the metal railing, and then squeezed the trigger on the metal nozzle he held at his hip. He meant to start out with a weak blast, but the water pressure was so powerful he was nearly launched backwards.
The old lady looked as exasperated as ever from the floor below him.
“No one’s interested in seeing a guy like you all wet. Get to work.”
“Do none of you maintenance workers have a healthy fear of heights!?”
What he had to do was simple: blast the Object’s joints with the powerful water gun to remove the caked-on salt. However, the stubborn salt could not all be seen with the naked eye, so he had to wear special goggles and shine a purple light on it to see where the “stains” were.
“Okay,” said the Princess from directly above him.
Her cleaning device was something like a monstrous electric toothbrush larger than a mop. It was primarily used on the sensors, so it was most efficient to let the Pilot Elite herself do that job. That meant Quenser had to work separately from her this-
“Bfhh!? Um, uh! Princess, what are you doing!?”
“You have to ask? This is the Royal Cleaner.”
Something had changed.
The short-haired Princess had been rummaging around inside the crane’s box seat, but when she emerged, she was wearing a classic maid uniform instead of her skintight special suit.
It was true people tended to wear things like that during the event, but…
“Wouldn’t your uniform have been good enough!? If you were only worried about getting dirty!?”
“You don’t like it?”
He was on a lower level and she was on a higher level, so the result should have been obvious. The classic type had a long skirt, but their positioning meant he could see right up it. However, she did not seem to have noticed that fact. But he could not let himself rejoice. What exactly he could see will have to remain unsaid!! Because if he rejoiced here, she would catch on!!
The old maintenance lady was working on the level below Quenser, so she would see the same thing if she happened to look up.
(How can I keep myself in this paradise for even one second longer!?)
With a cry like the star of a Capitalist Corporations action movie, he somewhat bent the jointed light attached to the railing nearby. Using bright lights to cover up indecent things was a trick invented for Island Nation TV broadcasts. Who better to take inspiration from here than the geniuses who had first introduced Objects to the world?
“Hm? What is it, Quenser???”
“Nothing!! Just working to get out a stubborn bit of salt!! Out, damned spot, out!!”
He poured all his efforts into washing away her suspicion.
Meanwhile, the old lady did not seem to notice that her vision was unnaturally obscured.
“It’s all about probability and statistics. In other words, they’re after an economic effect. I bet the Royal Cleaner had its beginnings in the Capitalist Corporations and spread to the other world powers as word of it leaked out. The marketers were fine with any event they could use to get people fired up between the 26th and the 31st.”
“Ehh? What’s wrong with that if we can all have some fun together? Grin, grin.”
(Th-this is working. I’ve finally set things up perfectly!! Now no one can intrude upon my paradise!! Oh, light blue, huh? I see, I see. Such a lovely and refreshing color reminiscent of mint ice cream. Grin, grin, grin!!)
The panties overhead made a weird noise.
She was still holding the monstrous polisher in both hands and carefully polishing up the area around the delicate sensors. That meant she had nothing left to hold down her skirt…or she shouldn’t have, but that “umbrella” was unnaturally bent inwards.
She was working at close enough range that she had bent her arms in to hold the polisher up against her body as she worked.
She was holding the monstrous cleaning device like a body pillow while its powerful motor caused it to vibrate.
(W-wait, is something awakening inside her? Princess, are you experiencing an awakening from that vibration traveling through your body, just like with a bicycle seat or the corner of an old washing machine!? Yes, this is fantastic news. This is a most wonderful thing, Princesssssssssssssssssssss!!!!!)
Quenser’s thoughts were cut off by a silly sound of surprise from the girl.
Because he was staring so intently overhead, he saw something slip from the Princess’s hands thanks to all the slippery cleaning fluid.
And a moment later, that mass of metal and a motor fell from the level above and hit the idiot square in the face.
“Ohhhh. Ohhhhhhhh, Myonri!! How the hell are you still alive after your helicopter got shot down!?”
“Um, I’m really not sure what you’re talking about, but I wasn’t on a helicopter during the last mission. And, Heivia, if you use this outburst of emotion as an excuse to hug me, I will shoot you between the eyes and blame it on an accidental discharge.”
“And farewell, Quenser! I’m choosing this capable jack of all trades as my buddy, so you can work with that clumsy young woman who can find a way to trip on a perfectly flat floor!! Hahhh hah hah!!”
“Nooo!! Don’t shift all the blame away from yourself and run away! Why don’t I get a break from this nonsense!?”
Quenser could only cry on his own after Heivia and Myonri abandoned him.
And Elise Montana was muttering to herself with an even darker look on her face.
“Why am I being treated like some kind of god of poverty by this king of the railroad nerds? Does no one in the goddamn 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion have a user’s manual for how to treat girls?”
But their complaints meant nothing when it was a job.
Quenser and Elise climbed up the side of an armored vehicle parked nearby to reach the flat roof.
“Oh, and, Elise? We’re headed into battle, so you should remove those cat ears.”
“Eek!? What, no, you’re kidding!? Now you’ll know I wore cat ears and a school swimsuit and covered myself in soap bubbles to clean the bath with my entire body!!”
“That’s not the right outfit for someone as curvy as you!! Why didn’t you invite me!?”
Why hadn’t she? Because Quenser had been busy looking up at the Maid Princess’s panties. He could not be in two places at once, so if he wanted to attempt to enjoy multiple sexy events simultaneously, he would have to destroy the concept of an alibi and accept the existence of parallel worlds.
They ended up bickering like usual, but Elise Montana seemed in a bad mood. She removed her cat ears headband and pouted her lips like a child.
“Besides, I am a sergeant, you know? I outrank you, so you need to show me the respect I deserve!!”
“I dunno why you’re expecting a student to care about rank.”
“Okay, okay, Sergeant Pacifier.”
“Ehh!? Not even a rank of colonel or general can hope to make a dent in a word like pacifier!! It’s smothers all the other flavors like mayonnaise!”
Their uniforms were pure white this time.
But not because the higher ups were continuing to harass them by having them attend the battlefield in wedding attire.
“The Uyuni Salt Flat. Hyah, that’s incredible,” said Elise. “It’s nothing but salt as far as the eye can see.”
“It looks flat, but they say the elevation here is about 3600 meters. That’s about the same as the Island Nation’s Mt. Fuji, so make sure you don’t get altitude sickness.”
“Um, is that something you can prevent by being careful?”
It was December and they were in the Southern Hemisphere where the seasons were reversed, but it was still chilly at this altitude. On the other hand, they could feel the bright sunlight piercing into their skin. They were not on the midsummer beach, but they would probably get a tan in no time if they were not paying attention. That may have been another unique trait of a tall mountain environment.
“Allll of this is used to mine salt to be sold, right?” asked Elise.
“That’s a real Capitalist Corporations way of looking at it. But that may be why we were given these weird things.”
Quenser banged the heel of his boot against the flat roof of the armored vehicle they were sitting atop.
It was not a tank.
It was likely based off a tank’s design since it used a continuous track (because that reduced development costs and was easier to maintain), but it did not have a rotating gun on the top. Instead, a device that resembled a giant pinecone was attached to the end of a thick shaft. That was a drill, so this was a tunnel-drilling vehicle used to quickly create shelters or tunnels during wartime.
Heivia and Myonri’s vehicle was kicking white dust(?) into the air a short distance out ahead, but it had two mantis-like arms folded up and a bulldozer-like dirt-pusher attached to the front. That was known as a military engineering vehicle and it was used to move fallen trees out of the way or to level out the runways for an airfield.
Frolaytia’s voice arrived over the radio.
“Our objective today is to defeat the Capitalist Corporations’ Second Generation Police Queen.”
“Let me guess, she’s wearing a police uniform and carrying a whip,” commented Quenser.
“Our busty commander already has the dom in a tight skirt thing covered,” said Heivia over the radio. “So enough of that creepily nice voice. Hit me with the whip already!”
Quenser frowned because Elise shook her radio up and down with a puzzled look and then scooted over next to him. All the salt in the air had apparently broken her military equipment already.
“Their entire military is a crazy collection of PMC forces, but this one is especially bizarre,” continued Frolaytia. “This Object was built by their police special forces instead of their military.”
“A police Object?” asked Quenser.
“What good is that?” added Heivia. “Chase after a criminal in that and they’ll reduce the entire city to rubble.”
The military and the police were very different categories even if they were armed with the exact same machineguns.
If the military performed police work, it would mean they were aiming their guns at their own people. If the police did military work, it would mean they had crossed national borders to arrest someone and were thus forcing their rules on another country. That was why any threats were designated as either terrorists or another nation’s soldiers and those two organizations pursued them accordingly. Of course, it would sometimes turn out that the supposed terrorists were really elite commandos trained in a military facility.
“The Capitalist Corporations always pursues the most efficient and profitable business model. Going to twice the effort is a waste of funds, so they have previously tried to combine those two organizations. The Police Queen is another example. Although it may be less of a serious answer and more of an extreme answer meant to shift public opinion in the direction they want.”
“Wait, but don’t Objects cost 5 billion dollars each?”
“It’s the same as TV commercials and online banner ads. Manipulating public opinion is apparently worth the cost to them.”
That was quite something. Quenser was more interested in getting access to tangible technology than in acquiring formless influence, so this felt a lot like someone paying large sums of money just to become first in their class.
“If the Capitalist Corporations military and the police are squabbling, we can us that to our advantage. We just have to widen the existing crack into a large rift.”
“Hm??? Then why are we destroying the one police Object they’re testing out? Wouldn’t it be more effective to attack the plentiful military Objects to weaken that side of the equation?”
“Why am I hearing Elise’s voice coming from Quenser’s device?”
The two of them were sharing the one radio. The vehicle was shaking, so the busty blonde’s soft cheek and the side of her glasses would sometimes bump into him while he exchanged information, but…
“And you need to look further ahead than that, Elise,” said Frolaytia. “If the Capitalist Corporations military and police are fighting, everyone will expect the military to win with their superior numbers. Pretty boring conclusion, right?’
“But what if the police Object actually fights an enemy Object and is defeated and then the military adds insult to injury by continuing to attack the surviving police officers? They’ll be attacking the allies of the people who just lost their precious Object, so can you imagine the backlash? We all know who everyone in the safe country will side with. They’ll all curse the PMCs, say they don’t need a military that attacks their own people instead of the enemy, and decide the police should build more Objects. Yes, all those people with too much time on their hands will let emotion get the better of them and support the losers. And they will never even think about what the ensuing chaos and standstill will cause.”
Their mission was as godawful as ever.
This was not a lack of understanding how people’s minds worked. The military intellectuals were out of control because they understood that too well and abused it.
Busty blonde Elise Montana held the side of her glasses and stared off into the distance as if trying not to face the reality in front of her.
A giant form rose up there.
However, it was not an Object. It was a mass of salt the size of a large tour bus. Salt was rolled up in cylinders like the bales of hay on a farm and then stacked up in pyramids. It was not much different from how pipes were stored, but the sense of scale was entirely different.
Humans must have unconditionally felt awed when faced with enormous things or with a countless array of identical things.
“At 9000 square kilometers, this is the world’s largest salt flat and salt producing region,” said Quenser.
“Those pyramids can provide cover for an entire Object,” said Heivia. “Are we supposed to be the bugs crawling along the floor of a giant kill house?”
However, there was no sign of the Police Queen itself. There appeared to be a few more pyramids beyond the horizon as well, but where was it hiding?
“We cannot rely on the satellite images,” bluntly stated Frolaytia. “The Uyuni Salt Flat is entirely made of salt, so it acts like a giant greenscreen. Normal photos come back entirely white due to the reflected sunlight and laser range-finding is thrown off by the reflectance. We are scanning with radar on the ground, but that will not detect something hiding behind those salt pyramids. It keeps vanishing and reappearing.”
“But I guess that also means the Princess can hide from them too.”
“The Princess is following behind all of you and she will provide the finishing blow. Your job is to construct beneficial terrain. The ground is all salt, so you can dig through it all you want. The Police Queen uses an air cushion system to keep it afloat with the power of air, so whether on land or water, it will be greatly influenced by the bumps and dips in the surface. Stop it with a pitfall so the Princess can shoot it. That will end this.”
“There’s no way it’ll be that easy,” groaned Quenser while staring off into the distance.
“I would normally be right there with you in your pessimism, but not this time,” said Heivia. “I mean, that walking disaster zone is with you!! Hahhh hah hah! You’re carrying all the misfortune yourself, Quenser, so you can shield us from all the bullets! Meanwhile, we’ll have a nice, relaxing-”
With a strange rumbling sound, Heivia’s military engineering vehicle vanished from view up ahead.
Quenser quickly grabbed his radio.
“Stop! Stop for a moment!! What was that!?”
To make sure she was not thrown off by the rapid braking, Elise clung to and squished her large chest against the thick shaft of the drill rising up in front of them. It was nerve-racking how they slid forward a bit despite using the same continuous track as a tank. They must have been tearing off the top layer of salt on the white ground.
With the utmost caution, Quenser moved to the edge of the flat roof and peered down from the front of the tunnel-drilling vehicle. They had just barely stopped in time.
Stopped in time for what, you ask?
“Oh, ohhhh. A-are you for real with this?” someone groaned from below.
“Well, that’s no fun,” complained Quenser. “Heivia’s just fine.”
They had fallen.
The white salt flat looked like a single smooth mirror-like surface, but it actually had a large trench in it. This did not look at all natural. That abnormal blank spot was shaped like one of those tour bus-sized cylinders. More and more of those gaps were connected together to create a long, long labyrinthine series of trenches.
“I know they say the white salt flat messes with your sense of perception, but it looks like that works vertically too. You can’t tell how deep the hole right in front of you is.”
Frolaytia had said laser range finding from a satellite was unreliable on the all-white Uyuni Salt Flat, so they would have to walk around themselves to see how far that trench labyrinth went.
“Ughh. Is this an anti-tank trench?”
“You were driving that thing, Myonri?” he said into his radio. “But you might be overthinking it. Couldn’t they have just been digging out the salt they sell?”
Myonri really was a jack of all trades.
The military engineering vehicle had fallen onto its face(?), but its butt was wiggling side to side. But that mass of armor was not trying to seduce him. It was using the two mantis-like arms to try to right itself.
“Huh? It can do that?”
“This thing’s arms have previously proven their worth by punching through a thick fortress wall and letting in a bunch of soldiers during a battle in Oceania,” said Heivia. “As long as it gets close, it can tear away a tank’s front armor with brute force alone. It’s like using a sickle on an aluminum can.”
“Yeah, but I feel like the ‘getting close’ part wouldn’t be easy. I’ll admit everyone loves crab claw weapons, though.”
“If you have time for exasperated sighs, then how about you help out!?”
“I would very much love to, but how do you suggest we drag out a hunk of metal weighing nearly 30 tons?”
Quenser’s exasperation continued, but then he realized something.
Elise Montana had not said anything in a while. That was usually a sign of her causing some kind of trouble that no one had asked for (which she would apologize for with her boobs).
She was not looking into the trench where Heivia and Myonri had fallen. She was staring off into the distance, so Quenser followed her gaze.
“Do you see some kind of shadow extending out to the side from behind that salt mountain?” she asked.
A short distance away, the white cylinders forming one of the salt pyramids collapsed without warning.
A 50m mass of metal came into view.
The giant rolls scattered every which way, some of them rolling their way. While they were made of salt, they were still the size of large tour busses. The relative density of salt was greater than 2, so they would weigh twice what an equally-sized tank of water would. A hit from that would flatten the average car.
They were a mere 1500 meters away.
They could not rely on satellite footage and it could hide from the surface radar scans by hiding behind things, but still.
“That’s way too close!!!”
“What, did Elise step in something again!?” shouted Heivia from within the trench. “I think it’s about time we slapped those tits of hers!!”
“Am I the only one who feels like I already repaid my debt during the Arctic mission!?” protested Elise.
“Capitalist Corporations Second Generation Police Queen detected,” said the Princess over the radio. “If I do not move in, everyone will be killed!”
“Understood, Princess. And the rest of you toilet brushes! If you don’t want to be demoted to helpless baggage, then get to work!!”
“Get to work!? You’re the one sitting back in your comfy command chair!!”
Danger was coming from ahead and behind.
Quenser gulped and grabbed Elise’s hand just as the first wave arrived. They had no choice but to jump down into the trench where Heivia and Myonri waited. Just as they rolled off the flat roof instead of jumping down, the giant cylinders of salt smashed into the tunnel-drilling vehicle equipped with a pinecone-shaped drill.
Things were not going well.
A mere 30 seconds into the battle and they had already lost their work vehicle.
“Wh-wh-wh-wh-what do we do!? We need to save the tunnel-drilling vehicle’s driver!!”
“Wait, Elise!! Rush out there without thinking and you’ll just inform the Police Queen that there were survivors!! That thing has thick armor and a first-aid kit, so as long as it doesn’t blow up, they’ll be safer inside that scrap metal!!”
“Dammit,” complained Heivia. “Why do you two sound so much more serious about rescuing them than when it was me?”
A giant form cut by overhead, but it was not one of the salt cylinders rolling around. It was much bigger. It was hard to tell from the split-second glimpse of the underside, but it was probably the Police Queen. Air rushed into the salt tunnel like a solid wall shortly after it passed by.
“Cough, don’t breathe!! It’ll damage your lungs.”
The ridiculously powerful gust of wind was a problem on its own, but it was also carrying fine salt. The amount was far different from what was found in the shaker on the dinner table. When it was dumped over your head, it was more like a slow-acting poison.
“What the hell is going on up there?” asked Quenser.
“Hey, wait!” shouted Heivia. “That’s our vehicle. You don’t get a free ride after showing no interest in saving us earlier!!”
Quenser ignored that useless comment while climbing onto the roof of the military engineering vehicle that had finally righted itself. The trench’s depth was about the same as a large tour bus, so standing on that tank-based vehicle and stretching up was not enough to see what was happening on the surface.
“Hey, a little help, Myonri?”
Quenser tied his mobile device’s strap to the end of one of the crab-claw arms, set it to video recording mode and had it lifted up like a periscope.
It had only been a minute, but being left behind for just that long was enough for impatience to burn in their chests. It felt like being in a foreign country during a disaster and hearing all the speakers play an urgent warning in the local language you did not understand. Was it saying you were in a safe spot and should not to move, or was it saying to get out of there because that area was dangerous?
They were starving for some accurate information.
They wanted to know what to do to survive.
The footage was mostly useless since they could not see what they were recording, but when freeze-framing it, they finally got a good look at the Police Queen.
The giant spherical main body had three arms attached at the top and evenly spread out along the front 180 degrees like a fan’s frame. The weapons were hanging down from those.
“I-it actually has flashing lights on top? Is this some kind of joke to them!?”
“That’s probably meant to emphasize that they’re only the police.”
The main cannons…were unknown.
Were they low-stability plasma cannons, laser beam cannons, railguns, coilguns, or rapid-fire beam cannons? There should have been some slight identifying features to figure that out, but the battlefield student could not find the answer from viewing those colossal cannons. They may have been able to switch between types like the Princess’s could.
They had already known it used an air cushion system, but it specifically had two ski-like floats that extended back behind the spherical main body. Those were held together when moving straight, but during turns and rapid stops, it could apparently spread the backs out into a V-shape to adjust its balance.
“Damn, it’s fast. And not just its top speed. It can move side to side faster than the Princess too! She’ll be overwhelmed like this!!”
“I can see why our busty commander was so insistent we stop it for her. But why the hell are we challenging an opponent we know we can’t beat spec-wise!? That’s just asking for a painful battle full of sorrow!!”
At any rate, they knew that moving up onto the surface would end badly.
There was no saving them if that Capitalist Corporations Second Generation locked onto them. The unidentified main cannons were bad enough, but it could also directly crush them by approaching while it whizzed all over the battlefield.
And with that in mind…
“This thing’s arm can drag the stuck tunnel-drilling vehicle down here, can’t it?”
“Hey, didn’t we just conclude going up there is a bad idea!?”
“I can’t just leave them! We’ve waited this long and there’s still no sign of the driver. Keeping the Police Queen from realizing there were survivors is our top priority, but there’s no saving that driver if they’re crushed again either by accident or on purpose. We’re free to move down here, but we have to get them somewhere safe to wait for rescue!!”
Heivia scratched at his salt-covered head.
Of course he was hesitant.
It was all over if they were noticed. This was like climbing into the lion or gorilla cage to save a child who fell in. Even if you knew it was the right thing to do, the fear gripping your heart was very real. Doing it by the book would be difficult for anyone.
After a loud click of his tongue, Heivia finally gave a shout.
“Fine, let’s do it!! Oh, hell, there’s no escape is there? Nothing good ever comes of being around that walking disaster zone!!”
“Um, excuse me!? I had nothing at all to do with this one!”
They ignored the busty blonde glasses woman who grew tearful at this unfair criticism.
Quenser looked at his radio.
“Princess, where’s the Police Queen!? The dot on our devices is based on the maintenance base’s ground radar, so we can’t see it when it’s hidden behind those salt pyramids. Is Zone C5 safe!?”
“I am currently engaging it in Zone D5. That is fairly close to there. What are you planning?”
“I want to drag a stranded ally into the trench labyrinth.”
“Understood. I will lure it to D3. Rescue them ASAP.”
They only had one chance at this.
They started by crumbling the salt wall with a plastic explosive and using the military engineering vehicle’s crab-like arms to smooth it out into a diagonal slope. The continuous tracks brought the vehicle up with a grinding noise, but a layer of softer crumbled salt got in the way. The student ducked down when he heard the loud squealing. If that 30-ton mass slipped down on them without warning, it could easily kill them while they watched on from below.
Once at the top of the salt slope, the crushed and stranded drill vehicle was right in front of it.
But a voice spoke over the radio while the vehicle’s arms wandered hesitantly back and forth.
“It was damaged a lot worse than I thought. If I grab it with the claws and try to pull it down, it would probably tear apart. It might even explode.”
Quenser rushed up to the surface where explosive booms continued shaking the air and pulled a thick wire form the winch reel on the back of the mass of metal Myonri was driving. He climbed on top of the scrap, made a circle of the pinecone-shaped drill turret to tie the wire in place, and then spoke into his radio.
“Pull now! Hurry!!”
“If the wire snaps, you’ll be slapped by a piece of steel thicker than your thumb. Jump down!!”
The white ground was torn away as a fairly forceful game of tug-of-war began. Myonri was probably using a camera to see, but watching that heavy machinery back up like that was a powerful sight.
And a panicked voice cried out just as it was disappearing down the slope.
The military engineering vehicle descended the slope first and the tunnel-drilling vehicle followed afterwards.
That was simple enough, but the latter vehicle had been reduced to scraps and could not use its gas or brakes. The junk had apparently slid down the slope and collided with Myonri out front.
A normal tank or armored vehicle might have been pushed all the way down and crashed into the opposite salt wall, but that military engineering vehicle had two mantis-like arms.
“Ghhhhhhh, take this!!”
The crab claw ends held the scraps back while Myonri had her vehicle slowly descend the slope as if slipping back bit by bit. If she used too much or too little force, they could easily lose their surviving vehicle too.
The student shouted down from the surface.
“Is there anything I can do to help!?”
“Stay back! These are two 30-ton vehicles, so getting caught between them could take off a limb!!”
Instead of using the slope, Quenser jumped directly down from the edge of the large trench opened in the ground.
He had made the suggestion, but he could not find anything to do.
While he anxiously searched around, the two vehicles completed their one-minute descent down into the trench.
They were both safe.
“Well done, Myonri! I’ll buy you a drink or something later, so figure out what it is you want!!”
“Please don’t talk about what will happen ‘after the battle’. It’s bad luck. More importantly, can someone pull out the tunnel-drilling vehicle’s driver? It would be safer to bring them in here with me, wouldn’t it?”
Luckily, the hatch was not particularly bent. As instructed by Myonri, Quenser pulled out the driver and found it was a 13-year-old girl with bright brown skin.
“I’m so glad we didn’t abandon them.”
“Why are you treating her so differently from me?” asked Elise. “Do this world’s rules favor the small or something?”
She may have cut the inside of her cheek because there was a bit of blood dripping from the corner of her mouth, but there was no sign of broken bones or serious internal bleeding. The blood in her mouth was probably not coughed up from an organ injury. They worked with Myonri to load the injured girl into the functioning vehicle.
“U-ughh.” A weak groan escaped the silver-haired, brown-skinned girl’s young lips. “Save me here and there’s a good chance I’ll fall in love with you…”
“That’s an awfully self-interested reason for love. And I notice she’s hedging just like those disinfectant sprays that say they kill 99.9% of germs.”
With the sound of scraping metal, several of the Legitimacy Kingdom’s gold Christmas coins fell from her breast pocket. The filthy schemer had apparently been ensuring peace of mind by converting her money into pure gold in between battles.
“Yup, she’s a member of the 37th all right. You call her type a fortune hunter, right? Y’know, the people who marry a much older rich person and then get divorced three days later. I won’t be surprised if I see her on a millionaires list through nothing but alimony.”
She did not look on the verge of death or anything, so Quenser let the fancy noble treat her wounds while he instead looked through the materials left over in the crushed vehicle.
“Here, Myonri. I brought over the first-aid kit and PDW from the other vehicle. Plus a shovel, a fire extinguisher, a smoke grenade, and a few rations. And if you can believe it, she had a whole coffeemaker set in there. And I mean one with a mill to grind the beans before putting them in the dripper. There’s no point leaving it all in there, so store it all in here, will you?”
“Can’t we ride in here too?” asked Heivia. “Being outside scares the hell out of me.”
“Sigh. You can if you like, but the trench’s walls are made of fragile salt,” said Myonri. “If they collapse and cover up the hatch, we’ll be trapped in here until we all suffocate, but if that’s what you want, be my guest.”
The two idiots’ balls shriveled up and they declined, as did the busty woman who had no balls.
They needed someone to dig the vehicle up if disaster struck.
After removing the winch wire from the scrap and retrieving it, they finally got back to work.
The Baby Magnum and the Police Queen were still locked in combat. Any chance they had was gone as soon as the Princess lost. Frolaytia had apparently been focused on the spec differences from the beginning, but that only meant they had no chance unless they could stop the Police Queen according to plan.
“Ksh, ksshh. Quenser, can I make a request?” asked the Princess. “If you can do it, anyway.”
“What are these?”
Some bright glowing dots were flashing on the map of the Uyuni Salt Flat displayed on his mobile device.
“I will drive the Police Queen into position, so please split open the salt ground at the point I give you.”
“This is something human legs can handle, right? I’m getting dizzy just thinking about trying to keep up with your 500km/h speed!”
“Like I said, if you can do it.”
The original plan had been to spread their troops out across the area and have whoever was at the requested point do the detonation or drilling, but it sounded like the unexpected circumstances had prevented the potatoes from reaching their designated positions.
“Where should we start?” asked Myonri over the radio.
“All of us survivors lose any support if the Princess loses, so we need to destroy the ground below the Police Queen, don’t we?” said Quenser. “We may not be able to cover all of them, but it seems safest to work out which spot is closest to the greatest number of points and wait there.”
“Hey, wait,” said Heivia. “We don’t know where this trench goes, do we? Can we really reach where we want to go by following this? Doesn’t figuring out the layout of the labyrinth come first?”
Both of them had a point, but they could do the computer work while checking out the labyrinth. They could work out the spot closest to the greatest number of the Princess’s possible request points in advance.
“Point F9. That’s our goal!!”
“Now it comes down to whether or not this trench reaches that point. We might have to dig into the wall and climb to the surface.”
Heivia was about to say more, but they once more fell victim to their inability to judge perspective or the flatness of the terrain.
It looked like a single straight path, but some men and women with carbines suddenly appeared up ahead. They were Capitalist Corporations soldiers. No, according to Frolaytia, these would be police officers and not soldiers. It was hard to tell since the dark blue bulletproof jackets and synthetic clothing would have been the same either way.
The only real difference was the distinctive flat police hats, the star-shaped badges on their chests, and the tight miniskirts on the women.
They were about 100m ahead, so there must have been a T-junction there.
The encounter came as a surprise for both sides.
However, the Legitimacy Kingdom group was in the middle of a straightaway and the Capitalist Corporations one could use the turn as cover. Once the latter group regained their cool and started shooting, the former group had no chance, so Quenser immediately shouted an instruction.
“Run them over!!”
“What, but the miniskirts!”
Panties could not save the world.
The tank-like continuous tracks tore into the salt ground as Myonri drove the mass of steel straight ahead. It bumped into the salt walls a few times along the way and tore off white chunks. The space was as wide as a tour bus, but that was barely enough. When they charged forward, the infantry would have a hard time dodging to the side.
The potatoes clinging to the roof were in a fairly risky position as well.
If this bluff failed, they would be riddled with bullets in no time, so Quenser felt the need to give a shout to seal the deal.
“Hah hah hah!! Don’t blame us! Blame your bad luck and your lack of equipment! This is how things are when you’re winning the battle!!!!!!”
Just as he was getting carried away, his vision dropped straight down.
To repeat, the pure white surroundings messed with their sense of perspective. That was why Heivia had not noticed the trench in the ground and why they had not noticed the T-junction that allowed these enemies so close.
Also, the ground was made of salt. There was no real limit there, so you could dig as deep as you wanted.
In other words, it was like a river interrupting the straight-line path.
The military engineering vehicle driven by Myonri fell to a second level of the trench labyrinth.
Now that their vehicle had fallen, Quenser’s group was in a bind.
They had to assume the worst at all times.
For example, what would they do if their opponents had fallen into a silly pitfall?
“Get down! Hurry!!”
Quenser kicked the busty blonde from the roof she was so stubbornly clinging to and then jumped down himself. A solid metallic thunk reached his ears before she could cry out in protest.
A grenade sans pin had been thrown down before bouncing off the military engineering vehicle’s roof.
They managed to shove themselves in the slight space between the two tank-like continuous tracks just before the powerful explosion erupted out. More than a simple explosion, it came with the added bonus of small metal fragments. If they had not gotten below the vehicle so quickly, they never would have survived.
Since the anti-personnel grenade used fragments to injure, it could not destroy the tank-based vehicle.
The ringing in Quenser’s ears was too loud to hear anything, but he tapped Heivia’s shoulder and pointed upwards.
The Capitalist Corporations group had to be delighted.
But just as they peeked over the edge of the cliff to check on the results, Heivia aimed his assault rifle up and let loose a quick spray of bullets. Heads were blown away along with their distinctive hats, but they could not relax yet.
“We don’t know how many of them there were!! Find some way to check!!”
Their enemies were human too, so they were not going to just stand there after being hit by a surprise attack. They would likely fall back and use the salt walls for cover.
A deep hydraulic sound rumbled without warning.
“Now I’m pissed!!”
Myonri appeared to be a tad upset about falling for a trap and then having a grenade thrown on her head, so she spread out the folded-up mantis-like arms and made a horizontal sweeping blow to the trench a level above them.
Except this functioned as more than sweeping the enemy’s legs out from under them.
With a disturbingly raw slicing sound, the police officers (were they too privatized in the Capitalist Corporations?) had their upper bodies separated from their lower bodies.
Heivia quickly pulled his head back under the vehicle to avoid the shower of blood and gore.
“Not the women…ugh!!” shouted Heivia. “Wh-wh-what is wrong with you!? I’m so sick of this war!!”
“Says the killer,” replied Myonri. “Minding your manners now is not going to make you seem refined.”
Myonri used one of the crab-claw arms to grab a grenade from one of the enemy’s corpses. She could not pull the pin out like that, but it did no matter. She held the arm up on the higher level and crushed it with the hydraulic power to detonate it. The blast scattered metal balls across that entire space.
All the gunfire and screams ceased.
“Some might be playing dead, so please go up and check for me,” said Myonri.
“Who do you expect to do that? Because I know I’m not peeking up at that upper level full of mutilated corpses. That’s the kind of thing that traumatizes-”
Myonri grabbed the stubborn child by the back collar of his uniform and lifted him up.
“Gyah! Not the sexy policewomen in tight skirrrrrrrts!!!”
Heivia’s sensibilities were far from normal, yet what he saw up their still managed to elicit a scream from him, so Quenser and Elise huddled together like kittens below the bed while their teeth chattered in fear.
Human Periscope Heivia was slowly lowered to the ground while his soul tried to escape from his mouth.
“Okay, I checked. They’re all dead. So very, very dead.”
“U-um, they technically count as police officers, so should we have killed them?” asked Elise. “I don’t want to be accused of slaughtering foreign civilians.”
“They have an Object. Once you’ve acquired the right to fight a battle, your life is fair game.”
It was unclear how the trenches had been dug, but the second level ran perpendicular to the first level. It was like a river cutting across the path, or like an intersection shifted vertically. If they were not prepared to further crush those mutilated corpses with the continuous tracks, it would be better to continue along the second level instead of returning to the first. Although that was more about their mental health than pure logical reasoning.
Elise must not have wanted to sit on the roof while it was filthy with red blood and guts, so she sprinkled some salt all over the roof and then pulled a device out of the vehicle. It was a polisher, a car-washing device that used a motor to rotate a polishing disk that would get the exterior of a car nice and shiny in no time.
“Things are finally feeling in line with that Royal Cleaner event.”
“N-now I’m worried there might be a third and fourth level as well.”
“I will follow the second level for now, but the ceiling above us introduces even more risk if the salt collapses,” said Myonri. “Be careful, everyone.”
“How is being careful supposed to increase our odds of survival, dammit?”
Myonri was right that the salt above them made the second level a true tunnel, so they did not even have the sunlight anymore. She switched on the vehicle’s headlights, but that felt terribly inadequate. This was very different from a highway tunnel that had orange lights installed every so often.
Heivia gave an annoyed look down at his staticky radio.
“What, did it get some salt inside and break?”
“Yay!” celebrated Elise. “I’m not the only clumsy one!”
“Wait, I don’t want people thinking I’m as clumsy as her! Anything but that!!”
Of course he did not. Heivia did not wear glasses, he was not busty, and he was not a young woman, so he would receive none of the breaks she had.
However, Quenser had a more optimistic view.
“I bet the connection is just blocked by the tunnel. Myonri, radio check.”
“Feeling lonely, Quenser?”
That exchange proved two radios in the tunnel together still worked.
“Based on my mobile device, we should be approaching F9.”
“Thank god the map was stored on the local device. But what if we reach the goal and find we still have a salt ceiling above us?”
Luckily, there were no traps that detonated the entrances on either end to bury them alive. After driving about 200m along, the ceiling opened up again and connected back to a large trench on the first level.
Quenser blew up the wall, Myonri used the arms to smooth out the ramp, and the military engineering vehicle drove up to the higher level.
“We’re finally here,” said Quenser while walking out ahead of the vehicle instead of returning to the rusty-smelling roof. “I see Point F9 up ahead. Now we can finally help out the Princess.”
Without the oppressive ceiling of salt, they could receive the blessing of EM signals again. Gaining updated data on their mobile devices was their top priority, but they could not stay still in the meantime.
“Myonri, a little higher.”
On Quenser’s instruction, the thick folded-up arm extended upwards. It was as thick as the steel beams used in buildings, so after it came to a stop in a diagonal position, Quenser climbed up it and straddled the crab-like end.
He had risen above the first level to arrive at the front line on the surface.
When he peeked out, he saw the vast expanse of salt and the white pyramids made from stacks of cylinders. He also saw the masses of salt rivalling large tour busses in size that were rolling every which way after those pyramids collapsed. There was also a trench labyrinth dug all over the salt land like the underside of a circuit board, but he could not see that with his sense of perspective thrown off. The battlefield was as hellish as ever. They did not want it to be as flat as a mirror, but all these things covering it also created more opportunities for death.
However, that was not the first thing he noticed.
He first noticed the odor that reached his nose.
(What’s that burnt smell?)
He could see Legitimacy Kingdom military vehicles here and there. He could not believe they had actually driven up onto that dangerous salt land. A supply vehicle was relatively close by. It looked something like a boxy snowmobile on continuous tracks, but it was actually a support vehicle filled with replacement pinecone-shaped drills for the tunnel-drilling vehicles.
Since that supply vehicle appeared to be alone, the tunnel-drilling vehicle it should have been paired with may have been destroyed. It could have fled back to the maintenance base zone, but it must have been driven by an overly obedient soldier who wanted to continue gathering intelligence.
An intermittent low rumbling shook the air.
This was not anything as contradictory as a safe war and they were not an audience viewing a fireworks show. The Baby Magnum and the Police Queen continued their intense battle even now. Since the enemy was a police Object, it may have been doing some profiling based on the Princess’s fighting style to work out her personal idiosyncrasies.
Quenser looked around and then brought the radio to his mouth.
He had left the salt tunnel and could finally send out a message.
“Princess, we have arrived at F9. We will now place explosives on the salt wall. Send us the request when the timing is right for you.”
“Quenser? You need to get out of there!!”
He received an awfully urgent response just before a 50m colossus crossed the trench about a kilometer away from his position. He had lost sight of it until now because the fine salt swept up from the white ground had briefly obscured his vision like a thick layer of snow in the air.
The Police Queen had only slid a little bit, but he could still tell. Just like an ad for cleaning the bath pipes, that white wind was racing toward them with ferocious speed.
“Please stay still. Relax!!”
Myonri’s mechanical left arm grabbed him by the collar just as the fearsome gust of wind slammed into his body. A sharp pain ran through his cheeks as the fine salt struck them. He could not possibly open his eyes under these circumstances.
“Ugh, cough!! Heivia, Elise, you haven’t been blown away like a leaf in the wind, have you!?”
“Don’t worry,” said Heivia. “I even had time to consider kicking her down in the middle of it all.”
“Does anyone have a business ebook I can read?” asked Elise. “Like 100 ways to get a fresh start after getting to know the absolute worst people?”
This explained why the Princess had told them to get out of there. Crawling around at the feet of those colossal weapons was suicidal, so there was no safe zone here.
Or he assumed that was the issue.
“Quenser, go back underground! It’s targeting you!!”
Surely she meant it was “coming their way”.
What did she mean it was “targeting them”?
It normally required another Object to destroy one of those nuke-resistant colossal weapons. That was supposedly the view all four world powers took, yet this one was ignoring the Princess to instead attack the infantry crawling along the ground?
He did not have time to think about it any longer.
A distinctive purple light washed over them. This was clearly not just a searchlight.
“ALS!? Oh, no!! It’s scanning the terrain!!”
“What did it just do to us!?”
“That’s a special wavelength of light used in forensics. Purple would be 385 nanometers. It highlights fingerprints, footprints, blood stains, and other samples needed to track the crime. You can think of it like a mechanical version of a police dog, so can we really escape this!?”
The air cushion Second Generation had just crossed to one side of the large trench and now it moved back to the other side. It seemed to be slaloming as it approached them. Arms covered the front side of its spherical main body like a fan or visor and the unidentified main cannons attached to those swept over to aim at them.
“This is bad, Myonri! Back up! Back into the tunnel!!”
He tried to shout, but it was too late.
As soon as the targeting lenses whirred, one of that bizarre police Object’s main cannons gave a roar!!
The sticky splat that hit Quenser in the face was not at all what he had expected.
He was utterly baffled.
He thought his heart had stopped on reflex, but once he calmed down, he realized this made no sense.
Heivia looked like he could barely breathe after also taking a load to the face.
“Ew, cough!? Wh-what the hell is this slime? Was that a lotion cannon!!!???”
“Ah, ahhhh!! I’m slipping! Everything’s all sticky, so I’m falling off the roof!”
With everything from her boobs to her glasses all goopy, the busty blonde frantically moved her arms in search of something nice and hard to hold onto for support, but despite her efforts, everything she reached for slipped from her grasp. Her white uniform was also slipping off of her.
However, they could not just laugh at the silliness of it all.
Quenser heard the loud screeching of a vehicle slipping on the white land a level above him. It was the Legitimacy Kingdom supply vehicle. It had the same continuous tracks as a tank, but it could not grip the ground and kept sliding a bit to the sides. The people and vehicles could no longer move.
“A nonlethal suppression weapon? Oh, I get it. They probably specialized in this direction since they’re police. So things like stun guns, tranquilizer darts, mace, batons, and shields.”
“Wait, so is that all they have? Cough, they don’t have a giant man catcher that can grab the Princess by the hips and swing her around, do they?”
They were discussing that when another shot was fired. It looked like a signal flare stabbing into the ground away from any noticeable target.
All of the sticky goop erupted into flames.
Get out of there.
They finally understood why the Princess had sounded so urgent while warning them from her Object.
It was flammable.
The flames spread in all directions. It was like a ripple of fire expanding from a single point, so the white land was engulfed in crimson hellfire before long. There was nothing they could do. The supply vehicle was stuck on the salt land and only kept slipping when it tried to move. The shocked soldiers fled the vehicle, but their fate was the same. They could not stay standing and kept falling down into the stickiness.
Nonlethal? No, this weapon let them choose whether the target lived or died.
The first wave had arrived.
The human screams were drowned out by the deafening roar of the flames taking in oxygen.
This really was a world where the people who did their jobs right were the first to die.
Quenser and the others were powerless to help them. Or rather, they had their own problems to deal with. The mystery goop had poured down on their heads too and that connected back up to the flammable substance scattered across the surface.
“Eek, eeek, eeeeeeek!?”
“No, Elise! Don’t climb down!!”
“But, but, the fire, the fire, it’s right there, the fire!”
“A 30-ton vehicle with tank-like continuous tracks will still slip, so our boots can never grip the ground!! We need to get onboard!! Get inside!!”
Their hands slipped again and again, but they managed to get the hatch open and hop down into the military engineering vehicle. That was a 2m drop, so it really did knock the breath out of them. Still, the weak student managed to move his trembling spine to force himself up and close the hatch.
A moment later, they were enveloped by an explosive roar on all sides as orange light engulfed everything outside.
They had no desire to peer through the periscope.
Quenser grimaced because he knew what that burning smell had to be. Even those tactless potatoes felt awkward knowing their lungs were filling with the smoke created by cooking their own allies alive.
The battlefield student pressed his back against the wall, sat down, and wiped the deadly flammable substance from his brow.
“Thank god this was a construction vehicle. If it wasn’t made airtight to keep dust out, it wouldn’t have severed the ‘fuse’.”
“Hey, what kind of detergent can wash out napalm? This is scary as well! A single spark of static could ignite us!!”
Naphtha was a type of gasoline, so anything that broke down oils would work. They might end up with nice smooth heads since that was the same stuff used to get stubborn scorch marks off of ventilation fans, but they would not have to worry about spontaneously combusting.
That was when they felt the tug of inertia.
The vehicle was moving.
“Um, I’d rather not to use that as a solution again, but burning away the goo gave me a grip again. Now we can move back.”
There were still some odd irregularities in the roar of the engine and the vehicle kept coming to a rapid stop as if pitching forward.
The busty blonde (who had been upgraded from sticky to bubbly) trembled tearfully with small white bubbles on the tip of her nose.
“Uwehh. I guess that would do some damage, wouldn’t it? If the engine stalls here, we can’t avoid being roasted inside this giant oven.”
“I bet the heat of the flames is preventing the radiator from cooling the engine fast enough. How about this!?”
Myonri seemed to have some kind of idea and they heard a deep scraping sound. However, the vehicle was not taking any damage.
“You tore down the salt wall and dumped it on us?”
“Whoa!? Th-that could’ve buried us alive!!” shouted Heivia.
“But you can’t dump water on an oil fire, right? Okay, that seems to have put out the fire on top of us, so now’s our chance!”
Myonri moved the continuous tracks to back down the hill and reach the second level that had a salt roof. That sounded simple enough, but rapidly backing up with tank-like continuous tracks was difficult even with camera assistance. It was easier to just turn the gun around.
“How can they call that thing a police Object?” asked Heivia while nestled lovingly against the steel wall and crouching down. “They ignored another Object and fired napalm at the people running around at its feet. They couldn’t be more inhumane.”
“You didn’t know, Heivia? The police aren’t bound by war treaties, so they’re always shooting dumdum bullets into fleeing suspects’ backs. Fleeing civilian suspects. Meanwhile, a soldier would be thrown into solitary confinement for that.”
“They’re fighting a goddamn war here!!”
“They probably think of it as fun little business trip. I doubt they’re even aware this counts as war.”
“What kind of double standard is that!? That’s it. I’m not setting foot outside this vehicle!!”
“Umm,” interrupted Elise. “A single shot from that thing will cause the entire tunnel to collapse and bury us alive and I’m pretty sure a lot of salt already got into the radiator while putting out that fire just now. If we do that too many times, the engine will definitely burn out. The melting point of salt is about 800 degrees, so it’ll probably melt onto the metal like cheese on toast.”
This really was the worst.
For whatever reason, the Police Queen was targeting the humans first.
It was probably using ALS, ninhydrin, and audio and video analysis. It used every system the police used to track its targets. Mercenaries in the jungle would use their experience and senses to track the enemy soldiers based on footprints in the mud or broken branches, but the Police Queen added a ton of scientific approaches on top of that. Of course, that would be used for more than finding evidence. It was surely hooked up to a large computer in order to profile the Princess.
At this rate, Quenser’s group had no way of supporting the Princess. They would be killed the instant they appeared aboveground. And those potatoes were not patriotic enough to act as a decoy for a nuke-resistant Object.
“That said, the Princess will lose if we don’t do something. Do you think an Object with such broken morals will actually listen to the White Flag signal? I don’t want them hunting down all the survivors with flamethrowers and napalm rounds!!”
Was the Police Queen aware of the Baby Magnum’s specs? Did it know it could win a one-on-one battle, so it intended to take out the puny infantry to eliminate even the smallest possibility of an upset?
“This feels different somehow.”
“I mean, there is a difference in specs between the First Generation Baby Magnum and the Second Generation Police Queen, but the Princess can still get a clean hit in. I get wanting to avoid an upset, but is that really a good enough reason to distract yourself in front of an enemy Object? If it tries fighting the Princess while essentially messing around on its phone, the Princess could get a clean hit in and it’ll lose a battle it should have won. Could the Elite really look away from the deadly gun barrel when their life is on the line?” Quenser was so lost in thought that he forgot he was covered in napalm. “They could ensure their safety if they could just get a single hit in on the Princess, so there’s no need to delay that by eliminating other uncertain factors. The best way to avoid being hit is to destroy the other Object as quickly as possible, so why this?”
“I get what you’re trying to say,” said Elise. “But aren’t you being awfully vague about any of the specifics?”
“Something else scares them more.” He sounded confident. “What would you do if someone was holding a gun in your face, but a huge dump truck was rushing in from the side? You’d look away from the gun to face the greater threat, right? The Police Queen is afraid of something even more than the Princess’s main cannons. But what?”
He ignored Heivia telling him to stop.
The battlefield student climbed the ladder, opened the hatch overhead, and climbed back out into that world of death and scorching heat.
Myonri was the one who calmly stated the problem with this.
“Leave if you want, but there’s no escape if you get caught in that sticky hell.”
“That’s why I’ll do this.” He pulled the thick wire from the winch, wrapped it around his hips, and waved toward the vehicle’s camera. “If things look bad, reel me in with the winch. That way I can escape the napalm area.”
“Okay, but I can’t do it gently. Don’t blame me if it slices you in two.”
It was unclear how serious Myonri was about that, but Quenser crouched low and walked through the salt tunnel with his lifeline in place. The makeshift ramp was difficult to climb on foot. Reaching the first level required using his hands as if doing some light mountain climbing. Salt must not have been as flammable as wood or paper because the napalm fire was already gone.
Then he realized something.
(Crap, I can’t see up to the surface without the military engineering vehicle here. I could always use a bomb, but would the Police Queen notice?)
A sweet voice followed after him.
He looked back to see Elise Montana still wet and sticky, but from the detergent now instead of the napalm. She was running over to him with a shovel in her hands.
“What are you doing here? You could have stayed in the vehicle and drank some coffee.”
“Eh? They had something so wonderful in there!?”
“Hm? We transferred the coffee equipment over from the destroyed drill vehicle, remember? It included a mill for the beans and a dripper.
The communication disruption from the second level’s salt tunnel had caused some less important harm as well.
They had to meet face to face to discuss this kind of thing.
“B-but I couldn’t bear to just sit there waiting. I’m starved for information, so please let me do something. I’ll do anything.”
“Hold on, where’s your lifeline?”
That said, Quenser would have been stuck without her help.
The first level salt trench was about the width and depth of a large tour bus. They could tear down the wall with a bomb, but they could not allow the Capitalist Corporations Second Generation to notice them. They wanted to observe things as silently as possible.
“Okay, I’ll lift you up, Elise.”
“That’s fine, but please don’t let your feet slip so you fall backwards! That would be far worse than a suplex!!”
Operation Piggy Back was a go.
Quenser was on the bottom and Elise on top.
Since she was soaked from the detergent used to get the napalm off, the presence of her crotch was impossible to miss. Plus, she must have been afraid of being suplexed because her thighs were squeezing him excessively tight. Battlefield Student Quenser Barbotage’s experience points were skyrocketing from this government job that meant having his face squeezed between a beautiful woman’s wet thighs.
“(Damn, if not for this, I’d have abandoned her long ago.)”
“I’m actually helping, so can you please not mutter threatening things like that?”
However, Elise still could not reach the upper level even when stretching her hands up. They had no choice but to strap a mobile device to the shovel she had brought and reach that makeshift selfie stick up like a periscope.
After filming the hellscape above, they pulled it back down.
Quenser lowered Elise Montana and extracted his head from the giant tunnel formed by her legs.
Then they both viewed the small screen.
“There it is. And it’s still fighting the Princess.”
If they had been fighting for this long, it meant the difference in skill was much smaller than the difference in specs suggested. There was not a devastating difference there, so it made no sense for the Police Queen to annihilate the surrounding infantry “just in case”. It would not have the focus to spare.
“Huh? It’s firing that sticky stuff at the Princess too, isn’t it?” said Elise. “Is it trying to roast the Object so its reactor overheats?”
“Overheating an Object that can survive a nuke? Not likely. That’s probably high-pressure water.”
“In other words, a water jet like the ones used to slice through steel panels in factories. They apparently increase the cutting edge by upping the friction with artificial diamond dust or something, so I bet this is a similar process. Firing a heavy goo will pack more of a punch than smooth mineral water.”
After watching the video for a while longer, they saw one of the Princess’s seven main cannons get torn off pretty spectacularly. Destructive power like that might be enough to tear down a broadcast tower at the base.
“Isn’t it dropping some hedgehog-like things while it fights? What are those prickly things? I hope they don’t blow up.”
From a distance, they could see those mechanical chestnut burrs rolling around like tumbleweed in a western, but even those would function as deadly rollers that skewered any flesh-and-blood human they happened to hit.
Nevertheless, Quenser doubted they were weapons meant to cause destruction. He stared at the footage of those devices that looked like concrete tetrapods or sea mines covered in protrusions.
“The spikes sticking out on all sides are exactly a meter long and they’re painted with 10cm-wide stripes. They must be baseline rulers for triangulation. The same idea is used for the video analysis of security cameras. It increases the accuracy of radar locks and of image gathering.”
“Modern security cameras can apparently predict when someone is going to shoplift based on the tension of their cheeks muscles. They must be following the movements of the Princess’s lenses and joints, so it’s all over once they work out the patterns there. Any chance of a direct hit goes away.”
“Eeeek!? So she’s in a lot of trouble!?”
“We are too. If it stabs echo rods into the ground and has them send out terahertz waves, it might be able to detect the humanoid silhouettes through the thick layer of salt. That’s how airport security sees inside luggage and coats without opening them.”
“Eh? Talk about scary new tech. That doesn’t let people see right through your clothes, does it?”
That aside, Quenser thought quietly. Why did it switch its power output between anti-personnel and anti-Object attacks? Was it afraid of destroying the salt flat below itself if it used too much power?
The Police Queen was outdoing the Princess with its high-speed mobility based on the ski-like air cushion system, so was it most afraid of losing its freedom of movement?
This was odd.
It felt like the Legitimacy Kingdom and Capitalist Corporations were looking at this situation differently. Things were not fitting together, like a shirt buttoned up in the wrong holes.
With those two propulsion devices held together, it could rapidly accelerate. When it spread the back ends in a V-shape, it could rapidly brake. When it adjusted the angle to break the symmetry, it could make sharp turns. It was indeed swishing back and forth over the trenches dug in a labyrinthine path around the salt flat, so would it really be that troubled by someone blowing up the ground?
The blond boy paused the video and zoomed in at one point.
But that point was not the Object.
It was one of the white pyramids of salt cylinders standing in the background.
“Wait, wait. I’m missing something. The issue isn’t with the switching over of power output.”
“Um, I have no idea what you’re talking about anymore, so should I just stay quiet?”
“Why did it light that fire?” Quenser felt like he had grasped the crux of the issue. “If it simply didn’t want us messing around out here, it only needed to fire that slippery lotion cannon. Those slippery conditions make it too dangerous to move for people and for vehicles, so we couldn’t have dug through the salt or blown it up. Trying anything would only have led to accidents.”
“Can you stop calling it lotion before we try to have a serious discussion here, you son of bitch? Anyway, you can never be entirely sure what someone is going to do. Wouldn’t it be better to seal the deal by burning them away than simply hoping they won’t do anything?”
“That’s not the point.”
Quenser zoomed in on another spot of the same freeze-frame.
This time, it was a faint white haze covering the Object.
“We overlooked that giant thing’s presence at first because of this stuff.”
“Um, you mean the fine salt thrown into the air like snow?”
“That’s not salt.”
Dry ice, liquid nitrogen, etc.
A number of possibilities came to mind, but Quenser went with the most extreme of the bunch.
“It’s probably liquid helium. The coolant is let out as a gas once it’s been used, so it takes the form of a white haze.”
“Ah!” cried Elise.
“Its main cannon is a water jet that fires a liquid, so it wouldn’t need that stuff.” Quenser slowly sighed. “Same for the air cushion system it uses to stay afloat. So where is it using that liquid helium that has to be below -200 degrees? And what for? If we narrow down the candidates one by one, we should find the answer.”
“In that case…”
“Yes, that fire had a purpose other than killing, but it can’t exactly show off the weakness it’s afraid of having exploited, so it disguised it as a way of attacking enemy soldiers. There must be some reason it had to burn this salt land. It’s that simple. That’s why it altered its power output and used fire for the finishing blow.”
He stopped speaking there because a sticky cannon blast passed by overhead. It was not directly aimed at them, but a giant sticky beam sliced through the sky all the same. Just like with water from a hose or a water gun, some of it splashed down on them.
Even if it was more of a mist than anything, napalm was napalm.
In the worst case, the fine mist of explosive could behave like a fuel-air explosive.
“That’s our cue to leave. Myonri, reel it in!!”
“Umm, I don’t think your radio is going to reach her inside the tunnel.”
“Then what’s the point of this lifeline? Okay, let’s run, Elise!!”
“Awawa, awa, awa. Please don’t leave me behind!!”
Just as they were descending the makeshift slope from the first level to second level tunnel, the student glimpsed something yellow out of the corner of his eye. Since everything around them was white, he assumed it was some weird afterimage like when you looked at the sun and blinked, but it was not.
There really was something in the roofless first level trench.
It was a yellow construction helmet.
“There’s someone here.”
Quenser thought his heart was going to stop.
He could hardly believe his eyes.
“There’s a normal civilian here!!”
“It’s too dangerous, Quenser!”
Elise tried to stop him, but they could not send signals out from the salt tunnel. The boy was afraid too, but he still had to step outside and shout into his radio while prepared to get covered in that napalm goo.
“F-Frolaytia, I’ve located what looks like a local worker! He’s probably a civilian!! Give me approval to save him!!”
“Probably? I need proof! Couldn’t he be a Capitalist Corporations spy or a local cooperator!?”
“We can figure that out later, but if I don’t save him, that guy will be cooked by napalm!!”
“That isn’t good enough!!”
His commanding officer bluntly rejected the idea.
But even now, that middle-aged man without a gun or a jacket was rolling around while covered in the sticky goop. It looked silly, but he could not get up once he was like that. If he could not escape on his own, he would be killed as soon as the Police Queen ignited it all.
They did not have a second to spare, but Major Frolaytia Capistrano was still going on about rules and regulations.
“We are in the middle of a military operation at the moment. Not to mention that the interior of a military vehicle is classified information. We cannot let an unidentified individual ride one for no reason!!”
Elise started to say something, but Quenser held out a hand to stop her.
If it came down to it, could he insist he was a student instead of a soldier and save the man anyway? It was disappointing that the man was not a cute girl or a beautiful woman, but being a middle-aged man was no reason to abandon him with a smile.
But after he thought up his excuse, his commanding officer’s voice reached him over the radio.
“This is a crucial mission, so you need to remove that uncertain and unpredictable factor from the battlefield and also draw out any crucial information he might have. Over!!”
He could only laugh.
To translate that into modern language, she was saying a reason to save him could be invented so he should quit talking about it and just save the man.
“I’m so glad I ended up in the 37th. There’s nothing better than serving under a great woman.”
“U-umm!!” cut in Elise. “You can act cool if you like, but how exactly do you plan on saving that sticky old man!?”
“First of all, we don’t call him that! It makes it harder to want to save him!!”
A change occurred while they shouted at each other.
While he struggled vainly to stand up, the man ended up sliding down the slope Quenser’s group had created and fell to the second level. Now Quenser would not have to attempt to climb that slippery slope from hell.
The napalm fluid had not made it inside the tunnel, so they could stand and run like normal there.
“Elise, you recover me.”
“I’m going to get a running start and slide headfirst!!”
He did exactly that.
He took a running start like he was doing a running long jump and he slid on his belly as soon as he left the tunnel. If he continued along like a penguin, grabbed the struggling man’s body, and had Elise pull back on the wire, he could return to the safe tunnel.
Well, that was plan anyway.
“I can’t reach him!!”
He was only a meter away, but he could not do anything about that meter. He knew without even trying that any attempts at moving would only spin him around before he slid off in the wrong direction.
He could not save the man like this.
Even the slightest spark would engulf this entire area in flames.
He heard an odd yell, glimpsed something passing by right next to him, and saw sticky Elise Montana wrap her arms around the man’s legs.
“Quenser, grab onto me! Hurry!!”
“Fine, but without you back there, who’s going to pull in the wire wrapped around my hips? Our radios can’t reach Myonri inside the tunnel!!”
The clumsy woman was clumsy even in an emergency.
The disconcerting roar of flames consuming oxygen reached them from somewhere. Wherever it was coming from, the entire napalm area would be engulfed in flames in the blink of an eye.
Quenser twisted around and aimed his mobile device toward the tunnel.
“The signal won’t reach!!” warned Elise.
“I’m using the camera’s flash! The tunnel is straight, so the flashing signal should reach them!!”
A powerful tug reached his hips.
He was frantic at this point.
“Ah!! Elise, don’t let go of that man!! Keep a tight grip on his legs or hips or whatever!!”
“Wait, with both hands? Then what about me!? I don’t have a lifeline, so I’m not connected to you!”
“I’m holding onto you!! Speaking of which, your boobs get all the attention, but you’ve got a pretty nice butt too.”
“Hey, stop that!”
They were all desperate to survive. Quenser was pulled back into the salt tunnel by the winch while he held onto that sticky woman’s lower body with his face sticking into a soft spot.
The tsunami of fire washed over the outside world a moment later, but…
“Cover it up!” shouted Quenser while Elise’s thighs tightened down on his face in fear. “Break apart the salt to cover up that slug-like trail!! We can survive if we sever that fuse!!”
Back in the maintenance base zone, busty silver-haired Frolaytia scratched at her head. She bit down on her kiseru hard enough to nearly break it and she violently squeezed the laptop in front of her.
You thought she could relax while sitting back in the base?
Not a chance.
She had to check through all the precedents set in innumerable past incidents to prove the actions she had approved were justified.
A first lieutenant woman stood nearby like a secretary and smiled bitterly while Frolaytia shouted in frustration.
“To hell with all of this! I’m stuck fighting my own battle in an online military meeting!!”
With a deep roar, the outside world was once more engulfed in crimson flames. How many of their allies’ lives had been lost in that attack? Quenser, Elise, and that man would have been roasted as well had they been just a little slower.
Yet the attack was not even strictly necessary.
It was only being used as camouflage.
“Bwah!? Ah, ah. Th-that was terrifying, so please don’t use a scissors throw on me again! I just about drowned in your crotch! And the detergent filled in all the gaps, so it was like having a wet towel over the face!!”
“I made up for it by covering the goop up with the salt, didn’t I!? And if I let go of your hand, I would have been stranded in that sticky hell with that old man and fried by the napalm!”
“You were holding onto my face!!”
“It was the only way to survive!!”
“You clearly haven’t learned your lesson, vise girl. This calls for some punishment!! Don’t suffocate people with your thighs!! How did you end up with a body so wild your boobs and crotch are constantly causing trouble!? Okay, give me a tearful look and strike a pose!! You know what parts to accentuate, don’t you!? I’m not looking for any surprises here!!”
“No!! At least don’t get my face in the shot!!”
They entirely ignored the man they had saved and begin a battle between his mobile device’s camera and her desperate resistance. A new type of war had begun. This alone seemed like enough for its own spinoff. Perhaps the problem was how a middle-aged man made it a lot harder to move people to emotion than a child waiting for Santa. Not that anyone wanted him to suddenly shed his skin and become a cute girl.
(I’ve found it.)
Quenser must have been experiencing a high after successfully saving someone because his thoughts took an extremely serious turn even as he rolled around with the blonde woman (whose glasses were as sticky as the rest of her) and fought over the camera.
(I’ve finally found your weak point, Police Queen.)
Alarms were blaring incessantly.
The Princess grimaced and gave a stern look through her goggles that tracked her eyes with lasers.
“That stupid thing!!”
“Stay calm, Princess,” warned Frolaytia. “If the Baby Magnum is lost, everyone else will be slaughtered. Does that really look like someone who will let the survivors escape?”
“I know that, but still!!”
“I have to fight a war of words with those peace-addled higher ups, so please don’t use up any more of my mental resources.”
The Princess was taking the brunt of the attacks, but she was also the only one inside a shelter thick enough to endure a nuke. In that sense, she was better protected than Frolaytia back in the maintenance base zone.
She normally did not feel this, but this time she felt a twinge of guilt at being the only one protected like that.
But no matter how much she regulated her breathing or how efficiently she pursued the enemy, she could not seem to capture the Police Queen. It could change the angle of its ski-like floats to switch between straight movement and turns and it would even fire its main cannon to slide to the side.
There was a leisure sport that sprayed out seawater to let people fly in the sky.
If recoil was used effectively, it could provide rocket-like thrust.
The Police Queen’s greatest weapon was its sharp side-to-side movement. That would squeeze the Pilot Elite’s organs with the intense inertial forces, but they could use those bursts of speed to hunt down their prey while sacrificing the lifespan of their organs and blood vessels.
Calling it a police Object was downright laughable.
That was no more than selling one’s soul to the devil for power.
(They keep focusing on other things. Do they really think they can fight me like that? They keep targeting the others just for fun!!)
It was a new Object, so did it want an obvious high score to show its capabilities? If so, it was racking up a score in the exact opposite direction of the clean war concept.
If only she could get one shot in.
The Princess clenched her teeth so hard she thought they would break, but…
“Hey, Princess!! F9 was a little too hot for our liking, so we withdrew to E7. We will now strike at the Police Queen’s Achilles heel. I repeat, we have withdrawn to E7. Lure that bastard over here!!”
They lived in an age where Objects were the deciding factor, so it was unusual for an Elite to be worried about what the puny infantry was doing, but that had entirely slipped her mind because she was always so worried about her allies on the battlefield with her. And it was that side of her that made her allies want to help her out.
Even if it meant risking their own lives.
“Quenser? Wait, what are you doing!?”
“Didn’t I tell you?”
She sounded scared.
Even more than when those main cannons were aimed at her.
The boy on the other side of the radio sounded like he was smiling after hearing that.
He seemed to be saying that was exactly why he could keep fighting in this age.
“We’re going to strike at its Achilles heel. I’m sure you’ll notice how cheap a game the Police Queen is playing before long. The finishing blow is up to you, but we’ll take care of its unbeatable footing.”
The idea had come from the cruelly crushed tunnel-drilling vehicle.
Or more accurately, from a piece of equipment they had transferred over from it: the electric mill used to crush coffee beans.
Myonri’s military engineering vehicle traveled through a few of the labyrinthine trenches and tunnels to reach E7.
“I’ll tear down the wall like you said, but is this really enough to defeat a Second Generation Object!?”
The hard-working jack of all trades was still skeptical, but…
“Damn this coffee’s good.”
“You gotta let the pros do their job. No one would know how to use that coffee maker like the owner, so it’s a good thing that silver-haired girl we rescued has recovered.”
“If you don’t make me any, I’m going to fall asleep at the wheel, so I hope you’ve lived a life without regrets!”
Myonri was getting really angry now, but spoiled Quenser only answered her previous question with his hands wrapped around a mug.
“Just get us to the location. Please! Once we’re there, the Police Queen should tell you what a threat we are. But through its fearful actions instead of its words!!”
Once they arrived, Myonri used the folded-up mantis-like arms to tear down a nearby salt wall. The others put on the dust masks that were standard equipment within the vehicle.
“The salt won’t just get in through your mouth and nose. It can get into your body through any mucus membranes, so that means your eyes and ears too. Salt is the perfect example of something we need to live, but will kill us if we get too much of it. Dumping salt over your head means taking in more than if you swallowed an entire shaker of it, so be very careful!!”
They left through the hatch and walked to the salt torn down by Myonri’s mechanical arms. There were plenty of white chunks the size of large stones. They looked hard, but they easily crumbled below the heels of their boots.
“It never really made sense.” Quenser was not talking about the Capitalist Corporations Second Generation. “Those white pyramids all around are just unnatural! Digging up the salt from the salt flat is all well and good, but salt is still salt. It would never stick together like that. The bottom side would be crushed and it would all collapse!”
“Are you saying they used some kind of trick? We’re not talking about the deadly food made by a newlywed wife who never learned how to cook! Will this really defeat an Object!?”
“It was baked together.” He got to the point, which meant suddenly shifting focus to the Police Queen. “That thing keeps scattering napalm and engulfing the salt flat in flames so it can harden the salt land. Why? Because it doesn’t want the salt collapsing below it. Simple, right?”
“Will it really freak out if we destroy the ground below it now, though? I mean, that big, old corrupt cop is already hopping over the trench labyrinth!”
“It isn’t the ground collapsing it’s afraid of.”
“Elise, you’ve figured it out already, haven’t you? I saw that look of realization on your face when I mentioned liquid helium.”
The actual work they had to do was simple.
They were fighting a nuke-resistant Object, but they did not have to construct some massive bomb.
Quenser pulled in one of the salt blocks in front of him.
Today was the once-a-year special event known as the Royal Cleaner.
“That’s a polisher, isn’t it?”
He held a piece of metal larger than a family-size water bottle. The electric cleaning device was normally used to polish the exterior of a car. A motor rotated the disk and a polishing surface similar to a short carpet removed any stains.
Quenser kept a straight face as he pressed the rotating disk against the salt block
The block immediately crumbled, but…
“Looks like this isn’t enough. The pieces are too coarse and it doesn’t make enough quickly enough.”
An unexpected voice joined the conversation.
They looked over to see the man they had saved leaving the vehicle with a dust mask on.
“Couldn’t you use atomization? That’s what we use to obtain large quantities in the factory. You can’t sell the salt extracted from the flat when it’s still in large chunks.”
He was right.
That method would work.
“Hey, Myonri. You mentioned that salt can melt, didn’t you!?”
The driver girl responded to the student over the radio.
“Oh, you mean the radiator? Yes, if you stick salt somewhere that hot, it will melt just like cheese.”
“In other words, it doesn’t burn. You could even wrap something in it to cook it.” He sighed. “Let’s use heat to completely melt the salt. If we spray it out after that, it should transform into miniscule particles finer than pollen when it cools and rehardens. That’s how they make metal powder, anyway.”
That was why they were so excessively worried about their masks and their exposed skin. An extremely fine powder would behave differently from normal matter. For example, the kidneys were a fine filter, but some medicines were made into small enough particles to pass right through it. They needed salt to live, but it was still frightening to think of it passing through the filters for their brain and kidneys to reach every last part of their body.
So why did they need such fine salt despite the risk it entailed?
“It uses low-temperature superconducting magnets,” said Elise.
“Huh? What’s that?” asked Heivia. “Some kind of main cannon?”
“No, that is how the Police Queen moves around. Or more accurately, it is a special joint that can instantly change the angle of its ski-like parts.”
“They’re floating, Heivia.” Quenser took over with the tone of a child who had thought up a good prank. “Have you seen those maglev experiments? If you place a neodymium magnet above metal that has been chilled enough, it will just float there. The giant joints connecting the Police Queen’s spherical main body to its skis are hollow on the inside. Since they’re floating, there’s no friction. I imagine the parts fit perfectly together like an Island Nation tea caddy and its lid. The cylindrical support pillars that connect the main body to the propulsion devices probably have rollers and brakes inside that form the mechanism for adjusting the angle of the skis. Anyway, that’s the secret behind its absurdly quick directional changes.”
“Wait, you mean…?”
“We just have to fill in those gaps.” That frail boy’s eyes contained the gleam of a bird of prey. “The Police Queen is afraid of any unforeseen errors or clogs. It targeted us over the Princess because it feared the fine salt and wanted to solidify it all with the napalm. It may have been upset with us for tearing up the salty ground with our vehicles’ continuous tracks, but targeting us was probably just camouflage. It didn’t want anyone realizing the true purpose for the napalm, so it was simply attacking the soldiers at the same coordinates. That was all.”
“It’s like a tea caddy and lid. Those joints have a slight gap on the sides. Or the Pilot Elite is afraid there are anyway. So we only have to target that Achilles heel. We’ll use the finest salt we can: less than a micron. Once we scatter around plenty of salt dust finer than cedar pollen, it’s sure to bring that bastard to a stop.”
“But the Police Queen is engulfing everything in flames already,” pointed out Heivia. “You said the process requires heating up the salt to melt it and then cooling it back down, right? If that was enough to clog it up, wouldn’t it have taken itself out already!? It’s already melting the ground and letting it cool!”
“It has to cool down as a spray. Simply heating it up and letting it cool will just create a single clump like when you melt cheese. Turning it into a fine spray first is crucial.”
“That part sounds like it will be hard,” said Elise.
“Really? Even 1 euro stores sell detergents in spray bottles.”
The melting point of salt was around 800 degrees, but they could easily reach that with their vehicle’s engine. By making some quick adjustments to the end of a metal pipe, attaching that to the exhaust pipe on the back, and making it so the melted salt would pour in there, the rest would happen automatically.
A large silhouette cut by a short distance away. The Police Queen had crossed over the trench labyrinth.
“It’s started!” announced Quenser.
“Hey, it uses an air cushion system, right?” said Heivia. “When it’s blasting air around at all times, our salt powder will just be blown away!!”
“Are you sure about that?”
Quenser stabbed a pen-like electric fuse into a plastic explosive and tossed it toward the pile of salt they had made to be finer than a micron. He did not have time to worry too much about the exact arrangement. Once the four of them (three potatoes and one civilian man) had circled behind Myonri’s military engineering vehicle, he hit his radio’s switch before the air cushion blast reached them.
With an ear-splitting explosion, all the salt was pushed high into the sky by the blast. The grains were too small to see with the naked eye, but the area glittered like a rainbow. The salt was reflecting the sunlight.
Then the powerful gust of wind pushed in like a bath pipe being cleaned out.
Even a large man clinging tightly to the metal vehicle could have been blown away by that, so Heivia clenched his teeth behind his dust mask and raised his voice.
“See, it didn’t work!! Our miniscule resistance was entirely wasted!!”
“You can’t create energy out of nothing, Heivia.” Quenser smiled while also desperately holding on. “An air cushion uses a lift fan for air intake. It gathers that air below itself and uses that to float. So the more powerful that gust, the more air it has to be taking in. And it gets that air from the space around it! Once the salt is in that current, the Object will do the heavy lifting for us. It’ll be gathering the very toxin that will destroy it!!”
A deep roar shook the air.
It was a deafening metallic scraping similar to an anti-earthquake structure in a skyscraper.
The salt dust finer than cedar pollen had gotten into the joints of its “skis”.
That salt filled the slight gaps on the sides similar to an Island Nation tea caddy and lid, so it started producing a creaking sound. The smooth movements ground to a halt, the skis could not change angle, and its light footwork was interrupted.
It seemed to pitch forward.
It could not change direction while sliding to the side, so it simply floated there. And then it rolled over. The spherical main body rolled and rolled, bending and breaking the main cannons and floats that got caught between it and the salt ground.
“Princess, the bugs crawling along the ground here have just one request.”
Quenser exhaled and then spoke a single coldhearted word.
The battle was over.
Frolaytia’s long, narrow kiseru wiggled a bit inside her personal room covered in her Island Nation personal possessions.
“Sergeant Elise Montana.”
“I would like the opinion of someone who fought on the scene. What was your impression of the Police Queen battle?”
“Unnatural, I guess I would say.”
The busty blonde klutz in glasses was more nervous than sharp, so she shrank down (and subconsciously squeezed her large boobs between her arms) while giving the opinion she was asked for.
“Fine powders were a weakness for that Second Generation. And the Capitalist Corporations was clearly aware of that since they had it solidify the salt flat with napalm as a makeshift solution. But why? If it was that poorly suited for use in a salt flat, I have a hard time understanding why they would have deployed it to the Uyuni District.”
“That means they were not monopolizing that area because they wanted to. Could there have been something forcing them to do so? I couldn’t tell what they gained from doing so, though.”
It sounded like Elise had not figured out what exactly this was about.
Frolaytia enjoyed the sweet smoke of her kiseru as she asked another question.
“By the way, Elise, did you know you can find more than just salt in a salt flat?”
“For example, anhydrite, potassium chloride, magnesium sulfate, and borate minerals. As the powerful sunlight dries out the land, the materials that would normally be spread out thinly as moisture end up being concentrated.”
That led to a certain suspicion.
And if that suspicion proved accurate, it would explain why the Capitalist Corporations had wanted to send in that new police Object even though it was a poor fit for the environment. There was some “power” there they wanted to obtain as quickly as possible.
Yes, and for the Capitalist Corporations, money was power.
In other words…
“The rare earth known as Immortanoid. There was already a theory that a massive deposit was hidden somewhere in South America.”
This topic was a familiar one for the 37th.
Those children on the Julius Caesar aurora observation ship trapped in the Arctic had been used as carriers by filling them with that same rare earth that had grown to be 200 times the value of pure gold.
It was said to emit a special form of radiation, so if it was used in the right quantities (such as in a mineral spring), it could extend an individual’s lifespan by 30%.
“Well, didn’t you say before that Immortanoid can’t actually be found in the ground?”
“I did. That’s why this entire story is a bluff. After all, they can’t sell it unless they announce where it was mined from. Just like with gold and diamonds, you need an official certificate to sell it on the market.”
Mineral resources were still commonly sold to fund guerillas and terrorists, but that was why buyers wanted to know where it had come from.
“Immortanoid is an element located after #93. Simply put, it is an artificial element found nowhere in the natural world and must be created in a particle accelerator.”
“All of that talk about it being good for your health or extending your lifespan is bogus information meant to increase its price. Y’know, just like how they fill mineral water with oxygen or nitrogen and sell it at a higher price. If you call it a health product, no one will question how far you jacked up the price.”
And there was one thing that was an absolute necessity if you wanted to sell health goods: the magic words “all natural”.
“I mean, no one would touch the stuff if they knew it was a new radioactive element created with chemicals in an accelerator and that isn’t found naturally anywhere on the planet or even in the universe. You get a lot more customers by saying it’s a rare stone that absorbed the earth’s mystical energy in some strange unexplored region.”
“But, wait, that doesn’t make any sense! They sent the Police Queen to the Uyuni Salt Flats when that’s just about the worst place for it. If they were only burying their artificial rare earth and then pretending to ‘discover’ it, they could have used any number of more convenient locations!!”
“It’s a bank.” The busty silver-haired woman smiled in response to the busty blonde-haired woman’s confusion. “Remember that secret bank for rare metals in the Bering Sea? Where do you think they store the gold and platinum their customers deposit? Surely you didn’t think they kept it in a safe in the back of the bank.”
“With petroleum and any other mineral resource, a simulation is run before the prospecting process even begins. After all, you have to buy the digging rights for that land before you can actually dig it up, so no one wants to spend a bunch of money on empty land. Yes, if you earn a little more authority, you can learn just how long humanity has left. It’s a readily available figure.”
“I-I would rather not know. But what does that data have to do with this?”
“No one is going to dig somewhere worthless. That’s just how the industry works. So if you want to hide some secret precious metals, those ‘worthless’ spots are perfect. The secret bank used the simulation data to find areas no one else was going to dig in and buried all the ingots they wanted there. My guess is the Police Queen chose the Uyuni Salt Flat because it was the only area within its reach that fit the multiple conditions they needed.”
“And we happened across one of those – their Immortanoid vault – and pried open the door.”
The Uyuni Salt Flat had been dug up like a labyrinth, but that was only to extract the salt. The secret bank’s “buried treasure” would have been at the very edge of the salt flat where even the salt miners would not think to dig.
The Police Queen was the only Object the Capitalist Corporations police had.
They apparently wanted to overtake the PMC army, but that meant they had to stand out. The Capitalist Corporations in particular would not run full speed into an ideological war while forgetting all about the monetary factors.
Also, a bank could not make money on its own. It needed customers to deposit money and keep the cycle of cash flow going. They may have been protecting the secret bank they hoped would fund the mass-production of police Objects, but the Legitimacy Kingdom had driven off their guard.
“Um, doesn’t that put us in a very dangerous position!?”
“It does. This is no longer a simple matter of the Legitimacy Kingdom vs. the Capitalist Corporations. We’ll have made an enemy of all the wealthiest members of the world powers. Including those in the Legitimacy Kingdom.” Frolaytia Capistrano blew out some sweet smoke in an exasperated way and placed a hand on her forehead. “By the way, Elise, there’s an interesting story from the past related to a secret bank. A local TV station began airing a show about locating buried treasure, so they kept digging up areas entirely unrelated to any mining simulation data. What do you think happened to them?”
“Th-they found something they shouldn’t have and the show got canceled?”
That would have made for a strange enough legend, but the truth was even more shocking.
“Some of the mining explosives detonated early, so the host and all the shooting staff were killed on site. And during a live broadcast at that.”
“Something similar might happen here, but on a much larger scale.”
Whoever had done that had only been doing what they thought was necessary.
They had only wanted to protect their secret and their fortune.
It was not that killing the TV crew was the only method available to them. They had used that method because it was the optimal solution. So if they had to eliminate a military force, they might just crank up the scale accordingly.
The secret the 37th had stumbled upon was simply that great.
It was more than enough to start a war.
“To be honest, I really want to rebury it and pretend we never found anything. I’m not sure if I should even report this to the higher ups. Because I know some of them will be stupid enough to want to snatch it up despite knowing how dangerous it is.”
The rules of the military said she had to report it.
But if she did report it, her name might go down in history as an unbelievable fool.
The busty blonde-haired woman’s face clouded over and the busty silver-haired woman whispered one last thing.
“So, Sergeant Elise, you need to prepare for a major battle. If this goes beyond the limits of the clean wars, I am certain we will need to rely on your unique skills.”
Between the Lines 2
The Royal Cleaner was all the rage in the Information Alliance as well.
It probably helped that their maintenance base zone was deployed to a relatively stable battlefield country. The ringlet curls Idol Elite known as Oh Ho Ho held a large mop while wearing only baggy overalls over her naked body. She had dried paint on her in places, so she looked something like a painter. Needless to say, the areas around her neck and sides were looking much more risqué than she was aware.
Almost everyone on the base was dressed up like it was a costume party.
In addition to Oh Ho Ho, there were all sorts of men and women dressed so they could easily wash themselves off. Several wore bikinis or raincoats, there was a woman in a doctor’s white coat and a woman in a nurse uniform working together, and there was a mysterious maid spy group. Oh Ho Ho herself could not be too open about her identity since she had to keep her secret, but PR campaigns were common for the military. Especially in the Information Alliance. So she always made sure to take part in events like these.
(Well, something or other has brought devastating chaos to the rare earth market. Oh ho ho, so the military has to keep a big smile on our face to show the world things will be just fine.)
That said, the Information Alliance Pilot Elite was not very interested in any underground resources if they could not be used for semiconductors. Converting things into money was Capitalist Corporations territory.
“Oh, you’re so cute!!”
“Ho ho ho. Do not upload that to a video site. This is classified information!!”
She immediately pointed at and gave a warning to a pair of female soldiers she came across (one in a skintight riding suit and the other in a baggy track suit top and bloomers), but she still made sure to strike a pose for their cameras.
The soldiers had divided onto two teams and they were competing to see who could get the other side more covered in bubbles. Coordination between the water gun group and the soapy mop group was the key.
After running around a bit and circling behind one building, Oh Ho Ho found Lendy Farolito leaning against the wall and grinning at her phone.
Was she somehow participating in the big Royal Cleaner event too?
“Heh heh heh. Money laundering☆”
“…” The ringlet curls girl’s mouth formed a small triangle, but the brown-skinned, silver-haired commander did not care.
“You sometimes see talk of the dollar crashing, but setting aside how realistic that is, I very much welcome the rush of people wanting to convert their bank accounts into precious metals. Tah dah! I convert their money and take some for myself as a commission!!”
“The world’s true heroes should not be saying that kind of thing. Oh ho ho. Is this about that Immortanoid again?”
“The new year will be here soon, so I will wash my hands of this then. Yes, we should be able to ring in the new year in the most pleasant way. By which I mean we can all stay in royal suites at a Caribbean luxury hotel during our military exercise☆”
“Why do I get the feeling you’re setting yourself up for disaster?”
“Nonsense! By the way, I am on the red team.”
“Geh!? You’re an enemy!?”
“I hope you’re prepared because I happen to know a naughty Elite who needs to be absolutely coated in bubbles!!”
Chapter 3: In Search of the New Year >> Mont Blanc Borderline Mopping Up Operation
The year was truly at its end.
It was December 31 and they were at Mont Blanc, highest mountain in the Alps.
“Okay, we will be using this snowy mountain for some overnight combat training.”
“You really are trying to kill us, aren’t you!!!???”
The potatoes could not stop complaining in Chamonix, a blank zone at the foot of that famous mountain that had given its name to a kind of cake. However, if they wanted to survive this dangerous night in the mountains, they needed to be a little more observant than that. Major Frolaytia Capistrano had the eyes of a dead fish as she stood on the stage in front of them.
The temperature was currently 0 degrees.
But they must not take that too lightly just because they expected the base of the highest mountain in Alps to be a lot colder. Human beings were creatures who could get hypothermia and die if the temperature inside their ass dropped by just one degree.
In the line of potatoes, Heivia let out a white breath and spoke quietly while shivering.
“What good is having an Island Nation obsessed commander if she won’t let you spend New Year’s curled up below a kotatsu eating soba or something?”
“You hadn’t heard, Heivia? In that crazy country, they climb up a mountain in midwinter just to see the same sun you can see anywhere else in the world and they even swim in the frozen sea in nothing but a loincloth. In that sense, this fits right in.”
“Then she needs to strip down to an Asian thong and jump into a lake around here!! I’ll warm her up afterwards!!”
“Hey, tell her that, not me! You’re scaring me!!”
Those potatoes could get into a fistfight over nothing, but perhaps they had instinctually sensed they would freeze solid if they stayed still.
Frolaytia ignored them and continued on.
As the important commanding officer, she had a thick bulletproof coat that kept her nice and warm.
“The training scenario is to eliminate the armed force occupying Mont Blanc Tunnel, a shortcut between safe countries that passes through Mont Blanc to bypass the rest of Alps. The Aggressors have set up bombs inside the tunnel and are threatening to blow up the tunnel so it caves in if their demands are not met. The tunnel is only 11km long, but without it, you have to take a 200km detour through the Alps. The economic losses during the holiday season would be around 1.5 billion euros, which is worth far more than all of our lives combined. Everyone, attempt this recovery mission with the utmost care.”
From beginning to end, the introduction was just about the last thing they wanted to hear. Why should they care about the economic effect? Their motivation would have been 100 times higher if they were told a tearful little girl or a sexy young wife was being held hostage in the tunnel.
“A helicopter will be sent out to draw the armed force’s attention while our attack team climbs the mountainside from below. The goal of the exercise is to retake the tunnel. Simply killing the enemy is meaningless. Make sure you gather enough information before making your attack. At the very least, you need to work out the type, number, and detonation method of the bombs and secretly neutralize them before the fight begins.”
“What about the Object?”
“The Princess is a poor match for this kind of delicate job and the Baby Magnum is too big to act as a useful threat. Thus, she will be focused on gathering information with her radar and sensors while also keeping our communication lines connected. This is about as deep inside a mountain as you can get in Europe, so don’t expect your radios to work like normal.”
The Princess was silently puffing out her cheeks in obvious displeasure. She may have felt like she was being left out.
But no matter how much they complained, the military obeyed a strict hierarchy. They could not defy Frolaytia’s decisions and this may have been the result of Frolaytia herself being powerless to reject an order from someone further up the chain of command. The 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion was disliked by so many people it was hard to narrow down the list of who might want to harass them like this.
At any rate, they had to get started.
The city of Chamonix was seen as the entranceway to Mont Blanc, but it was already 1000m up. The white mountain they were headed for was over 4800m up, but Quenser and the others were not equipped to climb that far. Mont Blanc Tunnel was a part of the highway system and building it too high up would have been inconvenient.
“The Alps are surprisingly well-maintained for having a bunch of deadly mountains like the Eiger and the Jungfrau. Look, they’ve even got a cable car to the other side of the mountain.”
“The Alps are like the holy land of skiing and mineral water. You need to study up on noble past times, Quenser. Gearing up and skiing down from 3500m up is pretty common around here.”
“Who do you think the Aggressors in the tunnel are?”
“Whoever isn’t with us here. Myonri would be a pretty dangerous option. She doesn’t stand out at all, but she can do pretty much anything other than pilot an Object. You can never predict what she’ll do next.”
A bulky transport helicopter flew by over the two idiots’ heads. A combination of a floodlight and a heavy machinegun was attached next to the slide door. Quenser let out a white breath while looking up at it.
“They sure are taking this exercise seriously. Can’t they use that equipment to take out the Aggressors on their own?”
“In a real battle, they’d be too afraid of anti-air lasers to send in something like that. Also, if killing the enemies was enough here, I’d just cave in the tunnel. C’mon, let’s get going.”
They could see a humongous glacier clinging to the slope, but their workplace was in the area covered in soft snow below that. After climbing into the back of a canopied military truck, they rode to the scene along with the other Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers stuck doing the same thing.
“My friends back at school have got to be on winter vacation right now.”
“Don’t remind me. My family is probably relaxing in a lunar villa.”
Their destination was Mont Blanc Tunnel, so the road was of course well maintained. But since the scenario said it was occupied by an armed force, they could not head straight to the tollgate at the entrance. Once the guide in the passenger seat spotted something through their binoculars, the truck came to a stop and the potatoes climbed out onto the roadside.
“They work fast. They’ve already got a camera set up?”
“There’s just the one road in, so setting up traps would be easy.”
They were focused on the tripod and camera placed on the curb. It was a lot like the device used to crack down on speeding drivers, but there was no one there with it. A long, long cable was connected it to some clay. The technology was not to blame. It only did what it was told. Just like criminal organizations would search out traitors using forensic techniques or hunt down people who owed them money using facial recognition with social media photos and video sites.
“Now, a question: why aren’t they using drones, which would be even more convenient?”
“Because the mountain would reflect the signal to the point of uselessness. Not to mention the crosswinds and the cold. A toy’s rotors would lose their balance almost immediately and it would crash as soon as the axes froze.”
They discussed the matter while climbing over the guardrail and leaving the asphalt road. They had a panoramic view of the mountain, but the walkable paths were as limited as the veins on a leaf. They had no idea where they would run across any traps, so they were on the lookout for mines while climbing the slope. It was terrifying to think that the ubiquitous snow could be used to cover up traps.
The road itself zigzagged back and forth to climb the slope, so they only had to climb a few meters to complete their shortcut and reach the next higher level of asphalt.
They used the asphalt when that was an option and took shortcuts up the slope when there was a trap in the way.
After repeating the process a few times, their destination finally came into view.
“We have spotted the western tollgate of Mont Blanc Tunnel. No sign of any guards,” said Heivia.
They were in the parking lot of a log cabin rest area that looked like a combination of a small restaurant and souvenir shop.
However, this did not mean there was no one there. There could always be someone wielding a rifle past the tollgate or there could be a remote-controlled turret made from a camera and a swiveling heavy machinegun. For one thing, the criminals gained nothing by making an appearance when they were not making demands, making threats, or executing hostages. Doing so would be asking to be sniped.
Meanwhile, Quenser was already worn out, so he brushed the snow from the three steps up to the restaurant entrance and sat down.
“We’ve trained enough already. Gasp, pant. We’ve gotten stronger and gained some good experience, so let’s head back. Urp, I feel sick.”
“Grab your radio and say that again so Frolaytia can hear you while she scores us from her nice warm kotatsu, twig boy.”
“Heivia, you’re of noble blood, aren’t you? Set a good example for this exhausted commoner. By which I mean, carry me.”
“You can’t ask for noblesse oblige on demand!!”
It was currently sunset.
Even professional climbers would avoid climbing at night lest they become stranded, but soldiers like the potatoes were an exception.
And since disarming the bombs was a necessary part of retaking Mont Blanc Tunnel, they needed Quenser. They did have other people who could use explosives, but keeping as many of those people with them as possible was best. That way another could take over if one was lost in an attack.
Also, the tunnel was 11km long, so it would take more than just one or two people to search out all the bombs. On the other hand, they would be spotted if they moved in with too large a group.
“Looks like we have to use this restaurant as a base, split into a few teams, and head in with a time delay.”
“Do I really have to go?” asked Quenser. “It says right here the cheese fondue at this place is good.”
His desperate plea was rejected with a fist.
Quenser and Heivia were part of the lead group, but they did not head straight for the tollgate. A highway tunnel was sure to have emergency exits and smoke vents. They had plenty of ways to sneak in without using the dangerous front door.
“They do remote surgeries over fiber optic cable these days, so can’t I just give you instructions while you do the work?” asked Quenser. “Y’know, you could wear some kind of mech glove or something.”
“Try to get me to use something like that and I’m siding with the terrorists. To tear down the entire goddamn system.”
They left the asphalt road and started up the snowy slope again.
It did not take long to find an emergency exit seemingly cut out of the slope, but Heivia crouched down there. He tore off the end of a soap-like ration and tossed the piece toward that exit.
A slipper-sized creature chased after it while squeaking.
“No reaction to the rat. Looks like there’s no one there. No wires or IR either. Well, assuming they aren’t set up above knee level.”
“That thing’s huge! If I die here, will I have all the flesh stripped from my bones by those things?”
The transport helicopter passed noisily by overhead. Since their allies were drawing the Aggressor’s attention, Quenser’s group finally entered the emergency exit.
Once inside, they found bright fluorescent lights that still left the place looking dimly lit.
“Ugh, it’s so cold.”
“Waiting around in here couldn’t be fun. Glad I wasn’t chosen for the Aggressor side.”
It felt like a refrigerated warehouse.
The bare concrete must not have stored heat well because the inside felt chillier than the snowy night outside.
These emergency exits had to be installed every so often throughout the tunnel, but the tunnel ran through the highest mountain in the Alps. Simply adding a door was not enough to get out. That meant there had to be a smaller pedestrian tunnel that branched off from the main one.
“This tunnel is so narrow and straight. There’s nowhere to hide in a shootout.”
“I don’t see any bombs.”
Quenser sounded a little too carefree, so his awful friend gave him a skeptical look.
“Hey, you aren’t letting your guard down just cause it’s training, are you? We’re only 30 seconds in, so you aren’t going to claim to be psychic now, are you?”
“There’s no way they could use a radio signal in this thick tunnel, right? The armed force is stuck in here for an indefinite amount of time, so they also wouldn’t use time bombs that will detonate on their own eventually. That means a wired signal is the only option left. As long as we don’t see a bunch of thick wires bundled together, there are no bombs and we’re safe.”
That meant the disarming work would be in the main tunnel.
“Should we wait for the others?”
“When we have no idea when a door is going to burst open and masked soldiers will rush out at us?”
They slowly approached a metal door, checked for traps, and then cracked it open.
The one-way three-lane main tunnel was filled with orange light. They stuck just a mobile device through the cracked door and used its camera to view things out there. There were no obvious signs of people, so they opened the door the rest of the way and walked in.
Heivia aimed his assault rifle toward the tollgate at the closer entrance, but…
“Hm? There’s no one there. So where are the Aggressors lying in wait???”
Quenser looked down at his feet instead of deeper into the tunnel.
A long, long cable ran alongside the wall at the far end of the curb meant for broken down cars. It started at the tunnel’s tollgate and continued in from there.
“Found the bombs.”
Clay was attached low on the wall at even more frequent intervals than the landline emergency phones.
They were puzzle-like devices similar to those seen in movies, so this was not something often seen on the battlefield. Setting them up and disarming them took a lot of effort and a small impact could set them off, so the shaking of artillery fire could trigger them unexpectedly. (From a purely logical rather than emotional standpoint) this type was useful for setting up a time bomb that gave you enough time to escape outside the expected checkpoint area while also preventing the police from disarming them if they were discovered early. If you could detonate them remotely and immediately at any time, this design was entirely meaningless. You could just hit the switch once the bomb squad got close.
This time, they were inside an 11km tunnel.
First of all, there were a lot of them.
They used a wired detonation mechanism and all of the bombs had to be detonated at once.
“Fiber optic cable. I’m guessing they’re using a computer chip for the detonator.”
“We don’t have to use a knife or wire cutters to disarm every single one of these. Let’s find a way to destroy that chip. For example, if we sent powerful magnetism through the tunnel from one end to the other, it would neutralize all of the bombs set up along here.”
“Like a microwave oven?”
“High power microwaves would cause a malfunction in the delicate fuses and make them go boom, so instead-”
Quenser trailed off and stopped moving.
The delinquent noble frowned.
“What’s wrong, twig boy?”
“Hey, Heivia? This was surprise combat training, right?”
“While plastic explosives are relatively stable, they wouldn’t use real bombs for an exercise, would they? But this one-”
A heavy metallic sound rang out just then.
The cover to one of the drainage ditches popped up and then a soldier with his face hidden by a mask and helmet aimed a submachinegun their way.
Heivia fired a quick burst from his assault rifle, but the rubber bullets did not stop the man. Pissed, Heivia fired the rubber bullets toward the man’s forehead.
“Dammit man, follow the rules!!”
While the masked man’s skull was shaken, Heivia swung the stock of his rifle into the side of his head to finally knock him down.
Heivia tore off the collapsed soldier’s helmet and mask to see who this rule-breaker was.
“Hey, who’s this guy? I’ve never seen him before.”
The 37th alone had nearly 1000 people in it, so they would not recognize every single person there, but this man had a tattoo on his face. Some units would have everyone get the same tattoo to increase solidarity, but Frolaytia did not let the 37th do that.
Quenser used his mobile device to snap photos of the bomb and the collapsed man.
“Heivia, check his gun. Specifically, the bullets he’s using.”
“This bomb and its fuse really are real! This thing will go off, so this isn’t just training!!”
Loud gunfire erupted further down the tunnel.
The Legitimacy Kingdom issued 5.56mm rounds (supposedly anyway), but the enclosed tunnel meant the gunfire was earsplitting even at a decent distance.
However, who was fighting who?
The two idiots should have been the only attackers inside the tunnel at this point.
Quenser looked over in a panic, but Heivia grabbed his shoulders and dove toward the wall. He opened the metal door back to the emergency exit and used it as a shield.
Someone walked briskly out from deeper in the tunnel.
They were soaked from head to toe in the blood of their enemies.
“Hey, what’s that she’s holding? That’s not the assault rifle we were issued.”
The two idiots watched as Elise Montana raised the carbine she held in one hand and aimed it straight up.
With a loud burst of gunfire, a bloody masked soldier fell along with the cover to a smoke vent duct on the ceiling.
“You need to get out of here. Hurry.”
Her voice was scratchy.
Either she was out of ammo or the barrel had gotten bent in the intense fighting earlier because the busty blonde glasses woman did not hesitate to throw aside the carbine. Strangely, she formed a smile on her lips.
“This training has been hijacked. They really do intend to detonate the bombs!!”
From the far end of the tunnel to their end, the bombs detonated one after another, like a crowd doing the wave.
It must have been a split-second decision.
Heivia drew the large knife from his hip and threw it to sever the fiber optic cable crawling across the ground. Quenser grabbed and tugged on the slender hand of that busty blonde who was bloody even though it was not that time of the month.
With the direct wiring cut, the bombs stopped detonating at that point.
Nevertheless, the entire tunnel was blocked off. The blast of wind created by the explosions pushed in toward them like the cleaning of a bath pipe.
They all ran toward the emergency exit.
Fortunately, the door opened outward from their perspective. Otherwise, the blast would have torn it from its hinges and the immense pressure would have slammed it into them.
“What happened to the others?”
“What happened to the training!?”
Quenser asked those questions while sitting on the floor and holding her close, but Elise did not respond. A mystery group had taken over the tunnel and they had set up real bombs instead of fake ones. They also had real guns. Quenser and Heivia did not know how many Aggressors there had been waiting in the tunnel for the training, but it was a miracle that even Elise had survived.
The blonde glasses woman handed Quenser something with her bloody hand.
He looked down to see it was the same kind of mobile device they used, but he doubted it was hers.
“I stole this from a defeated enemy. I don’t know the passcode, so I didn’t try to get in. I don’t want the data being erased if I get it wrong too many times.”
“An enemy, huh? They were wearing Legitimacy Kingdom uniforms, but they had a weird tattoo on their face.”
Quenser opened his own mobile device and accessed the photos he had taken before the explosion. The type of bomb and the type of computer chip they used would be crucial hints, but he was focused on the face of that masked man instead.
“Oh,” said Elise. “A snake entwined around a branch. That’s the symbol of the 21st Mobile Maintenance Battalion, I think.”
“Hold on.” Something occurred to Quenser. “The passcode changes every week, but isn’t there a pattern to it? The base number is random, but it’s altered with the date and the unit number like 37 or 21 to produce the final passcode. Although I’ve heard the commander and technicians are given different numbers to make it more complex.”
That did not tell them the actual code, but the 37th alone had nearly 1000 members. Central command was not going to work out a bunch of different passcodes and distribute them to everyone. Basically, it was the same as the handcuff keys used by the police. They were meant to prevent outsiders from unlocking them, but members of the same unit, department, or rank were considered trustworthy. They had to accept some level of automated passcode generation.
And it was not like all the data would be deleted from just one wrong passcode.
Quenser tried recalculating the passcode and punched it in. It worked.
“That actually worked?”
“But most of the data looks corrupted,” said Elise.
There were a few surviving files inside, but not many would open. Each individual file needed its own passcode on top of the overall device’s one. That must have been set manually, so they had no clues to go on.
Quenser noticed a term that appeared frequently in the unopenable filenames.
“What does that mean? It shows up so frequently I assume it must be important.”
Necessity of Secrecy Regarding the Body File
Matters Concerning Erasure of the Body File.
ROE: Upon Outside Discovery of the Body File.
It was all couched in stiff, businesslike language, but it sounded very dangerous. They seemed to be taking a strict “dead men tell no tales” stance here.
“Let’s wait till we get back to the maintenance base to continue with this. They might be able to find the password or recover the corrupted files.” Heivia tossed aside his paint magazine despite the rounds remaining and loaded a magazine of real bullets instead. “Something’s up here, but we can’t contact our busty commander without use of the radio. There’s no point in staying in the tunnel, so let’s head on out. The unexploded ordnance in here is scaring the hell out of me regardless.”
Mont Blanc Tunnel had been rendered useless, so they had to use the emergency exit tunnel to leave.
“God, this unit really knows how to ruin the holidays, be it New Year’s or summer vacation.”
“Heivia, this might not be over yet. We don’t know how far this goes.”
They left the tall rectangular entrance cut out of the mountain slope and stepped outside.
And there they saw what was happening.
The Princess was fighting.
The colossal forms of two Objects were exchanging intense artillery fire while clinging to the white slope of the highest mountain in the Alps.
Shortly before that…
“It’s started, Princess.”
“Yes, this put our allies in danger, but it was a necessary military action. Please don’t pout like that.”
Frolaytia Capistrano let out a white sigh.
There appeared to be some hidden intentions at play in the commotion over Immortanoid, the artificial element disguised as a rare earth. But whatever it was, it was unclear who had set up the game. If nothing was done, they would have to live out their lives fearing assassins at every turn.
“We had to lure them out.”
“That’s what Mont Blanc was for?” asked the Princess.
“This is a blank zone on the border between large safe countries. It is relatively out of sight despite how much traffic passes through, so you could send in a large unit and silence us without having to worry about witnesses. It’s perfect. Almost too perfect.”
“I am detecting a tremor. There seems to have been an explosion inside the Mont Blanc Tunnel.”
“I know I said the economic effect would be 1.5 billion euros for just the end of the holiday season, but if that was true, we never could have sealed it off for training.”
The real battle started here.
They had drawn out their true enemy, so they just had to crush them and get them to explain what was going on behind the scenes.
“Princess, you get ready too. The satellite is detecting an enemy Object.”
“But there’s nothing on my radar.”
“Because you’re on the ground. The enemy is on the opposite side of Mont Blanc. It’s probably a Second Generation specialized for use in the mountains, so it can climb over to your side like it’s ski jumping.”
“The altitude up here is more than 4800m, isn’t it?”
“Not many Objects can pull off something like that. We are hurrying the video analysis, but unless it is disguised in some way, we’re pretty sure we know who this is.”
Since this was a conspiracy related to rare earths, the most likely suspect was the money-obsessed Capitalist Corporations.
That was who Frolaytia Capistrano had been focused on, but…
“The enemy is the Legitimacy Kingdom Second Generation Crystal Scrying. Some fragmentary battle records were still left in the shallow levels of the military servers. That’s the one that went on a rampage over the buried treasure that the East India Company left behind when they withdrew from the area.”
In other words, it was one of theirs.
Frolaytia held her long, narrow kiseru in her mouth as she continued.
“More accurately, this is the 21st Mobile Maintenance Battalion. I said the rich people hiding their money by converting it into Immortanoid were found in all four world powers, didn’t I? So it shouldn’t surprise us to find fellow Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers stabbing us in the back.”
Heivia Winchell groaned to himself after learning what had happened via radio.
“I’m getting back alive no matter what it takes. I swear I’m stripping that busty commander naked, wrapping her in duct tape, and leaving her in a park bathroom.”
“We now know our opponent can use enough bombs to cause Mont Blanc Tunnel to cave in,” said Frolaytia over the radio. “Would you prefer to live your life terrified of being blown up in a terrorist attack whether you were in a safe country or a battlefield country? Plus, the enemy is part of the Legitimacy Kingdom, so they could waltz right into the maintenance base if they wanted to.”
Frolaytia had essentially dragged the crocodile up out of the river. They knew they could not defeat it while it was hidden below the water, but they were the ones who would get bitten if they tried to change that. The two idiots vowed to survive this. She could make all the excuses she liked in that public bathroom that reeked of ammonia.
“Frolaytia, does the term Body File mean anything to you!?” asked Quenser.
“Where did you hear that?”
“On a mobile device that Elise stole from one of them. But the files themselves require separate passwords, so we can’t open them.”
“Bring that here. The electronic simulation division can break into it.”
“Could I just transmit the encrypted data to you now!?”
“You haven’t tried yet, have you? With some kinds of security, attempting to transmit it without entering the password will destroy the data. We don’t know what kind the 21st uses, so physically bring it to us.”
That level of caution showed Frolaytia understood the importance of that data.
“What we need now is information. I want to know what is going on behind the scenes,” she said. “You can let the Princess handle the Object! But with her firepower, I have my doubts we can take the Pilot Elite alive. That device is important, but also search out a few 21st soldiers on the ground there!!”
“Is this really the time to focus on other things!?” shouted Heivia while looking up at the white slope.
This was not a metropolis flooded with light. They were in the middle of nature, so there were no real light sources at night. However, that thing was so enormous they could still see its silhouette.
The enemy was also from the Legitimacy Kingdom.
The 21st Mobile Maintenance Battalion supported the Second Generation Crystal Scrying.
It probably used the same static electricity propulsion device as the Princess instead of an air cushion. It could generally be classified as a multi-legged type, but those legs were not even. The front legs were abnormally large and branched off, while the back legs looked like they could not possibly support that giant thing. The front legs were reminiscent of a stag beetle because they spread out to the sides from the front of the spherical main body and then gathered back in toward the center again. They were something like diamond-shaped scissors.
The main cannons…may have been the boxy containers on either side of the main body. Each side had a cannon made from strapping four barrels together.
“What is that? Is it combining them to increase the power and accuracy, or does it fire them in turn to reduce the lag of reloading and cooling???”
That question was soon answered.
The container-style main cannons on the left and right angled diagonally upward.
Then something happened.
Their eyes could not keep up with a metal shell flying at 5 or 10 times the speed of sound, but if they could trust the long, narrow contrails that seemed to slice across Mont Blanc…
A tremor seemed to shake the entire mountain and the slope’s white makeup was stripped away. Avalanches occurred all across the mountain.
“What in the hell!? Those contrails mean those must be railguns or coilguns instead of lasers, but those main cannons curved partway through!”
A total of 8 shots had been fired.
The hypersonic shells attacked simultaneously from the left and right like enormous jaws snapping shut.
Luck was the only reason the Princess had not been blown away the first time it did that. In their high-speed battles, Objects would begin taking evasive action in advance by detecting the slight movements of the lenses and barrels, but that was based on the assumption that the shells would fly straight. That method was no use for shells that could freely fly around in the sky like this. Not even a pro boxer could respond if their opponent’s second threw a beer bottle at them from the side while they were focused on their opponent’s eyeline and fists. This was the same.
The Baby Magnum had not escaped unscathed.
One of its seven main cannons had been torn off and one end of its spherical main body had split open like a flower blossom.
“We need to get out of here.”
“That busty commander clearly screwed the pooch this time!! She lied to us to draw out the enemy, but now that we’ve found that enemy, they’re going to chew us up and spit us out! The secret behind Immortanoid? The Body File? We never should have dragged this up out of the water, so why couldn’t we have just let sleeping dogs lie!?”
Another left and right pair of four metal shells tried to tear into the Princess’s Baby Magnum.
It was a close shave.
But in that case, why was the Princess still alive? It could not have been a fluke the second time.
“It uses threads,” said that lovely girl’s voice over the radio. “Probably fiber optic cables. It seems to fire railgun shells with wires attached so it can manually move the tail fins to alter its course in midair. But knowing that doesn’t help much. We need to find some kind of weakness.”
That was insane. It might seem like you could manually change the course of a railgun shell by attaching a camera and tail fins, but these were moving at Mach 5 or even 10. Only streamlines would be visible at that speed. Even with fiber optic cable, the pilot would only have a fraction of a second to think between the launch and the hit. Yet the 21st’s Pilot Elite was pulling it off. It only took them a split second to manage image reconstruction on a higher level than police drive recorder analysis that required the full use of a supercomputer and AI.
This went beyond the Object itself.
The Elite piloting it was a monster as well.
Heivia shook his head. He judged this hopeless and then pointed toward the avalanche falling due to the rumbling of the cannon fire.
No, he was probably pointing toward where some of the 37th’s people were gathered. The Crystal Scrying must have included that in the calculations when deciding on a course for its shells. The only possible explanation was that it had fired the right shells toward the Princess and fired the remaining left ones toward the humans on the ground.
“It is focusing on light.” The Princess spoke clearly over the radio. “Radar is not very reliable up here in the mountains and its own cannons are too loud to use microphones. That means using visual images should be the easiest method.”
“What are you basing this on!?”
“It’s aiming for you all instead of a large target like me because you’re pulling out your radios and mobile devices. The shine of a pilot light or backlight is enough for it.”
That thought froze Quenser’s heart.
He wanted to throw the device away immediately, but that was not an option.
“Even the smallest light can lead to death, so the moonlight and city lights can be a threat too,” continued the Princess. “Since it isn’t using night vision, I can only assume the Elite’s own calculations can’t keep up with that. Quenser, I am going to fire a shot toward Chamonix to destroy the unmanned transformer substation on the outskirts and cause a power outage. You should be able to hide in the darkness then.”
“If that isn’t enough, you can always play dead. If you try that, make sure you aren’t anywhere near the light, okay?”
“I promise you we’ll save you, so wait for us.”
He heard a quiet breath from his radio that would summon death.
It sounded like the girl laughing.
Then a coilgun blast flew seemingly in the wrong direction to blow away the civilian transformer substation.
Everything was enveloped by a true and natural darkness void of all artificial intervention.
Frolaytia Capistrano and the other officers were gathered in a conference room within the 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion’s maintenance base zone.
They had a reason for inviting the electronic simulation division and the intelligence division to the meeting.
“Let us review the situation.” The busty silver-haired commander waggled her long, narrow kiseru. “Our enemy is the Legitimacy Kingdom’s 21st Mobile Maintenance Battalion and their Crystal Scrying. The higher ups must be aware of this clash with our own, but I doubt they will order a ceasefire.”
“U-um,” said the confused female officer who stood by Frolaytia’s side like a secretary. She may have thought it was best to make a suggestion to the higher ups even if it was hopeless, but…
“Those in the home country know the 37th and 21st are clashing, but they are not sure which side is disobeying orders here. That means they are unsure which side to aim at and demand to stop. All this snow will have long since thawed if we wait for them to send in the Black Uniforms or a third-party inquiry committee to thoroughly investigate everything to their satisfaction. If we want to survive, we need to act here and now.”
Frolaytia of course had no intention of simply relying on the Baby Magnum and the soldiers on the scene. She was the one who had used such extreme methods to lure out this enemy.
In addition to the military fight, she had to crush them with what influence she had.
She slowly blew out some sweet smoke as she continued.
“The 21st’s commander is Bullrank Happy-Youth, right? As you can see, he’s a pale and scrawny guy. Based on his musculature, he must be the type of soldier who never leaves his desk.”
A photo of the individual in question was projected onto a wall of the conference room.
This was a pro and a con of fighting another Legitimacy Kingdom unit. There was no real reason to be refused access to data on an ally…but the 21st could search for information on the 37th and Frolaytia in the same way.
They would have to add on countless pieces of information branching off from that one photo.
The busty silver-haired woman glanced over at the electronic simulation division.
“What personal information do we have on him? It could be anything: his bank account, a relationship with someone other than his wife, or even an unusual hobby.”
If Bullrank negotiated with the higher ups and had them overlook his misdeeds in order to delay a ceasefire order, they would have to silence him using some personal compromising information instead.
But all the unwarlike geeks shook their heads.
“That isn’t going to work.”
“Are you saying he’s lived such a perfect life that you can’t find anything on him?”
“No, it’s the opposite. Through social media, we can find a few things he probably does not want getting out like receiving a parking ticket in a hotel district you wouldn’t expect him to be in or like there being a false bottom in the trunk of the car he secretly ordered for the maintenance factory, but it’s all too normal. All of his flaws are kept at the perfect level where it looks like normal proclivities and normal suspicions that he can explain away to his wife as a normal misunderstanding. In fact, it’s so perfect I can only assume this was constructed after the fact.”
If you knew how rumors and data spread through the modern digital society, you could use it to your advantage. Whether in an analog or digital format, you could “set things up” to make yourself look a certain way to the people around you. However, that was a technique used by Councilors trying to avoid scandals. It was not the kind of information security used in the military, even by an officer.
“This goes deeper than I thought. He would make a mistake eventually on his own, so he must have an ally in the government offices.”
“What about civilian investigators?”
The paparazzi would chase around more than just those in the entertainment business. Once someone reached a high enough rank in the military, they would often have cameramen following them around.
An intelligence officer in black responded with a shrug.
“Over the past three years, three freelance reporters sniffing around Bullrank Happy-Youth’s business ended up dying in seemingly natural ways. That smells incredibly fishy, but they must have dealt with things in such a way that you could dig into it for a century without finding anything definitive.”
That meant there was a secret there worth killing over.
They might find something there if they spent 6 months to a year investigating it, but they did not have that kind of time. If they could not announce checkmate and end this battle somehow or another, their unit would be wiped out.
“This protection only applies to Bullrank Happy-Youth. I don’t know what he did to get the higher ups on his side, but breaking through that barrier would be difficult on such short notice.”
“Then what do we do?”
“But what about whoever is helping him protect his information like this? He has to have more than just one or two helpers in the government offices and nothing says all of them are doing the best job they can. You said his fabricated records are on social media too, right? Then send the social media companies a message saying their server has suffered a cyber attack. The people behind the fabrication won’t want their handiwork discovered, so they’ll want to act quickly to avoid an in-house investigation by the social media companies.”
First, they wrapped plastic tape around their radios to cover up the pilot lights. That was good enough there, but the mobile devices were trickier since those would be useless if they covered up the LCD screen.
“We can’t use these anymore.”
Opening Quenser’s or the one Elise had stolen from a 21st soldier would be suicide. They had to put off figuring out whatever the Body File was. It was irritating to no end to have the answer in their hands but being unable to look at it. Especially when they were being pursued and a single wrong choice would mean having their lives snuffed out like a candle.
“Then how are we supposed to check the map?” asked Heivia. “Even pro climbers avoid traveling in the mountains at night and this is the highest mountain in the Alps! Wandering around without knowing where to climb will obviously be suicide!!”
“We can’t read a paper map without light either, can we?” added Elise.
“This is insane! I’m heading back! There’s an asphalt road right over there, so I can follow it as it zigzags down to Chamonix. I’m leaving!!”
That was when they heard a sound much like fireworks being launched.
The basic idea was the same as ordinary fireworks. These were known as parachute fireworks.
Except instead of a weight, these were attached to magnesium that scattered a bright white light similar to welding.
“Get down, Heivia. We’re dead if they see us!!”
Light shined down like on a baseball field during a night game. Quenser and Heivia hid behind a conifer tree and Heivia dove into the dark shadow cast by a large boulder. This was dangerous, but if they focused on the location of the light source, the unnaturally dark shadows worked in their favor.
The shrill squealing from the ground may have been hibernating marmots that had awoken in surprise.
Modern electronic assault rifle scopes could do IR and night vision, but activating those assistance features could produce enough light to give away their position. Allowing light to leak out entirely defeated the purpose of night vision, but it was a fairly common mistake in the goggle type due to defects in the rubber caps that covered the eyes.
Quenser clicked his tongue while sharing a single tree’s shadow with the busty glasses women he held in his arms.
The Body File.
He did not know what it was, but the 21st had attacked in violation of the military regulations once they decided Quenser’s group had found it. And that decision had happened before Elise had stolen that mobile device. He could not guess what had triggered this, but the other side would not have overlooked it.
Was it all a misunderstanding, or had they stepped on landmine without noticing it?
Either way, they were dead if they were located. Even if they threw down their weapons and put their hands up, they would only be blasted to smithereens.
They could not step out from behind the trees as long as the magnesium and other light sources were shining so brightly on their surroundings. And it did not look like they had time to wait for the parachutes to slowly descend to the ground.
“Heivia, can you shoot down those parachutes!?”
“Have you lost your mind!? I could, but the gunshot and muzzle flash would give away our position!!”
“The infantrymen that launched those flares are down here on the ground. If they get close, we’re done for!”
(So Heivia’s too much of a chicken to help.)
Some shrill squeaking ran between his legs.
It came from a slipper-sized rat, but while he felt fear clutching at his heart, the animal’s oddly-timed warning cry produced no reaction from the colossus in the distance.
He leaned his back against the thick conifer tree while still holding Elise in his arms.
(The Crystal Scrying is focused on light. It isn’t scanning using sound.)
“I’m going to knock over this tree to take out the flare overhead along with it. That will take out their vision!!”
“Whaaat!? Um, then we won’t have a shield.”
There was no time to listen to complaints. He stabbed an electric fuse into a Hand Axe plastic explosive and attached it to the thick trunk protecting them.
The blast had a range of 2 meters.
He reached up to attach the clay fairly high up and then lay flat on the ground with Elise to just barely remain out of harm’s way.
The loud boom caused their eardrums to briefly forget how to function.
With a creaking sound, the tall conifer tree fell inwards and caught the small parachute supporting the flare still floating overhead. Once it was crushed, the bright light vanished too.
But two unfamiliar people were already racing toward them. One held a transparent shield in one hand and a one-handed machine pistol in the other. The one approaching from a little further back held a carbine that looked like a shortened assault rifle. If they tried to shoot these enemies, the shield would block it and the return gunfire would turn them to Swiss cheese.
Quenser grabbed some clay and raised his voice.
“Get out here, Heivia! Fight, you moron!!”
He heard a sharp breath from Elise who he thought he had pushed to the ground.
She pushed the boy up with a knee kick and used the momentum of sitting up to throw a large knife. She aimed at the shin which was easily overlooked when holding that kind of shield. She showed no mercy even against a fellow Legitimacy Kingdom soldier. Once the knife scored a clean hit and the 21st infantryman collapsed to the ground, Elise ran over, swiped the weapon from the enemy’s holster, and aimed it at the carbine-wielding enemy further back.
She had not stolen the machine pistol.
This weapon was forcibly kept at the size of a handgun while having a barrel as thick as a shotgun.
“A flare gun!?”
The light meant to be fired straight up was launched horizontally instead. It struck the second 21st Mobile Maintenance Battalion soldier in the center of the chest.
This was the same as a commercial parachute firework, so it was not deadly. The man aimed his carbine at Elise with the light source sticking into the bulletproof plates covering his chest.
“This isn’t over. The Body File must not be made public!!”
But he should not have forgotten what the Second Generation Crystal Scrying used to decide who to target.
“Wait, what!? No, I’m not the-”
His cry of sorrow was erased.
A metal shell flew along a complex path and ultimately dropped down from above like a bolt of lightning with enough force to obliterate a human-sized mass. The hit sent powerful shockwaves scattering in every direction, so Quenser’s group was blown backwards again.
Quenser had an awful headache and could not figure out how he was still alive.
He felt something odd while lying on the ground, so he wiped off his brow with the back of his hand and found something white and hard had stabbed into him there. It appeared to be one of the enemy soldier’s front teeth. That was so creepy he nearly vomited.
“The light source has been eliminated.”
Was this really something they could walk away from like they were crushing a cigarette butt below their heel? This was far worse than simple bad manners.
Quenser’s ringing ears picked up on a sound.
In addition to the squealing of the small animals running around, he heard a woman speaking in such an icy voice it sent a chill down his spine.
“Now, we need to leave this place while we still can. We must utilize this opportunity.”
The Aggressors in Mont Blanc Tunnel had taken devastating damage in a surprise attack from the 21st Mobile Maintenance Battalion, but come to think of it, how had Elise survived?
She had previously been used so cruelly as a shield and bait, so how had she managed to return alive each and every time? She was always tearful on the surface, but she never seemed surprised by her own survival.
Why was that?
Also, she was a very attractive glasses woman. If a busty blonde like her had been living in the same maintenance base zone as him, there was no way he would not have noticed, yet he had first learned of her existence in the Arctic.
“Since when can you fight like that? Who are you?”
“Ah ha ha. I arrived to fulfill a request from Major Frolaytia Capistrano who wanted to increase the average lifespan of her battalion members who rely too heavily on their Object and don’t know how to adlib.” She gave a quick salute while holding the machine handgun she had also stolen from the enemy. “I am Sergeant Elise Montana. My specialty is the military band…but I am also proficient in marksmanship, close-quarters combat, and every other skill necessary for the army special forces. I am an instructor for the 7th Special Training Unit and I was sent to the 37th from the Legitimacy Kingdom home country☆”
It was undeniable that the hurdles toward becoming a soldier had dropped considerably with the introduction of the clean wars. A lot of soldiers were sent to a maintenance base after spending only around half a year learning to use a gun and more as a game than anything. And for that matter, peopled like Quenser were not even soldiers; they were students.
So what good was a Special Training Unit in an age like that?
They were the elite of the elite who recruited promising individuals from within the military and gave them additional training to become the kind of special forces seen in movies. That additional training was not something you could complete just by spending enough time on it like with low-wage part-time work. There were documentaries on the harsh training those people underwent, but it was best described as giving them harsh external stimuli to change them. There was a famous story about a safe country comedian known for his crazy stunts explaining with a straight face how it had been too much for him: “I’ve ridden some creature I couldn’t even identify, I’ve done a reverse bungee jump in the nude, and I’ve even been tricked into going into outer space, but the trial training I attended there is the one thing I couldn’t handle.” A strange survey even said the best way to get a stubborn child to go to bed at their bedtime was to tell them a lady from the Special Training Unit would come for them if they stayed up late.
Heivia looked dejected after regrouping with the others.
“Does that busty commander want to kill us? What did we ever do to her? I heard anyone who has received the ‘TLC’ of the Special Training Unit ends up being a monster who can trek across the Northern Restricted Zone barefoot. So even without all this trouble she got us into, she was already planning to work us to death this holiday season.”
“No, um, I think Major Capistrano did this because she cares about you! It has apparently been bothering her how quickly she goes through soldiers, so she pulled some diplomatic strings to ask the 7th for some skills training.”
“Hold on! Does that mean that Santa mission was a set up too!? You purposefully got the higher ups mad at us so you could train us on that hellish holiday tour!?”
“(Well, um, that was really just a mistake on my part and that made it hard to come out and explain who I am or why I’m here. No, I should probably keep that part a secret.)”
“Elise, did you just about let something crucial slip out there???”
The two idiots might have normally put her in some tortoise shell bondage and kicked her down the snowy slope, but they did not feel quite so comfortable doing so now that their relative positions were so unclear.
Also, there were plenty of things they were more worried about at the moment.
“Um, Elise? What if – hypothetically speaking! – what if – heh heh, eh heh heh – we said we don’t want that skills training?”
“I happen to know the perfect way of waking up my adorable students when they start daydreaming about silly things like having a say in the matter. Soaking up to the shoulders in an ice bath for 30 minutes will erase most naïve delusions from the mind☆”
Quenser’s balls shriveled up more than any other time that year.
The glasses woman grinned.
“(Don’t think I have forgotten how you treated me all this time.)”
“Teach, you need to have a carrot to go along with the stick!! Where’s our reward!?”
This was the kind of brainwashing that would kill people. If they obeyed Elise, they would probably become the perfect soldiers, but they would also lose their free will as a human being. They were not about to live a life of adoring those boobs while shouting “yes, ma’am” with utterly pure and vacant expressions on their faces. They wanted those boobs as a standalone product, not part of a dangerous package deal.
“So, Elise, does your position outside of the 37th tell you anything about what the Body File is?”
“Unfortunately, no. Due to the 7th Special Training Unit’s unique position, we exist outside the standard military hierarchy. After all, we are meant to train people, not fight on the battlefield. That Body File sounds like part of some kind of conspiracy, but I have no idea what it is.”
Quenser was not skilled enough to tell if she was lying or not, but he decided it was unlikely she would be hiding some secret here. For one thing, they never would have seen the term without the mobile device she had stolen from the 21st. Even if they had stepped on the landmine itself without realizing it, Elise could have just not given them that device if she was trying to hide it.
“The enemy is working with their Second Generation to kill us by hunting down any light source on the mountain,” said Quenser. “We’ll be trapped like rats even if we try to play dead here. We need to get away from here and find a weakness in the Crystal Scrying before they can close in on us.”
“Are you serious?”
Heivia quickly got down on the snow after hearing rotors beating the air overhead.
A military tiltrotor was aiming a searchlight around. It had probably carried a bunch of soldiers and snowmobiles from the opposite eastern side of Mont Blanc. Its bulky shape looked somehow brazen because it was showing off its belly while the Princess was still out there fighting with so many anti-air lasers at her disposal.
Heivia continued speaking while waiting for it to pass.
“Information on Object’s is as classified as it gets. We aren’t going to find a manual lying around on the mountain somewhere!! And that crazy-suspicious Body File thing is probably hidden in some vault or on a classified server. It isn’t mineral water, so it isn’t going to well up from the ground when we dig a hole here in the Alps!!”
“Oh, yes. When a student’s innate determination is insufficient, it is a teacher’s duty to kindly increase it for them. Shall I start by sticking a firecracker up your ass?”
“Okay, I’ll do it, so please no!! Do you not know how the male body works, you ditzy teacher!? There’s an etiquette to teasing that part of our anatomy!”
They started on an advanced and specialized topic of conversation, but they could easily imagine what they needed first if they were to get some information on the 21st Mobile Maintenance Battalion.
Sexy Teacher (of the gentle and clumsy type) Elise Montana stated the simplest way to get the information they craved.
“We need a soldier from the 21st. The previous ones were blown to bits, but let’s leave the next ones more intact so we can actually speak with them.”
“I’m not sure they’ll be willing to talk.”
“Getting everything out of them might be difficult, but we may be able to get the passwords for the individual files on the mobile device.”
“Why do I have to spend my holiday fighting fellow Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers and hunting down filthy old men? We’re in the European wilderness, so can’t we at least run across a slender, long-eared elf?”
That said, it was a simple answer. If they wanted to know about the 21st, it was best to ask someone from the 21st. And since the 21st was attacking the 37th with delight, they could hardly complain if they were counterattacked by those would-be victims.
But the 21st was not going to show up on their own.
Well, they would, but giving the 21st the initiative would mean being surrounded and waiting for certain death.
They had to make the move themselves.
They were in the complete darkness of a snowy mountain at night. Plus, they were not on a single route up to a log cabin or to the peak, so they had to wander around until they found their prey. The risks were endless: falling, slipping, getting lost, hypothermia, and ferocious animals awoken from hibernation. A mountain climbing guide might question their sanity if they heard about it.
“Okay, let’s get started.”
With that, they began their walk through hell.
Nowhere was safe. Snow blown from the slope created a cloud like cotton candy not far away. And that cloud formed an unnaturally straight line.
One of the 21st’s tiltrotors was flying just off the ground to intentionally scatter the snow. Just like a summer mist shower, the small snow crystals would cause vaporization heat and make the already freezing mountain feel even colder. Once the 37th’s potatoes could stand it no longer and used a fire to warm up, the Crystal Scrying would fire on them.
If they toughed it out, they would freeze to death. If they tried to warm themselves, they would be blown up.
The enemy was using unorthodox hunting methods here because the soldiers feared being held responsible if they tried to do everything as instructed and screwed it up. The 21st no longer saw any chance of them losing.
And in fact, the Princess did not seem to have the focus to spare to save her allies on the ground. Even if she did shoot down the tiltrotor with an anti-air laser, the flaming wreckage would only act as a giant light source. It would only make the 37th’s soldiers suffer even more.
Was the Body File really this important?
They had no idea what it was and had no way of knowing if they really had stepped on that landmine or if the 21st was simply mistaken.
Elise Montana kept walking even as she clenched her teeth at being unable to help the allies she saw suffering so close by.
“The 21st is getting carried away,” she said while taking the lead. “Because they caught us by surprise and are in fact keeping pace with their planned schedule. Also, hunters cannot truly hide themselves. Once they start viewing the fleeing enemy as their prey, the biggest threat becomes friendly fire instead of the enemy’s small fangs or claws. So even when hiding, they need some way of saying ‘I am here, so do not shoot me by mistake’.”
Quenser and Heivia may not have seen it since they were following after that glasses woman’s butt, but Elise Montana gently licked her lips while wielding the stolen machine pistol.
“And that creates an opening. It makes them easy to find.”
“Ugh!?” quietly groaned a 21st infantryman who had made the mistake of checking the time on his watch, which had a cover but still used glow-in-the-dark paint.
The woman from the hellish Special Training Unit snuck up behind him, but she could not shoot him since a muzzle flash would cause the Crystal Scrying to immediately fire on them. Instead, she covered the victim’s mouth from behind and pressed a pen-like pneumatic injector full of a sleeping drug against the side of his neck.
She did not need to worry about sterilization or disinfection with an enemy soldier. Or perhaps she was the type who felt more hostility toward embarrassments on her own side than toward foreign enemies.
“You two grab his arms and legs and carry him somewhere else since that tiltrotor is flying around unpredictably. Hmm, this is about the Body File, so this is bound to be a long talk. We might also want to use that mobile device, so I hope we can find a glacier cave or something.”
“Wait, why do you instructors get the good stuff? No fair! We don’t get to use sleeping drugs!”
“This is for emergency use to help out the children who have trouble sleeping in the cold. Do not underestimate the mountain nights. I can adjust my own internal clock, so I do not need it.”
Quenser and the others lugged the 21st soldier into a cave made entirely of ice. It may have been a tourist attraction during normal times.
“Let’s start with a standard check of his belongings.”
His radio and mobile device were a must. Paper maps were a valuable source of information, so you always wanted to check what was hand-marked on those.
They did not find the Body File as any sort of paper document.
Of course, that was expected when the 21st wanted to keep it hidden.
The hands on the poor victim’s watch were pointed up.
The hour hand, the minute hand, and the second hand were all pointed directly to the top, so…
“Tah dah. Happy New Year,” whispered Quenser.
“For some reason, I don’t feel like celebrating,” groaned Heivia next to him.
They did not feel like anything had changed and dawn felt a long way off. The heavy darkness would be with them for a while longer.
Elise turned back toward them.
“Oh, can you two head further into the cave?”
“Why? I don’t want to walk around needlessly and fall into a crevasse.”
“This boy here is about to wake up and on-site interrogations are always a dangerous endeavor. I have performed a body search, but you don’t want to be around if he removes the pin of a grenade he has hidden somewhere, do you?”
Teachers apparently knew very well how to make naughty boys’ balls shrivel up.
The two idiots could only obey after hearing that. The busty blonde glasses woman waited until they were out of sight before getting to work.
After tying the enemy soldiers’ hands behind his back, she lightly tapped on his back. The 21st infantryman groaned and woke up.
She circled to his front side, crouched down, and spoke from close range.
Yes, she intentionally invaded his personal space to make this a form of close-quarters combat.
“I don’t have to tell you what battalion we belong to, do I? You’re the ones that attacked us, after all. But hogging all the information to yourself is hardly fair. It makes you look the bad guys here. Sharing is caring, right?”
“I-I won’t talk.”
“The Body File.”
His rejection was a little too obvious.
They were clearly up to no good here, but based on that reaction, their decision must not have been based on a careful cost-benefit analysis. This seemed more like the Faith Organization. The 21st seemed to fear even hearing other people speak that name.
“Can’t you tell us? Surely we have the right to know what it is we’re being killed over.”
“You…you must be joking!! Listen, our Second Generation Crystal Scrying outside can see anything and everything. If you release me now, your good deed will not go unrewarded!!”
“Oh, it can see anything and everything, can it?”
She gave him a tormenting look.
That strongest teacher finally allowed a cruel look on her face.
“By the way, we are currently so deep inside a glacier cave that none of our lights will be visible from outside. You know what that means, don’t you? You bothered to bring flares with you, so you can’t tell me you don’t know how important light is here.”
Two gunshots rang out. It did not matter that he had his hands bound behind his back and could not resist. She shot straight through both his shins. While it was a handgun, it was a .45 caliber, so the bones had undoubtedly shattered.
His scream was louder than the gunshots.
“Your shins can be repaired since they are such simple bones, so I hope you can see my good will and friendship in not shooting out your knees instead.”
“On the other hand, you can never descend the mountain on your own like this, can you? You have only one option left: waiting for someone to rescue you. But do you really think anyone will notice you are here if we leave you in this cave?”
His breathing grew erratic.
His eyeballs rolled around in his head.
“I…I…won’t talk. No matter what…you do to me!! This is a sign of my loyalty. I should count myself lucky I can demonstrate it in such a concrete way! Yes, this is all for the glory of the royals!!”
“Concrete? Concrete, you say? Are you sure you aren’t clinging to a formless fantasy in the face of a very real death? But don’t worry. That does not make you a bad person. Now, are you thinking I have to keep you alive as long as I need that secret from you?”
Elise smiled, pointed deeper into the glacier cave, and spoke.
“By the way, I happen to have another of your soldiers lying back there. I know it is cliché, but let’s go with this: whoever talks first gets to live. The Alps are a dangerous place in the winter. Whoever gets left behind is sure to freeze solid without even getting to rot.”
That was of course a bluff, but the soldier had no way of knowing that. He was in so much pain his vision was fading, he was terrified of the death fast approaching him, he felt overwhelmingly alone knowing his allies would never realize he was here, and the world around him seemed entirely under the control of this incomprehensible sadist. All of those facts helped make the nonexistent illusion of a fellow prisoner back there seem so very real.
“I want to know everything you know: about the royals you mentioned, about the Body File, and everything else. I will do whatever it takes to get it out of you. You sent an Object after us, so surely you understand that being a fellow Legitimacy Kingdom soldier isn’t going to save you here.”
He believed she would do it.
Yes, he had been unconscious, so he did not know she had asked Quenser and Heivia to wait back there. He only knew he could sense someone stirring after the ominous gunfire and screaming. And when someone was afraid, they could mistake some pampas grass for a ghost if their thoughts had been primed correctly.
That nonexistent doubt would blossom into so much more, just like a microscopic piece of dust forming the core of a snow crystal.
Elise Montana of the 7th Special Training Unit spoke as slowly and gently as a hypnotist.
After sealing off all paths of escape, her bewitching voice could bend people to her will.
Two more loud gunshots rang out.
“You can come out now.”
The two idiots nervously did so.
“H-hey. What happened? It reeks of gunpowder smoke in here. And what happened to that enemy soldier?”
“I got him to tell me most of what we wanted to know about the Body File, so I sent him back home.”
“We can’t lug a hostage around with us, can we? We have what we wanted to know, so letting him go is best. More importantly, I learned something about the Crystal Scrying, so I will share that with you.”
“Okay, if you say so,” said Quenser and Heivia as they hesitantly approached her.
“Also, there is a fairly deep crevasse over there,” she added with a smile. “It’s a little hard to see, so make sure you don’t fall in☆”
Pleading for the higher ups to end this clash between the 37th and the 21st would be useless because the 37th would be wiped out before the home country completed their plodding investigation.
That was why Frolaytia had narrowed her focus down to Bullrank Happy-Youth, commander of the 21st Mobile Maintenance Battalion.
She did not know what the higher ups were doing, but she could end the battle if she found some compromising personal secret she could use against him.
Bullrank’s analog and digital personal information had been modified to make him look like a painfully average person. However, his social media records had been rewritten without the civilian corporations noticing. If they were told they had fallen victim to a cyber attack and needed to investigate some deleted or modified data, they were sure to notice the unnatural changes to Bullrank Happy-Youth’s history.
Someone was sure to try to stop that.
He might have a great many friends in the government offices, but they might not all be as strictly protected as Bullrank himself.
The more helpers he had, the more chances they had to find a lead.
“It’s no use. The 37th’s server just went down. All the datalinks have been severed, so we’re entirely isolated!”
“That was fast.”
Frolaytia clicked her tongue at the shouted report from one of the geeks in the electronic simulation division.
It had only been a few minutes since they sent the warning email to the SNS corporation. The corporation was not about to trust very single email they received from a public agency. Targeted attacks spoofing such official notifications were common these days, so they were sure to check to make sure it was legit first. If they received no response while checking, they were sure to determine it to be fraudulent.
For that matter, any external suggestion to rethink your server maintenance posed a considerable risk from an internet security standpoint. Just like with people claiming they can tell you how to get a refund at an ATM, changing your settings based on the instructions from some sincere-sounding voice on the phone was liable to leave you with a hole in your thick firewall.
However, Frolaytia Capistrano had figured some things out by now.
The geek had grown very nervous very fast with the internet down.
“Wh-wh-wh-what do we do now? Is that mobile device Quenser’s group stole our last hope? It’s supposed to have some files related to the Body File, right?”
“Those are additional documents explaining what to do with the data and not the Body File itself, right? Then they aren’t enough. In fact, does it even exist in an accessible form? Bullrank may simply have it memorized.”
“Then there’s nothing we can do.”
“Don’t be so sure.” Frolaytia grinned at the electronic simulation division’s words. “They may look untouchable, but they have already made a major mistake. Do you know what that is?”
“Listen, whatever my personal opinion of you is, I trust in how obsessive you are about your job. I know you will never betray your own work. So I have a task for you, but don’t let anyone else know, okay?”
The Legitimacy Kingdom’s 21st Mobile Maintenance Battalion supported the Second Generation Crystal Scrying.
Quenser’s group held a strategy meeting in that glacier cave while eating flavorless soap-like rations.
Elise was the first to speak.
“Crystal Scrying apparently refers to crystal ball divination.”
“Hey, does the origin of the name really matter? Don’t you have some more, y’know, technological information?”
“My, my. Knowing the enemy’s beliefs and tastes is very useful in predicting their actions. To continue, the 21st is attacking the 37th over that Immortanoid business. You know, the largescale ‘deposit’ you happened across in the Uyuni Salt Flat.”
They were using their lights since they were in the cave, but that was enough for fear to clutch at their hearts. They knew the light could not get outside, but it still felt like they were marking themselves for death.
“Our busty commander left that out of her report, didn’t she?” Heivia grimaced at the flavorless food. “The fact that word still got out makes it something of an open secret, doesn’t it?”
“The less accurate the information, the more people expect from a treasure map,” said Quenser. “So does the 21st want to dig up that Immortanoid that can’t be found in the natural world? Or do they want to hide the Immortanoid they deposited in that secret bank?”
“Neither.” Elise shook her head. “The 21st isn’t interested in either of those things.”
“Huh? That doesn’t make any sense! There are only two options here! There’s a ton of valuable rare earth hidden in front of them, so they must either want it or want to keep it hidden. Or are you saying they attacked us for something entirely unrelated to that treasure map!?”
“It would be best to say their circumstances here are unique to the Legitimacy Kingdom. It’s about land.” The blonde glasses woman shrugged her shoulders that had to be stiff due to her large chest. “I mean, that’s what the Legitimacy Kingdom’s royals and nobles are all about, right? A king with lots of land orders the nobles that serve him to manage different parts of that land. The Legitimacy Kingdom is the world power that formed by gathering together as many of those monarchs as possible. They openly place a lot of weight on bloodline and history, but they must place just as much weight on territory.”
“Well, yeah. My Winchell family has land all over the place, including a vineyard and a lunar villa. But isn’t that basically a special bonus you get for having the high-level bloodline of a noble or royal?”
“No.” Elise Montana laughed as she rejected that idea. “Quite the opposite in fact.”
“The opposite?” asked Commoner Quenser with a frown.
The blonde glasses woman sighed and looked to Heivia for some reason. She seemed to be reacting to her last shred of a conscience, just like someone who could not bring themselves to kick an elderly person in the back.
“The Legitimacy Kingdom wanted land first and foremost,” she said. “Because with land comes opportunity.”
“The obvious example is for making money, such as building a town, establishing trade routes, or mining underground resources, but those might as well be bonus prizes. What the royals wanted most of all was the opportunity comes in the form of medicinal herbs or minerals.”
That word sounded out of place here.
That was not something that could be sold for plenty of money like gold or Immortanoid.
It could instead be made into medicines.
“Am I wrong?” She gave a gentle smile. “If we set aside the historical background of the Legitimacy Kingdom’s honorable royals and nobles, then they are set apart from the commoners by the rare and special blood in their veins, right?”
“Y-yeah, but what of it?” awkwardly asked Heivia.
Was he being considerate of the commoner seated next to him, or did he have a bad feeling some fundamental belief of his was about to crumble away?
Elise did not stop regardless.
“But what does that mean from a genetic standpoint? If the commoners have the more standard and generic genetic information, then the nobles and royals have the more irregular and unique genetic information. But is that really better?”
“Genetics determine how susceptible you are to certain diseases and how resistant you are to environmental changes. The thing is, the more standard commoner genes have had more of a chance to mix all of that stuff together, so wouldn’t they have the greater resistance to different things?”
“W-wait. Hold on!! You could say the same about the nobles with more unique genes. Even if some virulent infectious disease is causing normal people to drop like flies, the unique part of our genes might let us survive!!”
“Yes, if you look at the nobles as a whole.”
“What do you mean as a whole?”
“Let’s say you have 26 different noble bloodlines, A through Z. The only one to survive the immediate threat would be the one with the X genes, so most of the nobles would be wiped out. That really does not seem like an efficient way to survive as a group.”
It all came back to this.
This was why the nobles and royals wanted so much land and it was why they accepted other monarchs from countries with entirely different histories and cultures.
“So are you saying the top level of the Legitimacy Kingdom is working together to conquer that weakness and fragility in their blood? And that’s why they want medicinal herbs and minerals?”
“Thinking of it as strong and weak is inaccurate. It may be better to think of it in terms of being generic enough to survive as many different threats as possible. Now, it seems the Body File is a list of all reported hereditary vulnerabilities in the different noble and royal bloodlines.”
It was understandable that they would not want that getting out.
First of all, the nobles and royals were a minority when compared to the commoners. And since the Legitimacy Kingdom ruled itself by having a minority of superior people guiding the general masses, they could not possibly let their weaknesses show.
Those kings and knights could not accept a situation where the majority assisted a weak few.
Also, the commoners would be incensed if they learned of that weakness. They would question why they had to fight wars and bloody themselves to protect those people’s land…and sometimes steal other people’s land for them. Those medicinal herbs and minerals meant nothing to the commoners, so why should they work so hard for some new medicine that would not benefit them in any way?
“They cannot let this get out.” Elise Montana described the cause of death currently stalking them. “So the Legitimacy Kingdom covered up the truth with a different form of bait. They invented the idea that ruling all that land would give them plenty of underground resources such as gold and rare earths.”
“Then the artificial Immortanoid was caught up in all this by pure chance?”
“I do not know. More money is one way of achieving greater medical technology, so my guess is the Legitimacy Kingdom wanted to be as rich as possible. In that sense, they might prefer if the world economy is run on a simpler system based entirely on underground resources like gold.”
“You’ve gotta dumb down this talk of economics for me.”
“Sure, sure. For example, the current economy runs on currencies like the dollar and euro, right? There are other items you can use, of course, like virtual currencies and jewels.”
“But currency started out as gold and silver coins, right? And paper bills were originally a ticket you could exchange for a set amount of gold because the gold coins were too heavy to carry around. A system like that, where everything is a stand-in for gold, is known as the gold standard.”
“So while the Legitimacy Kingdom was working to break into a dollar-ruled world with the euro, they decided it would be easier to bring back the gold-focused gold standard system since their control of the land gives them control of the gold too?”
Reviving an older system was exactly the kind of thing the Legitimacy Kingdom liked to do. The royals and nobles would see it as a worthwhile cause since they were so desperate to reclaim their authority.
“Come to think of it, we do tend to make new money at the drop of a hat, like with those commemorative gold Christmas coins and gold New Year’s coins.”
“That would be the ideal for them. But at the moment, they have not managed to make any headway outside of the Legitimacy Kingdom.”
Quenser and Elise were discussing the matter in a friendly manner, but then Heivia quickly interrupted.
“B-but what does that have to do with Immortanoid? How was any of that a problem???”
“Because if they make dollars and euros into tickets that can be exchanged for gold, they are ultimately making it all subservient to the enormous framework known as the gold business. And that gives the Legitimacy Kingdom a huge advantage since their obsession with land gives them control of so much of the underground resources. But what if Immortanoid takes over instead? That is an artificial element created in a particle accelerator, not something buried in the ground. If dollars become tickets that can be exchanged for Immortanoid, then all the dollars in circulation around the world will essentially be owned by whatever world power controls that.”
“Hmm, so you’re saying boobs are justice???”
“I am saying all their hard work to bring back the gold standard system would be for nothing! They want to keep the Capitalist Corporations from taking the lead role in the world economy using their experiments in creating artificial elements with particle accelerators!! Explanation complete!!”
This topic was better suited for the money-obsessed Capitalist Corporations. Quenser did not understand a lot of it (even though he wanted to become richer than the nobles), but he could kind of see how the Legitimacy Kingdom would be harmed by that turn of events.
“The Legitimacy Kingdom nobles and royals believe in the superiority of their bloodlines, but they see the inherent inferiority as well. They know there is a genetic risk of them dying from a disease or disaster that normal people can survive. Or perhaps it would be best to say they believe there is one. So they have been researching their genetic information in secret while also buying up land around the world to efficiently acquire the medicinal herbs and minerals needed to create various medicines.”
No one knew which genes would actually come in handy.
If everyone had the same optimal genes, then the entire species could be annihilated by a single disease.
Being a minority could be seen as a plus or a minus depending on how you looked at it.
In that sense, the royals and nobles needed to trust in the value of their privileged class to the very end. They had to believe the very propaganda they spread. Because once they started to suspect there might be a downside to being a minority, it would gradually cloud their hearts.
They would go from being a powerful minority to a weak one.
“That is the identity of the conspiracy surrounding the Body File. Major Capistrano had the opportunity to secretly discover this while dealing with that land-based underground bank both in the Bering Sea and in the Uyuni Salt Flat…or so the 21st and their higher ups concluded. She would have seen unnatural land that was bought in an unnatural way and, if she investigated that, it could have revealed the secret behind the acquisition of that land.”
So they had decided to eliminate her.
Those powerful people were willing to kill others in the Legitimacy Kingdom over this.
The Legitimacy Kingdom believed that the noble bloodlines would guide the people.
But the truth was very different. Those “noble bloodlines” were nothing more than filthy landowners who were so terrified of genetic vulnerabilities (which might not even exist) that they clung to unproven medicinal properties and healing methods.
For example, the longevity mineral known as Immortanoid.
That miracle rock was said to activate the cells with its faint radiation and add a 30% extension onto the lifespan set at either end of the chromosomes.
A commoner like Quenser found that idea to be absurd and it seemed a lot more likely someone was using disinformation to intentionally inflate the price of that artificial element. But he had also heard that it was highly popular with the rich people led astray by those rumors.
And if that was enough to fool them, they must have had a desire strong enough to let themselves be fooled.
Something had made them desperate for anything that ensured their health.
Heivia Winchell remained silent for a while.
No, he may not have had anything to say.
After fighting enough money-driven wars, it became all too obvious how phony the causes advocated by the world powers really were. But that did not mean he could so easily throw out the time he had spent growing up as a noble.
There had even been times when that power had shown its usefulness.
For example, when he had rescued those children on the aurora observation ship.
So what if he was told it was all a lie?
“For now, let us set aside whether or not their claim is accurate.”
Elise Montana remained calm.
Since the 21st and the 37th were both from the Legitimacy Kingdom and she was from the 7th Special Training Unit, she could have taken either side, but she was saying she would stick with Quenser and Heivia.
“The problem is that the 21st fully believes it and has decided the 37th is an enemy of the Legitimacy Kingdom as a whole for trying to hide the Immortanoid found at the Uyuni Salt Flat. Words will not be enough to stop them. We have no hope for tomorrow unless we kill them and drive them to the point of utter annihilation.”
She took control of the conversation before Quenser or Heivia could.
“The 21st’s Object is the Crystal Scrying.”
“Like I said, it is named after crystal ball divination. The name imagines the Object as a giant glass ball and a fortuneteller. But why is it known as that? Because the primary material used to construct that Object is glass.”
A glass Object.
Battlefield Student Quenser craved bizarre forms of inspiration, but even he could not keep up with that idea.
“Standard Objects are made by taking steel armor panels mixed with a heat-resistant reactive material and layering them like leaf springs, but this one is made by taking reinforced glass and protective film and layering them like a baumkuchen. We had a vague idea of that in advance thanks to our intelligence collection. There was still some data in the military servers, after all. But this battle has shown us that the glass fixation is seen in the weapons as well. It sends messages to the railgun shells through fiber optic cables and those are made from glass, right?”
Knowing the enemy’s beliefs and tastes was very useful in predicting their actions.
This did follow from the 21st’s dislike of artificial elements.
“With the exception of some special acids, glass is extremely resistant to nearly all chemicals – that is, to the artificial elements and compounds they so despise. Plus, it does not stimulate people’s greed with its rarity the way gold does. From their meager perspective, it is the perfect Object for extracting the poison and changing the world in a pure and proper way. I initially wondered why they would make it from glass of all things, but that must have been the idea behind it.”
They saw themselves as the ones removing poison from the world.
In that case, they would see Quenser’s group as a toxin needing elimination now that they knew what was in the Body File.
If they were that obsessed, they likely used glass in a lot of places beyond the armor and main cannon trajectory control. For example, the capacitors supporting the incredible power requirements of the container railgun main cannons may have used Leyden jars and the image processing may have used an image intensifier.
On the other hand, it seemed unlikely that the Crystal Scrying used no non-glass substances. In other words, that it did not use any rare earths. Even if it did use thin film integrated circuits made from glass, that was not enough to perform data processing. The semiconductors would be made of silicon, aka glass, but other metals would be needed too.
Were they okay with using anything as long as it was not an artificial element made in a particle accelerator?
Plus, these were haughty nobles. It would hardly be surprising to find they gave themselves exemptions to the rules they insisted everyone else follow.
“The enemy’s armor doesn’t use the usual temperature-resistant reactive material,” said Quenser. “It uses special glass armor made by layering reinforced glass and film like an onion. In that case…”
“Hey, you aren’t thinking the firepower we have on hand is enough to deal with that, are you?” said Heivia. “We don’t have any tanks or armored vehicles that can still run out there. Even the Princess is having a hard time of it, so we can’t just stand out in front of the thing!!”
“I never said we would be doing that. We aren’t going to blast all the way through the Crystal Scrying. But if we could roast the surface a little…”
“Yesss?” prompted Elise in an odd way.
“Its armor is definitely tough.” Quenser sighed. “Since it’s been made into Object armor, our fists couldn’t break it even if it was originally glass. It must already be too strong for that.”
Simply putting it to words seemed to be medically wearing down his body’s strength, but he kept going.
If he stopped thinking, he would lose sight of their only escape route.
“But what if we remade it into something else entirely?”
He said it all in one breath.
Their comeback started now.
“Glass can be processed into many different forms. Glass fiber, foam glass, insulators, etc. If it can be melted with heat, then it can be changed by mixing in an impurity before it rehardens, right?”
“And that would make it more brittle?”
“Not necessarily, but we might be able to pull off something neat.” Quenser spelled out his thoughts. “I don’t know if it’s in panels or blocks, but that Object is formed entirely out of combined pieces of glass, right? If we break down that form, it shouldn’t be able to move the way it was designed to. Take the joints for example. If we distort those, we can lock up its movements.”
“But where do we get that impurity?” asked Elise. “Hiking back down to the maintenance base at the foot of the mountain and bringing back a ton of some kind of chemical substance does not sound realistic to me.”
“Foam glass doesn’t require any other materials. Snow is being blasted into the air all over the place, right? As long as we melt the surface of the glass, snow will get into it without us having to do a thing. And I mean a lot of snow. The snow will melt and the water will evaporate, but the holes will remain. So as the below-freezing air causes it to cool and harden, the glass will become a fluffy and spongy material. If the apparent volume changes and it expands enough, the joints won’t be able to move.”
Of course, that would not be enough to defeat the 21st Mobile Maintenance Battalion’s Second Generation.
That would only slow it down.
“Heivia, do you have a missile?”
“Heivia. It’ll be okay. I’m not saying we have to defeat that Object ourselves. We can pass the baton to the Princess and she’ll save us. But you’re still scared?”
“Why the hell wouldn’t I be?”
“Let’s end this before sunrise. We can’t let this problem linger for too long.”
They had a plan.
Quenser, Heivia, and Elise ended their last supper and walked to the exit of the glacier cave with their respective equipment.
Even now, the cave was shaking from a low tremor. They had not thought about it until now, but that sturdy cave could have collapsed at any time. That just drove home the point that there were no safe zones on the battlefield.
As they approached the exit, Quenser switched off his light.
If any oddity was noticed or even the slightest light was detected, those extraordinary shells would be flying their way. The time had come to stick their tongue out behind the grim reaper’s back while hoping like hell they were not noticed.
“I’m not going to defeat it.” While carrying the missile launcher over his shoulder, Heivia repeated that under his breath like some kind of incantation to ward off evil. “I’m relying on the Princess. I’m just letting the Princess win this for us. This is still a standard Object vs. Object battle. I’m sticking with the normal rules. So it’ll be okay. I can survive this. I just have to let the Princess finish it for us.”
They only had to pass the baton to the Princess.
They only needed the Princess’s help.
When they stepped out of the glacier cave, the very first thing they saw was the Baby Magnum being pierced through by a giant railgun shell.
The deafening boom and shockwave arrived after a short delay and all the snow on the slope crashed down in an avalanche.
Something was launched diagonally back from the Baby Magnum’s pierced spherical main body. It was hard to tell in the darkness, but that was probably a person rather than a flare dangling from a parachute in the cold sky. That was the Princess.
The Baby Magnum was at a higher point on Mont Blanc while it dirtied the night sky with black smoke. That might not seem like anything unusual, but it was. The Crystal Scrying was designed for use in mountainous terrain, but the Baby Magnum did not have the mountain-climbing capability needed to scale the highest peak in the Alps. It could not climb the steep slope past a point, so the jagged mountain peak was a dead end for the Princess.
Meanwhile, the Crystal Scrying could move as it pleased and had circled around toward the base. It had moved rapidly in every direction, adjusted its position, and fired its octuple railguns from the optimum angle. It had controlled the tail fins with fiber optic cables so those shells gathered around the Baby Magnum from a variety of angles.
This was the result.
After being driven up the mountain, the Princess had not had anywhere to escape.
“You have got to be kidding me.”
Heivia dropped the shoulder-fired missile launcher tube he had been preparing to fire.
They could no longer rely on her.
They had no Object. It was just those puny foot soldiers.
And the battle was not over.
The delinquent noble’s voice trembled.
“What the hell are we supposed to do now, goddammit!!!???”
The Baby Magnum had been destroyed.
It may not have been completely destroyed since the reactor had not exploded, but it could no longer move now that the Princess had decided to eject. Heading there and repairing the Object on the scene was not realistic.
“This is why I didn’t like the idea.” Heivia’s tears froze as he curled up on the spot and held his head in his hands. “Fuck off with all of this!! Why should I care about this genetic vulnerability and Body File stuff!? I tried. I did what I could, didn’t I!? No one could possibly complain if I turned back and curled up in that cave until all this is over!!”
The awful friend turned toward Quenser with wavering pupils.
And he raised his voice.
“Besides, what do I even gain if we win here? If the Body File goes public, the entire concept of nobles might go away!! The commoners who believed we were so healthy and strong aren’t going to take it!! They’ll drag us down from our position of privilege!! Is that really something I should risk my life to fight for!?”
“Then are you saying the 21st is in the right here? Are you really willing to say that, Heivia?”
“You’re a commoner, so you don’t understand the hardships of a noble life!!”
“Whether or not we commoners respect you is supposed to be based on your actions! All this talk about beautiful genetic sequences sounds like something the Information Alliance would be into!! I can tell you one thing for damn sure: no one’s following the kind of people who cover up the truth and get all snippy the instant their position is threatened!!”
“~ ~ ~!!”
“Who cares about history!? Why should we give a crap about tradition!? If you’re worried about that stuff, Heivia, then you’ll have to build it up yourself!! By becoming someone everyone can respect!!”
“Oh, shut up!! It isn’t that easy!!!!!”
“You can head back into the cave if you like,” bluntly cut in Elise. She was in her strict instructor mode. “Based on the training menu, you were only issued three days’ worth of food. We have no idea at all how long they will remain in Mont Blanc, so there is a good chance you will end up fighting starvation.”
“Elise, do you have an idea?”
“Not really. But the Crystal Scrying should be relieved after defeating its enemy Object. It will have relaxed now that the only real threat has been eliminated. Once they calm down, they will close in on us, so now is the time to act if we hope to shake them. This is our last chance.”
“Last chance, my ass.” Heivia shoved aside all other opinions with the voice of someone having a nightmare. “We never had a chance!! Our busty commander set us up, threw us into a battle we never agreed to, and now we’re paying the price! Actually, it’s worse than that. What good is winning even? We’ve already stepped on the landmine. We took the wrong path from the very beginning. There’s no route to the destination from here!! Continuing on will only get us stranded until we die!!”
“Let’s leave him behind,” said Elise Montana after no longer than a second.
Heivia looked shocked, but she tilted her head.
“Oh? You can throw a tantrum and desert if you like, but who said we would follow you? We need to use this chance to fight, and even if we just want to run away, we should try to escape the troops surrounding us before they close in too far. At the very least, holing up the cave will not get us anywhere. The most we could do there is eat up all our soap-like rations, lick the glacier walls, and grow skinnier and skinnier with nowhere to go. I would prefer not to die while wondering if I should start running my own urine through a filter.”
“And if we do end up defeating the Crystal Scrying, you will have no place there. In that case, you will be court martialed, found guilty, and thrown into a military prison.”
Quenser tried to stop her, but she did not listen.
Elise Montana was the perfect strict military instructor, but she got a perfect 0 as an infirmary counselor.
“Thank you for your work thus far, Heivia, but your life ends here. Whether we win or lose against the Crystal Scrying, you have run into a dead end. The path forked to the left and right, yet you chose to plow right on through into the bushes for no good reason. But this is your life, so I will not stop you. Quenser, the two of us can rejoice in life together.”
“Hold on, Eli- ouch!? Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!?”
Elise had only grabbed Quenser’s hand and lightly twisted it, but what did it look like to Heivia left behind in the cave entrance?
His last two companions had walked off together and vanished beyond the snow.
It started as a whisper, but it finally grew to a loud shout.
“Wait!! Okay! Okay, I get it! Please don’t leave me here!!”
The glasses woman stuck her tongue out where Heivia could not see.
Now, she had given him some motivation, but she had done nothing to improve their circumstances here. If they did not come up with their next move soon, they could only wait for the 21st Mobile Maintenance Battalion to arrive and kill them.
“So is that armor really made of reinforced glass?” asked Elise. “They really altered its properties by adjusting the pressure while it formed?”
“Given how they think, I can’t imagine they would have made it sturdier by mixing impurities in,” said Quenser.
“Right? I just hope it isn’t borosiliclit glass.”
“Elise, do you mean borosilicate glass?”
“Hm? That’s what I said: borosiliclit glass.”
Quenser celebrated in his heart at managing to secretly record it on his mobile device this time (even though a single light source meant death). That might seem entirely pointless, but idiots like him were the type who would grab a highlighter whenever they spotted a dirty word in the dictionary. There was no real reason. It merely satisfied his collector’s spirit.
Elise only tilted her head because she had not noticed what she said.
“What should we do? If we need a weapon, we could probably find a tank or armored vehicle if we dug into the snow.”
“Can you use a cannon, Elise?”
“If it is one meant for use by a single person. If it needs multiple people, I might just have to give that spoiled noble boy a spanking.”
Quenser thought for a short moment.
“The enemy’s armor is made of glass. Glass is an insulator, so how is it sending power from the central reactor to the main cannon railguns?”
He quickly reached a decision.
“Elise, search out a gun of 90mm or bigger. It can be a maneuver combat vehicle or a mortar for all I care!!”
“In that case, I see an adorable silhouette over there.”
Elise pointed at an odd vehicle half buried in snow.
It looked like a bulky snowmobile with armor panels and continuous tracks, but there was a large indentation on the back and it had no roof. Instead, a thick barrel aimed diagonally up toward the night sky behind it.
“This is an open-top mortar carrier. It carries a powerful 120mm mortar but it has stripped away all the unnecessary exterior and was slimmed down with ultra-thin armor, so it weighs less than 10 tons and can be carried anywhere by helicopter or ship. It can follow the common troops around like a puppy.”
“No one wants a puppy here. A normal machinegun could pierce that armor, so it might as well be an aluminum can. Whoever gets stuck using it clearly got the short end of the stick!!”
Also, it had an open top, so had they been driving it around the Mont Blanc night while exposed to the cold air? They could only pray the crew had not been frozen solid by vaporization heat.
Also, an Object could blast through a warship or a nuclear shelter in a single blast, so death was assured either way. But Quenser’s group only needed to get one shot in, so the thickness of the armor was irrelevant.
After brushing off the snow and exposing most of the gun, Elise inspected different parts of the giant mortar that extended back like a fishing rod.
“It appears to still have a round inside. How dangerous. …So, Quenser, what should I aim at?”
“Hold on a sec,” cut in Heivia. “What good is firing that thing? The bright muzzle flash and loud blast will gather everyone’s attention on us!”
“Chickens deserve to be plucked of their feathers and soaked in an ice bath. Now, what are my specific instructions?”
“I’m not taking Heivia’s side here, but screwing this up really is the end for us. I appreciate your help, but you’re free to run away as long as you teach me how to fire it first.”
“That is not something that can be learned overnight. Not at this adorable thing’s size.” Elise smiled bitterly. “Also, I have no other ideas either, so I will bet on whatever has even a slight possibility of working. I am doing this of my own free will, so do not worry.”
Hearing that was all Quenser needed to complete his preparations.
That left just one more person.
“A commoner like me has no way of knowing how fragile and precarious a position the nobles and royals are in. That foundation has been there from the moment you were born, so it might feel like your very soul has been shaken.”
Saying that may have qualified as disrespectful, but they had no idea how long that entire hierarchy would still be around.
“But you know what? I don’t think it was meaningless.”
“I mean, you saved those kids on the aurora observation ship. They saw you as the knight who brought Santa to them. It might sound like something from a picture book and it might sound unrealistic, but that was Heivia the Noble standing there in that moment. A commoner like me couldn’t have saved those kids’ souls too.”
“That’s a bunch of idealistic hogwash. It doesn’t change the reality if the situation.”
“Maybe not, but no matter what the Body File says, there are people out there who can be saved by clinging to those dreams. …So you can’t let that power be stolen from you here. Nobles are supposed to be dignified, right? Royals are supposed to be respected, right? But that has nothing to do with a sequence of AGCT!! We commoners are looking for the kind of people you see in picture books! The kind of people who always stay strong and who will stand up for anyone in need or in tears!! Are you kidding me right now? What happened to chivalry, what happened to ladies first, what happened to mercy and charity, what happened to noblesse oblige!? Don’t hand your justice over to the people killing their own out of fear of losing their power! Heivia!! Aren’t you one of the nobles who were born to protect the people from those very cruelties!?”
Heivia Winchell hung his head for a while.
He could not find anything to say.
But eventually, he found something.
It was quiet at first.
But he spoke.
He finally spoke his mind.
“Do you think I didn’t know how pathetic, ugly, and hopelessly small a person I am!? How could I not be terrified!? How could I not be shaken when something I’ve believed in all my life is being written off as a lie!?”
Quenser said nothing.
Elise started to act in her utilitarian nature, but he stopped her with a hand.
He had to stop her.
“And I know it isn’t right!! I know if I hide from the truth there’s no coming back from it. I want to hold my head high! I want to look ahead to the future as I live my life!! So I can’t accept what the 21st is doing! I never asked for their help. They bloodied their hands all on their own, so like hell I’m going to agree if they ask all of us nobles to share the responsibility there!! You can go straight to hell on your own, you assholes!! Yeah, yeah! That’s right!! Are you saying the Winchell family isn’t good enough the way it is and you commoners won’t accept us right now!?”
“I just have to do it myself!! I’ll be the good kind of noble! I’ll make the Winchell family something worth honoring! And that’s something I can never do by covering up the truth and going around killing innocent people like these pieces of garbage!!!!!!”
Quenser Barbotage was a commoner.
That had been set in stone from the moment he was born, so he could never become a noble or royal. That meant defending them would never benefit him in any way.
But he still smiled.
“That’s more like it.”
He thought of the children on the aurora observation ship.
Once Heivia had decided he would never do anything that would disappoint those children, he had proven he had a truly noble soul.
What did genetics matter? Why should anyone care if someone has a beautiful sequence of DNA? No one was out there writing haikus with AGCT sequences.
“Okay, I’m ready to do this!! The Legitimacy Kingdom might go down in flames, but I’ll protect the Winchell family no matter what! Because that’s what I’ve decided I’ll do!! And these assholes out here are standing in the way of that. How can we blow them up and protect the world!!!???”
“Sounds like you’ve had an awakening,” said Elise. “But emotions will not save us here, so I would really like some concrete targeting instructions.”
They had finally reached this point, so there was no need to hesitate.
Quenser immediately gave her the answer.
“Heading: 2080. Angle: 450.”
“Umm, that’s nowhere near the Crystal Scrying.”
“Shut up,” growled Heivia like a wounded animal. He was picking up a heavy shell and shoving it into the muzzle. “Listen, Quenser, I don’t know what’s going on in that head of yours, but promise me one thing. If we do as you say and fire this thing, can I avoid having to turn my back on those kids!? I need to remain a noble no matter what might happen!!”
Quenser Barbotage knew what they had to do, so he accepted everything his awful friend left with him and raised his voice.
“So fire! Immediately!!”
The entire vehicle was struck by the powerful recoil and the 120mm shell tore through the air.
The flash of light and boom were just like a nearby lightning strike.
The attack was powerful enough to warrant that comparison.
A mortar usually launched an explosive in a large arc like a long throw in baseball to drop it on a distant enemy’s head.
But with Mont Blanc’s steep slope, it could be fired diagonally upwards to directly hit a target.
Quenser had not aimed for the Crystal Scrying.
He had aimed for the Baby Magnum where it had been cornered and destroyed up toward the peak.
More specifically, he had aimed for the slope below it.
The crumbling rock dislodged it from what it was caught on and the 50m mass slid down the steep slope. It gathered white snow and glacier ice around it as it tumbled down toward the 21st Mobile Maintenance Battalion’s Second Generation!!
“Ah!!” shouted Heivia as a dull thud exploded out. “It actually goddamn hit!?”
“Get down from that thing, Elise! The enemy will have noticed this!!”
That open top provided no defensive power whatsoever and any soldiers forced to use it must have been reduced to tears, but the one advantage was how easy it was to escape. You could climb down in any direction.
The glasses woman dove down to the snow while asking a question.
“Was that a diesel ignition, or a stiletto heel?”
“The 200,000-ton masses colliding looks fancy, but Objects are spheres. As you can tell when pressing two balls together, the surface of contact will only be a single point, so all the force will be concentrated there. Just like a nail tip or a stiletto heel, that would have considerable penetrative power. If the incredible pressure created heat, it would be even more destructive than subterranean magma!”
Ideally, that would destroy the Crystal Scrying.
But a deep cacophony of scraping metal echoed across the Mont Blanc night. It was pulling through. Even after being hit by an entire other Object, the Crystal Scrying could still move!!
“What do we do?” shouted Heivia while having trouble breathing. “Where are we supposed to run now!? If it strikes back just once, we’re boned!!”
On the other hand, Quenser had a smile on his sweaty face.
His gamble had ended with hitting the enemy with the immobilized Baby Magnum.
“That won’t happen.”
The following sound of destruction was reminiscent of a large tree being split vertically.
It was a blast of electricity.
But not because there were storm clouds in the area. The sound came from the Crystal Scrying.
Specifically, from its glass armor.
“This isn’t a normal Object. That giant form is made from glass armor pasted together in onion-like layers, but that alone doesn’t let it send power from the central reactor to the main cannon railguns on the exterior.”
“Um, wouldn’t they just place metal leaf wiring in between the layers of glass like with a printed circuit board?” asked Elise. “Even normal Objects use that method.”
“Yes, and it works just fine with a normal Object.”
The sound was not stopping.
In fact, it was growing louder by the moment.
“Like I said, its armor is made from glass. The electrodes are contained between insulating glass. Do you know what structure that forms? It should come to you almost immediately if you’re enough of a hobbyist to have struggled with a soldering iron to create a self-propelled robot loaded with a deep learning AI.”
“Only you’re enough of a geek to do that, so just get to the point already!!”
“A capacitor. That’s an electronic component used to store electricity. They’re a major component of stun guns.”
It might as well have been an explosion.
This was deadly force formed from electricity.
“This wouldn’t happen if the wires remained connected to both ends, but if they end up breaking for any reason, that thing’s glass panels and metal leaf start to function as a gigantic capacitor. All the power pumped in from the reactor will build up there and have nowhere to escape.”
“But, Heivia, you’ve at least heard that lithium ion batteries can explode if used improperly, right? Electricity is a form of energy, so that’s not really surprising.”
With a flash of light much brighter than welding, the darkness of the Mont Blanc night was swept away.
The Baby Magnum and Crystal Scrying had collided, but the 21st’s colossus hopped up unnaturally. Then it lost balance. It failed to land properly, rolled onto its side, and was helpless from there.
The 50m giant rolled down the steep slope of Mont Blanc.
They did not even need to imagine what had happened to the Pilot Elite inside that Object that showed no sign of stopping.
Quenser pulled out some Hand Axe plastic explosive.
“Heivia, Elise. Prepare every weapon you have.”
The Baby Magnum and the Crystal Scrying had both been incapacitated, but that would not have eliminated the grudges on both sides. They did not care that both sides were from the Legitimacy Kingdom. The White Flag signal would not reach this deep into the mountains, which was why the 21st had driven the 37th up there. And Quenser’s group was not about to let the 21st get away if they said they were leaving now that they had used up all the weapons they had on hand.
From here on, they were fighting an unprotected form of war.
No more could they be baby birds begging their parent for food.
Something peeked out from Mont Blanc’s summit. It was the sun. Dawn had snuck up on them at some point.
And in the instant that everything was dyed in gold, a new year had begun.
They could get a fresh start.
But in that moment, Battlefield Student Quenser Barbotage had a filthy smile on his face while he made the following announcement:
“Time for the counterattack. Let’s slaughter every last one of them.”
The time had come to dye the white mountain red.
Using the blood of people who were supposed to be allies.
“Phew,” sighed Frolaytia Capistrano.
This conference room had been full of commotion earlier, but it was empty now. She had tried her best to fight from behind the scenes, but the battle outside had ended before she could accomplish anything worthwhile.
The female officer who acted like a secretary quietly called her name.
The busty, silver-haired woman had her shapely butt seated on the long table instead of the chair and she did not remove the long, narrow kiseru from her mouth when she replied.
The female officer must have been accustomed to it because she did not seem to mind.
“The 21st has suffered devastating losses. They seem to be begging the higher ups to send a ceasefire command, but it is too late for that now.”
“Well, they were the ones who set things up to delay that very decision.”
“The bottleneck for us will likely be recovering the stranded Baby Magnum. It might be faster to transport the maintenance equipment up Mont Blanc to repair it on site.”
“This is all so very depressing.”
“We are almost done now, Major.”
Frolaytia viewed the smile on the female officer’s face.
And she removed the kiseru from her mouth before continuing.
“By the way, lieutenant, I have one question.”
“Yes?” asked the female officer with a polite tilt of her head.
Frolaytia Capistrano was not smiling.
“When were you planning to reveal your true colors and attack me, you 21st dog?”
The female officer drew her knife – no, her secret gun that used the knife’s grip to hide the suppressor-equipped barrel – at about the same moment Frolaytia threw her lit kiseru at the back of her hand.
“Why would you draw it right in front of me, you moron? And you were aiming for my heart? How were you supposed to pass that off as suicide?”
Without a moment’s delay, Frolaytia swept the other woman’s legs out from under her. The assassin had reflexively placed her other hand on the burn, so she failed to catch herself and slammed shoulder-first into the floor. She grimaced in pain and tried to get up, but Frolaytia pressed the bottom of her boot against the other shoulder to force her back to the floor.
She felt a dull sensation similar to operating a car’s shift lever.
That had dislocated both of the assassin’s shoulders.
“Now you can’t even kill yourself. Resist any further and I will dislocate both legs as well. To be clear, a dislocated hip hurts a hell of a lot more than a shoulder. I will respect your choice, but I do not at all recommend it.”
The 21st had reacted too quickly.
The 37th’s server had been cut off mere minutes after sending the warning email to the social media company in order to reveal Bullrank Happy-Youth for who he really was. The response would never be that sharp if they were simply patrolling the internet as a whole. A large company would receive hundreds of those coaxing targeted emails every single day, so not even an AI search could have responded with such accuracy.
Thus, it must have come from within the 37th.
Someone very close to Frolaytia Capistrano must have sent out a warning. She had asked a member of the electronic simulation division to investigate who was secretly sending out a signal despite the datalink being down and the server being useless. That would be who was accessing a different server to leak information.
(But I didn’t expect it to be her.)
That said, not enough time had passed since the incident in the Arctic Ocean for a spy to have been sent in response to that. The 21st had not sent one of their dogs in response to anything; they had already had people everywhere.
The Princess, Quenser, and Heivia had all worked themselves to the bone for this, so Frolaytia had known she could not just wait safely for the result.
That was why she had laid this trap without knowing who would spring it, but…
(This is so very depressing.)
“We never did find any compromising information on Bullrank Happy-Youth. Except for what you might have, that is.”
This woman had covered everything up.
And the busty, silver-haired demon spoke cruelly to that person she had thought of as an ally fighting alongside her at this desk.
She spoke her words of farewell.
“I’m glad I managed to lure you out. To be honest, I would have been out of ideas if you hadn’t attacked me here. Did you think I would leave you with the intelligence division? How naïve of you. I don’t know where your spies are located, so this is a job for someone I know I can trust.”
“You mean you will be interrogating me yourself?”
“No, I know someone even better suited for the job.” Frolaytia gave a vicious smile while shaking free of all sentimentality. “Sergeant Elise Montana. You used to be a part of the 7th Special Training Unit yourself, didn’t you? One of their strict instructors can whip you into shape. Until you tell us everything.”
Between the Lines 3
She was like a dried-out husk.
Lendy Farolito stood stock still.
The ringlet curls Pilot Elite waved a small hand in the silver-haired brown-skinned commander’s face, but she remained motionless. Nothing could get her to move right now.
“Th-the underground bank for rare earths – ha, ha ha – went out of business? It went broke???”
“Oh, dear. And wait a moment. Didn’t you use tax money for that Immortanoid business?”
She had been accepting jobs where she took money from people in unstable countries and regions and converted it into precious metals like Immortanoid. The idea had been to make money off of the commissions. But if she could not convert the money as promised, she was in violation of contract.
And whatever money was lost in the process would have to be paid from her own pocket when returning it to the original owner. Along with a contract violation fee.
The introductory section of the bank’s webpage had the following written in fine print at the very bottom:
- This service does not 100% guarantee profit. Be aware that there is always a risk of making back only a fraction of your principal☆
“M-my Caribbean vacation.”
With their budget gone, there was nothing she could do.
So what would become of their New Year’s leave that was meant to make up for spending Christmas on a concert designed to improve the military’s image?
“My Caribbean vacatiooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooon!!!!!!”
They had gone through hell on earth yet again.
“This couldn’t get much worse! Bloody corpses and gasoline-soaked wreckage are everywhere. Aren’t the Alps supposed to be holy ground for mineral water!? Who’s gonna want to drink the water here now!?”
“Diesel is a light oil. And wouldn’t that still be better than tap water that makes you sick?”
“The real question is what to do about our busty commander.”
“Spreading her legs and flipping her over is a must, but I want some more ideas. Anyone got any requests?”
Major Frolaytia Capistrano had apparently set this all up in secret, so a four-letter word starting with F had been in the back of their minds throughout the entire fight. Incidentally, the last letter is K, the second is U, and the third is C. The soldiers of the 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion were unbeatable while boiling with rage like this. Each and every one of them could shirtlessly swing around a Gatling gun right now.
Working off one’s lust through sports apparently did not work for this dime-a-dozen box set of idiots. With them, it had only boiled the lust down into a crystalized form.
And when they arrived in the maintenance base zone, they found their silver-haired busty commander had used the “naked apron” special move and had also prepared a sumptuous feast for them.
“Welcome back, everyone!! Anyone who takes my side can eat as much as they want!!”
“No fair, you black-hearted pair of boobs! What happened to our free will here!!!???”
Anyone would choose the T&A over making a noble sacrifice.
This was set up so the potatoes would separate into a group that wanted to enjoy the bare skin and a group that insisted on a punishment. The two groups would end up fighting each other, so Frolaytia herself would emerge untouched and victorious despite having seemingly lowered her defenses to zero.
The potatoes realized Frolaytia understood all too well how the world worked, so there was no way for them to escape her grasp. Their only option was to eat the food before them and recall what it felt like to be alive. They were exhausted after all the fighting, so they wanted to gorge themselves on some carbs.
“Major Capistrano,” said Elise Montana with a quick salute. “We have extracted all the pus related to the Body File. I do not believe there is any risk of another unit pursuing you.”
“I doubt the 21st was acting alone in this. Wouldn’t some of the higher ups have been in on it?”
“Um, that’s the thing.” The strict instructor began to fidget. “It seems the title of 21st Mobile Maintenance Battalion was no more than camouflage. They were a secret unit that preserved genetic information on the royals and nobles around the world and performed R&D on medicines for the risks found in those genes. It was the 21st themselves who created the Body File.”
“Of course. They had a massive amount of research data, which had to be stored on the most secure server they could find since genetic risks are like the Achilles heel of the royals and nobles. In the worst case, someone could use that information to biologically develop a deadly virus tailored specifically for them.”
“That explains it.”
“Yes, that is why their Second Generation Crystal Scrying was so odd. It seems to have functioned as a giant medical server. That means their research cannot continue now that we have destroyed it. Assassinating us would no longer benefit the higher ups. The research has stalled, but the destruction of the Object also eliminates the risk of the Body File getting out.”
“If those people are so obsessed with their own survival, will they really accept that?”
“Do you remember the final transmission sent out by the Crystal Scrying, Major? It was not encrypted, so everyone should have picked it up.”
Frolaytia blew out a long stream of smoke. Incidentally, the long, narrow kiseru was a very poor match for a naked apron.
And she answered the question.
“ ‘I’m so tired,’ right?”
“Even if they still had the technology, they must have been at their limit morale-wise. And it makes sense. The royals and nobles are supposed to be an unshakable presence, but the 21st’s researchers were constantly witness to their fears and anxieties. It was the very teachings that the Legitimacy Kingdom uses to rule its people that left those Legitimacy Kingdom researchers unable to bear it any longer. It was a structural flaw. Even if they gather new personnel and start the research anew, it should fall apart at some point.”
There was no guarantee the royals or nobles would start dropping like flies due to some disease or disaster someday.
And who would survive that trial would depend on what kind of trial it was. Only those with the compatible key would survive, so at the moment the problem appeared, no one from commoner to royal would have an advantage.
But some people had refused to accept that.
That refusal was fueled by the fears and anxieties that they might be the inferior ones.
The people who had seen those fears and anxieties had felt like everything they believed in was being denied and destroyed.
“Which means it’s over,” said Frolaytia. “With no repercussions whatsoever for the royals and nobles who supported the 21st…or rather, who forced the 21st to perform that medical research.”
“Having to fear death by some unique disease for the rest of their life might count as a repercussion☆”
Their punishment was no more than a delusion.
That might seem too light, but that was also the one thing they had failed to shake free of after all this time. They feared a disease that might not even exist, so even if no one was criticizing them, they would have to live a hellish life of fear so great it turned their hair white.
Elise narrowed her eyes behind her glasses.
“Wars based on anger or pleasure never last long. The greatest driving forces are fear and anxiety. Although in most cases, that leads to an uncontrollable panic.”
“Then what will you do, Sergeant Elise?”
“Me? I am an instructor of the 7th Special Training Unit, so I can educate people in how to control themselves even when they hold great power in their hands. I am confident in my ability to teach anyone to do that.”
The strict instructor of the Special Training Unit smiled.
“But only when there is a common assumption that they will be fighting against an enemy. Whether we are talking about entrance exams, military training, or even elegant ballet or piano, I cannot educate someone when there is no competition. I cannot create a goal for them then.”
“Is there no way to improve yourself all on your own? I do hear golf is like a battle against yourself.”
“If that were really true, they would not hold tournaments. People feel excitement and are moved to emotion through intense competition with others and that is why so many people gather to participate in those tournaments. People may have once been taught how to feel satisfied on their own, but those teachings must have long been abandoned.”
All of this was just one form it took.
The 21st Mobile Maintenance Battalion had been annihilated and the research meant to relieve the royals’ anxieties had ground to a halt, but another conflict was brewing.
And whether they wanted more conflict or were trying to avoid it, if they aimed a gun toward the 37th, they would have to be destroyed.
“It’s all so fruitless.”
“Why not find a way to enjoy yourself in war? I recommend making up your own rules and aiming for a high score.”
In the end, this was how the world worked.
In this crazy age, only those who enjoyed war could survive.
It has been a while, hasn’t it? This is Kamachi Kazuma.
The story this time crosses into a new year!! If you have read the book, you know exactly how far the story strays from a traditional White Christmas. But I think it is more exciting for Santa to be a sexy young woman in a miniskirt than some old man! Santa should be showing some midriff even in the winter!!
As usual, the Object was a bizarre one. I was curious a while back how bulletproof glass worked and looked into it, but the concept is surprisingly simple. However, it does have some downsides, like the windows not breaking and trapping you inside if your bulletproof car falls into the ocean. Similarly, installing bulletproof windows and doors in your house is not exactly safe. You don’t have to worry about them being destroyed from the outside, but you lose the peace of mind that comes from being able to destroy them from the inside to escape. I thought that could apply to Objects which always take things way too far into one field in particular. I introduced a paper Object before, but am I the only one who thinks of glass as even more fragile and fleeting? …If I had gone with a Cinderella motif, it could have become a heroine Object. This enemy did not really leave room for sympathy, but I do think I gave the 21st their own kind of justice. You never know, the Elite inside might have been a super-skilled cute girl hugging a large stuffed animal while she fought.
Researching lightning induction was fun. Controlling weather conditions – especially one as exciting as lightning – sounds like an incredible thing, so it’s kind of amazing they can’t find any immediately practical use for it like they can with AI and rare earths. From a safety perspective, existing lightning rods are good enough. It makes that research perfect for use in fiction.
Also, I decided to have Quenser and Heivia using vehicles and cannons more than just walking around the battlefield on foot. I’m a little disappointed I didn’t get the chance to use a bridge layer, though. Anyway, this was a test to see if letting them move freely around the battlefield and use everything available to them would add to the usual sense of exhilaration, but what did you think? From a purely aesthetic perspective, my favorite is the maneuver combat vehicle with eight wheels and a gun turret attached, but I also can’t say no to how weird those support vehicles with the digging arms and drills are.
I made sure to have a large before-and-after difference with the new character Elise. M and S are two sides of the same coin. Surviving all that cruel treatment unharmed means she has to be very skilled indeed. And on that note, could you say the same about Major Frolaytia? I actually had two ideas for the ending. The other one had a smiling Elise-sensei punishing Frolaytia by soaking her in a metal drum ice bath. But of course I went with the naked apron!! Because I felt like it would be more fun for karma to be fundamentally broken in the Heavy Object world. Anyway, since Frolaytia felt the need to go to all that effort this time shows she knew just how much trouble she would have been in without that. It might be cute to imagine her sweating and panicking in front of the closet before Quenser and the others arrived.
I give my thanks to my illustrator Nagi Ryou-san and my editors Miki-san, Anan-san, Nakajima-san, and Mitera-san. This one might have been more difficult than usual with all the various tricks involved. I know I was a lot of trouble yet again, so thank you very much.
I also give my thanks to the readers. What did you think of this story that used pure white settings for each chapter? I am praying that you enjoyed this crazy world where normal good and evil do not apply and enjoyed seeing those two idiots tear apart that world’s rules.
And I will leave it at that.
A-all of a sudden, Myonri has turned into a veteran warrior…