HEAVY OBJECT:Volume 18
The final frontier was Africa.
But before we discuss that, a question: can economic opportunity only be found in areas with explosive population growth? With air conditioning, phones, cars, food processors, health products, and all other ordinary products, the sales are much greater when selling in a major country of a billion than in a small village of a hundred. Just calculate out the numbers if the product sells to an average of 1% of potential customers.
Asia and Central and South America were once the center of attention thanks to their explosive population growth, but that has since slowed. That means all the standard household items have already been sold to every household there. You have a computer or smartphone, don’t you? Once everyone already has one, the sales drop. Even if people need to purchase an updated model every so often, they aren’t going to pay for an expensive new device each and every time a new one comes out, right?
In that sense, Africa has gained attention as an untapped vein of customers. Especially south of the Sahara. All sorts of major corporations have set up branch offices and stores there and satellite-based internet infrastructure is being built at a rapid pitch. The wireless there has gotten so much faster.
All the appliances are loaded with AI. With rice cookers, electric water boilers, and washing machines, you only have to say “Now with AI!” in the ads and people will buy a new one these days. That’s one way of increasing the sales of products people already own, so why wouldn’t the companies take advantage of it? I’m not sure what the exact definition of AI is or how the cheap AIs loaded in appliances are any different from a normal support program, but AI is king. For the time being anyway.
That’s why I don’t find it at all unusual for that to be located in central Africa. Those can only be built near the equator and building it out at sea isn’t realistic given the stability needed at the base. Central America would be tricky since the Panama District is still disputed and northern Oceania presents problems from the economic side of things. Yes, you can see this land as where all the money has gathered. It naturally found a home where the geographic, economic, and data conditions were all favorable.
But a space elevator, huh?
From what I’ve heard, space development has entirely shifted there once mass drivers were removed from the competition. That selfish girl’s Capitalist Corporations must be in upheaval yet again. Never a good sign.
Chapter 1: Overture >> Attack on the Turkana District Space Elevator – Gr. Base
Mom, dad, how are you?
It’s your son, Quenser Barbotage.
I have been working hard out here. I came here as a battlefield student to study Objects, but they keep giving me work to do. And there’s always more no matter how much I do, so is there any way to escape this?
Please look after your health.
I would also appreciate it if you used your heads a little more when sending me gifts. Vacuum-packed roast beef? A ready-made white stew that’s supposed to taste just as good as a restaurant if you add hot water? Why stuff a box full of delicious safe country preserved food when the military has a cargo inspection gate it needs to pass, you stupid parents?
“Die, die, die, die!! Oh, shit! We’re gonna be overwhelmed by that guerilla charge!”
“We’re supposed to be celebrating a happy New Year, so what the hell are we doing all the way out in Africa!?”
The two idiots with sand coating their hair could not be blamed for yelling.
The shitty world was once again treating the Legitimacy Kingdom potatoes to a violent potato washing. How violent, you ask? A local guerilla group was crossing a minefield by poking at the ground with sticks and, when someone carelessly blew up a mine, the rest of the group continued pushing onwards from behind. They apparently thought they would be safe if they were a long stick’s length away when it went off, but that was not enough to escape the landmine’s effective range. The rest was just pure desperation.
The machinegun fire could not keep up.
It was like a long horizontal wave of people pushing in from the horizon.
Student Quenser Barbotage and Noble Heivia Winchell withdrew to the back of their encampment while holding a heavy machinegun and a large radio.
“Let’s contact the Princess. We can’t win this without that kind of largescale support!”
“She’s so focused on that huge thing she can’t see us down on the ground. Or are you saying you’re gonna take care of that thing for her, skinny boy!?”
The two boys had not hidden behind a large boulder or a thick concrete wall. They were behind a tank that was kept low by staying in a large hole they had dug into the dried and cracked ground.
They were less than 2m away, but they received an encrypted transmission from the digital generation girl within.
“I know I should have asked this ages ago, but how stupid are you, Heivia!? Digging a hole to hide this cutie is meaningless if you lead the enemy right to her! And this sheltered girl is worth several million euros, I might add!!”
“Shut up, Myonri!! Give that fancy villainess a good slap on the ass!! Blow them away with those explosive rounds already, you idiot!!”
Africa was a vast continent, but it could generally be divided into 6 categories.
The dry desert, or the wet greenery.
The worthless barren land, or the valuable arable land.
The undisturbed nature, or the urbanized cities.
The Turkana District was located on the equator in eastern Africa and it was best known for its enormous lakes. It was supposed to be a nature park large enough to contain the entire Island Nation with nothing but verdant forests, grassy plains, and all sorts of life as far as the eye could see, but things had changed recently.
It was so bad you wanted to avoid breathing too deeply without a mask.
Scorched sand and dry, cracked land were the only things visible out to the horizon in every direction.
“Are you kidding me? Humanity is gonna wipe itself out from destroying the environment before our wars can do us in.”
“Then how about we make these tanks electric? Cough, it reeks of diesel back here!”
Then Myonri fired an explosive round.
It was like horizontally launching a firework made of metal and gunpowder.
With a loud boom, the 45ton tank slid a bit backwards. The new shells they had received in the latest version-up for the weaponry had way too much gunpowder inside, so Quenser and Heivia were nearly crushed by the steel continuous track while leaning against the thick armor.
The shell flew along a flattened arc that looked nearly straight.
The encampment the potatoes had abandoned still had ammo cases and soap-like rations left behind. Just as the guerillas’ charge slowed somewhat by their interest in that, the shell flew in. Its coating and 2000 metal balls were propelled in all directions by the explosive force in the center of the enemy group.
A very red and very liquid explosion splattered everywhere.
Quenser and Heivia did not even have it in them to complain about the ringing in their ears from the blast.
“You’re the ones that requested support, so don’t act shocked by this,” said Myonri. “You’re not a pacifist back in a safe country watching talk shows with a snack in hand.”
“Underestimate an unsatisfied housewife and you will soon fall victim to one, Myonri.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“You need to be careful. It’s the defenseless types like you that those experienced housewives will prey on first. And they don’t care about gender either.”
“Commander, please check the tank’s biological weapon alert. Everyone outside seems to be living in a fantasy world!”
Myonri was learning how to make better comebacks. Major Frolaytia Capistrano’s 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion could help a shy and nervous girl open up, but it might chip away at her prudence and refinement in the process.
At any rate, modern tanks could complete the automatic reload and smart targeting process in no time, so several more anti-personnel explosive rounds were launched to efficiently tear through the guerilla ranks.
The potatoes hiding behind the steel vehicle with nothing better to do began to cheerfully sing with their eyes shining bright.
“Guerillas, guerillas, kill the guerillas, kill them all now☆”
“One, two, three, two, two, three, four, kaboom, kaboom!!”
“Oh, god. What’s wrong with you two now? Is the gunfire rattling your heads so bad you forgot what morality is?”
The battle had become a slaughter similar to sweeping the eraser across the blackboard to eliminate all the chalk writing. But for some reason, this did nothing to stop the advance of the guerillas. The flesh-and-blood humans continued charging right at the purely industrial tank.
The two idiots finally returned to their senses.
“Why do they want to protect that big-ass thing so much!?” asked Heivia.
“It all comes down to money. Humans are the one animal willing to die for money, after all. I mean, the simple monetary value of that thing is dozens of times that of an oil field. And unlike petroleum, you don’t have to worry about this drying up. Africa has plenty of valuable resources – gold, diamonds, petroleum, rare earths – but they’ll all run out eventually. So anyone would be desperate to protect a permanent fortune that will never run out.”
“And that’s the space elevator, huh?”
Heivia groaned and leaned out from behind the tank to look far into the distance.
An ultra-tall structure stood around 2000m tall and looked as thin as a needle.
And several wires extended far, far above that like part of a string instrument.
That giant structure towered into the sky from beyond the horizon and its impossibly tall silhouette did not have a visible top because it eventually faded into the blue sky above. That was because it was so tall that the thick layer of air between blocked the light. That was the same reason high altitude spy planes could not be seen with the naked eye.
Objects were known as colossal weapons, but this thing dwarfed even them.
It was said the Tower of Babel was a symbol of humanity’s arrogance and that seemed appropriate after seeing this horrifically large structure.
That was the Space Elevator Mother Lady.
“We can see it so clearly, but we’re still 70km away, right? Not even the Island Nation’s Mt. Fuji can hold a candle to this. It’s insane.”
“And instead of the laser type that fires powerful beams into the cargo tanks’ asses, this is the wire type that was thought to be impossible. They said an SF director cried tears of joy after hearing about it.”
Since the 37th’s soldiers were here, their Object, the Baby Magnum, was as well. But there was an obvious reason why the Princess was hanging around behind the battleline instead of crushing the guerillas and driving up to Mother Lady.
A blinding lightning-like beam of light passed by them far above their heads.
But that was not the Object firing on the space elevator.
Quite the opposite.
“Goddamn that thing!!” shouted Heivia.
“It can do whatever the hell it wants with that ridiculous amount of power,” said Quenser.
“I thought we cut off its power source? It doesn’t have any power cables left intact.”
“There are several theories about that. It might have a web of power cables running underground and it might have a nuclear reactor hidden somewhere.”
“We’re talking about the world’s largest artificial structure here. They’ve essentially erected themselves an enormous silicone you-know-what out here. Y’know, starts with a ‘d’ and ends in ‘ildo’.”
“Way to show off your ignorance there, buddy. When it’s powered by a battery inside, it’s named after the vibrating it does.”
“You idiot!! Modern toys either use a USB cable or are wirelessly charged using microwaves. Now who’s showing off their ignorance!?”
“You dare question my knowledge on this subject!? How about I tell you about the latest tech that perverted safe country professors are researching in their labs? In a truly shocking turn of events, a mysterious new massager that has its own balls made from iPS cell sheets nearly impregnated the very curious housewife who volunteered to test it out!!”
“Ew, that’s just gross! What part of that is supposed to be sexy!?”
“What if I told you the perverted professor in question was single 20-year-old STEM blonde genius girl who skipped past several years of her schooling, looks amazing in glasses and high heels, and is way more into women than men?”
“Okay, you win this round. That changes everything.”
“Ah ha ha. She has an IQ of over 200, but when she got scared, she went pale and tried dumping cola down there.”
“I already said you win this round! Now you’re just showing off!!”
“What is wrong with you two!?” cut in Myonri. “Carbonated drinks don’t actually do a thing to help with that, so stop bragging about believing false information! Our entire battalion can hear your radio transmissions, you know!? Frolaytia, will you please do something to stop this ungodly stupid and disgusting conversation!?”
“Oh, now here’s a surprise. Myonri actually knew what we were talking about. And she even knows her fact from fiction on the subject.”
“Why’s that a surprise, Quenser? Anyone would get pent up stuck in a cramped tank like that. And she’s a gadget girl, so you just know she’s particular about what toys she uses.”
“Now that you mention it. I bet she’s spent some quality time with a massage chair or some VR goggles.”
“Do I need to shoot you?” warned Myonri.
The space elevator’s foundational structure extended like a spear up from the ground base. In fishing terms, that would be the rod instead of the line, but for some reason, it had an enormous laser beam cannon attached at the top.
And its power was on par with an Object.
That was why the Princess could not approach so easily. Dealing with the guerillas standing in the way would be easy enough, but if she was stopped for even a moment, Mother Lady’s laser beam would blast right through her. Quenser and the others wanted to get their Object to the elevator if at all possible. At close range, it apparently fired anti-tank coilguns down from its walls, so the infantry would be forced into a very bloody charge if they could not get the Princess to break through with her thick armor.
“What do we do? This entire mission is going to fail if we don’t hurry up.”
“Planning your moves in advance, Heivia? Since when were you so thoughtful?”
So the plan was for Quenser, Heivia, and the rest of the potatoes to clear out the surface and confirm things were safe before the Baby Magnum could charge in as quickly as possible and the Princess could use her graceful hands to tear down the base of the elevator.
The elevator was fixed in place and the Object could move.
It was obvious which one had an advantage there, yet the Princess was still unable to attack.
Quenser and the others should have been vaporized with nowhere to hide from that humongous long-range laser beam cannon, but for whatever reason, the space elevator never directly targeted the ground. Maybe it had to do with the angle of fire or the targeting system, but they could not truly rest easy without knowing the actual reason for it. When their lives were on the line, “for whatever reason” was not good enough.
“So how’d they build that thing anyway?” asked Heivia half in disgust. “It takes months to build a department store, so couldn’t we have come in here and stopped things mid-construction without having to mess with all this now?”
“They didn’t build it up from the ground. First, they secretly built the space station and then they let most of the rest drop down like a waterfall.”
“Like a waterfall?”
“The ground base looks like a huge spear sticking up into the sky, but more than 99.9% of its 100,000km length is actually carbona nanotube wires. So think of it like letting a fishing line drop down. Although the earth’s centrifugal force is apparently tugging on it.”
Conflicts were also fought in space using unmanned spacecraft and killer satellites, but there were still fewer watchful eyes up there than down on the surface. The world was a cramped place, but there was still enough room for large units to be launched into orbit as supposed radio telescopes or power generation satellites only to secretly join together into a giant robot. And nothing was as rude as attacking in the middle of a transformation sequence.
Of course, this project was much too big for the local guerillas to have done on their own.
Someone else was behind it.
“The Capitalist Corporations really do control space, don’t they?”
Specifically, the Federation of Elevator Industries.
That was a powerful space development agency started with joint funding from 7th Core, the seven major companies that controlled the home country of the Capitalist Corporations.
Online news had reported on the beginning of construction on the elevator a while back, but not much was known what had happened with it since.
“They’ve got so much tech they had time to choose between a mass driver or an elevator. They eventually did go with the elevator, though.”
“Thanks to the support of online stores, that is.” Quenser breathed an exasperated sigh. “Because an elevator that can cheaply launch large quantities of whatever into space will revolutionize distribution. Even high-altitude spy planes can’t fly any faster than Mach 6 or 7 since they have to move through the air, but in the vacuum of space, they can try to reach Mach 15 or even 20. And if they only have to drop the package ‘down’ in zero-g, they don’t even have to use up any fuel for a rocket or engine. Once the online payment goes through, a parachute-equipped container will use your location information to reach you with a margin of error of only 100cm. That gives them the ultimate delivery network that can reach anywhere on the planet and even the lunar villas in 60 minutes or less.”
“What’s the point of that? If you want to use the elevator to deliver a pizza, you’d have to take it to this desert first. And that’s true for anywhere in the world.”
“They’ve been giving it a ‘test run’ for about a year since the elevator was completed.”
It was the elevator that had turned the area into a parched desert.
That was not a change that happened overnight.
“There haven’t been any real problems with it and nothing during the test period counts as an industrial achievement. No matter how much they earn, they aren’t making any profit off of it. So no matter how many tons of deliveries they make around the world, it won’t show up in the sea of records. Or it shouldn’t have. But they got greedy. The unseen earnings grew too large and it stood out in the records.”
“The idea of ‘global coverage’ may have been too much of a draw for the 7th Core parent companies. Y’know how the ads for same day delivery always have fine print excluding certain regions or islands? They wanted to eliminate those exceptions no matter what it took. And if they’re dropping the deliveries from above, the cost of a delivery to the peak of Everest or the middle of Antarctica is no more expensive than anything else. They could even deliver to a cruise ship in international waters or to territories belonging to other world powers. The world would end flooded with even more empty delivery boxes than now, though.”
“So they wanted to fill in all the gaps, like how the number of convenience stores in a big city just keeps growing?”
“They are the Capitalist Corporations, after all. And this is funded by 7th Core that runs their home country.”
So the space elevator itself was incredibly convenient, but the biggest bottleneck was finding a place to construct it. First of all, it had to be near the equator. The carbon nanotubes used for the wires connecting the heavens with the earth were strong, but being made of carbon meant they were weak against high-voltage currents and they would easily break if thick thunderclouds moved through. So placing the elevator in the path of a hurricane would be a problem.
Since the wires had to stretch all the way up into space, they would constantly be exposed to the 2000+-degree thermosphere. That meant the material had to have some resistance to heat, but not even that was enough to endure the instantaneous temperature of 30,000 degrees caused by lightning. And the static electricity built up within a cloud’s moisture by friction could be enough to cause that.
That meant the first big question was where to locate the elevator.
The Capitalist Corporations’ Federation of Elevator Industries had apparently chosen to throw money around to win over the locals instead of slaughtering the residents of that blank zone that existed outside the four world powers. Hence why the guerillas were acting as their pawns. They were working to help, but they were not actual soldiers, so they were not counted amount the official war dead when they died. That was a valuable loophole, so the Capitalist Corporations was free to send them on reckless suicide missions like this.
The locals had given up their land for money, believing it would earn them even more money, and now they were fighting for money and dying before seeing a single dime.
“So all of this was worked into the plan? Man, I almost feel sorry for the poor bastards.”
“It’s not like the Legitimacy Kingdom is much better. We claim to be here to protect the precious natural resources, but we’re only interested in preserving the bugs and flowers here because they might just be useful for developing new drugs.” Quenser sighed while wiping off his sandy face. “I’m talking about you fancy nobles here, by the way. None of this matters at all to us commoners with common DNA. Your special genetic structures make you susceptible to fancy VIP genetic diseases, so you want to have as many possible drug ingredients as you can get just in case one of them comes in handy.”
Looking at the population alone, the commoners were an overwhelming majority, but it was the minority of royals and nobles packed full of rare DNA that decided what they would fight their wars over. That was just how the Legitimacy Kingdom did things.
“Isn’t anyone out there fighting to bring peace to the world?”
“If you don’t like it, then go do it yourself, Heivia.”
The space elevator was a colossal structure.
Just like mountain ranges and valleys altered the wind currents to produce unique forms of weather, that elevator sliced through the air currents like a giant blade, causing the wind to split out into a Y-shape. That had apparently distorted the natural winds of the region. And people suspected meteorological weapons were deployed in response to any irregular weather changes since the elevator could not have any thunderclouds passing through. Simply put, the area around the elevator was always sunny. Unnaturally so.
“Has the tank changed the battle’s momentum? Hey, Myonri! We’re gonna resume marching, but every round you fired detonated, right? I don’t want to be blown away by our own unexploded ordnance!!”
“How should I know? I only operated the gun as ordered. If you have any complaints with the product, direct them to the safe country defense contractor’s customer service desk.”
“I’d only get redirected around the globe twice over by automatic recordings if I tried that.”
Of course, the tank did not have unlimited ammo. Their unit did have dedicated supply vehicles that would transport new shells to them, but even with that, trying to suppress a large infantry force with only a tank’s explosive rounds was not a good plan. Sadly, the shells cost far more than unofficial soldiers did. If they did not want Major Frolaytia Capistrano to spank them with her lit kiseru after she read through the expense report later on, Quenser, Heivia, and the rest of the potatoes needed to put in a more budget-friendly effort here.
“Dammit, we’re left with two options here: avoid punishment at all costs or learn to accept the punishment as a reward,” complained Heivia.
“The problem is that Frolaytia always wears her uniform,” said Quenser. “If she would just change into black leather bondage gear, I’d let her whip me all day long.”
They wanted to change the battle’s momentum.
Now that the tank had stopped the advancing guerillas, it would be best if the infantry could resume marching while spraying machinegun fire.
“Keep in mind where the explosive rounds hit,” said Myonri. “There will be craters there and those will function as makeshift trenches. It would be best to make your attack while rushing from point to point.”
“Roger that, Myonri. That’s better than nothing on this flat desert.”
“Yeah, but if they chuck a grenade into one of those crater trenches, you can say goodbye to everyone inside it.”
The potatoes’ heavy machineguns gave a roar even louder than construction equipment demolishing a concrete building. Those were meant to be operated by a team of four, but when the soldiers emerged from behind the tank and moved across the cracked ground, they were carrying the assembled units with them in something like part of the cavalry battle game at an Island Nation sports festival.
When one of them was shooting it, the others would be running. Then they would swap positions. Of course, they would spurt blood and collapse if one of the enemy’s filthy and scratched-up bullets hit them.
There was no perfect tactic or safe ground here.
A special loophole was out of the question.
“Man, I wish I had a 5th or 6th generation powered suit right now. Tech really is the cheat code of the modern age. I wanna be the overpowered guy who doesn’t have to put any blood, sweat, or tears into winning.”
“If you want to run around in the nasty training wear someone else was using and never washed, be my guest. Keep in mind that thing covers you from head to toe. Now, I won’t kinkshame you, but don’t expect me to understand it.”
“The last person wearing it might have been an athlete schoolgirl whose sweat glitters like diamonds or a housewife who takes yoga lessons every weekday afternoon!!”
“Have you seen the people stuck working on the 37th’s front line!? It’s nothing but filthy potatoes. In what fantasy world are you finding anyone good looking out here!?”
“I heard that, Heivia,” cut in Myonri.
The 37th generally had the upper hand with only the occasional pushback from the guerillas who had become puppets of the Federation of Elevator Industries. When that happened, Myonri would fire explosive rounds from the tank to support them. The tank attempted to use as little ammo as possible by only firing on the problem areas, but seeing their own side’s shells flying by overhead was still a nerve-wracking experience. The 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion was a truly wonderful workplace, but you could never enjoy the thrill rides at an amusement park afterwards.
Quenser shouted wide-eyed in protest, but not for any humanitarian reasons.
“Hey, don’t rely on the tank too much! Those shells are expensive! We might win the battle, but we’ll end up buried in debt!!”
“You can worry about money once we’ve won.”
They had more than just the one heavy machinegun unit. While the other infantry were spraying bullets to push back the human wave, Quenser and Heivia’s group carried the 20kg mass of metal toward the next crater. There, they began spraying their own bullets to cover for the others.
“I won’t be able to eat grilled meat for a while. There’s more human gore lying around than empty cartridges.”
“Hey, that’s a lot of nutrients and moisture, so maybe it’ll bring green back to the desert. Oh, don’t get too near the corpses, Heivia.”
“What, you think they might be playing dead? None of them are in one piece anymore!”
“They aren’t, but some of their equipment is still intact. If the detonators or fuses are still live, the slightest bump could set them off. And I mean the ammo, the grenades, and…are those things the size of rugby balls rocket warheads? Y’know, the ones that cost 80 euros a pop but can blow up a tank that costs millions?”
Heivia decided to keep his distance from the chunks of meat full of unexploded ordnance.
“But that’s only when they score a surprise hit form the side, right? Myonri’s tank is way back there and shoved down in a hole we dug. They don’t have to worry about an attack from the side. Those cheap rockets and recoilless rifles don’t have homing functionality, so it’s not like they can curve around to hit the tank in the side from here.”
That was when they heard a quiet sound.
It sounded like the buzzing of a bug’s wings.
No, it was more like the motor of an electric razor.
Puzzled, the two idiots poked their heads out of the crater.
They saw a black spot in the blue sky.
No, it was a 70cm crane fly made from a lightweight aluminum frame. Or you could call it a multicopter drone supported by multiple rotors.
But instead of a delivery package, it was carrying something the size of a rugby ball.
That something was an anti-tank rocket pointed straight toward the ground.
Heivia quickly turned around and prepared to shout into his radio, but he was too slow.
The rocket ignited and stabbed straight down like a lightning strike.
Right into the roof – the primary weak point – of the tank providing such powerful support from behind.
Things had changed for the worse.
“The guerillas have better equipment than expected. The space elevator must have supplied it for them. Everyone, focus on making smart attacks using your electronic equipment!!”
Silver-haired and busty Major Frolaytia Capistrano’s words would have been useful had they not come so late. The two idiots really wished they could put a collar and chain on her and take her for a walk along the front line.
The actual attack was more or less just a toy made by combining a flying drone with an anti-tank rocket that some dead soldier had been holding onto. It was a lot like reusing a rocket as a landmine after losing the launcher for it – not the kind of recycling you wanted to see. But Quenser’s group had heard nothing about the sandy guerillas using multicopter drones. Drones were a niche hobby at the home electronics level, but these wireless units looked very powerful. They were fast and made almost no noise.
The student grabbed his radio.
“Wait, you dumbass!! What happened to Myonri!?”
“That jack-of-all-trades managed to escape in time. We have confirmed her survival, so worry about yourself. You can’t expect any support from her tank anymore.”
“Oh, I see. So we’re stuck out here, huh? I swear you bring us nothing but trouble!!”
“Quenser, stop taking out your frustrations on a lovely lady like me. And don’t think I’ve forgotten the sexual harassment of that highly-inappropriate conversation from before.”
“Oh, god! You heard that!?”
“You were warned: the military records everything you say.”
They would be able to last a while firing the heavy machineguns from the craters, but if the enemy could blow up a tank, they could do the same to a cluster of infantry. Once one of those drone bombs arrived overhead, the rocket would be launched straight down and the blast would fill the crater the potatoes were using to hide.
“The drones are top priority,” said Heivia. “Quenser, you’ve got nothing else to do, so use your binocs to keep an eye on the filthy sky! Don’t overlook even one! We need to shoot them down before they get here or we’re dead!!”
“Focus too much on the drones and the guerillas will reach us on the ground!!”
“Radar alert,” said a voice on the radio. “Several unnatural readings are approaching the battlefield. They are almost certainly support materials being dropped from the Mother Lady space elevator. We estimate their size to be about that of a large tour bus!! Their contents are unknown, so they could contain anything from powered suits to tanks!!”
“What the hell are we supposed to focus on first!!!???” shouted Heivia while bristling.
Despite his question, their top priority was the cargo tanks dropping from the sky. If the guerillas obtained a 120mm cannon with a gas turbine engine while the 37th’s tanks were crushed, the guerillas could make a comeback. Wars were not determined by morality or emotions. It was all about quantity and cutting-edge equipment. And no one wanted to end up on the losing end where they were devoured by a monster that had the upper hand on both counts.
“Online stores are doing same-day delivery of weapons now.”
“Doesn’t this mean they’re in geostationary orbit? They responded awfully quickly after the request down here was made. Are they launching cargo tanks with a simple coilgun or something instead of just letting them drop? In the vacuum of space, that might give them more speed than if they did the same on the surface.”
Or it was possible they had other space stations positioned in lower orbits than the main one. Like the various foods positioned down the length of a skewer sitting on a grill. That would provide plenty of defense around the elevator.
Regardless, complaining was not going to change anything.
Those unwanted gift boxes were dropping onto the battlefield and it would be a huge pain if the enemy managed to collect them.
“Myonri, I don’t care if it can’t move. How many tanks aren’t on fire yet?”
“You’re still forcing me to work after all that?”
“If you didn’t want to work, you should’ve played dead, smartypants. Now quit lying around and get to work. Since you’re amplifying your signal with a tank’s equipment, you must have already reached a surviving one, right? Anyway, you’re upwind of us, so gather smoke from that intact tank and then release it all! Hurry!!”
Far behind them, a pink smokescreen spread out like cotton candy while a tailwind pushed it toward Quenser’s group. With nothing to obstruct it, the smoke continued on and enveloped the guerillas as well. It had a toxic-looking chemical coloration, but since it was not tear gas, it would not actually stop the enemy. However, the enemy would panic until they realized that.
Also, the supplies for the guerillas were descending from high in the sky, but no matter how accurately Mother Lady dropped them, the guerillas on the ground would have trouble moving into position with the giant pink cotton candy cloud obscuring their vision.
Tech was the cheat code of the modern age, but it provided the same benefit to everyone.
Outside of the Pilot Elites who operated Objects, no special bloodline or talent was needed to operate it.
If the 37th picked up the Capitalist Corporations cargo tanks first, they could destroy them or even use the contents for themselves.
“It’s a harmless health product – it even has skin-friendly collagen inside. So don’t let the placebo effect do you in, Heivia. C’mon, let’s get going. Remove the spring from the machinegun and ditch the rest.”
From here, it was all about speed.
After removing a key component from the 20kg machinegun so it would no longer function, the potatoes abandoned the heavy machinery and rushed from the edge of the crater. The smokescreen not only blocked ordinary vision, it also absorbed or reflected EM, IR, and other forms of mechanical scans. They ran through the swollen pink cumulonimbus cloud and, whenever they found a guerilla within 2m of them, Heivia would cover their mouth and slit their throat with his knife.
“Man, we’re actually doing real war stuff for once.”
“I am, maybe! You’re doing jack shit, Quenser!!”
“And what am I supposed to do with my bombs? Make a bunch of noise that draws the guerillas to us, defeating the entire purpose of the smokescreen?”
Even the largest group could be divided into nothing but individuals if their vision and means of communication were cut off. With EM blocked, everyone would be sending out panicked radio signals, so no one would question it if someone was not answering. This was not enough to wipe out a large army of course, but you could take out individuals and sneak into the enemy lines as long as the panic lasted.
Their goal was the predicted landing point for one cargo tank.
If they did not reach and destroy it before the local guerillas arrived there, the battle’s momentum could be reversed. Being killed by the very people they had been so easily defeating before would make this the worst New Years ever. They were not interested in an unpredictable rollercoaster or a surprise twist on the last two pages. Not when they were the ones who would suffer for it.
“Am I imagining it, or are there a lot fewer people around here?”
“We’re near Point D4. After dropping that thing, they have to slow it down with a parachute at the end. If the wind blows just wrong, anyone in the area could be crushed by that thing’s huge ass, so everyone’s watching from a distance until it lands.”
That meant the Legitimacy Kingdom potatoes were sweatily chasing after that big mama’s butt when not even the guerillas were interested. Happy New Year – have a new fetish. Their only choice was to assume this was one of those immortal mamas who looked just like a schoolgirl no matter how old she got.
“Heivia, prepare your shoulder-fired missile. If the guerillas reach it first, blow away the people surrounding it.”
“I’ll do it, but they’re dropping multiple cargo tanks and I can’t cover all of them.”
That was when they heard a loud boom.
It came from a good distance away.
Quenser and Heivia stared blankly for a while.
They heard a comrade speaking over an ultrasound transmission designed to travel through the smoke that blocked radar waves and IR.
“C2 here. Our cargo tank blew up from the inside! It killed Raver since he got there first!! There’s a password written on the back of his organ donor card. Someone use that to fulfill his final wish by secretly erasing his hard drive and cloud storage!!”
“Did those sons of bitches send down decoys along with the real ones!?”
Anyone trying to obstruct them would have to take out all the cargo tanks, but the recipients would be told which ones were real and could focus on those. It was a primitive but effective method.
And hadn’t Heivia said earlier that there were not many people around here?
That would suggest…
“This one’s a decoy too. Fall back, Heivia! Hurry!!”
Just as Quenser shouted and gestured his warning, the thick pink smoke was torn through by something dropping nearby. It was a hunk of metal that had been carelessly separated from its parachute in midair.
Before Heivia could even widen his eyes, a container that looked like a cross between an oblong box and a water bottle exploded from within due to the impact of the fall.
Lieutenant Milinda Brantini was a member of the Legitimacy Kingdom’s 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion.
She was commonly referred to as the Princess.
She was the Pilot Elite who operated the Baby Magnum, a multirole First Generation Object with 7 main cannons and an upside-down Y-shaped propulsion device, so you could say that every one of the battalion’s nearly 1000 soldiers – from the sentries to the commander – had all been deployed to allow her to fight to her fullest. She had short blonde hair and pale blue eyes, she never batted an eye no matter what might happen, and she would move swiftly and aim accurately to protect the battalion and defeat the enemy. She had a beauty so great it could not even be compared to anything as cliché as ice.
“Bwuh…it’s so hot. Why does the A/C have to be broken???”
But this…this had broken her.
She was in no state to be seen at present.
The sweaty girl sat limply in the cockpit located at the center of her nuke-resistant Object. But she was not exhausted after moving that 200,000ton mass around with MMA-like footwork. It was hot. Just plain hot. Wiping off her brow did little to stem the flow of sweat.
Silver-haired and busty Frolaytia breathed an exasperated sigh on a small window on the cockpit screen.
“That cockpit was designed to endure a nuclear attack, so of course it can’t take in outside air. Your own body heat is trapped in there, so blame yourself☆”
“I do feel bad about that, but there was no room in the schedule to fix it. Oh, and the transport plane carrying the new one was just shot down by the elevator’s anti-air lasers. I honestly have no idea when the next one can arrive, so you’ll be better off finishing this job so you can leave that cockpit than continuing to stew in your own sweat. It’s 28 degrees with 40% humidity out here, which is even nicer than Hawaii.”
Their commander was apparently lounging on a beach chair with a cold drink in hand. She was of course positioned somewhere that no snipers or mortars could easily target her, but it was still wrong to be commanding your troops while wearing a bikini, sipping on a colorful soda, and munching on assorted fruits.
As the legend foretold, the Princess did not bat an eye.
Her expression remained entirely blank as she puffed out her cheeks like a squirrel.
“I can’t take it anymore.”
She quickly stripped off her blue skintight special suit. She freed her pink-flushed nape and then the entirety of her back. She unzipped the suit, removed the sleeves, and then pulled it down to her hips.
Her sports bra left her flat tummy visible, but she was beyond caring. She shook her head like a puppy wet from the rain and drops of sweat flew from her.
This was enough for Frolaytia to sit up from her beach chair.
“That special suit helps fight the Gs and protect you from impacts.”
“You don’t get to talk when you’re lying around in a bikini.” The heat must have really gotten to her because the Princess did not even try to hide her flushed skin as she replied in a gloomy way. “And I’ll be fine. Nothing is going to happen anytime soon.”
“That kind of carelessness is exactly what-”
“I’ll be fine,” she reiterated. Still with no expression on her face.
It was true that the attack on the Capitalist Corporations space elevator was essentially at a stalemate. The Baby Magnum should have been at an advantage since it could move and the space elevator was immobile, yet she was stuck here and unable to attack. The space elevator effectively had more firepower than the Object.
(But Objects are supposed to be the strongest weapons.)
She pouted her lips like a small child and reached around toward the minifridge installed behind her seat. She felt around for a pouch of ice-cold jelly drink and pulled it out.
Instead of quenching her thirst with it, she first held it between her flushed cheek and shoulder to let the chilliness soothe her soul.
“Mother Lady has two main attacks,” she said. “The ultra-long-range laser beam that it fires horizontally from the top of the spear-like structure, and the artificial meteor shower attack that it calls down from outside the atmosphere.”
There were also close-range coilguns on the side of the elevator, but those were only anti-tank weapons and Object armor could shrug them off.
“The laser beam has a range of about 700km and the artificial meteor shower uses chunks of depleted uranium and tungsten alloy,” said Frolaytia. “Just one of those hitting the ground creates a crater on par with a small nuclear warhead, but we’re talking about 100 to 1000 of them.”
That might sound like a truly horrifying attack, but they were only hunks of metal with no rockets or tail fins. And Objects were designed to perfectly intercept a MaRV that’s movement was controlled by a program or a MIRV-class nuclear warhead that scattered nuclear weapons across a set area.
With the anti-air laser beam weapons covering the spherical main body’s surface like a sea urchin or chestnut burr, it would not miss a single one. And when something was entering the atmosphere, the slightest crack would increase the air friction to the point that it broke apart and created a massive shockwave. She could actually use the high altitude from which the artificial meteor shower was dropped. After determining its distribution, she could shoot down a bare minimum of the pieces so that the resulting shockwaves would hit the surrounding pieces, causing them to break apart, and resulting in a chain reaction. Even if 100 or 1000 artificial “meteors” filled the African sky, she did not have to target each and every one of them individually.
“Get too relaxed there and they’ll attack,” warned Frolaytia.
The Princess held the drink pouch between her thighs.
With her hands free, she grabbed the grips on either side and kicked the Object to the right.
The dust and moisture in the air were scorched orange as a powerful beam passed by just barely to her side.
She had only moved one Object’s-width to the side, but that meant the 200,000ton mass had moved 50m at more than 500km/h. It had to have whipped up a wind more powerful than when a train passed through a subway tunnel.
It was so easy she did not even bother humming.
“I’m so bored.”
“But you can’t move in any closer.”
Construction equipment had been used to dig into the ground around the space elevator and pour in static-absorbing gel, barbed wire coils thicker than a tunnel had been set up, and other Object-obstruction methods had been implemented. She might be able to power her way through all of them, but if they slowed her at all, she would be pummeled by the thick laser beams and artificial meteor shower.
That meant this was a job for the infantry.
She must have been too hot to care because the Princess kept the pouch of jelly drink in a fairly indecent place as she continued the conversation.
“But with a range of 700, I don’t see how Quenser and the others can get close either.”
Keep in mind that the units here were not in meters.
“It never fires its laser beam into the ground,” said Frolaytia. “That might be because the ground would rapidly absorb the heat and produce an unnatural updraft that could produce clouds not in their meteorological data. Mother Lady’s wires are carbon nanotubes, so they’re strong against impacts but weak to electricity.”
And if they had a weakness like that, it was best to take advantage of it. The Princess fired her high-power laser beams onto the empty ground while making sure not to hit any of her allies or the battalion’s vehicles.
(Sigh, why is the world’s strongest weapon doing a rain dance?)
“Princess, um, shouldn’t you put your top back on soon?”
“It’s not like Quenser and the others can see me.”
“You’re as careless as the people who bring a tablet with a camera into the bathroom with them. Now, I might not care that much, but I’m worried about the old maintenance lady’s blood pressure. Are you trying to get her to lecture you?”
The Princess ignored that kind warning and continued to fire her main cannons.
But this time, not to indirectly create unexpected thunderclouds.
She tried directly targeting the elevator, but her laser beams and railguns curved unnaturally before reaching it.
To avoid clouds, the enemy had to have some way of manipulating the atmosphere. She could not hope to hit just by adjusting for a margin of error.
EM and IR weapon lock-ons were well-known, but that was why so many countermeasures existed. And sometimes pushing for quantity could reduce accuracy.
By spreading around iron sand or gel to increase the density of the air, shells that pushed through the air resistance would have their trajectory distorted and laser beams would attenuate.
That was why she could not score a clean hit on the stationary elevator that she could plainly see in front of her.
Long-range attacks were not good enough. If she wanted to force her attacks through that interference, she would have to move in closer.
It towered into the heavens so conspicuously, yet she could not hit it. It felt like trying to attack a divine spear made out of a mirage.
The colossal landmark seemed to entirely rewrite the rules of war.
This was different from all of her previous battles.
(It’s no fun at all.)
The frustration building in her body must have caused her to tense up too much.
Her thigh pressure grew too great for the cap of the jelly drink held against her teenage crotch because it popped off and the heavy liquid within splattered across her body. She reached up to touch her cheek and bangs before growing somewhat tearful.
“Ugh, this is the worst.”
“Princess, I know you didn’t mean to do that, but the old lady is definitely lecturing you until morning this time.”
Things could hardly be worse.
The cargo tank must have been loaded with something like tank shells with their fuses swapped out. With those van-sized containers packed full, this reached the level of a small aerial bombing. The blasts and shockwaves covered a radius of 200m.
The only reason Quenser and Heivia were not turned to mincemeat was due to falling into a thick trench in the dry ground. There were traces of concrete mixed in with the scorching sand. This must have originally been an agricultural irrigation ditch, but it had completely dried up.
“We’re dead. We are so dead. That big mama’s ass exploded in our faces. That ultra-heavyweight mama has no tact at all. Don’t just fart in people’s faces.”
“More importantly, what happened with the real cargo tanks? The guerillas didn’t collect them, did they!?”
The smoke would not cover the battlefield forever. The wind had grown stronger, so Quenser and Heivia made certain they did not stick their heads above the former irrigation ditch. They watched as the cotton candy cleared away overhead, revealing the brutal near-equator sun overhead once more.
With the pink smokescreen gone, they switched from ultrasound to ordinary encrypted radio for their transmissions.
Their 18-year-old leader, Frolaytia Capistrano, had this to say:
“A9 failed to reach their target. I repeat, failed to reach their target. The guerillas have entered the cargo tank. The threat level just increased, so be on your guard!!”
“Shut up! If you don’t like it, get out here and do it yourself!! Oh, this isn’t good! The adrenaline is hitting me in all the wrong ways!”
They were not going to fix anything by saying unwise things much like someone in a sleep-deprived high after trying and failing to get to sleep. It would only get them in trouble later on, so wise Quenser asked about something else.
“Frolaytia, what weapon did the guerillas obtain?”
“Look at the screen and stop covering your eyes!! I’ll record any more of those naughty-sounding groans, so please just tell us the bad news already!!”
He really wanted their beautiful and capable adult of a commander to understand the simple fact that they were the ones who wanted to cry. Please.
Finally, the silver-haired and busty commander responded.
“They managed to acquire some of the UGV22 Lunchboxes used by the Capitalist Corporations. They now have around 20 of those unmanned ground vehicles.”
“The enemy must like packing things in tight to fit 20 of those in a single cargo tank. What are they, a Class Rep or a young housewife? Each one is 3m long, weighs 2 tons, and has 50cm-thick armor on the front. Their primary weapons are a heavy machinegun and a grenade launcher. They’ve made those small things as tough as an armored truck and they can charge right into a barrage since they’re unmanned. Do not let them near you because they will ignite their remaining ammo to self-destruct if they’re immobilized. I don’t want to waste our human primates on those masses of metal and silicon, so prepare for electronic warfare!!”
Armored trucks had thin armor compared to tanks, but they were still too much for an assault rifle or grenade to handle. These unmanned vehicles were apparently only 3m long, but since they did not need any space for anyone inside, they could be packed in tight to reduce the size of the entire weapon.
They might as well have had 3m hunks of metal coming for them.
That was a problem.
No one wanted to try punching or kicking something like that and throwing rocks from afar would do nothing to slow them. They would always move at a constant speed and attack with deadly accuracy. They did not even care if they stepped in dog doo.
“What do we do? We left our machinegun in that crater and the others in this area will have already retrieved it. We only have its spring! This thing won’t not even satisfy a bored housewife!!”
“Quit flopping that thing around, Heivia. Argh, why’d the smokescreen have to clear up now? If we don’t find another way to stop those things, they’ll turn us to Swiss cheese from a safe distance.”
They only had so many shoulder-fired missiles and it would be foolish for the humans to raise a war cry and go charging in against remote-controlled toys. They were fighting with their one and only life which could not be repaired or replaced if something happened to it. Their best bet was to find some way to cut off the guerillas’ line of communication, cause a malfunction in the unmanned weapons’ circuitry, or otherwise avoid fighting them altogether.
“Hey, what do we do?” asked Heivia. “Unmanned weapons were supposed to be our thing. I don’t wanna fight a war with inferior tech, so I vote we go home.”
“How in the world did you look at that enormous elevator and conclude we had the superior tech here? Besides, the guerillas are only borrowing those things from the Capitalist Corporations. Come with me, Heivia, this has turned into a battle of engineering. Those guerillas haven’t read the manual and just assume they know what they’re doing, just like pretty much everyone with their phones, so let’s show them how wrong they are.”
However, things did not always work out the way you wanted.
“Never mind! I was wrong! Retreat, retreat!!”
“I should really tie up that overconfident skinny boy and leave him out here!!!!!!”
Quenser and Heivia rolled into a crack in the dry ground while pursued by the roar of an automatically swiveling heavy machinegun that scattered 700 bullets a minute. And each of those bullets was the same size as the 12.7mm ones used in anti-materiel rifles. A graze to the thigh would be enough to tear off the leg like wringing a rag.
The bugs hiding in a gap in the ground groaned while protecting their heads with their hands.
“This is worse than I imagined!!”
“Why do you always do this!? You’re always so shocked every time some new Object shows up!! Why give the enemy the reaction they want!?”
Quenser had tried to use an attack that was harmless to people but deadly to machines: heat, EM waves, dust, dirt, static, moisture, etc. Unmanned weapons were giant communication devices encased in thick armor. Just like with a phone or computer, machines had plenty of weaknesses unique to themselves.
Or so the theory goes. But…
“Damn, it didn’t work. They’re completely airtight, so no dust or moisture can get in. What kind of cooling system do they use? I didn’t see the wire mesh for a radiator. Do those bastards use stylish fully-enclosed liquid cooling!?”
“Keep bragging about the enemy’s specs and I’m shoving my magnum in your yapping mouth, skinny boy!!”
They heard the sound of metal panels scraping together.
Those 3m box-shaped machines called Lunchboxes did not need any space for someone inside, so they were filled with armor instead. That made them heavy. They were only about 2 tons, but that was still too much for skinny tires that matched their size.
“Are you kidding me with these brand-new things? They’re all bright and shiny like at a motor show.”
“That isn’t just paint or wax.”
Quenser and Heivia were lucky the Lunchboxes’ weight prevented them from moving very fast. They traveled at about the speed of a scooter while suppressing the enemy with their machinegun and grenades. Instead of nimbly pursuing their target, they were likely meant to be placed at a particular point to prevent anyone from getting through. By generally surrounding a target with several of them, they could then slowly close in on the target.
But as Quenser and Heivia were pushed back by them, the fear was much like being slowly crushed by the moving walls in some ancient ruins. They were already within range of the barrage. At this rate, the unmanned weapons would catch up to them on their continuous tracks, but carelessly sticking their heads up from the crack in the ground would only get their torso torn in two by anti-materiel bullets.
Quenser looked up into the slice of the blue sky he could see out of the crack.
“From the way they move, I’m guessing they’re operated remotely instead of using a program to patrol a set area. Can’t our side jam them or something?”
“They refuse to attempt something when they know they’ll fail. Since it detracts from their score. Have you forgotten what we’re up against here, Quenser? The Mother Lady space elevator. That thing moves the elevator cars by blasting them with microwaves from the surface to get the motor running. And the Capitalist Corporations controls everything in space up above. Their signals are more powerful than ours, so we can’t forcibly jam theirs.”
“Wait, that would mean…ah, ah, ahhhh!?”
Deafening static pierced his head from right to left, so he grimaced and removed his earphone.
His mobile device might as well have been a ceramic tile.
The emblem on the corner of the screen said he had no signal.
“The data link is down.”
“So’s the radio. Damn, what century of warfare are we fighting now!?”
This is what happened when your side’s communications equipment was inferior. The guerillas protecting the space elevator could communicate and coordinate all they liked, but the 37th had to figure things out individually. Their maps were no longer updating, leaving them in the dark as to what was happening, where their enemies and allies were located, what the current timetable was, or even where they were located themselves. And since they could not share their own locations, there was a chance that the Princess would blow them away with an attack. Luring them in and then cutting off their communications was downright cruel.
The Legitimacy Kingdom was one of the four world powers, so they would not normally run into this kind of trouble.
That showed just how unusual this battle against the space elevator was.
“What do we do?” asked Heivia. “We’ll get lost out here if we’re not careful. Do we just charge toward Mother Lady as the most obvious landmark?”
“And die just like Frolaytia taught us to!? Anyway, be quiet, Heivia. One of those unmanned weapons is coming, so shut up!”
Some sand came away from the walls as the ground shook from continuous tracks similar to on construction equipment. It was close.
Quenser and Heivia curled up at the bottom of the crack just before the sunlight was blocked.
A Lunchbox was passing by directly above the narrow crack in the ground.
“(Settle down, you noble chicken! Do I need to stuff a handkerchief in your mouth!?)”
Dust was falling down on their heads and the sunlight could not reach them. Quenser felt a squeezing in his heart as the 2 tons of thick metal passed by overhead. If they were discovered, they were dead, but it could also lose its balance and crush them to death. At this point, his life was entirely in the hands of luck.
Looking up, he saw the metal belly of the machine and the track thicker than a chainsaw.
The bottom was not as shiny as a sportscar.
It symbolized death as much as falling rocks or a cave-in, but there was nothing more there. The lunchbox did not have any cameras or sensors to detect anyone below it. Of course, it was only 3m long and did not sit very high up from the ground, so there would not normally be enough of a gap for someone to crawl underneath it.
Yet Quenser saw no opening here.
A tank could not fire from too close to avoid being caught in the blast or hit by a ricochet, but this thing was unmanned. It would not have to worry about human damage. The instant it noticed them, the fireworks show would begin.
Unlike the tank Myonri had been using, he did not smell any exhaust. Was it actually electric despite weighing so much?
It must have only taken 10 seconds to pass by, but that felt maddeningly long.
The Capitalist Corporations unmanned ground vehicle passed above the two idiots, but Heivia still did not stick his head out of the crack for a while.
“What now? We’re past their defensive line!”
“Why should we do all the work? Myonri and the others have their tanks back there, so they can blast through that thick armor with-”
Quenser trailed off when he realized something.
The Capitalist Corporations’ Federation of Elevator Industries was jamming them using the microwave bases surrounding the ground base and the many military stations built up in space, so Quenser and Heivia could not communicate or use their datalink to tell their allies where they were.
What if the tanks began their own individual attacks right now?
The Legitimacy Kingdom would want to do something about the slow-moving but thick-armored Lunchboxes, so those would be the top priority target at the moment.
But. Would the others notice that the two idiots were hiding in a crack not 10m away from this one?
“W-we need to use a smoke bomb!! What’s the color for an emergency signal!?”
They did not have time for that.
A shell flew in from a Legitimacy Kingdom tank.
It very kindly knocked them unconscious as it blew them away.
Quenser Barbotage was being dragged.
He could not tell up from down and his memory was still fuzzy, but he could tell someone was holding him by the arms and dragging him.
Wherever he was, it was dark, but he could not figure out if it was a cave or a basement somewhere.
“(Stay quiet if you want to live.)”
A suppressed male voice brought the blood rapidly back to the student’s head. His mind quickly regained its focus.
Who was this?
At the very least, it did not seem to be Heivia Winchell.
“You’re one of the foreign soldiers, aren’t you? You might not want treatment from a blank zone doctor with far from the latest equipment, but it’s better than dying. Listen, you need to stay still. I disinfected you and stopped the bleeding, but I don’t have any real equipment here. I can’t even guess what state your bones or organs are in.”
The young man slowly named himself.
He had dark skin and short black hair. He was wearing a desert military uniform, but he also wore a starched white coat over that. He was tall and fairly muscular, but it looked somehow calculated. Like he had intentionally built up that muscle instead of coming by it naturally.
That family name was unfamiliar, so he was probably native to this blank zone instead of any of the four world powers.
“You people might see someone like me as no more than a witch doctor, but I’ll have you know I studied medicine in Berlin when I was younger. I never managed to spread that knowledge after returning here, though.”
In that case…
“You’re with the guerill- agh!?”
Quenser tried to roll away from the man, but every last joint in his body cried out in pain.
The man named Braskine shook his head.
“I said I don’t know what state your bones and organs are in, remember? You might have been hiding below ground level, but you were still in the lethal range of that shaped charge. I held off on giving you morphine so I wouldn’t medicate you without your consent, but how about now?”
Now it was Quenser’s turn to shake his head while trying to catch his breath. He was not trusting enough to let some random person inject him with something.
Anyway, it turned out miracles did happen.
In that last moment, Quenser and Heivia had been hiding in a crack in the dried ground. That very ground must have been blown away (by the tank gun operated by that dumbass Myonri), but the crack must not have fully collapsed since Quenser was still in one piece. And how had this supposed doctor collected him from the crack while the tank and the unmanned weapon fought?
That question had a simple answer.
“The battleline has moved on. The tank and unmanned ground vehicle can both move, so the frontline left you two behind while you slept.”
Quenser was not going to just believe everything this guy told him, but that did seem like the only real possibility.
He had thought the area was so dark because this was a cave with thick bedrock overhead, but it was just that enough time had passed for the sun to fall beyond the horizon.
He had been abandoned out here for that long.
Essentially, he had fallen into enemy hands. The largescale jamming from the parabolic antennas on the ground and the space station up above meant his radio and datalink were useless. That made it unlikely the operator in the maintenance base zone was monitoring his location.
Help was not on its way.
He slowly breathed out before checking on something.
“You said ‘you two’.”
“I treated another boy in the same uniform as you. Over there.”
Quenser intentionally avoided mentioning any names, but Braskine gestured with his chin toward where Private Heivia Winchell was lying sprawled out on the ground. Shockingly, his large handgun remained in its holster. Whatever this man’s intentions were, he must not have been interested in confiscating their weapons.
A small old truck and a roofless buggy sat nearby.
No, the doctor had probably carried the buggy out here in the back of the truck. The cheap emblems told Quenser both vehicles were Island Nation brands. That country had withdrawn into partial isolationism, so it was unclear how these had made their way all the way to Africa.
“Can you drive?” Braskine dropped a simple key without a keychain into Quenser’s hand. “Then you can take the buggy. Load your friend in there and hurry back to your maintenance base.”
“Are you sure about that? If we return alive, we’ll report everything that happened. If you’re walking around without any real weapons while the Legitimacy Kingdom and Capitalist Corporations clash here, you must have some kind of secret route, be it tunnels or pipelines.”
“Keeping you here would be a bigger problem,” spat out the man. “What if your people put together a largescale rescue mission for you two? That benevolent act of charity will keep the war going. My job is to treat the wounded, so I don’t want your people hurting anyone else.”
“You’re with the guerillas, so don’t you want to protect the elevator no matter what?”
“Mother Lady has brought us money. A lot of money. Over the nine-month test period, the Turkana District has probably become the wealthiest part of Africa. And with the profits going unrecorded since it’s all supposed to be a simple test. I bet we’re doing even better than the diamond mines or the water business.”
He sounded bitter, so he must have noticed this was not exactly a good thing.
“But wealth doesn’t necessarily bring happiness. We’re going through lives even faster than we used to. Clutching a still-unpaid contract in your hand doesn’t do you any good when you take a bullet and die.”
The Capitalist Corporations were using the local guerillas knowing what it would mean for them.
They had bought up the land for the space elevator and made lucrative promises to be fulfilled after the elevator’s completion to hire a defense force against the other world powers. And if those defenders died before the Capitalist Corporations had to pay them, all the better.
Even when the locals realized they had been betrayed, they could not turn their weapons on the elevator.
They had abandoned their old lives and invested in this new path. That had earned them some new wealth. Could they really throw out that new life and redo things just because they knew it was wrong?
They could not.
Humans could not fight the new desires they discovered. Like TV, air conditioning, online shopping, refrigerators, convenience stores, microwaves, delivery drones, and smartphones. It was the same for everyone. No one could give up everything and return to a more natural life just because people had lived that way a hundred years ago.
Without the space elevator, the world powers would lose all interest in this region. The test period was only a test. If the results were unsatisfactory and it was branded a failure, the Capitalist Corporations would be freed of their obligation to build bases and cities here. All that would remain was the dry and cracked desert.
And they would no longer need to maintain the high-level infrastructure they had put in place.
The locals would have been given a taste of a more comfortable life only for the tap to be shut off. That was the same method used by rotten drug dealers on the streets who would initially sell their white powder for almost nothing to get people addicted before they jacked up the prices.
In that sense, it was a very Capitalist Corporations negotiating tactic.
On the other hand, Quenser had no right to criticize them. The Legitimacy Kingdom only cared about the Turkana District for its flora and fauna that might make a useful drug. The minority of royals and nobles had sent in everyone from the royals to the commoners because they feared a genetic bomb that their special genealogy might possess.
Did no one at all care about the local people?
Was that why the locals had been left with no choice but to fight as guerillas?
And then even that decision had been used against them?
“We never should have agreed to it,” said Braskine Mintfrappe, the doctor who had helped caused all this through the pursuit of happiness. “We made a fatal error with our very first decision. We’ve worried over every decision since, trying to do the best thing at every fork in the road, but we were already stuck on a path straight toward the precipice.”
Things were going well.
The space elevator was the largest structure in human history, but that also meant it had an absurd amount of secondary facilities and equipment. Enough so that the infrastructure for a whole city was not enough. The entire region’s water was sucked up for cooling purposes, a massive amount of power was needed, and powerful microwave was used to wirelessly send power to the elevator car.
A Legitimacy Kingdom tank traveled through the pitch-black night without even a single streetlight.
With a crew of four teenage girls, the inside ended up smelling awfully sweet. Specifically, it smelled of deodorant spray.
“We will have control of the #4 parabolic antenna power transmission station soon! Send the fuel and ammo supply unit this way! We will move on ahead once we have resupplied!!”
The tank commander, who was a bit older than the rest, pulled a moistened towel from the small fridge and placed it against the back of her overheated neck.
“Myonri, we’re being jammed, so the maintenance base can’t hear you.”
“There are four of us crammed in here, so can’t one of us at last shine some laser art on the night sky to communicate!?”
Whoever made the suggestion was generally stuck with doing it. Especially when they were the lowest ranking member. Myonri grew tearful as she was handed a special ray gun with a barrel about as thick as a relay baton, but she had no choice but to push open the manhole-like metal hatch and poke her head out from the sweet-smelling tank.
Needless to say, that ray gun was not a next-gen portable superweapon.
It was a backup signal device that could send instructions to their allies by drawing out lines not visible with the naked eye. They were used to prevent friendly fire during a nighttime aerial bombing or to call for rescue when stuck out on the battlefield, so it was a useful piece of equipment everyone much preferred to never have to use.
“I have plenty of qualifications, so I really need to see about getting a transfer.”
“I heard that, Myonri.”
“I really, really need a transfer!!”
Just as the short-haired girl tearfully bit her lip, she saw a flash of light in the night sky.
It almost looked like a shooting star, except it was not alone.
The night sky was soon filled with a wild dance of light.
“I-is there an alert!?”
“It’s that elevator!! Mother Lady!!”
She did not hear a single electronic tone from within the tank before the explosive boom pounded on her eardrums.
It came from beyond the horizon.
In a long horizontal line as far as the eye could see, a terrifying dust cloud rose several dozen meters into the air. And instead of stopping there, more explosions occurred a bit in front of that after a short pause. The pattern repeated like that, moving ever closer. The desert was filled with explosive blasts just like an industrial printer filling a blank piece of copy paper with small text.
And the explosions were gradually approaching their position.
(The artificial meteor shower!? Are the Capitalist Corporations sending down a storm of titanium or tungsten alloy!?)
Myonri forgot to even duck back into the tank as she screamed.
Didn’t each and every one of those falling titanium or tungsten pieces rival a nuclear warhead in destructive power?
The entire scenery was obliterated by the solid walls of destruction that were spaced out enough to avoid any overlap in explosions.
Even if Myonri did duck inside the tank, the entire vehicle would be blown away. This was worse than gathering clams on the beach at low tide. This was like tearing up the entire beach with a cultivator’s row of rotating blades. Any clam that shut itself up tight would only be smashed to pieces.
Just then, a bluish-white beam of light shot up from the surface and blew away the evenly-spaced downpour of death.
A huge hole was torn into the lights in the sky. The hole had a diameter of more than 3km. That area of darkness remained as the lights descended, allowing Myonri’s group to survive, like they had been in the gap of a falling ceiling. It felt a lot like being forced through a ring of fire.
The beam of light had been a low-stability plasma cannon.
Myonri covered her mouth and nose against the powerful cloud of dust that filled the air and she saw a giant silhouette through that filthy screen.
That was the First Generation Baby Magnum.
The all-purpose multirole was an older model, but that was why it was actually capable of intercepting ballistic missiles. Thanks to the various methods of obstruction that messed with its targeting and the paths of its projectiles, it could not attack the stationary elevator without moving in close, but it could still protect the 37th while they were within that range.
The artificial meteor shower continued to fall, but it was more definitive this time. More artificial light was launched upwards to fill the starry sky and protect the soldiers down on the desert.
“Our guardian deity,” said a sweaty and hotblooded girl inside the tank.
Their datalink was down thanks to the enemy jamming, but people had to be saying much the same thing all across the battlefield. In fact, a stadium-like cheer shook the desert night just a few seconds later.
“Ohhhhhh!! We have a guardian deity. We aren’t going to die here!! This battle is ours!!”
Meanwhile, the Princess’s small butt had slid forward from its usual position.
She was operating the control sticks with her toes.
She had unintentionally taken a position where her legs formed an M as she muttered expressionlessly to herself.
“I’m so bored.”
More low rumblings came from elsewhere. The “copy machine” was running somewhere else. The battlefield was tilled from one end to the other, destroying everything manmade along the way.
Tens of thousands of titanium or tungsten alloy pieces dropped from satellite orbit.
It was known as an artificial meteor shower.
The Princess was tearing holes through that to protect them, but it was too soon to celebrate. The Baby Magnum was just one Object. She would be overwhelmed if too many requests for support came in. Once that happened, she would start with protecting whatever was most strategically valuable. The potatoes stuffed inside a tin can of composite armor would not make the cut there.
Their safety was not assured unless they took matters into their own hands.
(But what exactly are we supposed to do?)
Myonri was at a loss when she heard a voice from within the tank.
“Myonri, they aren’t using radar or IR. I can only guess, but they’re probably targeting us by directly looking down at us with lenses in the sky.”
“That’s why we aren’t receiving any alerts in advance. We’re already done for once the night sky lights up. Their warheads aren’t using tricky chemistry or nuclear physics. They can rival a small nuke just by dropping garbage on us, so they won’t feel any need to hold back.”
They could do the same thing anywhere in the world, battlefield country or safe country, without worrying about air superiority or an invasion route. And they could drop as much as they wanted. This could be used for more than just general aerial bombings. If they were hooked up to a city’s security cameras, they could track an individual. And once they had a lock, that person could not escape no matter how many times they fled all the way around the globe.
Now was no time to worry about appearances.
When Myonri took a look out from the tank again, she saw that the #4 parabolic antenna power transmission station they were meant to take over had been torn to shreds. That station was necessary to send up the elevator car and there would have been staff still working inside, not to mention the many guerilla soldiers defending the perimeter.
But the enemy had shown no mercy.
The Capitalist Corporations determined people’s value based on the size of their savings and salary, but this still felt excessively callous. They had destroyed their assets rather than let them fall into enemy hands. Whether it was a cornerstone of the jamming or whatever else, the number suggested there were other parabolic antenna power transmission stations. Hence the arrogance of their decision.
Even if someone fought for everyone’s sake and achieved record-breaking results, they would still be thrown out the instant that was more convenient.
(Isn’t there something?)
Myonri thought to herself almost as if praying.
(Isn’t there something we can do? Something that will turn the tide here!?)
The M became a V.
The Princess had detected a change in the battlefield’s momentum, so her slender legs had stretched upwards in alarm. However…
“Ow!? Leg cramp!!”
Thanks to that, she was slow to provide assistance.
A monotone beeping filled the sealed cockpit.
The change had begun with a transmission. She had detected a coded transmission using ultrasound that was not influenced by the jamming. It came from the maintenance base zone far behind her.
“I-I am only accepting good news right now.”
“Then you might as well destroy all of your communication equipment. I don’t want to tell you this anymore than you want to hear it.”
The conversation with Frolaytia continued a while longer.
Something had changed.
But not all changes were for the better. And it was no use complaining after the fact.
“I can’t believe this.”
The Princess tearfully placed her hand on her right big toe and pulled it toward her while using just her other hand to accurately operate the Baby Magnum’s anti-air weaponry.
“This really is mind-numbingly boring,” she said. “Aren’t there any more exciting battles we could be fighting?”
“Getting addicted to war is a good way to end the world, you know?”
Myonri heard more and more explosions, but she could no longer tell if those meant she had been saved or abandoned to die.
Everything falling from the heavens rivaled a nuclear warhead and the Object intercepted them with extreme low-stability plasma cannons. It was the most apocalyptic fireworks show ever.
A staticky voice managed to break through the powerful wide-range jamming to reach Myonri’s ears.
“I’m so bored.”
It was the Princess.
Her communications equipment was on the level of an entire radar station, so she was using that to force her way through the jamming.
And the first words out of her mouth were not what Myonri wanted to hear.
They might as well have been a death sentence.
“Wait, what’s this? Is she losing interest in the battle? Oh, no! I’ll play a word game with you, read you a book, or whatever it takes! Just don’t get bored! Please don’t go home and leave us here!!”
Myonri paled and shouted in desperation, but there was no response.
The jamming must have prevented the Object from receiving anything from the tank. She simply heard the Princess’s flat voice accompanied by intense static.
“I mean, that’s just bullying the weak locals here. If the Legitimacy Kingdom decides this is a good way to use Objects, they’ll never be able to stop. This war is not going to end well at this rate.”
“Check through the peephole.”
Myonri grabbed the grip of the heavy machinegun attached in front of the hatch. She was interested in its multipurpose scope. She looked through that to see several lines of light in the night sky that were not visible with the naked eye. They were either infrared or ultraviolet. They flashed red, red, blue to mean “major damage”.
Other invisible lines of light rose from a different angle. Those came from the maintenance base zone.
They flashed blue, red, blue. Then red, red, red.
The two signals meant “retaliation operation, get ready.”
The atmosphere in Myonri’s tank grew heavier. This was different than the fear of being killed.
And the Princess again spoke over the radio with a sigh in her voice.
“This really is boring. Maybe I should run away to a tropical island.”
Quenser held the assault rifle he had borrowed from unconscious Heivia.
He needed the multipurpose scope.
He had thought he saw something flashing in the sky. Infrared and ultraviolet were not normally visible, but the diffusion and diffraction caused by atmospheric conditions and sand in the air could alter the wavelength. The lines in the night sky could be understood by anyone with the appropriate equipment and knowledge of the code.
“Wait, wait, wait! Why are bigshots in the base making that decision for us!?”
“Because the elevator attacked you.”
Quenser saw a small light in the darkness. The guerilla doctor named Braskine had placed a frying pan on top of a portable camping stove.
His response was made with a hateful tone even though that attack should have been exactly what his side needed.
“The elevator’s artificial meteor shower hits everything from the front line to the base in the rear. Those officers with chests full of medals assume they’ll be safe as long as they send their troops out as cannon fodder, so it was probably a surprise when they found they were in danger too.”
“You mean our busty commander…I mean, uh, Frolaytia feels that way too!?”
“Fro-? I don’t know how your chain of command works, but that artificial meteor shower can be sent anywhere in the world. Your safe countries and home country are no exception. It’s possible this didn’t come from the local commander in charge of your maintenance base. And if it was their higher ups who are panicking, then they would be powerless to stop it.”
The skinny boy blinked before asking another question.
“Um, what does that mean for us?”
“Exactly what you think it does, unfortunately.”
“What happened to them putting together a rescue mission for us!? Have they completely forgotten about us!? We’ll be slaughtered in their big aerial bombing mission along with all of you!! Dammit, if they’re gonna pretend I don’t exist, then I might as well go peep on the women’s bath!!”
It looked like he would have to figure something out on his own.
If the rules of the battalion would not protect him, then he had no reason to obey those rules. He plopped his butt down on the ground to eat some delicious food in violation of military regulations. If the man was going to poison him, he would have injected him with something while he was unconscious.
“Wait, you’re making pizza toast?”
“Yup. I can’t carry around everything needed to cook a whole pizza, but the toppings are a different story. Although there’s a trick to cooking even this with just a frying pan.”
“No, that’s not my point. I thought African food was more…well, not this.”
“You don’t even know what African food is, do you?” Braskine breathed an exasperated sigh. “I learned how to cook this kind of stuff when I was a poor college student in Europe. My roommate Louisiana loved this kind of junk food.”
“So like cooking pasta in salty water and only adding a bit of olive oil for flavor?”
“You think I had anything as fancy as that, boy? You aren’t a true poor college student until you’re figuring out what you can do with a cabbage core.”
The two of them shared a laugh.
They were in completely different positions and there might be no room for compromise between them, but they had both lived as students. That gave them something in common.
“What kind of toppings do you like?” asked Braskine while lightly shaking the hot frying pan. “We need to heat those up in a smaller pan before toasting the bread.”
“Cheese goes without saying, I assume? As long as the cheese isn’t too strong, then I like some basil and sliced olives. Oh, and some kind of seafood if you have it.”
“Hm, are you from a coastal area?” inquired the young doctor while opening a can of shellfish.
While gathering information even more crudely than with a blood type horoscope, Braskine added some cheese and tomato puree to his pizza toast and then placed some cooked chicken on top of that. It was all very formal and by-the-book. He was not the type to ever take a step beyond the basics.
“Has anyone ever told you you’re a boring guy? Girls in particular?”
“All the time. But I can’t help it – I’m just an ordinary guy. I just can’t do pizza toast the way Louisiana did. She would pile on thinly-sliced melon and fries.”
“It’s not even about whether it would be good or not – you never would have even thought of it, right? She claimed to like the mix of sweet and salty, but that’s what a true genius is like. You might want to copy them, but they’re too far out of reach.”
Quenser drank some of the coffee he was given and wrinkled his brow at how strong and astringent it was. It was probably meant to wake you up more than taste or smell nice.
“My time at school in Berlin was more fun than any other time in my life,” said Braskine while watching the portable stove.
“Couldn’t you have stayed in Europe? I mean, a medical license is a sign of being in the privileged class. I’m jealous.”
“There’s more to life than fun.” The words were soft and almost seemed to spill from his mouth. “You have to face reality. Besides, I decided to become a doctor so I could support the people who were dying because they could not receive the medical exams and treatments most people take for granted. I couldn’t protect my home if I remained in a world that already had everything it needed.”
Quenser fell silent for a bit before asking a question.
“Is it really that bad here?”
“When a child has to prepare to die after a simple mosquito bite. That’s how fragile lives are here. And it wouldn’t be that way if we only had vaccines that coast 5 dollars each.”
“Yes, only 5 dollars. But we can’t get them. Being declared a nature reserve actually worked against us because we can’t capture and sell the rare plants and animals here. I thought maybe we could dig out and sell some stones or sand if we only needed 5 dollars, but no. The small bits of quartz or iron sand mixed in makes them useless trash. Not something anyone’s going to bother sending a truck all the way out here to buy. The fuel costs would leave them in the red.”
He could not protect his home if he remained in a world that already had everything it needed.
Quenser was starting to see what the man meant.
The ordinary ways of doing things did not always protect people’s lives.
“That’s why we were all so thankful for that elevator. It dried up the ground and we couldn’t preserve our traditional way of life, but it ended an era where you had no recourse while your precious child was dying.”
Braskine smiled in a self-deprecating way.
He wanted to protect his home.
He had gone as far as earning a medical license, but he still found himself unable to save people without sufficient medical supplies. Ironically, it was Mother Lady towering up from the desert that had provided him with that.
It had saved their lives.
Their own and those of the people they cared for even more.
That was why the local people continued to fight even if it meant becoming guerillas. Even though they knew deep down it was wrong and even though they had an inkling that more people would die of this war than of disease.
If they lost, they would lose the benefits of the space elevator.
They had not wanted to return to an age when they were forced to accept so much as unavoidable.
“Louisiana, the college roommate I mentioned, apparently wanted to protect the entire world. The thing about ordinary people is that we restrict our own dreams and stuff them into a smaller box. She always found it puzzling why I was so delighted while restricting my own possibilities like that. And she was right. I was so busy polishing up a comfortable fish tank for myself that I never lived up to my potential. I couldn’t head out into the vast ocean to change the world like her.”
The pizza toast was like a feast compared to the soap-like rations.
And once Quenser’s stomach was full to give him some energy, he could no longer distract himself that way. The immediate problem weighed on him all the more.
At this rate, the Legitimacy Kingdom was going to begin a retaliation operation.
Quenser and Heivia had been forgotten thanks to the powerful jamming, so they would be blown away along with the enemy. And Braskine of course did not want the local people to be attacked.
No amount of prayer would cause a hero or powerful warrior to appear.
So they would have to solve this themselves.
However, Quenser Barbotage could not drive and Heivia still showed no sign of coming to.
Braskine seemed to want the stranded soldiers to leave before they brought disaster, but their plan for returning to base had been ruined by the Capitalist Corporations elevator. The Legitimacy Kingdom was so intent on retaliating they had completely forgotten about the cheap soldiers they had sent out there. Nothing about this was likely to change any time soon.
As things were, there would be a full-on clash between the Capitalist Corporations artificial meteor shower and the Legitimacy Kingdom’s ground-based retaliation. Neither side was giving any thought to the guerillas who were not part of the four world powers. If anything, the Legitimacy Kingdom might actively target the guerillas in order to add more to their kill count and preserve their honor.
Braskine used a special detergent to wash his cooking utensils with as little water as possible and he grimaced after Quenser shared what he knew.
“I need a vehicle,” concluded the student. “And I need your help.”
“Dammit, then you’d better give something in return. If I help you, then you’re fighting to protect my people!”
Quenser himself did not want the Princess to dirty her hands with unnecessary retaliation. He doubted attacking the local guerillas would cause any trouble at all for the Capitalist Corporations operators. And besides the armed guerillas, there would also be plenty of noncombatant residents in their villages. What if the Object was sent in to attack there? That kind of needless killing would not even be war – only a massacre.
So Quenser calmly nodded.
“We’re after the Capitalist Corporations space elevator, so we’re not interested in who lives in the area. So as long as you help us destroy that thing.”
“So what’s your plan!?”
“We find a way to take control of the elevator before the retaliation can begin. Or we at least bring back a way to do so as a souvenir. Then the Legitimacy Kingdom will lose its excuse to slaughter the guerillas. This battle is over the space elevator, so the guerillas are only a distraction.”
“That’s not a plan!!”
They argued back and forth as they walked to the beat-up truck.
The young doctor got in the driver’s seat and Quenser in the passenger seat. Unconscious Heivia, the buggy, and the camping supplies were loaded into the enclosed back.
They drove out into the desert night, but it was unexpectedly warm.
And not just because they were so close to the equator.
“It’s that elevator. It uses the chill of the night to cool the coolant once it’s taken in so much frictional heat. I’m sure you could calculate out the amount of energy from the length of the wires, but you only need to know it’s a lot.”
“I assumed they were cooling it with a nuclear reactor.”
“They use thermal power down below the parabolic antenna bases. Were you overwhelmed by the laser beams and coilguns? If you link together enough power generation facilities to supply an entire state’s worth of electricity, you can do most anything even with older tech.”
“Can you draw me out a map of those underground waterways?”
“What good is that? We never would have had it so hard if we could get water that easily.”
“Stick a thick metal sheet deep in the earth and you can block off those waterways. Then the elevator loses its supply of coolant.”
“Finally, an actual plan,” laughed Braskine.
He kept one hand on the wheel and used the other to draw something out in the notebook he had open on his lap. Then he tossed the notebook to Quenser.
With that souvenir, they might be able to stop the meaningless retaliation operation. But they did not drive the truck straight back to the Legitimacy Kingdom maintenance base zone.
They kept the headlights off and Quenser kept an eye out ahead with night-vision goggles while they repeatedly drove around certain obstacles. The goggles were from the Capitalist Corporations. They were one of the kind gifts given to the guerillas. The rich had essentially told the locals to put those on so they could look stylish when they died.
“Can’t you wear these while you drive?”
“Are you sure you want that? Those old-style goggles blur your vision a lot when you turn your head too quickly.”
It was obvious what they were using the goggles to avoid.
“Another one,” said Quenser in disgust. “There’s a Lunchbox 500m ahead. Those things have finally gotten tired and decided to take a break.”
“Wouldn’t they normally be even more fired up and ready to go after a successful counterattack?”
“The operators probably think moving them will get them caught in the artificial meteor shower.”
“I believe those things’ batteries can last a week in standby mode.”
They made sure to steer clear of every single one they saw.
Since they had to repeatedly take detours, it felt a lot like they were driving around in circles. Especially since the continuing jamming from the elevator’s military station made the map on Quenser’s mobile device entirely useless.
“There’s no time to spare. Yes, I expect the retaliation will begin within 12 hours from now.”
“How do you know?”
“It’s the Legitimacy Kingdom way. You can’t help being take off guard at times. We aren’t Faith Organization fortunetellers, so there’s only so much we can predict in advance. So the royals and nobles prefer to defend their honor through appropriate retaliation. But if enough time passes after an attack, you’re labeled as a fool who couldn’t do anything to get back at your attacker. And 12 hours from now is about the limit on that. You can’t let a full 24 hours pass. You need to use that time to make full use of a huge-ass simulator and calculate out how much damage you need to do in retaliation for the damage you received.”
“The going rate is killing ten times as many people as you had killed, I think. Sometimes the calculation comes out closer to nine times or eleven times, though.” Quenser clicked his tongue. “We really can’t get back without doing something about those unmanned weapons. Could we go to the guerilla HQ and have them open a path for us? They’re on the verge of having their village razed after all.”
“We don’t control those things from our village. They’re directly controlled by Federation of Elevator Industries operators in Mother Lady’s ground base. We don’t have that kind of technical skill.”
Braskine made it sound like they were being lent equipment but not being trained in how to use it.
The Capitalist Corporations saw them as replaceable and disposable, so they were not going to increase the cost of each one by pouring money into training them. That would only lose the Capitalist Corporations money.
They slid the truck down into a V-shaped dip in the ground to avoid being seen by the unmanned ground vehicles. It was probably the remnants of a now-dried river. They saw the occasional remains of a wooden pier or small boats left behind there.
“We have 12 hours until the ‘swift retaliation’ begins. I expect they’ll repeat the simulation as many times as they can before the limit to make sure they can put together a mission that causes exactly the damage their calculations say they need.”
“Is there any chance they’ll remember you’re out here while they do that?”
“If they did remember, it would affect their timetable, so anyone who does will do everything they can to forget again. If they ‘unknowingly’ kill us in friendly fire, no one can be charged with a crime.”
The potatoes’ lives were just not that important.
Quenser sighed while leaning back in the stopped truck’s passenger seat.
“That means tomorrow at noon is the limit. Heivia and I need to return to the maintenance base zone before then so we can force them to redo the simulation based on a new calculation sheet. And if we don’t give them the information needed to block up the underground waterways used to cool the elevator, they really will begin their misguided retaliation against the guerillas. Since that means you, I know you don’t want that.”
Needless to say, the Legitimacy Kingdom’s enemy was the Capitalist Corporations, not the local guerillas.
But with only the immediate records available, they would satisfy themselves by attacking the guerrillas. Even though the Lunchboxes were actually being controlled by the operators in the air-conditioned elevator ground base.
“You world powers seem to think you can just dig into the ground around here and find an unlimited supply of guerillas, but the people dying are the kids raised in my village. No, not just my village. They come from all the villages and towns around the elevator. All of them had their own hopes and dreams and the idea was for them to realize those dreams by using the money from the elevator to get an education in Asia or Europe. You can’t just plant some seeds in a field to grow more of them. I want to avoid any more sacrifices here.”
Truth be told, Quenser was not 100% in agreement with Braskine. No matter what the man said, Quenser was on the side trying to destroy the Mother Lady space elevator. He felt it was too naïve to think he could just grab that outstretched hand and find a solution to the entire mess without going to any real effort.
Children had to be prepared for death after a simple mosquito bite.
The vaccine to prevent it cost only 5 dollars.
It was a moving story, but the Capitalist Corporations had not been offering help out of the goodness of their hearts. Given their intelligence-gathering capabilities, they must have known about the disastrous situation in this region long ago. They had ignored it for so long and only now approached with a smile on their faces so they could use it as a bargaining chip to get the land they needed.
Quenser was a commoner, so he would normally live his life having the nobles and royals extracting everything from him they could get.
But he also knew how risky it was to fight back against that. That was why he had come all the way to the battlefield to learn about Object design. He had made a powerful enemies and barely dodged death more than a few times to have his way.
You were free to break free of society’s role for you if you wanted.
But once you did, you were choosing to face the unnecessary dangers placed upon any who dared defy society’s rules.
Opportunities always came with risk.
Generally, the ones who won were those who made the rules and made sure they were paid first.
If you did not understand that and were not prepared to use it to your advantage, this is what happened. You would fail to see past the tempting promises. Just like someone who took out a generous student loan without realizing that was actually a debt system set up by the state.
What should they have sold instead? Could they have found a way to attract tourists? Quenser did not know the right answer here.
Regardless, he would have to rework his plan.
He started by double checking an important fact.
“Since those unmanned weapons aren’t run by the guerilla villages, there won’t be any hard feelings if we destroy them, right?”
“Right. But can you destroy them? Those Lunchboxes are the Capitalist Corporations’ latest model and they’ve repelled soldiers with advanced equipment a few times already. Not to protect our lives, of course.”
The conditions for that would depend on the time and situation.
For now, Quenser hopped out of the truck’s passenger seat, circled behind it, and opened the boxy enclosed back.
“Heivia. Hey, Heivia.”
“Ugh…where am I? Panty heaven???”
“I’m not expecting anything from you, so just hand over your water and rations. You can keep dreaming in here. Food is for people who actually work.”
Once he realized he would be slowly killed if he did not help out, Heivia rapidly woke back up. The mindset of cruel Frolaytia’s 37th had reached even the lowest levels.
As a doctor, Braskine was particular about a healthy diet.
He could not believe his eyes when he saw Quenser.
“What’s this? You only just ate some pizza toast. Maybe you’re in a growth spurt, but it’s best to avoid forming bad lifestyle habits.”
“Dammit, Quenser!! You were having the time of your life while I was out, weren’t you!?”
“I don’t know what he’s talking about. You really shouldn’t trust everything these guerillas say.”
They munched on the soap-like flavorless rations while holding a strategy meeting.
“The retaliation operation begins tomorrow afternoon, right? Then why not wait until then?” That was newly-awakened Heivia’s opinion. “It’ll be a ground operation primarily carried out by the mechanized unit, so we can find our way to an allied tank or armored truck and have them pick us up. I don’t give a crap what happens to the guerillas.”
That was an impeccably logical plan, but the idiot had left all of his kindness behind somewhere.
That was when Braskine pulled out a weapon even more frightening than a Gatling gun. It was a bottle rocket with a whistle attached. The doctor who saw all lives as equally important spoke with a blank expression.
“This is used to signal an enemy’s approach. People are sensitive to unusual sounds, so the villagers will rush in from all over even in the middle of a sandstorm. Whatever your reasons might have been, you’re the ones that killed these people’s sons and daughters. But if you think you can handle those grieving parents, then be my guest.”
“There was nothing a doctor could do. In the 9 months since the Elevator’s testing period began, I’ve attended so many funerals. I even helped dig their graves, but a lot of the bodies couldn’t be retrieved. Now, let’s talk about emotions. Do you think these people will care at all who started it now that they’ve lost their kids? Do you really think they’ll accept your logical explanation of events and back off? This is just my personal opinion as a doctor, but there is little violence as brutal as that of an enraged group that has never even heard of the various war treaties. Do you want a lesson – a deadly lesson – as to why the constantly bickering powers-that-be really need to sit down together and work out their differences peacefully?”
Heivia shut his mouth and raised both hands in surrender. While trembling.
Then Quenser got down to business.
“I want to know the basic specs of the Capitalist Corporations’ Lunchboxes. We can’t return to our maintenance base zone in time without doing something about them. And even if we do get back, we’ll still be forced to continue the attack on the elevator. It wouldn’t hurt to come back with a way to destroy those boxy machines as a souvenir. We were separated from the battalion thanks to some asshole’s friendly fire and I’m sure Frolaytia is absolutely pissed at us by now, so we need something to calm her down.”
“But that’s suicide,” said Heivia. “You aren’t planning to abandon our temporary safety to attack those cutting-edge murderous paperweights, are you? You’ll just get yourself torn apart by their heavy machineguns and grenades!!”
“That’s what will happen if you don’t hand over any useful information.”
He had mostly been on the run, but Heivia had indeed fought the Lunchboxes. They had to rely on his observations from then.
“First of all, they’re basically big hunks of armor. Firing a missile at them head on, from the sides, or even on the top won’t destroy them.”
Since unmanned weapons did not need space for anyone inside, they could add in more armor. That much Quenser had already known.
“It goes without saying that assault rifles and anti-materiel rifles are useless against them. You might be able to destroy the exposed lenses or sensors, but the act of shooting would also give away your position. Even if we were hiding behind cover, they could fire their fully-auto grenade launcher to fill the entire space with explosive flames. Explosives would be raining from the sky, so I wouldn’t call that an effective tactic.”
Quenser licked his lips before responding.
“That means they’re heavy, doesn’t it? Could we focus our attacks on the continuous tracks?”
“Maybe we could stop them from moving, but they’d still fire back on us and they have a longer range than us. Making the mobile turrets into stationary ones won’t prevent this used truck from being obliterated by bullets.”
In fact, they were currently stopped because of all the Lunchboxes in standby mode. Those things were not frightening because they made unpredictable patrols. Even if you immobilized them, they would already have you surrounded. Stopping them was not enough to escape.
“What about their power usage?”
According to Braskine, they could last for a week while in standby mode.
But on the other hand…
“They’re electric and it has to take a lot of power to move something so heavy. If we had them run a needless marathon to drain their batteries, they wouldn’t be able to shoot back anymore.”
“You want us to wait for their batteries to die while being chased by a machinegun that fires 700 shots a minute? Our bodies would be riddled with tens of thousands of bullets before that happened. It isn’t realistic.” Heivia breathed an exasperated sigh. “Besides, we got lucky and slipped through a gap in their circle. Just like some small fish left behind in a tide pool. If we do anything to stand out now, they’ll change their formation to include us. And once that tide pool is gone, we suffocate. The end.”
Their objective was returning to the maintenance base zone.
Beginning a misguided retaliation operation against the guerillas would not solve anything. The armored Lunchboxes were being controlled by the operators in the space elevator’s ground base, so the retaliation operation had to be reworked to attack them instead.
The data they needed for that could be found in the underground waterways Braskine had told Quenser about. Since the jamming prevented them from transmitting with a single tap of the touchscreen, they would have to bring it back themselves.
If they could do that, they could avoid carrying around that unnecessary guilt.
In other words, Quenser was not looking for any major upheaval on the battlefield. Finding a way to take out those cutting-edge unmanned ground vehicles would be best.
“If you’re going to act, you should do it soon,” said Braskine to hurry them along. “Those unmanned ground vehicles are worth more to the Federation of Elevator Industries than the local guerillas, so they’ll want to avoid having to abandon them after their batteries die. They periodically send around an unmanned power vehicle to recharge them. And the Lunchbox formation might change when that happens.”
This was all thanks to the elevator.
Everything needed for war, from lunches to bombs, could be sent down from the heavens. And in quantities of several dozen tons. The power vehicles, the work vehicles needed to maintain those, and even additional Lunchboxes to protect the work vehicles could be sent down in near limitless numbers.
Quenser agreed that it would be best to take action before the next time that happened.
“They’re covered in armor and taking out their continuous tracks only turns them into stationary turrets.” The student placed a hand on his chin. “We also can’t wait for them to run out of power. And they were designed to withstand the extreme African environment, so I doubt they’re going to malfunction all that easily.”
“There you go again, bragging about the enemy’s specs.”
Heivia sounded annoyed, but that was not what Quenser was doing.
He had wondered about something this whole time, so he returned to that question here.
“Then what do they do about that?”
They waited until the following morning.
The battle would begin once the sun had risen.
Braskine Mintfrappe’s impatience had him in an irritable mood.
“Hey, how long are we going to wait here? The largescale retaliation begins this afternoon, doesn’t it? That’s not long now!”
“I really would have preferred to wait longer, but you’re right about us running out of time,” said Quenser after waking from a nap. “Things have heated up now, so I guess we should get started.”
Heivia walked up and whispered to him. His face was greasy since he had not had a chance to wash it.
“(Gotta admit, this is clever.)”
“(Cut the act. You don’t have any plan at all for the Lunchboxes, do you? You’re just buying enough time for the retaliation operation to begin. But I say we forget about letting them pick us up. Why not let them think we’re dead while we run off to a tropical island? We can reveal our ‘miraculous survival’ once we’ve got a nice tan. So just keep lying to that guy while the clock ticks down until the afternoon.)”
After satisfying himself by punching that heartless bastard, Quenser got down to business.
Quenser and Heivia had no equipment that could accurately pass their location to the Legitimacy Kingdom. And even if they did, the jamming would block it. Once the retaliation operation began, they would be blown away as much as any of guerillas. The only question was whether it would be Myonri in a tank or the Princess in her Object that did it.
The skinny boy rapped his hand against the hood of the beat-up truck.
“That should about do it. Braskine, let’s get started. Given the current wind direction, we can start heading northwest.”
“What are you- hold on, what’s that?”
Quenser answered Heivia while showing off what was filling the heavy sack he held.
There was a black powder inside.
“I cleaned out the truck and buggy’s mufflers yesterday. That was a much bigger job than cleaning up a kitchen’s grease stains.”
“Nitrogen oxide?” The young doctor looked puzzled. “Are you saying we can defeat those unmanned ground vehicles with that? They’re machines, so poisons don’t work on them.”
“Don’t be so sure.”
They did not want to trigger any explosion that would draw a lot of attention, so it would be best to quietly stop the machinegun-equipped hunks of metal from operating without even having to approach them.
(That elevator is constantly casting a giant shadow here. The contrast between light and shadow will create a temperature difference and that will create air currents.)
Quenser dug through the powder as he thought.
Braskine still looked skeptical.
“You really think this will work?”
“They’re using the same thing themselves.”
Quenser got down on the cracked ground and peered out from behind a boat left out here. He could see one of those 3m boxes a few hundred meters away. Maybe it was to preserve power and maybe it was to avoid being caught in the artificial meteor shower, but they did not seem to move unless something warranted it.
They still blocked the way as stationary turrets, but there was a way of using that.
Opportunities always came with risk.
The student gently lowered something to the dry ground. It was a handmade unmanned device made from a container that resembled a cake box with wheels attached and had a cable coming from the back. It was even cheaper than the toys found at safe country electronics stores. But cheap as it was, it could still be operated from Quenser’s mobile device.
“I call it the Kitchen Knife.”
“Do you really have to name these things?” complained Heivia.
“I thought that looked awfully clean for a sweaty and sandy guerilla.”
Quenser pointed at the white coat Braskine was wearing.
It looked good as new after being washed with detergent, bleached, and starched.
“That’s thanks to the elevator, isn’t it? The Turkana District is under the control of a massive online shopping company, so you can find motors, batteries, sensors, and plastic boxes lying around everywhere here. Because they have delivery drones flying all over the place.”
“So you’re operating that thing via a cable?”
“Weapons like this have been around for a very long time. They predate the word drone for things like this. Besides, we can’t send wireless signals with the jamming in effect. And wired control has its advantages. It can only move 200m away from us, but it can also approach the enemy without the control signal being detected.”
The Kitchen Knife was only 30cm tall, so it could get stuck on the terrain pretty easily. A crack in the ground or even a small stone in the wrong spot were all it would take. They had to get as close as they could, control their precious device from there, and have it approach the unmoving Lunchbox.
They had already confirmed there were no cameras or sensors on the bottom of the Lunchboxes.
Once the Kitchen Knife had slipped below this one, Quenser tapped his mobile device’s screen while still hiding behind cover.
The result could not be called an explosion.
After a muffled sound, the Lunchbox was coated in black powder.
Quenser pulled the thin fiber optic cable back like he was reeling in a fishing line.
“Okay, that worked.”
“I seriously doubt that’s enough to destroy a Capitalist Corporations unmanned weapon.”
“You’re right about that, doc, but the point was to color its surface black.” Quenser grinned. “This is Africa near the equator. Once the sun rises, it’s so blazing hot that the land here is all dry and cracked. And needless to say, black absorbs light most efficiently.”
“Oh,” said Braskine.
“Since the Lunchboxes are covered on all sides with solid armor, I was curious how they managed to cool their electronics. They clearly aren’t using air cooling and even liquid cooling would need to expose the metal pipes to the air to remove heat from the coolant. Y’know, like a car’s radiator or that elevator’s heat exhaust. But the Lunchboxes had nothing like that. So how do they do it?”
There was nothing hidden below them either.
Quenser and Heivia had seen one slowly pass overhead while they were hiding in a crack in the ground, but they had not seen anything of the sort. It would also be foolish to put their weak point at the spot easiest to target with landmines.
“Do they use the same method as modern smartphones and tablets?”
“Bingo. The metal exterior itself doubles as the cooling plate. By exposing that metal to the air, the heat inside can escape. That’s why those unmanned ground vehicles don’t have a wire mesh anywhere and why you can’t hear a vent fan turning. …So this should work. By coating them with a black substance, the sunlight will deliver the finishing blow. The cooling can’t keep up with the unexpected rate of heating. We don’t have to touch the weapons or the tracks when the overheating will shut down its computer. We just have to set things up so we could fry an egg on the hood, just like in an informercial for car wash soap.”
If they attacked with a flamethrower or napalm, the Lunchbox would quickly work to put out the fire. Either by rolling over to cover itself with sand or by triggering a nearby explosion to rob the fire of the oxygen it needed.
But they had not caused any major changes here.
Something had quietly ruptured below the Lunchbox where it lacked cameras and sensors, but it had been too small to call an explosion and the machine remained unharmed, only covered in a black powder. It might have felt a small tremor, but smaller than if its thick tracks crushed a rock and a piece struck it from below. It was unlikely that would trigger an error report or an emergency inspection.
Not even that cutting-edge unmanned ground vehicle would occasionally pull out a mirror to make sure its makeup was not coming off.
“But will that really stick to it? It’s just powder, right?”
“That depends on the material.” Quenser checked to make sure it had worked. “That thing is coated in sand, right? They’ve coated the metal armor with a gel to increase the cooling effect, so the powder will stick to it nicely. If that hadn’t worked, I was thinking of borrowing the starch you use for your white coat.”
They were not using any guns or knives, but the damage was increasing.
Once the heat had built up far enough, a slight change came over the Lunchbox. It tilted to the side. It had lost the ability to match the hydraulic cylinders of its tracks to the slant of the terrain. That was all it really was, but it almost looked like the machine had passed out.
“Heivia. Hey, Heivia. Attach your mid-range scope.”
“Shut up. Why should I have to help with this?”
“If you don’t want me tying you up and leaving you here as I head back to base, then get your gun ready and shoot that thing.”
After a gunshot muffled by the silencer, the rifle bullet knocked on the Lunchbox’s armor and sparks sprayed out, but there was no response from the machine.
The overheating had killed it.
“Okay, let’s move on.”
They turned back and set the beat-up truck in motion.
Quenser used a small knife to cut off the end of the fiber optic cable skinnier than pasta that he had reeled back in and he attached it to the back of another Kitchen Knife. They had needed to wait until the sun was out, but they had not spent that time doing nothing. They had prepared a large stock of wired drones.
It was a race against time.
The wait for the sun left them with less time before the retaliation operation. They had no time to spare.
The Lunchboxes generally stayed in standby mode until they were needed, but that did not mean they never moved. Even if the affected ones would fail to notice the change, another one might spot an unnaturally blackened Lunchbox. Once they knew that was not a simple malfunction or accident and it was in fact intentional sabotage using the sun, things would get way worse.
So they needed to escape before that happened.
They had to return to the Legitimacy Kingdom maintenance base zone.
“Lunchbox at 2 o’clock. Distance of 700,” said Braskine from the driver’s seat.
“There are too many cracks there for the Kitchen Knife to get through, so take a clockwise route around it. This side of things is lower down, so it probably won’t notice us. And if we run into another one that way, we can take care of it instead.”
The Kitchen Knife could incapacitate the Lunchboxes, but it required certain conditions to work. The terrain had to be fairly level and its wheels could get tangled in dried weeds if too many of those remained. Fine sand was also a risk. They had a lot of the black powder and the Kitchen Knives to transport it, but it was still not an unlimited supply. It was a nerve-wracking experience. If they did not choose the correct Lunchboxes to attack, they would find themselves at a dead end before long.
It was shockingly sunny yet again, but there were some white clouds in places. Those were artificial clouds created by the pressure difference of the elevator’s wires slicing through the wind. The clouds cast areas of shadow like an inverted spotlight and those shadows were like zones of death for Quenser’s group.
He stepped out of the truck, got down on the ground, and looked downwind.
“The Lunchbox up there is in a shadow.”
“Stay still. We’re not talking about a daylong rain shower and the black powder has recolored its body. The artificial cloud will move on in time, so just wait. We’ll be fine.”
That “we’ll be fine” was more for Quenser to convince himself than the doctor.
Quenser did not want to die either. As things were, the Legitimacy Kingdom would begin a meaningless retaliation operation. That could get him killed by friendly fire, but it could also trigger the Lunchboxes into motion. Opportunities always came with risk. How many people knew where they were? Did the Princess? Did Frolaytia?
(That would never end well. It’s even possible we’d be crushed to death under the Princess’s ass.)
After all, they were talking about the 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion which was led by a commander kind enough to react with even more surprise than Quenser each time a new Object made an appearance. She was responsible for so many lives he really wished she would gather more information in advance.
At any rate, his life was on the line here, so he wanted to take control.
But just then…
“Hey, something isn’t right,” said Heivia while waving his sensor-equipped rifle around.
Quenser had also noticed the sound of metal continuous tracks and clouds of sand rising into the air.
The Lunchboxes in the area were moving even though they were supposed to stay curled up in standby mode unless something was wrong.
“It’s the power vehicle,” spat out Quenser when he realized the truth.
A military vehicle larger than the 3m boxes was slowly approaching from the horizon. It was shaped like a large semi-trailer truck with two linked cargo containers attached. After seeing that, the unmanned ground vehicles left their positions to gather around it. Almost like children swarming a military convoy to beg for treats.
That set the entire area in motion.
Their temporary safe zone would not be safe for long. Quenser’s group had survived so long thanks to the tide pool, but they were now thrown out onto the exposed rock.
First, one Lunchbox spotted another one colored an unnatural black. Then it spotted the thin fiber optic cable running along the ground and its camera turned to follow that back to its source.
The unmanned ground vehicle turned on the spot and its eyes met Quenser’s.
It had noticed them.
“Dammit, get down!!”
The attack began with a horizontal burst from the heavy machinegun. Quenser and the others rolled to a lower point of the dry ground to avoid that, but then they heard several sounds like corks popping.
Grenades even larger than hand grenades were launched into the blue sky like a long throw in baseball.
Fourteen in all.
Heivia grabbed the skinny boy’s uniform and dragged him below the truck.
The grenades detonated not three seconds after landing.
The explosions and impacts from above caused the beat-up truck to bounce up and down several times. The suspension must have broken partway through because it ended up tilted at an unnatural angle. If Quenser had not quickly pulled his legs in, they would have been pinned below the truck.
The explosives were only designed for anti-personnel use.
The heavy machinegun was actually the more frightening weapon when they had a truck.
Quenser grimaced at a ringing in his ears like someone had jammed an icepick into them. When he shouted, he felt like his voice was not reaching Heivia despite the boy being right next to him.
“What happened to the doctor? Where’s Braskine!?”
“How should I know!? He’s just one of the guerillas even if he did help us! Or would you prefer I rescued him and left you to die!?”
Quenser immediately silenced the stupid noble with a punch.
Heivia had been unconscious for so long he must not have remembered who had saved their lives after they were blown away by Myonri’s friendly fire. But Quenser knew. He knew it was silly, but he had gotten to know the man too well. He could not just abandon him now.
The scenery around them blurred.
The color of sand filled their vision and the sun dimmed like it was evening. A localized sandstorm must have whipped up.
This was their only chance.
“Why did this have to happen, dammit!?”
“Hey, wait! Quenser!!”
The student ignored his awful friend’s calls and crawled out from below the truck.
He already smelled blood.
He could barely see anything in the sandstorm, but that much he could tell. As he pushed his way through the thick curtain of sand, he spotted someone lying on their back.
It was Braskine Mintfrappe.
If the Capitalist Corporations really saw them as allies, that doctor never would have been caught in the attack by the unmanned weapon.
“Go,” said the man. “Hurry.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“The truck isn’t going anywhere now, but there’s still the buggy in the back. The Lunchboxes can’t target you in the sandstorm, so get your bearings and then take a straight shot for your base. This is your only chance.”
“Are you kidding me!? I still haven’t repaid you for saving us!!”
Braskine smiled at that.
As a doctor, he would know better than anyone how bad it was he had gotten so much sand in his wound, but he showed no sign of caring.
“You’ve done enough. I’ve won just by finding someone who actually cares.”
“Cares about what?”
“You must stop the space elevator. You must stop Mother Lady.”
He was having trouble breathing, but he still got out his request while looking up at that colossal tower that would bring no one happiness.
“Stop it before it becomes a disaster even greater than a disease that can be prevented with a 5-dollar vaccine.”
“Mother Lady is too powerful a medicine. I’m certain she didn’t want this, so someone has to stop it. But no one ever cared no matter what I told them. Not even the parents whose kids had fought valiantly as guerillas only to die. None of them could give up the modern lifestyle Mother Lady gave them.”
“She?” asked Quenser without thinking.
But that may have been a mistake. The doctor uttered a name he had brought up a few times before.
“Louisiana was moved to emotion when she saw the beautiful nature of the Turkana District. That much I know is true.”
Quenser did not like where this was headed.
Braskine’s eyes began to focus on somewhere other than here and now.
“It happened back when I was in college.”
“Hey, now’s not the time for reminiscing.”
“That was where I met Louisiana who was studying aerospace engineering. It was a completely different field, but it didn’t take long before we hit it off. And she believed that a space elevator would shine a spotlight on Africa since the conditions needed for building one were so restrictive. But she was wrong. It pained her to see it and she wanted to save the Turkana District. She wondered why Africa and Europe were so different and what made the desert here so different from the ones in North America. She thought it was unfair to treat different lands so differently just because some terrains are easier to develop than others. Someone needed to stop her, but I couldn’t do it myself.”
“I said stop!! Come back to reality! Stop withdrawing into your memories!! Hey!?”
Quenser kept calling out to the man, but he had stopped moving altogether.
The powerful sandstorm blew right into his wide-opened eyes, but he did not even blink.
There was nothing Quenser could have done.
He looked away from the dead man and shook his head.
Then he returned to the slanted truck. Specifically, to the enclosed back of the truck. The surface was torn up, but that did not mean the contents had been.
“Heivia! Help me drag out the buggy. We need to get back alive no matter what!!”
The engine roared.
They could not see in the sandstorm. Even with the headlights on, visibility was limited to a few meters ahead at the most. On top of that, their radios and the map on their mobile devices were still useless thanks to the jamming.
After searching out the direction of the barely-visible orange sun, they had to take a straight shot toward the maintenance base zone. If they got lost even once, it was all over. With zero visibility, they could easily end up driving in endless circles.
The Lunchboxes were not functioning either.
Their cameras, microphones, and sensors were useless with the sandstorm scraping against them and the sand might also be blocking their transmissions. The Capitalist Corporations were probably using ultrasound or infrared transmissions to avoid their own jamming, but not even that was perfect. During the day, the desert sand would be hotter than a human body and it would be mixed with plenty of iron sand. The sandstorm might function even better than chaff or a flare.
Quenser and Heivia crossed a few different humps in the road in quick succession.
The buggy flew off of those like a ramp.
They passed by only a few meters from something like big hunk of rock. No, that was probably one of the Capitalist Corporations’ unmanned ground vehicles. They heard machinegun fire shortly afterwards, but they could not even imagine where the bullets were flying.
The buggy had no roof.
Heivia held the collar of his uniform over his mouth as he shouted.
“We should’ve just waited for this in the first place!! Then we wouldn’t have had to risk our lives getting so close to the damn things!!”
“It wouldn’t work out that well. Do you know a space elevator’s biggest weakness, Heivia?”
“The carbon nanotube wires are resistant enough to heat to be constantly exposed to the thermosphere, but they’re still weak to high-voltage currents – in other words, lightning. The Capitalist Corporations has to be using defensive meteorological weapons to avoid that!!”
With a loud bursting noise, things cleared up overhead.
Some kind of giant explosion had blown away the sandstorm. Several large holes had formed in the filthy screen and the blue sky was visible beyond like a famous model’s head pasted onto a nude body, but each of those holes had to be kilometers across.
“What the hell!? Did Mother Lady drop something again!?”
“There was no flash of light or explosive boom, so that was probably concentrated sulfuric acid or something.”
“Those greedy bastards are dropping that dangerous stuff on our heads!?”
Heivia’s eyes bugged out, but Quenser maintained a serious expression as he continued.
Whatever it was had detonated at more than 10,000 meters up, so it would not fall straight down. But it would contaminate the ground somewhere. Either as a mist or as acid rain after absorbing more moisture.
In other words…
“Similar to a thermobaric, weapon, they cram it into the warhead in a concentrated state and it spreads out over kilometers in a mist-like state once it detonates. Sulfuric acid can dissolve metal, but it can also be used as a rapid drying agent. Clouds are basically collections of moisture, right? If you want to chemically eliminate the thunderclouds, there’s no cheaper and more effective chemical. If you don’t give a crap about the local environment, that is!!”
Rapidly removing the moisture would change the density of the air, causing a large shift in the atmosphere. In other words, it created wind. The localized sandstorm vanished like they were waking from a dream.
A single space elevator made all of this possible.
Weather forecasts were no longer necessary. Whether it was sunny or rainy, the direction of the wind, and the humidity could all be manipulated from one hour to the next.
And for fleeing Quenser and Heivia, the sandstorm had been a thick curtain protecting them from harm. With it suddenly stripped away, they were exposed to the Lunchboxes’ eyes.
“Can you use those little drones of yours!?” asked Heivia.
“The Kitchen Knives can only move as fast as a toy and they’re wired! You can’t just throw one out of a moving car and expect it to work!!”
Quenser instead grabbed the shoulder-fired missile launcher that Heivia had been walking around with.
He had not been trained in its use, so he could not fire a missile from it.
The instant he leaned out from the passenger seat with the launcher on his shoulder, the machinegun fire strayed away from them.
“The hell? What’d you do!?”
“This thing has to use a really powerful IR laser for targeting, so I aimed that at the Lunchbox’s camera lens. It’s the same as a rude spectator shining a laser pointer in a soccer player’s eyes. That trick works on machines too!!”
But it would not work every time.
If something that simple would have worked consistently, the Lunchboxes never would have been such a threat.
Quenser knew they would have to use every trick in the book here, so…
“How much further to the maintenance base zone!?”
“We’re going 120km/h right now!! I’m flooring this thing to the point that it’ll burn out the lawnmower-size engine eventually, so I doubt it’ll take even an hour!!”
The 30cm Kitchen Knives were no longer helpful.
To avoid being shot from behind, Quenser leaned out and dumped the contents of his water bottle and the black powder on the exposed rear wheel. The power of the tire launched the stuff backwards.
“Everything you’re doing is like a makeshift weapon built from items at a dollar store, but these are cutting-edge Capitalist Corporations weapons. Can you really keep tricking them like this!?”
Several grenades were launched in an arc so they fell in a line, but they exploded a decent distance away from the two boys. The air overhead must have been so unstable that they veered off course. That meant it had nothing at all to do with Quenser and Heivia’s efforts. Without the wind, that would have killed them since the simple buggy had no roof or walls.
“Figure something out already!!” snapped Heivia while holding the steering wheel in both hands.
“Shut up and give me time to think!!”
Needless to say, driving along an unpaved area of land was enough of a risk in and of itself. Doing so at more than 100km/h was tantamount to suicide. The buggy was made for off-roading, but as it bounced around, it could have lost its balance and tilted up onto two wheels at any time.
“They have to be using IR – we just can’t see it ourselves. And even if the grenades fly in an arc, they have to have a direct line of sight when targeting. Distance is more important than direction. If we can get them to mistake our distance, they won’t be able to hit us.”
“Here it comes, Quenser!!”
Heivia heard the sound of splitting plastic and looked over in shock.
“Why are you destroying your own equipment!? Have you gone insane!?”
“Shut up and watch where you’re driving!!”
Quenser removed his uniform’s jacket, dismantled one of his Kitchen Knives, and removed the black powder. He coated the outside of the jacket with the powder but left the inside clean. Then he tied the two sleeves to the metal bar on top of the buggy so it flew like a flag.
It flapped wildly like a pirate flag in the 120km/h wind.
The unusually round sounds of weapons fire continued, but the soaring grenades exploded well before reaching the buggy.
This time, it was no coincidence.
“Black absorbs light and white reflects it. That’s true for the invisible infrared range too. Laser range finders shine a straight-line laser and measure the reflection and attenuation, so they can’t deal with something that rapidly switches between white and black. The value keeps changing, so they can’t figure out the actual distance.”
They continued racing across the desert.
They drove ever closer to the maintenance base zone.
But none of their makeshift countermeasures were a fundamental solution. The Lunchboxes could retry no matter how may times their attacks failed and the Mother Lady space elevator could drop more cargo tanks from the heavens if need be.
Some unnatural static burst from the buggy’s radio.
They were under the effects of some powerful jamming, but this was something else.
“Radar targeting? We can’t do anything about that!!”
“Hang on tight!!”
Heivia slammed down the gas pedal even more.
With their thick armor, the Lunchboxes could only move as fast as a scooter, so the buggy could lose them while zooming 120km/h down the wasteland.
But losing the physical machines did not necessarily mean they could escape firing range. The heavy machineguns that fired anti-materiel bullets thicker than someone’s thumb could blow away a soldier’s head from a range of 2000m. The grenades launched along parabolic arcs could reach even further than that.
And there was an even more horrifying possibility than either of those.
What if the targeting data from the surface was being shared with the giant space elevator?
“What?” Heivia was not watching where he was driving. “It’s midday, but there are stars shining in the sky.”
“That’s Mother Lady’s artificial meteor shower, dammit!!”
A kilometers-long wall of dust clouds rose from beyond the horizon behind them. And it did not end there. Another row appeared and then yet another like a giant copier printing something on the ground here. The ground was torn apart evenly, thoroughly, and mercilessly.
It did not matter that the allies giving the elevator its targeting data were still in that area. The Lunchboxes were unmanned. And for that matter, would the elevator have responded any differently had the data come from living soldiers?
The explosions were advancing faster than the buggy.
Heivia Winchell knew only one way they could survive this.
He had noticed something earlier.
The buggy flew right past a Legitimacy Kingdom turret.
Or more accurately, a tank hiding in a hole in the ground to keep it low and harder to detect.
The instant they passed by, the deafening roar of a cannon slammed into the buggy and the two idiots within.
But not from the tank.
The Capitalist Corporations were not the only ones who could share targeting information. A colossal weapon had received that data via IR or ultrasound and then fired.
The attack came from one of the Baby Magnum’s main cannons.
The roar of the cannon really did flip the buggy over as it drove. Quenser and Heivia nearly had their crushed flesh and blood soak into the dry African land, but the massive beam of energy tore through the lights in the sky. A hole was opened in the artificial meteor shower and the Legitimacy Kingdom potatoes were spared that orbital bombing.
The unmanned ground vehicles were fully-armored, but they were only 3m long.
The Lunchboxes were obliterated by the friendly fire.
Either being within 10m was close enough or the tank was loaded with powerful equipment because they heard a staticky voice over their radio for the first time in a long while.
“Quenserrrr, Heiviaaa. You certainly took your sweet time. Did you finally decide to return so you could be thrown into the detention barracks for deserting?”
“It was your friendly fire that got us into this mess, Myonri!!!!!!”
The meaning of their retaliation had changed.
With the underground water data from Quenser’s mobile device, they now had a way to attack Mother Lady’s ground base. Once the data being inputted was correct, they could automatically produce accurate calculation sheets.
The guerillas were only borrowing their equipment, so attacking them would not be emotionally satisfying. Directly attacking the elevator would be better. For example, they could block up the underground waterways used for cooling in order to fully take over the elevator.
It looked like they would have this worked out by sunset.
It helped a lot that Quenser and Heivia’s information had led them to a solution concerning the Lunchboxes. The Legitimacy Kingdom loaded some paint rounds with black paint before heading back out. The tanks would blow away most of them, but any that slipped through would be overheated using the powerful sunshine of equatorial Africa. The Capitalist Corporations operators noticed what was going on and tried to shake it off, but that did nothing with the special quick-drying paint being used.
The combat engineers stabbed thick metal plates straight down to seal off the underground waterways deep belowground.
(The Federation of Elevator Industries isn’t just a company. They’re a massive space development agency jointly funded by the seven major companies that control the Capitalist Corporations’ home country. This isn’t going to end here.)
Quenser held his radio to his mouth near a surface facility several dozen times the size of a domed stadium.
The military station’s jamming was still active, but they could communicate using large communication relay trucks. The trick was apparently to convert the signal to high-power infrared.
“We’ve settled things here, Frolaytia. The Princess used her armor to power through the anti-tank coilguns attached higher up, so we’ve successfully conquered Mother Lady’s ground base. The Federation of Elevator Industries operators have put their hands up and surrendered. Taking them prisoner would be a pain, so can we just hand them over to the local guerillas?”
“No, you can’t. Prisoners have a diplomatic use, so treat them with care as you bring them back. A Legitimacy Kingdom spy infiltrating Los Angeles blew his cover, so we already need as many bargaining chips as we can get on the first day of the new year.”
“Tch. Fine, but only if you promise me they’ll be thrown in cells smaller than those capsule hotels used for terrorists.”
Quenser clicked his tongue and then looked elsewhere.
Just the base of that structure was 2000 meters tall and the wires continued on up out of sight.
“A lot of guerillas died in our attempt to take this thing. And they’re going to blame us, not the Capitalist Corporations.”
“What, feeling sorry for the enemy, Quenser? Go speak with our counselor about it. Those guerillas had sided with the Capitalist Corporations from the moment they believed those sweet promises and allowed a military base to be built here. You don’t get to be a pacifist just because you live in a blank zone. We have no reason to go easy on someone who’s benefiting from the Federation of Elevator Industries who are acting on behalf of 7th Core, the rulers of an enemy home country. If that isn’t enough to convince you, then go get a prescription.”
She was correct.
That answer scored a perfect 100, but that perfection irritated Quenser for some reason.
Did the correct answer not always align with the right thing to do?
“What’s our next job? The explosives I have in my bag aren’t enough to blow up the base of the elevator here.”
“I’m not expecting that much from a student. I don’t like it either, but it seems the higher ups want us to solve this troublesome elevator problem before we take time off for the carnival. That means the next battle will be fought elsewhere.”
They had solved the problem on the ground.
But she made it sound like there was still a problem concerning the Mother Lady space elevator.
“In the time the Federation of Elevator Industries managed to buy here, they have apparently spent several days using the elevator to launch their primary forces into space. It seems they intend to take the space station and continue the fight there.”
“Are you for real?”
“That fortress has a diameter of 20km and we can’t cut off its power supply from down here because the space station uses a separate power system. If that federation is to be believed, the orbital station is loaded with enough weapons to turn any part of the planet – battlefield country or safe country – to ashes just by dropping their equipment from orbit. But unfortunately, the Legitimacy Kingdom refuses to listen to threats. Thus, we cannot choose to stop fighting. We started it, so we have to finish it. You’re going to visit space soon, Quenser. But don’t upload any photos to social media no matter what color the earth is.”
Between the Lines 1
Seven massive companies controlled the Capitalist Corporations home country that covered the western half of North America.
Those companies were known as 7th Core.
They held great influence over every last part of that world power and they were deeply involved in this space elevator as well. The Federation of Elevator Industries was a space development agency jointly funded by those seven companies.
They were an incarnation of capitalism.
All things, from war to philanthropy, were judged by whether or not they would bring profit to the company.
“Then I will sell three company-owned buildings in Seattle, Cascade District. Is that okay?”
“But one of those is an exceedingly high-level IT research facility.”
“As long as it will bring us even greater profit.”
That elderly man would not bat an eye at a mere 100 million dollars.
He sounded annoyed with his young and beautiful secretary for seeking confirmation about every little thing.
“For example, we could buy out a rival company. In fact, get started on that after inflating the funds with some arbitrary market deals. …AI research is such nonsense. Get rid of that pesky rival and we’re freed from wasting so much money on that pointless development race. Then we can focus on what really matters. What I want right now is steel and sturdy cars.”
“Then I will do that.”
For them, everything was about money. That meant they had a monetary reason for constructing the space elevator in Africa’s Turkana District. And not the immediate benefit of spreading the reach of online shopping to cover the entire planet.
They were focused on much greater profit.
“What do you think?” asked the elderly man while calmly progressing a plan that would ruin the lives of hundreds of his own employees and more than ten times as many of the rival company’s employees.
“It seems like a reasonable distribution.”
They were in Los Angeles in the Central Valley District of western America.
That was the capital of the Capitalist Corporations’ home country. This conversation took place in the top floor of a smart building sticking up even higher than all the other towering skyscrapers.
The elderly man seated in the president’s office that took up an entire building floor was named Raphael Goldenclipper.
The much younger secretary in a suit was named Serenade Blackrose.
“Short-term-stay villas have been constructed on the moon, but they are reliant on the transportation of goods from earth,” said the secretary. “No one can move their indefinitely. Mars and Jupiter also seem unlikely at this stage, so relying on any existing planet will likely never be realistic. That is why I consider her suggestion to be useful.”
“This planet will eventually run dry.”
“Our advertising agency’s simulator determined that a plan to reduce the human population would cost too much.”
“So the final problem is the humans, huh?”
“Yes,” calmly confirmed the secretary. “But if personnel expenses and service charges were eliminated, it would reduce the accepted prices for the products. If the factories were fully automated, we would have no choice but to sell the products for the cost of the original materials. To efficiently make money, inefficient humans must be made a part of the production system somewhere.”
“Humans increase the price of the product and humans buy the product at that increased price. But they must have stable lives to do so. That is where Objects come in. If we recruited soldiers from the general populace, it would only allow former soldiers to bring along firearms when they riot. And the damage will be greater the more advanced and unique the technology. Hence, it is best for only a limited few to hold all the power to fight.”
The rulers of capital never actually touched paper money.
Money was a status symbol, but what you really needed was a useful position in a company. In that case, the money need not exist in a non-digital form. Paper money might as well have been a silly toy to them.
“What are the other six companies saying?”
“They are mostly in agreement. Some do not trust the Federation of Elevator Industries, but no alternatives have been suggested. If they truly intended to break away, they would instead say nothing at all.”
The elderly man did not even attend the secret meetings held over the internet. Some people were safer when they remained ignorant of what was going on around them. All the dirty work was left to his secretary.
It was that special arrangement that had allowed such a young woman to push past a veritable harem of beautiful secretaries to become the strategic secretary who stood alongside the CEO.
“Then you’ll be continuing as before?”
“Yes, I will continue to monitor the situation.”
Chapter 2: Failure >> Attack on the Turkana District Space Elevator – Sp. Station
Can your soul keep up with a world at 5x the speed? With 5x the concentration of the traditional recipe, Monster Girl Energy – Maximum Bottle!! has been unleashed upon the world.
A distant look filled Private Heivia Winchell’s eyes as he watched the brown-skinned swimsuit women in the back of a pickup truck. Those bikini women had been hired to hand out 500mL glass bottles of energy drink as a campaign for a new product.
This happened in the South American Amazon District.
It was midsummer in the Southern Hemisphere.
“Why aren’t we allowed to drink any?”
“You do know what we’re waiting for here, don’t you? For a space shuttle. Fill your stomach with carbonation and it’ll rupture inside you once we launch into space.”
“Why are you being such a jerk to those bikini babes? Did one of them pretend to confess to you while livestreaming it???”
“I’m a Bad Bull guy myself.”
Quenser yawned while leaning against a tall chain link fence.
He would occasionally rub at his body through his uniform, but not because his new underwear felt weird.
A giant structure towered up towards heaven on the other side of the fence behind them. But instead of an elevator, this was a space shuttle meant to launch into space and return to earth repeatedly. It was more than 40m tall and the jungle-gym-like launch equipment around it was a little taller. Several of them were lined up quite neatly, making it look like a metal corn field.
“This is such a waste of fuel,” complained Quenser. “I can see now why the Capitalist Corporations are so obsessed with that elevator. It’s all about cost performance.”
While the four powers had been competing to see if the space elevator or the mass driver would become the new standard, the research institute here had apparently begun a revival of these old-fashioned but tried-and-true toys. Basically it was the same as a train-obsessed government worker finding excuses to use public money to buy a steam train. Since they were even calling it a “space shuttle”, a term that had supposedly been retired, you could see this was more about a love of the aesthetic than about profit.
Quenser viewed the gate that opened and closed like a city railroad crossing.
“This is a busy place.”
“Half the globe can’t launch any rockets thanks to Mother Lady. And that’s true for every world power. The space station is still controlled by the Federation of Elevator Industries, but that effectively makes it a decision made by 7th Core as a whole. And interference from the sky is way worse than from the ground. They can use laser beams, jamming, meteors, debris, or whatever else. That’s a problem for everyone – public sector, private sector, academic, and military. That’s why everyone’s decided to launch their stuff on the other side of the world, leading to a rush on this place.”
“All because of the one elevator.”
“I sense a weirdo at work here. Nothing good ever comes from letting intellectuals join the battlefield.”
Annoyingly enough, Mother Lady was still not widely considered a villain despite all the news reports on the trouble it was causing. That space elevator could cheaply deliver packages to every part of the world, so it had already become a great ally of safe country family budgets the world over during its 9 month test period.
The electronic simulation division said it would start sucking up more than ten times the money once it began working for real.
There was a negative side to it. For example, what to do about the empty packages and cargo tanks after a delivery was made. If they were allowed to provide a collection service, they might be able to effectively create extraterritorial bases all around the world.
The 37th had to tear the elevator down and end this before that happened.
But that would be no easy task.
“That elevator wasn’t built up from the ground. It’s dangling down from space.”
“That means the space station at the top is more important than the ground base at the bottom. And I’ve heard that station is 20km across. We took over the ground base by blocking off the underground water they were using for cooling, but it’s not over yet. In the worst case, the station could cut the wires to free itself and then move to another candidate location. Conquering that desert ground base was far from being checkmate.”
That was why the swimsuit women had stopped their pick-up truck next to the fence denoting an off-limits zone so they could hand out sample products. The crowd here had looked lucrative to the PR team that normally operated in big cities.
Quenser sighed in the hot sun.
“Amateur advertising agencies have noticed what’s happening, so do you really think the Capitalist Corporations is going to ignore it?”
“That’s why we’re supposed to get up into space before those greedy bastards bound by military regulations manage to rework the rules so they can act. Dammit, what idiot is causing the holdup!? Are they checking everyone’s bags? Or did the health exam show someone had a cavity or an STI!?”
“That’s why you use mouthwash after doing oral. Always practice safe sex, kids.”
The two idiots’ conversation was cut off by a short beep from their radios.
It was finally their turn.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” asked Heivia while following the fence to the gate. “I mean, we left the Princess behind.”
“Taking over the elevator’s ground base doesn’t make the local guerillas magically disappear. If we didn’t leave some kind of solid defense behind, they could surround the base and take it back. And those ad-loving Capitalist Corporations are really good at negative campaigns.”
“I know that, but we left that sheltered girl to hold down the fort.”
“We can check in with her at any time with the cameras. And it’s not like she’s all alone. The old maintenance lady is with her. Besides, the Baby Magnum isn’t the only defense. We took over Mother Lady’s ground base, so the others there can fire warning shots with that thing’s laser beam.”
“Why isn’t the space force doing this job for us? Then we could call it quits and enjoy some New Year’s leave.”
“The space force as you imagine it doesn’t really exist. Their name sounds cool and all, but they basically sit at computers on ground bases and send out jamming signals to mess with the enemy satellites and spacecraft.”
“What’s your point?”
“None of them are dumb enough to visit the dangerous radiation-filled vacuum of outer space. We’re stuck with a shitty job no one else wanted. As usual.”
Every last one of the Legitimacy Kingdom potatoes here were lined up below the blazing sun in their uniforms. Only half of the 37th was here, but they still formed a lengthy line while waiting to have their ID checked so they could pass through the gate. It took a while.
“Is this what it’s gonna be like when we die?” asked Quenser while watching the line move about as fast as a snail. “ ‘The enemy Object will arrive shortly, so please enter the shelter in a calm and orderly fashion’ and then whoooosh, kaboooom!”
“You’re dreaming if you think the desk jockeys are gonna be anywhere near that kind to us. They never even look at the reality beyond their computer screens and they’ll just demand we bravely fight the Object to the last man and die. …Really, the Legitimacy Kingdom is behind the times. We should really build our own space base.”
This may have been another problem caused by Objects ending the nuclear age. Modern battlefields were still discussed on the talk shows targeted toward housewives, but the focus was more on cyberspace than outer space. The national defense funding that all the world powers used to fight each other came out of their tax money, so they needed to make sure everyone felt terrified enough that funding countermeasures and applied research sounded appealing.
“I’ve heard all the leaked photos of famous actresses that have been making a stir online lately are actually a form of propaganda meant to manipulate public opinion.”
“So are you saying the only way for the space side of things to make a comeback is to start dropping those thin, single-use pieces of rubber from satellite orbit?”
Finally, it was their turn to pass below the gate bar that rose and fell like a railroad crossing.
A small group of people had gathered and begun shouting a short distance away.
“Oh, what’s going on there?” asked Heivia. “Did a fight break out?”
“It’s 38 degrees and crowded, so people are irritable and liable to run into someone from an opposing group,” said Quenser. “So who is it? An environmental protection group and an energy company?”
“It might be the ever-fierce conflict between Team Salt and Team Soy Sauce. People can get heated when it comes to ramen flavors.”
“Your failure to even mention Team Tonkotsu marks you as guilty. But, wow, I think it’s two women shouting. Yeah, I’d really rather not see a woman swinging her hair around with a monstrous look on her face.”
“Hang on. I think I recognize one of those voices.”
“Oh, god, that’s Frolaytia! What is she doing!?”
Separating her from the old maintenance lady may have been a mistake.
Two women were pressing their foreheads together while glaring at each other.
One was Major Frolaytia Capistrano, Queen of the Potatoes, but the other was a silver-haired brown-skinned officer with a non-Legitimacy Kingdom uniform.
“Ugh!? That’s an Information Alliance uniform!”
“Oh, no. I forgot this was an international space launch facility that anyone can use.”
Quenser smacked a hand against his forehead.
The military was really bad about turf wars. Quite literally in fact. They fought to protect their national borders year round. Soldiers in the other uniform design were trying to stop their own commander with shouts of “Lendy! Major Farolito! Please calm down!”, but they were too hesitant about it and it had no effect. That was one area in which the Legitimacy Kingdom and Information Alliance were the same.
The demonic commander, who was busty but made sure no one wanted to get anywhere near that bust, spoke in a deep, resentful way she never used with her own soldiers.
“Oh, what have we here? I thought I detected the unhealthy scent of melted solder in here, but the Amazon District is protected by Legitimacy Kingdom Objects, so surely I must be imagining things.”
“Someone too dumb to stop smoking in this day and age may be unaware, but as much influence as the Legitimacy Kingdom may have in this district, it has no official affiliation. But I suppose those colossal fatasses may have failed to notice how much trouble their presence is causing the locals.”
Quenser was dumbfounded.
“(Hey, Heivia, does this count as a personal fight or a war???)”
“(Shut up and don’t you dare say anything to them. I want nothing to do with this.)”
The conversation moved on without those two boys.
Frolaytia pressed her forehead even harder against the other woman’s.
“You do understand the situation here, I hope? Do you have any idea how many Objects we have stationed here?”
“I suppose I can’t blame an ignorant country girl for not knowing, but attacking us would be in violation of the Peace and Equality in Space Treaty. But if you insist on being a pest and violating PEST, feel free. I’m sure you will enjoy being assigned to an Arctic base for losing your side so many Objects.”
“Oh, you want to fight!?”
“Bring it on, little girl!!”
The Legitimacy Kingdom and Information Alliance soldiers rushed in. They had no complaints about a busty catfight, but these particular busts would lead to the world’s dumbest war if a fist managed to hit one of those beautiful faces.
And Quenser was impressed by one thing he noticed.
“You’re actually bothering to hold her back, Heivia? That’s surprisingly responsible of you.”
“With all this chaos, I can cop a feel and she’ll never know it was me.”
The brave warrior who rushed straight into danger ended up writhing on the ground after Frolaytia swung a 500mL bottle of Monster Girl Energy and it hit him right in the forehead.
Quenser’s decision to stay out of it proved wise.
Those jiggling boobs were like a Venus fly trap. Fall for the temptation and you were dead.
Plus, he was officially a battlefield student, not a soldier, so it was not his job to preserve world peace.
“Whoa, whoa, stay away from me, yikes, yikes, yikes, ahhhhh!!”
Potato #1 protected his head with both hands and fled from the crowd of angry, stressed, and excitement-starved people.
After finding peace and quiet, he let out a sigh.
“G-good, they’re gone.”
(But what is the Information Alliance doing here? What business do they have in space???)
Just as that fundamental question occurred to him, he heard a girl’s voice from somewhere.
He turned toward the young voice to see a large RV parked there. And the external area was surrounded by bed sheets draped over ropes like laundry put out to dry.
The sunlight shining through the sheets showed him the silhouette of a girl who appeared to be only around 10. She was partially bent over and standing unsteadily on just one leg. Her small hands were holding the lifted leg at the ankle. Her silhouette showed through so clearly he could make out all those details.
So was she putting something on, or taking it off???
“If I was going to need a spacesuit, they should have had it ready from the beginning. Oh ho ho. I do understand a spacesuit in my size can’t be easy to come by, though.”
“Hey, you there!”
While Quenser tilted his head, a sharp voice shouted at him through the sheets. She would not be able to see him either, but she spoke in a very demanding way. She may have mistaken him for one of her own.
“Oh ho ho. I cannot find the tape measure I had. Is it out there perhaps?”
“Hm? Oh, you mean this one?”
“That should be it, yes. Please hand it here.”
An unexpectedly small hand stuck out through a gap between two sheets. She was also being super careless. She seemed to be hiding something, but her own hand had parted the two sheets somewhat. It was possible someone would see her secret through there.
The careless girl’s soft-looking hand gestured for him to hurry up, so he sighed and placed the tape measure there.
“Oh ho ho. Thank you. I have my measurements taken regularly, but this is outer space we are talking about.”
She pulled her hand back in.
Based on the silhouette, she wrapped the tape measure around that part of herself.
“Not to mention that this is for a special outer space New Year’s concert. Yes, you’re in for a treat, my many fans! Oh ho ho. I will make sure the world falls in love with me all over again!!”
(Hm, so she’s an idol like Monica.)
He doubted she would give him an autograph or shake his hand if he asked right now, though. At any rate, he was finding a great variety of people had business in space. He was honestly jealous of the girl.
Meanwhile, he was headed up there to fight a war.
It was the most depressing reason to be given an all-expenses-paid trip into space.
“Countdown – final sequence: 9, 7, 6…ignition. Blast off.”
To Quenser, it felt like riding an amusement park thrill ride.
He was seated in a chair, but sitting in this chair positioned him so he was facing straight down. If he were not strapped in with special belts, he would have fallen straight to the rear of the shuttle.
He felt a great pressure in his gut.
He heard a deafening roar.
But none of it felt like he was actually blasting off from the planet earth. The lack of windows played a definite role there. It was like being trained for a form of torture that gradually squashed him with a thick but invisible wall. Maybe this was the world the Princess lived in while piloting her Object.
“Gwehhhh,” he groaned inside his helmet.
But that skinny boy had only been given a few days’ worth of training in a pool and in a centrifugal artificial gravity generator, so he was lucky “gweh” was the worst he got. He gave a proper report using the communicator installed in his helmet.
“Th-the magnetic oxygen guidance is working for now. We won’t die right away anyway, Frolaytia. Dammit, I’m totally groping those things till the tips turn black!!”
A rapid change in pressure was enough for someone to pass out and they could even die if air bubbles formed in their blood. It was known as barotrauma and was best known in the forms of altitude sickness and decompression sickness.
To prevent that, Quenser and the other 37th potatoes had several electrodes attached below their clothing. Barotrauma could cause everything from fingernail injuries to fainting, but it was mainly caused by two things: a reduced amount of oxygen being transported in the blood and bubbles forming from the nitrogen in the body tissue. So you could solve all of that if you could externally manipulate the iron to stabilize the oxygen transportation and strengthen the bonds of the nitrogen.
“Hah hah hah! Who doesn’t love a secret prototype weapon? You should weep tears of joy at this opportunity! I believe this was originally developed in secret to help Pilot Elites handle the massive Gs of an Object which can reach the double digits at times.”
“B-but, urp, why wasn’t it adopted for general use among Elites?”
“It’s so bad for your health they’d never expose their precious Elites to its effects.”
In the seat behind Quenser, Myonri jumped upon hearing what sounded like metal claws scratching at the wall.
“Gweh. Wh-why am I hearing something from outside!? Ugh, are we going to break apart before even escaping the atmosphere!?”
“That’s just the external rockets separating after using up their fuel. If the heat caused the connections to melt just wrong and they failed to separate, then we’d 100% crash, though. Gwehhh!”
Knowledge was the best way to conquer fear. It did nothing about the pain and suffering pressing down on their bodies, though.
Then Quenser stared in shock at his neighbor.
The other idiot was there.
“Frolaytia, Heivia broke the regulations! Ugh, he must have filled his stomach with a banned drink cause his helmet is now full of carbonated energy drink barf. I’d really prefer not to describe it in any more detail. Urp, just seeing it is enough to make me feel sick!”
“He only has himself to blame,” said Frolaytia over the radio. “Do not remove his helmet even if he is drowning. The instant the gravity is gone, that stuff will fill the entire shuttle.”
Heivia responded with a mysterious code: “Bleh this Monster Girl bleh is from the bottle gwehhh you broke on blehhh my head!” But it was too advanced a code to crack, so Frolaytia ignored it and continued with a report.
“The Princess’s team is searching for a way up from Mother Lady’s ground base, but that is only a diversion. While the Capitalist Corporations’ Federation of Elevator Industries is staring worriedly down at the bottom of the elevator, you will circle around from the other side of the planet to attack them from above. The space station is in geostationary orbit at an altitude of 36,000km, so it really and truly is in outer space. I honestly envy you this trip into space.”
“Maybe if we were here on vacation, I’d agree with you! Gweh, but we’re headed to the most dangerous battlefield in the universe!”
“Ah ha ha. You’ve finally move past the most dangerous in the world, Quenser. That’s a new record.”
It was no use. She was so used to sending them to their deaths that it barely registered as a problem anymore. Myonri must have been used to this too because she stuck a hose similar to a dentist’s saliva ejector into the top of Heivia’s head from her seat behind them. A gross sucking sound followed. The device may have been to help the crew since the helmets prevented them from using a handkerchief to wipe away sweat.
“Mother Lady is being guarded by soldiers recruited from the PMCs they love so much. And they are all top of their class, so be careful. There is one other person you need to be aware of: Louisiana Honeysuckle.”
“The researchers who develop technology with military applications are generally erased from all public records, but a few of her papers for academic conferences slipped through. They were about the influence a colossal structure would have on the planet’s environment. Until the elevator was completed, she was apparently known for her work in preserving rare animals.”
“Preserving rare animals?”
That did not seem to fit.
Especially when he thought back to the dry and cracked desert.
“There are records of her being sued by an environmental protection group, but it was completely shut down by an army of lawyers armed with ample funding. But a researcher of her caliber would have not trouble making money, so the environmental group’s claims seem unlikely to me. They claim she traveled all the way to Africa, stole the genetic information of rare animals there, and then sold that to European zoos.”
Then Frolaytia got back on topic.
“Anyway, Louisiana is the genius researcher who worked out all the problems with the theoretical concept of a wire space elevator and created an actually usable plan. The elevator is everything to her, making her a rare Capitalist Corporations resident who doesn’t care all that much about profit. The intelligence division’s report says she is likely holed up in the space station. She does not behave like a soldier does, so it would be best to kill her before she can cause any trouble.”
The scratching sound grew louder. They were surrounded by it. But this was no longer about the rocket booster connections. The air’s friction itself was probably tearing at the shuttle’s exterior. From the outside, it would look like they had been thrown into a prison of orange heat.
The battalion had split in two, half on the surface and half in space, but Frolaytia did not seem to be having too much trouble. Everything was done over the network these days, so commanding remotely was not a problem at all.
It was while that thought occurred to him that Quenser felt his bangs float up. And that was not all. The pressure bearing down on him completely vanished, and not just because he had gotten used to it.
The concept of up and down was gone.
From his perspective, he might as well have been seated in an ordinary bus. He was now facing forward. The weird part was how his butt had left the seat just like his back had left the chair back. Without the belts, he might have floated up to the ceiling and started slowly spinning.
“Hello, world of zero-g sex. Now we can invent a brand new kama sutra with none of that pesky gravity restricting the glorious possibilities!”
“Let’s see. Which tube is Quenser’s oxygen?”
Myonri’s dangerous hand reached in from behind and Quenser very nearly died of asphyxiation.
The scraping sound on the outer walls ended.
Only silence surrounded them.
This time, not even Myonri made a noise. They were all holding their breath at the painful silence.
“Welcome to space,” said Frolaytia to drive the point home.
It did not feel real. They had not encountered any aliens and they had not rapidly evolved as lifeforms. They were surrounded by thick walls and contained in awkward spacesuits. It only felt like being restrained by those two layers of cramped protection. They were in space that continued forever with no horizon, yet they did not feel remotely free.
There was zero atmospheric pressure.
This was a vacuum devoid of oxygen.
Radiation stabbed directly into them without anything to weaken it.
People would die here if they were simply exposed to it without any protection. It was a lonely place where they could scream in terror and not a peep would reach their awful friend right next to them. It was a profound place where the human beings who had spread across the planet and chewed through its resources were separated out into individuals and forced to face their own insignificance. People were not meant to exist in space. It was a hell colder than the sea and hotter than fire.
“Your next step is to circle across the Atlantic to reach central Africa,” said Frolaytia. “The battle begins once you arrive. Overeagerly unstrapping yourselves now will only get you injured before the fighting even starts, so be careful.”
“You make it sound all fancy, but we’re basically following the long mountain trail around so we can peep on the open-air bath from above, right? Are you sure they won’t notice us???”
“Do you have any idea how many rockets and shuttles are being launched from the Pacific and South America right now? We didn’t paint ‘The Legitimacy Kingdom’s Super Cool New Weapon’ on the side, so you’ll be fine. The official paperwork says you’re a construction crew.”
“For a lunar villa.”
That was even more outside Quenser’s experiences than an indoor golf course or casino built in the middle of the Las Vegas desert. Rare bugs and plants in the jungle were biological resources, new online possibilities were data resources, and the deep sea – considered to be the final frontier on the planet – was all about oil and shale gas. And now people were attaching price tags to the moon’s land and selling it off. Humanity really knew how to turn anything into a quick buck.
“I almost feel sorry for those lunar villas,” said Frolaytia. “The space station’s jamming has brought down their high-speed wireless internet, so they have no way of knowing what’s going on. And without control signals, they can’t launch any rockets or shuttles. I don’t know if the Federation of Elevator Industries meant to do it, but the moon is like a remote island out in space.”
“Serves ‘em right,” spat out Quenser.
But more importantly…
“Should we really be doing this? Won’t soldiers get in trouble from a number of organizations if we pretend to be civilians for a sneak attack?”
“We have no other choice since physical stealth only goes so far. Oh, and I would recommend not checking outside. That way you won’t have to see all the deadly eggs that have been laid out there.”
“There are that many of them?”
“The space elevator allowed them to send an obscene number of those killer satellites outside the atmosphere, so the area above Africa is filled with tens of thousands of those military satellites that can move around on their own with explosives filling their belly. If the enemy notices you, they’ll approach silently and then – boom – you have a hole in your hull. And you know what even a finger-sized hole means out in space, don’t you?”
“Explosions in space have a wide lethal range. With no gravity or air, there’s nothing to slow the razor-like shrapnel. To be blunt, not even a pizza delivery worker who knows the side roads by heart could slip through that floating minefield. Which is why – in my infinite kindness – I chose to rewrite the official paperwork.”
“Anyway, we’ve made it into orbit. The first challenge when launching into space is the separation of the booster and tank. 50% of the risk of death comes from that, so now that we’ve gotten past that without incident…”
He was cut off by a quiet clunking sound.
He looked up (from the perspective of his seat and the movable range of his head) and Myonri laughed at him.
“Ah ha ha. So much for sounding smart there, Quenser. Sounds like we still had one more piece to separate off.”
He fell quiet.
He checked his helmet’s seal and the remaining oxygen meter on his wrist while his thoughts turned to the extravehicular activity unit on his back. He grabbed and then let go of the grip connected to the cable that would emit nitrogen gas from 32 different nozzles. He finally reached for his seatbelt, but he had trouble operating it with the spacesuit’s thick fingers.
Or were his fingers trembling?
“Myonri, you should check your equipment. Like right now.”
“The shuttle only had the booster and tank to separate off, so it should only have happened twice. There is no air friction out here in space, so that just now was something else – an accident! Something’s coming!!”
All of a sudden, the lead-shielded roof of the shuttle was torn away.
The shuttle’s cabin was exposed to the vacuum of space.
The starry sky as seen from earth was like viewing it through the wall of a plastic greenhouse. The real thing was much too distinct. More than that, they could see a shining blue disk overhead. That was the earth. It was a lot smaller than he had expected.
Without the electrodes attached all over his body, the pressure difference might have made his red blood cells rupture, killing him before he could have even seen this.
But he could not just stare at that strange sight.
Something was attached to the shuttle.
A perfect 2m cube shined silver in the sunlight. Much like an attack helicopter, weapons were attached below the solar panels spread out on either side. Work arms with multiple joints were extending this way. The shuttle’s roof had been made to open and close, but the four arms had used a chemical or something to slice through the seam, grab it by force, and pull to either side to tear it open. Just like opening a bag of chips.
“A killer satellite!?” shouted Heivia with eyes wide.
Those satellites were used to destroy other satellites. Human nature had finally made its way into space. The Capitalist Corporations had their space elevator, so to bring quantity to the outer space conflicts, they had created a space minefield made from tens of thousands of killer satellites.
“Dammit, we need to protect the shuttle!!”
A few of the soldiers responded to the boy’s voice (that reached them via their helmet transmitters, not by sending vibrations through the air) by pressing their assault rifle stocks against the shoulder of their spacesuits and aiming at the killer satellite.
“Dammit, this round helmet makes it hard to look down the scope!! And these giant gloves make it hard to hold the gun. And that’s after cutting away the trigger guard!!”
“Gyah, my eyes!!”
The soldiers groaned before they could fire. They seemed to be writhing in pain and trying to hold their eyes, but the thick helmet got in the way. This was yet another accident. The killer satellite must have struck first while continuing to widen the wound in the shuttle, but it had produced no light or sound.
(Did it shine its sensor-destroying laser in their eyes?)
“Go to hell!!”
Heivia’s assault rifle finally opened fire.
He had no way of fighting the recoil in space, so he simply had his body pushed back into his seat. The most training they had gotten was wearing VR goggles while submerged in a giant tank of water, but he pulled it off pretty well.
He was firing away in the next seat over, but Quenser could not hear a thing. That suggested he would die if he removed his helmet now.
And the student did not hesitate to remove his seatbelt.
“Watch out, everyone!!”
Did his warning reach them?
What happened next happened whether it did or not.
There was no sound, but he saw a flash of light brighter than a lightning bolt.
The killer satellite had taken enough damage, so it detonated from within, scattering 2000 metal balls smaller than pachinko balls.
Killer satellites were not expected to accurately shoot down fast-moving ballistic missiles with laser beams or railguns like in the SDI program of a former age.
They would generally approach slowly and then self-destruct.
Simple and primitive destructive power was all they needed.
As machines and computers advance over time, they had enough space leftover to do other things before self-destructing. So they now had plenty of optional functions such as shining powerful lasers on the enemy satellite to destroy its sensors from afar or using metal arms to grab and break solar panels.
But in the end, they would still explode.
So they were not given the latest tech; their exteriors were even made from flimsy aluminum foil. They did not need nimble mobility. They were mass-produced for cheap as disposable tools. The wars fought in space were so tediously realistic, with barely any bizarre technology to be found.
After undoing his belt, Quenser sprayed nitrogen gas from the nozzles on the extravehicular activity unit on his back to slip into the slight space below the seat. He curled up and protected the soft spacesuit with its back – with the metal tank there.
In space, an attack did not need to punch or slice through the enemy. Without any pressure or gravity, a single scratch was enough for the satellite to slip out of stable orbit or for an oxygen-filled shuttle or station to break apart from the difference in internal and exterior pressure.
The trick was to cause as many shallow scratches over as wide an area as you could.
An attack similar to a shotgun with unlimited range was ideal. As long as you did not care if the debris you produced got in your way afterwards.
And in fact…
“Help me out here, Myonri! Hold Cottage’s arms in place while I seal his suit up with airtight tape. He’ll die if we don’t hurry!!”
Quenser had no idea how effective that tape was. It might have been issued to them more to make them feel better than because of any scientific evidence it worked. But he had to believe using it was better than leaving the soldier with a torn spacesuit. While the soldier nearly lost consciousness from a rapid pressure change similar to elevation sickness, Quenser forcibly bound his thigh with a tool similar to duct tape and filled the invisible gaps by melting the adhesive with an electric iron similar to a soldering iron.
“Don’t die, Cottage. You’re being treated by a girl. You’ve dreamed of this situation! So don’t you die!! Listen, your wound is being treated by a soft-skinned girl in a short-sleeved gym shirt and sports bloomers at the sports festival. You’ve never been happier!!”
“Oh, you seem to be doing well given the circumstances, Cottage.”
“Good, more like that, Myonri. Fill him with your medical girl power. If I tried to cheer him up as Quensette, the shock of learning the truth might just kill him!!”
The shuttle had reached its limit.
It was never going to fly normally again after the roof was peeled away like a convertible.
And the Capitalist Corporations’ Federation of Elevator Industries was equipped with killer satellites. That one had been part of a networked minefield. If they continued on like this, the killer satellites waiting up ahead would gather together like a soccer defense. The shuttle was not the most maneuverable craft, so they could not nimbly dodge out of the way. Many more explosions like that one and the shuttle would not last.
Quenser shouted to the others.
His physical voice could not actually reach them in the vacuum of space, but his earth habits were hard to shake.
“You can’t hold onto your weapons with these gloves, so wrap their straps around your wrist and then jump out from the shuttle!!”
“But this is outer space!”
Heivia’s eyes widened, but they had no time. Quenser kicked off his seat while holding still-shaking Cottage. Even though he would have been thrown out from the broken roof anyway.
Heivia waved his hands wildly even though it was program controlled.
“How can you use that extravehicular unit so well? It’s got 32 different nozzles.”
“It’s basically the same as the civilian models I saw back in my safe country school. Those were marine leisure toys that let you float in the sky by spraying pressurized seawater. There hasn’t been much military value in spacewalks, so the civilian side is more advanced. Basically, the controls have been simplified to the point that an amateur can pick up and use it. Paper manuals aren’t a thing anymore. If it’s more complicated than a stick and two buttons, you lose customers fast.”
“If you volunteered to help with the R&D, you could play around with them all you wanted in the school’s huge 5m-deep experiment pool. Eh heh heh. Which included providing hands-on tandem support for unsuspecting swimsuit girls.”
Whether they had obeyed Quenser or simply been thrown out of the shuttle, most of the potatoes escaped out into deadly outer space while still plastic-wrapped in their spacesuits.
But not all of them made it.
Either they had not trusted Quenser or they had been too panicked to undo their seatbelts, but a few of the soldiers remained inside the torn-up shuttle.
Quenser could have sworn his eyes met theirs through their thick helmets.
A moment later, the many killer satellites gathered together and produced a series of silent explosions. The shuttle was transformed into an orange shooting star as it broke apart while enveloped in explosive flames.
The sharp fragments scattered by the explosion had nothing to slow them in space. Simply watching was risky, but Quenser was in no position to respond to that threat.
There was nothing he could do.
He could only clench his teeth and squeeze his eyes shut.
But then he opened them again.
“That violent mom just took away our precious shut-in room,” said Heivia. “So what do we do now? What about oxygen!? How many hours will the tanks on our backs last!? I know it’s less than a full day!”
“Focus on regulating your breathing instead of worrying about how much you have left. And avoid talking too much.”
“What kind of bizarre corpses are we gonna leave out here in space!? Dried up mummies? Or maybe something like frozen food!?”
“If you don’t want to die, then use your head! Complaining isn’t going to produce oxygen from your garlicy breath!!”
The student was panicking too.
They were in the silent vacuum of space with nothing to even stand on and mother earth’s blue shine felt like it was rejecting them. When he looked up at the planet hanging above them like a ceiling, he could make out some red dots of light. Those all symbolized human civilization. They were the massive flames of war caused by Objects.
(The earth is blue, my ass. Or does this mean things were still relatively peaceful back when everyone was threatening everyone else with nuclear missiles?)
Quenser cursed to himself before speaking again.
“Which way to that elevator – Mother Lady? Something that damn big should be obvious even from space.”
“You’re still trying to continue the mission!? I think we’ve got bigger issues right now. We can’t keep fighting, so we need to withdraw!!”
“Withdraw to where? Do you think if you ask for help, Frolaytia’s gonna blow the trumpet and lead the cavalry in to rescue us? You’d better hope she can pull a secret space cavalry out of her ass.”
“If we want to survive this, we have to figure something out ourselves. The only place nearby with plenty of oxygen is the space elevator’s space station. If we don’t pay them a visit before the tanks on our backs run out, we’re all dead. If you get that, then get moving. We don’t have much time. If the Capitalist Corporations was judging the success of their attack using radar, they should assume we all died with the shuttle. We can pass right through the network of killer satellites right now!”
The killer satellites were of course designed for use against large machines like enemy satellites and spaceships. People in space was generally unthinkable, so they did not search for them. Just like the giant doppler radar on an airport control tower would fail to detect skydivers or a pair of panties blown off the clothesline, the killer satellites would likely overlook Quenser and the others since they were outside the design specs.
“No radio. Switch to close-range lasers.”
“Goddammit. Like always, that busty commander goes silent the second things go south.”
“The killer satellites would pick up any transmissions, so this is her way of being nice. It’s just that her tsundere levels are so high it can be really hard to tell.”
“If you don’t like that explanation, then how about this? Imagine she shut off the transmission to stick her hand down her underwear and enjoy herself. Pray hard enough and the video footage might just start transmitting by some freak accident.”
They were equipped with extravehicular activity units that sprayed compressed nitrogen gas from nozzles for attitude control, but that was only meant to keep their balance and counterbalance the recoil of gunfire, so it was really like having brakes they could only use a limited number of times. They could not be used as accelerators like a space ship or robot’s rocket boosters.
Orientation was everything in zero-g.
If their nitrogen gas tanks ran out before their oxygen, they would be stuck spinning helpless and alone in the silence of space waiting for their oxygen to run out. Running out of oxygen first would actually be the better way to go.
Quenser operated the LCD screen on his arm. It was designed for use with the fat fingers of the spacesuit, but the screen was less sensitive to his touch than an ordinary phone.
“Man, that thing is sending EM signals everywhere. It must think it’s the king of outer space. Anyway, I found it. The elevator is 50km thataway!”
Compared to space as a whole, 50km was nothing, but the potatoes could not move a single centimeter forward no matter how hard they moved their legs. They could not walk without ground and they could not swim either.
“What do we do now?” asked Heivia.
“There are tons of killer satellites out here and we can’t be the only things they’ve attacked. There has to be some large scraps in a satellite orbit out here. We can calculate out where they’re going and hitch a ride with one of those trucks as it passes through.”
Fortunately, they had countless opportunities.
Space was vast, but satellite orbit around earth was a fairly packed area. 1800 pieces of rocket and satellite wreckage were floating around up there (and that was only the number that had been officially reported and confirmed). Add in all the bolts, nuts, paint chips, and other tiny pieces, and the number had to be close to 3 million. Most of those were abandoned remnants of the Nuclear Age when humanity had been in a race to develop ridiculous rockets while claiming it was some great dream for the future of humanity (while it was actually just an excuse to develop more missile tech). Space development had been more sensibly planned out once the Object Age arrived and people awoke from that particular madness. Although “got bored and lost interest” may have been the more accurate way to phrase it.
Quenser wanted a piece of scrap that was sufficiently large, not moving too fast, and not spinning.
A scorched cylindrical cargo tank (perhaps originally meant to send additional supplies to a space station) was about to pass them by.
(The laser range finger says…good, it isn’t moving so fast it would tear my arm off the instant I touch it!!)
“Try to keep up.”
“Wait, they didn’t teach us this in the pool training!”
Touching it directly could slice his glove open with the jagged edges, so Quenser instead attached a carabiner to the handle sticking out from the door. That way it dragged him along with it.
He was swept through that cramped area of space filled with killer satellites.
After seeing Quenser pull it off, Heivia, Myonri, and the others began locating their own debris and hesitantly following after him.
“Eek, eek, eeeek!?”
“Mute yourself, Heivia. That’s just painful to listen to!!”
“There’s so much trash out in space,” said Myonri. “Do the people in the elevator just use the atmosphere to burn up their trash and defective parts?”
It seemed unlikely elevator parts would end up floating around in space if they were sent straight up the wires, so this had to be intentional. Some of the debris was as large as a bus.
Even if they could transport large quantities of supplies into space, the self-destructing killer satellites were still a limited resource. You would lose one every time they were used, so non-hostile scraps would be registered as such and removed from the attack list to avoid wasting the satellites. By pressing against the scorched side of that scrap, Quenser could slip right past the Federation of Elevator Industries’ defense network.
The moon was always smaller than the earth that seemed to be pressing down on them from overhead.
But even out in space, a mere boy could not reach it.
The moon remained a lonely queen.
With how terrified he was of the vacuum held at bay only by the thin spacesuit, Quenser could not believe those wealthy people would actually build villas out here. He wondered if he would come to understand it after becoming a successful Object designer and diving into a bathtub full of cash.
But for now…
(We can finally make this an actual battle, even if just barely.)
With no horizon or air in space, there was nothing to block your view. Or so he thought, but the sun and its reflection off the earth itself created a blinding blue shine. That was why he could only see it after moving so close. A long, long line extended unnaturally up from the surface. The spread of the manmade had finally broken free of the planet and arrived in space.
That was the Mother Lady space elevator.
“Hey,” said Heivia through their helmets.
They were using close-range IR at the moment, so he had to be pretty close. He must have been riding on a different scrap.
“Do you honestly think we can arrive there without issue?”
“Wow, Heivia. Frolaytia really has you brainwashed, huh? How can you look at everything that’s happened so far and think ‘without issue’ is even remotely still on the table?”
“That’s not what I meant.”
Heivia’s usual worrying nature was rearing its ugly head.
He tended to grow cowardly the instant some unknown technology, like a new Object, showed up. Just like someone who saw new smartphones and tablets and decided they preferred an insular regulated society over a bright future. Quenser was annoyed by that elderly way of thinking, but…
“Yes, we might be able to slip past the killer satellite defense network if we hitch a ride with the registered scraps,” said Heivia. “But there are scraps too big to call debris headed toward the elevator’s space station.”
“If they weren’t, we would be starting an endless journey into space. What’s your point?”
“Ummm, won’t those scraps look like a threat to the space station? Won’t they have defense weapons ready to shoot down the scrap metal???”
The elderly way of thinking contained wisdom this time.
Quenser frantically unhooked his carabiner and kicked off the side of his scrap just before a thick, bluish-white electron beam stabbed through the silent vacuum of space. It pierced the center of the cylindrical cargo tank, causing it to rupture from within.
Incidentally, the supplies that never reached their destination happened to be sex toys.
Since any videos watched or VR data accessed on a space station’s computer equipment would be contained in the logs sent back to the control center back on the ground, Quenser was surrounded by a blizzard of analog paper magazines, silicone tubes, and life-sized dolls.
“Get away from the scraps!!” he shouted “The defense system meant for meteors and large scraps can’t detect anything human-sized!!”
“Oh, no. That cloud of sex toys is floating out into space,” lamented Myonri. “The aliens are going to know all about the most embarrassing side of our civilization.”
“Huh? What are you worried about, Myonri? This is tradition. Have you ever heard of the space probe they launched back when the country called America still existed? The world’s brightest scientists got together and decided the best way to contact aliens was to carve a picture of a naked man and woman into a metal plate. But since being bright doesn’t mean being a good artist, they got some complaints about spreading a poor representation of earth’s civilization.”
If you were not sure how to use the books and dolls, they would only look like detailed examples of human anatomy. With that much reference material, the little green men flying around in saucers and harassing farms could stop abducting humans and pulling out their insides. The books might even be preserved in an alien museum as anatomy textbooks. But right now Quenser had to focus on the space elevator more than the aliens who seemed to have a thing for milk and busty country girls.
He was in the middle of a war between humans.
The Mother Lady built by the Federation of Elevator Industries was right in front of him.
The wires extending all the way from the earth seemed to pierce through a giant disk-like structure that looked something like a flower with petals or like an analog clock face. A donut-shaped block for living space and cargo storage were connected to the central sphere and 8 “flower petals” extended sharply out from there. From the central sphere to the tip of the petals, it had a radius of more than 10km.
The wires seemed to “pierce through” it because they did not stop there. They continued a long, long way up into space. Space had no horizon or atmosphere, but the faint blue light of the planet got in the way, preventing Quenser from seeing the end. It was probably connected to some kind of weight, like a wire reel that was no longer in use.
The space station was located at an altitude of 36 thousand kilometers, but the wires apparently continued past 100 thousand. That was the only way for it to remain balanced, but that meant the distance from the station to the top of the elevator was about twice the distance from the ground to the station.
The moon was even further out at 380 thousand kilometers. The luxury villas disconnected from all the wars on earth seemed to be coldly staring down at the incompetent potatoes who could not stop the killing even after launching into the silence of space.
“Heh. That thing’s the world’s biggest piece of space trash,” spat Heivia.
Even now, the bluish-white rapid-fire beam weapon continued to tear through the vacuum of space to burn away the large scraps the station had created itself. The kilometers-long flower petals were covered with solar panels and had apparently been converted into weapons, so a careless look at the sharp tips could expose your eyes to the blinding light.
But just as Quenser had predicted, the weapons were only attacking the scorched hunks of metal. Once the potatoes let go and floated away, they no longer had to fear the defense weapons.
They soon arrived at the giant station that only looked like a smooth wall from the outside.
They touched it.
“God, this is terrifying!” said Heivia. “Where am I even supposed to grab this thing!? I’m gonna float away from it again!!”
“Don’t come to me for comfort just cause you’re worried. It’s creepy!!” said Quenser. “Using your extravehicular unit to press against the wall would be a waste of gas, so attach yourself with a wire!!”
Something as simple as landing proved to be a trial and error affair. Heivia seriously did end up flipping away into space, so Quenser had to seriously think for a moment whether he would grab at the filthy guy’s waist or let him fly off never to be seen again. He ultimately decided to throw over the other end of the wire he had attached to the wall, snagging it around Heivia’s leg.
Once he had finally arrived safely on the station’s wall, the idiot forgot all about saying thanks as he changed the subject.
“Pant, pant! A-anyway, where do we get in? Let’s not make our space adventures into a trilogy. We only have so much oxygen.”
“We have airtight tape. And since Cottage is still breathing, it must work. Let’s blow a hole in the airlock with a bomb and then seal it up from the inside. We need oxygen too, so no one survives if we just thoughtlessly pop the place open like a balloon.”
They had arrived at the space station, so the killer satellites defending its surroundings would have a hard time aiming for them. The Capitalist Corporations’ Federation of Elevator Industries would not want to blow a hole in the wall and dump themselves out into the vacuum of space.
Using the extravehicular activity unit’s gas for movement was not recommended, but they had no choice at the moment. Trusting that he could steal some equipment from the station, Quenser used the nitrogen gas to approach one of the large flower petals. Instead of the sharp tip, he was interested in the donut-shaped living space and cargo block located inward of the petals. He felt like a bug going for the flower’s nectar.
He pressed up against a rectangular section reminiscent of an elevator door reinforced with a rubber seal.
“Is this the airlock? I was expecting something more like a bank vault door, but this is pretty flimsy. Hey, Heivia, let me use your rifle’s sensors. I’ll check the material and thickness of the door with the ultrasound sensor and then set up the plastic explosive.”
He held out his hand while staring at the airlock and then looked over to see someone there.
They shined silver and stood over 3m tall.
It was a Capitalist Corporations powered suit used for extravehicular activity.
His mind went blank.
A beat later, a scream too high-pitched to even call girly erupted from Quensette’s mouth, signaling the beginning of a battle between Legitimacy Kingdom shoulder-fired missiles and a Capitalist Corporation shotgun.
“Stop worrying about your nitrogen supply, Quenser! Get away from that wall!!”
The Capitalist Corporations’ strategy was to cause shallow scratches over a wide area instead of concentrating penetrative power on a single point. Even if the attack did not break through the enemy spacesuit, it would still cause them to spin uncontrollably and a single pinprick in those thick plastic suits would cause the person inside to die. The conditions were entirely different from when everyone was covered in bulletproof fibers and thick armor plates. Air was the dividing line between life and death, not blood.
Shotguns could cover a wide area with a single shot, so they were the perfect choice.
With no air or gravity in space, their power was not reduced by distance.
They saw a bright muzzle flash right in front of them.
“Pull out the bullet before using the airtight tape! Those are smoke rounds, so seal it with tape now and he’ll smoke alive in his suit!!”
“Wow, it actually worked. I think he might be immortal.”
Being treated by cute Myonri was enough. A guy who could convert lust into strength in battle was unbeatable. Quenser complained about the guy’s survival, but then he heard Heivia click his tongue over the transmission.
“Dammit, I can’t get a stable trajectory with my rifle or missiles. Earth projectiles designed to be used in the air are useless!”
“Wait, you couldn’t even aim the missile you fired to save me!?”
It was just like a student from a safe country to complain after having his life saved. A child who did not know how to cook and always had his mama cook for him could never appreciate how wonderful it was to always have a homecooked meal made for you.
Were the Capitalist Corporations using shotguns because the ballistic trajectories were so unstable?
With all this tech developed for use in space, it was easy to forget they had been hiding in cracks in the ground to avoid the enemy not long ago.
“The Island Nation is the holy land of robots and they’ve also got Hollywood that insists on doing everything in full 3DCG.” Heivia sounded disgusted. “That must have influenced them. We’re in trouble cause I can’t even imagine what kind of bizarre weapon they’ll pull out next!!”
“That just means this place is a treasure trove of tech they can’t go public with. I’m gonna get a look at it and steal all their ideas. This deadly trip into space won’t be worth it otherwise.”
A powered suit was a lot better than a spacesuit, but it was still only as sturdy as an armored truck. They could be shot through with a missile or an anti-materiel rifle.
At any rate, the soldiers on the run triggered a silent explosion in space, launching the powered suit away from the station and into the emptiness beyond.
“They know we’re here now, so blow open that airlock already,” said Heivia. “Who knows how many are going to be rushing over here soon!!”
“You might want to move outside of the blast range. Unless you want to go crashing through a lunar villa’s roof, that is.”
They blew up the airlock and moved inside.
They did not have time for them all to pass through the one airlock. Luckily, there were plenty of airlocks. Once Quenser had a few more people in his, they sealed the outside door with airtight tape, pried open the inside door with some tools (because using another bomb would have killed everyone inside the airlock), and finally paid the space station a visit.
The bright white LED lights made the inside look unnaturally sterile. It was so perfect it instead looked unhealthy. It was reminiscent of a research lab deep underground where a zombie virus or something was being developed.
They were in a simple corridor, but it was as wide as a road with two lanes both ways. It followed a gentle curve, so they could not see all the way down it.
The place was unnecessarily large, evidence that they had no trouble transporting things into space. A station like this would have been unthinkable back when everything used rockets where people racked their brains to reduce the weight by even a single gram.
The space elevator was neither a train station nor a hotel, so they did not bother using centrifugal force to produce artificial gravity. Everything remained zero-g like normal.
(Zero-g like normal, huh? Humans adapt so fast.)
Quenser smiled cynically in his helmet. He hoped he would be able to stand on his own two feet once he was back on earth.
He glanced at the computer on his arm. Operating the simple screen controls was difficult with a hand larger than a baseball glove.
“There’s pressure. One atmosphere in fact, so there’s probably air.”
“Then open your helmet’s visor and prove it. I’m not about to open mine and have my head swell out and pop like a balloon.”
Heivia’s ideas of space appeared to be based on a hodgepodge of misinformation. Death in a vacuum would not be that gruesome. You would still be dead, though.
“Come to think of it, what happens when you die in space?” he asked. “There aren’t any bacteria to make you decompose out here, so would you float on outside of the solar system inside your enclosed spacesuit without ever rotting until some aliens finally picked you up???”
“You have a ton of bacteria in your gut,” replied Quenser. “Not to mention mites on your skin and cavity bacteria on your teeth. Some people will have parasites like athlete’s foot too. Once we die and our immune system shuts down, we’ll be devoured from within. Inside a sealed spacesuit, you’ll be reduced to a sticky goop made up of rotted flesh, filth, and even the squid-smelling goo in your balls. That would make for an awful surprise for the little green men who open up your suit. They’ll be wondering why the earth sent them such a cruel present.”
He made sure not to hold his breath since that could damage his lungs.
But he still wanted to preserve his suit’s oxygen tank, so he went ahead and raised his visor. If the tank did run out, he could still suffocate to death inside his spacesuit even when he was surrounded by oxygen in the safe station.
He felt dizzy the instant the outside air reached him.
“Hey, your eardrums didn’t burst, did they!?”
“I’m fine. I think it’s just my inner ear.”
He shut off the oxygen supply from the tank while he thought.
Could he find a Capitalist Corporations oxygen tank anywhere?
The two idiots searched around. This structure was generally shaped like a donut, but there were a ton of sturdy metal doors for airlocks on the outside of the metal ring. Those were connection joists for attaching additional experiment rooms.
The delinquent noble (who now removed his helmet after seeing Quenser was fine with his visor open) frowned as they checked inside those.
“Pwah. The hell? These are so boring.”
“No, they’re not. These are a treasure trove.”
The two of them had vastly different opinion on what they saw.
The experiments came in all types. The cylindrical experiment rooms were each the size of a large bus and had various company logos plastered on them. Were all those companies supporters of the Federation of Elevator Industries? The one with plants growing on steel racks protected by glass cases was probably a plant factory that grew vegetables which could be harvested dozens of times per year. In addition to food, there were frozen earthworms and slugs. Those may have been a cold sleep experiment.
(Hm? Is this the latest space trend? I could have sworn the focus was more on new alloys and microscopic chemical development.)
“Look, they’ve got drinking water.”
“Heivia, that machine recycles the astronauts’ piss with a filter.”
“Bfff!? Thank god I didn’t swallow!!”
Heivia’s over-the-top spit take made him spin around in the zero-g.
There was also a section with genetic information preserved in cold storage. Basically, it was the fertilized eggs of animals.
“This one is a zebra and this one a giraffe. There’s even a lion and a hyena.”
“What the hell’s the point? Can you order endangered species with the click of a button in the Capitalist Corporations???”
Quenser thought for a bit and then faced the machinery again.
He saw water, dirt, nutrients, and even fertilizer. A closer look showed none of it appeared to have been created in a sterile lab. The dirt had apparently just been dug up from the ground because the bags full of it still contained chunks of mold and small bugs.
“Heh,” laughed Heivia. “Do those rich bastards even want their experiments to be free of additives and agrochemicals?”
“No, wait. Is this what I think it is?”
Heivia tilted his head, but Quenser was not even looking his awful friend’s way.
“Was this for Re Terra?”
“I don’t know and I don’t care because we’re bringing this elevator down today. Here, isn’t this what we wanted? Capitalist Corporations oxygen tanks!”
In fact, there were tanks everywhere.
“Wow, the elevator sure is generous to its people. They have so much precious oxygen they can just leave it lying around like curly hairs in the corner of your room.”
“Couldn’t you at least compare it to a fire extinguisher or AED, you bastard?”
But once they actually pulled a tank out of its metal box, they found the socket did not match. These could not be attached to Legitimacy Kingdom equipment.
“These mystery hairs are completely useless! Why can’t they be more accommodating, dammit!?”
“Probably to prevent their enemy from using them. Y’know, like we’re trying to do.”
If they borrowed the lathe in one of the experiment rooms and shaved down the metal connector to match the tube’s width, they could probably get it to fit, but they were in space. They were dead if any oxygen could escape, so they were afraid to trust DIY work. Unfortunately, they would have to give up on the oxygen tanks for now.
(I have no idea if we’re making these decisions based on the reality of space or based on an idea of space born from dubious facts we picked up somewhere, but it’s our lives on the line here.)
Quenser gave a self-deprecating smile.
Taking over the space station would be their best bet, but if that did not work, they at least needed a spaceship they could stay on for longer periods of time. Either way, securing a survivable environment was top priority. Being kicked back out without any new supplies would be the worst-case scenario. Whether it was oxygen or nitrogen, if they ran out of the supplies needed to operate in space, they could not avoid drying up and dying in the emptiness out there.
“I’m honestly pretty jealous of that powered suit from before. One scratch to our spacesuits and we’re dead, so that thing must be such a relief. Maybe we can find some in storage somewhere.”
“That’s Capitalist Corporations gear,” pointed out Heivia. “Steal one and our own people will shoot you the instant you step out the door.”
For that reason, stealing just a tank or even a full spacesuit from the Capitalist Corporations would be dangerous.
“This station is more than 20km long, so it’s huge. Whether it’s manned or unmanned, they must have far more firepower than us. So where do we make our attack? If we don’t choose a specific target, they’ll use their superior numbers to surround us.”
“I’m aware of that.”
This space had no gravity, but it did have artificial air. That meant bullets produced for use on the surface would hit their targets here. With the exception of long-range sniper shots that took gravity into account.
(Mother Lady must have a power source up here as well. Otherwise, the Princess’s group could have cut their power from the ground base. Is it just those flower petal solar panels, or do they have something else? No, that won’t help. Even if I did know they have a nuclear reactor here, I wouldn’t know where in this 20km fortress it is.)
Quenser could only think of one option.
Since they lacked a detailed map of the station, they could only aim for somewhere they could generally guess was important. In other words, something that structurally had to exist.
“Let’s head to the center.”
“You wanna go straight on in without even kissing the nape or earlobe first? Got a particular target in mind?”
“No matter how big this thing is, it still needs attitude control. It isn’t a spaceship just floating out here – it’s an elevator connected to a long wire. Since the wire is 100 thousand kilometers long – a quarter of the distance to the moon – you could calculate out its natural frequency. They must have some a gyro or a pendulum that counteracts the vibration of this giant string instrument. And that has to directly interact with the wire, so it must be at the center of the station. Take that down and the vibration of the wire will tear the station apart from within.”
“Even though it’s 20km long?”
“It could be 100 or even 200km long. The size of the building doesn’t matter.”
They could use that to negotiate.
If they were going to settle in anywhere, the center of the station would be best.
Instead of running, Heivia walked along with his hand on the wall.
“Hey, how about we let the station break apart while we escape to safety in an escape pod!?”
“Sure, if you can find enough of those wonderfully convenient escape pods for everyone and prove that the station can’t fire those thick electron beams up our fleeing asses while it falls apart. Whatever we’re gonna do with this giant thing, we need to take the center if we want any bargaining chips at all.”
They heard a distant sound like thick rubber being crushed.
A six-wheeled armored vehicle appeared from around a corner of the wide corridor.
It was the size of a van.
“What the hell!? We’re inside right now!!”
Heivia shouted and immediately tried to shove the frozen skinny boy aside, but he completely forgot about the whole zero-g thing.
He could not suppress the force of his own shove without using the extravehicular activity unit on his back.
The two boys ended up floating away in opposite directions.
The armored vehicle’s machinegun gave a roar and red-hot bullets flew through the gap between them.
“That was too close!”
“Where’s Cottage!? We can test this new weapon on him!!”
Heivia was trembling behind a metal tank filled with who-knows-what, but Quenser analyzed the situation while hiding behind a pillar rising from the floor.
“The recoil didn’t push it back? Oh, I get it. That thing’s an asteroid probe. Its tires aren’t filled with air. They attach to the floor instead. Does it use suction cups? No, maybe it uses spikes similar to a cocklebur. It must be able to electrically change the angle of the spikes.”
“You’ve got a huge boner for tech! I get it already! Got any useful information for us!?”
“It looks fancy, but it’s really the same old thing.” Quenser seemed awfully calm for having an armored vehicle’s machinegun aimed at him. “They took a lightweight aluminum probe and attached some armor panels that defeat its entire purpose. Its defenses are flimsy as hell compared to a real tank and the bullets its firing are only made to ‘scratch’ the target instead of punching through them. …This isn’t anywhere near as bad as a normal battlefield. Having our spacesuits tear isn’t all that bad when we’re inside a space station full of artificial air.”
It was harmless.
It did not have a bunch of legs or antigravity tech. Forcing a new method would only lead to malfunctions, so the Federation of Elevator Industries had stuck with the tried and true standard of wheels. That suggested it also used ordinary electric power. Burning gasoline or diesel was out of the question since there was no air in space, so what else could they use? They had likely avoided anything too bizarre.
Even if they had the equipment, the other side would not want to fire anti-materiel bullets thicker than your thumb at a rate of hundreds per minute. They would not want to tear apart their space station from within after spending so much money and effort building it.
Everything was normal, ordinary, and unsurprising.
Even though they were in space. Or maybe because they were in space?
“I get your reasoning.” Heivia was still curled up behind cover. “But what are we supposed to do about it?”
“Weren’t you listening, dumbass? We fight the kind of war the Capitalist Corporations doesn’t want. Fire your gun and fill the wall to our right with holes 150m ahead of here!!”
To avoid wasting the nitrogen for his extravehicular activity unit, Heivia grabbed onto a large tank with one arm to hold himself in place while firing his assault rifle. He only held it in one hand, but that was fine when he only needed to hit the wall and not pinpoint target someone between the eyes.
The wall was blown through right next to the armored vehicle.
There were different kinds of walls on the station.
For example, there were the extra airlocks that did not yet have an additional experiment room attached.
Once there were too many holes to count on your fingers, the pressure difference tore the entire metal door away. A gust of wind formed, like air escaping a giant balloon, and it tore the nearby armored vehicle from the floor, sucking it out into the black of space.
That was a major kill for Heivia, but for once he did not brag about it.
Instead, he paled in horror at what he had done.
“Wait, wait, wait, wait!! What do we do!? What do we do now!?”
“If the Capitalist Corporations have any sense at all, their central control will close the shutter.”
There was no response.
The Federation of Elevator Industries had no sense at all.
“In that case, escape to the next block over!”
“How dumb are you!? Your plan should never be reliant on the enemy’s benevolent nature!”
The storm was rapidly expanding.
“Oh, god. It’s sucking like crazy! Once that greedy old hag gets her lips on you, she’s never letting go!!”
“Try to knock some sense back into your messed-up brain, dumbass.”
Before the air could be sucked out of their current location, the potatoes kicked off the wall, passed to the next section of the segmented corridor, and pulled the lever to manually lower a thick shutter.
They had barely escaped with their lives, but they had learned something through nearly dying.
“The Federation of Elevator Industries isn’t some unbeatable enemy.” Quenser took a deep breath to confirm that there was still air here. “The space elevator and the station up in satellite orbit are a hell of a first impression, but nothing they’ve done in this fight has been all that crazy. So far, anyway. They’re only using whatever weapons were available and they’re intentionally reducing the amount of explosives. I was afraid what we would find in a zero-g war with no Objects, but this isn’t a destructive war where everyone’s aiming nukes at everyone else to ensure their own safety.”
“We should be able to negotiate. Maybe by placating them and maybe by threatening them.”
But that did not change where they needed to go. They had to leave the donut-shaped living space and cargo area and enter the center of the elevator itself. The long, long wires would vibrate at a set frequency, so there would be a device that counteracted that. Control that, and they could begin to negotiate with the Federation of Elevator Industries that was losing more and more people because they were too worried about damaging the space station to take sufficiently strong action.
They aimed their guns at anyone they came across, but most of them were more Legitimacy Kingdom potatoes.
“Hey, Phillip. Make some kind of signal before stepping out. I nearly shot you!”
“And let everyone know it’s me in advance? They might ‘accidentally’ shoot me because of some stupid grudge they hold.”
The potatoes were indeed potatoes. Gambling and moneylending within the same unit led to mutual suspicion in a flash. A military unit meant to protect the world could be destroyed from within by a single deck of cards.
After rejoining with a few other Legitimacy Kingdom groups, Quenser and Heivia approached the center.
There was a shutter down between the areas, but the student’s plastic explosive made short work of that and they continued on.
The inside was not at all what Quenser had expected.
He had been imagining something like the bridge of a giant aircraft carrier, but the central area was more like an airport luggage management room or a drink factory. Conveyer belts with protrusions to hold them in place ran every which way, creating lanes like a highway interchange or junction. But instead of suitcases or plastic bottles, the conveyer belts were transporting large cylindrical cargo tanks.
The area was larger than a domed stadium.
A few parallel lines pierced straight down the very center of the vast space, but these were not thin threads. They were shaped like flat belts about 80cm wide and thinner than a razorblade. Needless to say, those were the elevator’s carbon nanotube wires.
But Quenser did not have time to stare at that piece of the space elevator.
A girl with a fluttering lab coat floated in the zero-g world beyond those wires that looked like a giant string instrument.
But she did not seem to be a soldier.
What kind of soldier would be dressed like that?
In what was probably the gym outfit of a safe country school, she wore a short-sleeved gym shirt and red sports bloomers. On her feet, she wore black kneesocks and functional sneakers. The baggy lab coat she wore above all that was the only thing hinting that she was a researcher.
This was a female researcher involved with the elevator.
Each of those symbols and facts danced through Quenser’s mind. Plus, a tablet floated next to the girl whose long hair and lab coat were fluttering in the lack of gravity. The alphabet stickers on the tablet’s back spelled out the name Louisiana.
The answer was right in front of him, but Quenser still blinked in confusion.
“Do you just happen to have the same name? Is this a body double? Because you can’t be her! I mean, Louisiana Honeysuckle was the girl in Braskine’s story! And it has to have been at least 4 years since he made those memories!!”
“Try 6. I went to graduate school.”
“Hm? Hmm??? But then how are you only 17? Or did you master immortality so you always look 17!?”
“I’m what they call a genius, so I skipped several years of school.”
Quenser Barbotage was not usually the type to speak ill of the dead.
He was proud of that fact, but he chose to break that rule here.
It was a reflexive response in this case.
“Braskiiiiiiiiiine!!!??? Why did you make that sound like a bitter love story!? How young a girl did you fall for you, you son of a biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiitch!!?”
“What, she’s a friend of his!?” asked Heivia while still aiming his assault rifle.
She might be a monster in the field of space technology, but it was hard to imagine that clothing had been modified to be bulletproof or blast-resistant. Nevertheless the gym clothes girl grinned and did not even put her hands up as countless guns were aimed her way.
“What’s with the weird getup?” asked Heivia.
“Oh, sorry about that. It may depend on the material, but your bra shows through some of them.”
“This isn’t a joke!!”
“This is a logical choice. Do you know how much your muscles deteriorate while living in zero-g. It also effects your calcium, so I’m worried about the strength of my bones.”
“Do you really think you’re in any position to speak on equal footing with us? Or what, do you think you can stop our bullets with some very scientific psychokinesis!?”
“PK? No, that’s a bit outside my field of expertise.”
She kept a jocular tone of voice.
Quenser sensed something more to this unusual confidence and then he gasped.
“No!! Wait, Heivi-”
A gunshot and muzzle flash burst out.
But the one who froze in terror was the very one who had fired the warning shot: Heivia.
The rifle bullet flew just a few centimeters past his head to hit the wall behind him.
“Oh, how kind of you.”
The 17-year-old girl continue smiling thinly in midair as she quietly applauded Heivia. Her shirt was not tucked in, so it floated up to reveal her shapely navel.
Evidently, she really did not need bulletproof equipment.
“If you had aimed between my eyes with that first shot, that would have killed you.”
“So even after seeing it in action, the soldier remains in his egg. That baby chick there seems to have noticed, though. These carbon nanotubes are the heart of the giant transportation infrastructure supporting this 100 thousand kilometer elevator. Mere bullets cannot tear them. If you do hit them, they will take in the bullet like a bow or slingshot and send it right back at you.”
Jack-of-all-trades Myonri had rejoined them at some point and she glanced down at the grenade on her chest. And with this many people paying Louisiana a visit, they could split into two teams and circle around from both sides, preventing the wires from acting as a shield.
“Any questions?” asked Louisiana while slowly flipping upside down.
“Was your relationship with Braskine a, uh, p-platonic one!? You didn’t throw out your inhibitions and do a lot of experimenting just because you were in college, did you!?”
“Why do you hear about a boy and girl being friends and immediately assume it’s sexual in nature? Is that just how it is with you high schoolers who run entirely on lust?”
Louisiana breathed an exasperated sigh.
Quenser’s question must not have been clever enough for her liking because the genius girl reached her slender finger toward something while still floating upside down.
“I can us these carbon nanotubes in more than just passive ways. So how about I get more aggressive this time?”
She flicked the edge of one of the belt-shaped wires. With just the one finger.
The immediate result was more like an invisible wall than a noise.
The bizarre shockwave hit the Legitimacy Kingdom potatoes, slamming all their backs against the walls and transportation equipment.
Quenser thought he was going to expel the contents of his stomach.
“The wires are wires. This facility is meant to restrict their vibration, but it can also give them a new vibration. And since this room is filled with artificial air, sound and vibrations can of course propagate through it. How do you like the music played by the world’s largest string instrument that covers a quarter of the distance from the earth to the moon?”
It was more than he could have imagined.
The very technology being used was different. Instead of supertechnology that were just guns and bombs but better, this was like being thrown into a sword and sorcery fantasy world.
The Federation of Elevator Industries was not just a single company.
It was a giant space development agency jointly funded by 7th Core, the seven large companies that controlled the Capitalist Corporations home country. Simply put, the Federation spoke on behalf of the Capitalist Corporations as a whole. It had been given funding and the latest tech from those seven monstrous companies, so of course they would have some crazy stuff.
(We were caught off guard by new tech we’d never seen before, but we’re still alive.)
Quenser forced down some sour saliva and pushed his thoughts in a positive direction.
(This isn’t like the Object wars. If we let an Object’s first attack hit us like this, the entire unit would’ve been reduced to ashes!!)
The genius girl in gym clothes and a lab coat traced her slender finger along the vibrating wire. She was looking at the carbon nanotube, not at Quenser and the others.
Guns were not a bargaining chip against her.
That extraordinary aerospace researcher had displayed something that seemed even more supernatural than psychokinesis.
“I would prefer not to use her to kill. I accept that Mother Lady is a weapon that will change the very era we live in, but I want to use it to help the Turkana District.”
“After you tricked them and stole their land for your precious elevator and then turned the whole place into a desert by sucking all the water out of the ground!?” shouted Heivia. “Your supposed philanthropy makes no sense!!”
“Re Terra.” Quenser slowly interjected while grimacing in pain. “Re Terraforming. Are you trying to give the world a single unified environment?”
He searched for the meaning of everything he had seen so far and constructed a theory he would much rather not know about.
“I saw the plants, animals, dirt, and water of the Turkana District in this space station. You plan to suck it up from the ground base and scatter it from space. Across the entire world! Then Asia, Europe, North and South America, and the rest of the world will all be remade to have the same environment as the Turkana District. You aren’t planning to alter some other planet – you’re remaking earth. Because you believe that will make every part of the world equal, regardless of terrain or environment!!”
Louisiana did not provide a real response.
Instead of a yes or a no, she brought her finger to the back of her hips. Fixing the red sports bloomers riding up in her butt was apparently more important to her than listening to the enemy.
She did not even look their way when she spoke again.
“You seem to be mistaken about some things. You shouldn’t accuse people based on groundless speculation.”
“Besides, you’re not the Faith Organization, so surely you don’t think the world will be saved if you just continue with your blind Object worship. You have no way to save the world. Rejecting someone else’s ideas without one of your own is what children do.”
The space elevator was a largescale space project meant to carry great quantities of cargo outside the atmosphere. If her plan was executed, it would be far worse than volcanic ash paralyzing a city. No matter how much the people on the surface tried to fight it, they would never catch up. Once the environment itself had been altered, the lifeforms already there would die out. Everything would be made uniform.
Slugs could not live on the dry ground and moles could not live in the hard ground. The distribution of animals could be easily controlled using soil and water quality. If you could dump dizzying amounts of it from the sky, that is.
The deep ocean bottom barely changed across the entire world, but it apparently grew deeper at a rate of 1mm every thousand years. That was supposedly due to fine cosmic dust that poured down from outside the atmosphere, but Louisiana was trying to dump meters of it in a single day.
That might increase the population of endangered animals like giraffes and lions.
But there would be no variety there. The Legitimacy Kingdom was fighting for the extremely ill-defined plan of “protecting the varied plants and animals that might be useful as a drug at some point”. What if some strange new disease was spreading and the plant or animal needed for the cure had gone extinct? A unified environment would take away crucial flexibility and might even lead to more extinctions.
And that was not an issue with the plants and animals of the Turkana District.
It would be the same no matter what part of the planet you chose. Life could not be ranked in a hierarchy – none of it was superior or inferior to anything else. If a species of wheat or grape considered the most valuable to humans was planted all across the planet, that would only increase the risk of it entirely dying out at some point. Even seemingly useless weeds and the bugs swarming below the streetlights were supporting the world in some roundabout way.
A single person would change the world.
Quite literally so. She really was going to change the planet’s environment.
(I knew Louisiana Honeysuckle was supposed to be a genius, but this is absurd!!)
Even so, if she was going to use sound, she would be bound by the nature of sound. If she was going to use wires, she would be trapped by the shape of a wire. Louisiana Honeysuckle had used her intellect to extend her reach into space where she was trying to remake the planet as a whole, but she was not a witch with a magic wand.
All of this was the result of high-level science. If they figured out how it worked, they could prevent her from using it.
“Heivia, ready your gun.”
“Wait, shouldn’t we withdraw for the time being!?”
“Louisiana is a true monster. She knows the structure of the elevator like the back of her hand, she can entirely ignore standard military tactics, and she can even use ‘magic’. Don’t carelessly try to attack her directly.”
Then was there nothing they could do?
Quenser continued before anyone could ask that question.
“But those wires are 100 thousand kilometers long and they have a known natural frequency. We knew the number from the beginning, so we know what her magic really is and interfering with it won’t be that hard!!”
“Oh, I’m shaking in my boots.”
Louisiana cowered down in an obviously performative way. That kind of confidence was terrifying. She was surrounded by dozens of soldiers who made a living killing and shedding blood, so how could she smile? If it was based on science and not groundless faith, then she had to know her tricks were not absolute.
Anyone could use science as long as they understood how it worked. That was what made it the standard most wildly supported by humanity.
“Okay, enough playing around. I should probably just play my trump card now. Time to end this romantic space story and drag it back to the boring world of the military. Development Code: Elinabell.”
The Federation of Elevator Industries had funding and technology from the seven large companies of 7th Core.
This genius and true monster had full authority over it all. She wielded a supposedly impossible privilege in the world of science that should have been equal to all. Genius.
That one word felt like an occult jinx or an invisible barrier. That researcher had everything a student like Quenser did not.
As the snap of her finger rang through the artificial air, Louisiana Honeysuckle introduced them to her insane talent.
“We have developed a Second Generation Object specifically designed for use in outer space.”
In that moment, logic vanished from the world.
Quenser’s vision returned.
But he still could not fill in the blank in the back of his mind. He could only see things in unpleasant flashes and his brain could not figure out what the colors and shapes meant.
His senses did not return for a while.
It was a weirdly pleasant feeling, like having his fingertip freed from the fishing line constricting it.
He only now realized he had been breathing rapidly, nearly to the point of hyperventilation. His helmet’s thick visor was down, but that was the correct decision. He had been thrown out into the starry sky where he could not tell up from down or judge distance or direction.
He was in outer space.
(What – dammit – what happened!? How could I be thrown out into space when I was in the middle of the space station!?)
His memories were failing him.
But instead of the memories not existing, his weak mind was refusing to recall them.
“Heivia, Myonri! Is anyone still alive!?”
There was no response.
Had they all been reduced to chunks of flesh floating out in the vacuum of space, or were they afraid sending out a signal would give away their position to the enemy?
The 7th Core’s representative.
The symbol of the Federation of Elevator Industries’ power.
He could not calm his breathing. Beads of sweat swam through his helmet and he could not even brush them away with his hand.
It was like a jigsaw puzzle or like defragging a hard disk.
The fragments he had been refusing to recall began to piece themselves together, whether he wanted it or not.
(We were caught off guard. Louisiana fixed herself in place with a carabiner and pulled a lever while laughing. That opened a smoke vent in case of fire, so we were all sucked out of the space station.)
But how had Louisiana Honeysuckle managed to catch them off guard?
That lab coat girl may have been a genius, but a large group of Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers had gathered there. She was not the star of a samurai movie, so it was unrealistic to think she could take on so many enemies at once.
Real war was much crueler and more boring.
They were not fighting in order to look cool, so that was not too surprising.
So what had happened?
There was only one thing that could allow one side of a battle to crush the other: sending in greater firepower. It was a simple but absolute law.
(She did something…and then the whole station shook violently. Which distracted us enough for her to catch us off guard.)
Pain flashed in the back of his mind. The blinding light was coming from his brain, not his eyes. Was it really this painful to recall a traumatizing experience?
He did not want to believe it.
He did not want to accept that was real.
But his head moved all on its own. It turned. He could not fight the ultimate charisma carried only by the strongest weapon.
There it was.
It was a few kilometers away, which was nothing in space.
It was more than 50m tall.
He saw a colossal nuke-resistant mass.
The spherical main body was covered with so many laser beams and plasma cannons it looked like a sea urchin or a chestnut burr. The most notable trait was the large half-circle piece attached around the main body. That bridge piece was fixed in place like headphones and had cylindrical tanks attached at even intervals.
The large rings on the back and bottom of the main body appeared to be the propulsion devices.
But they seemed insufficient to support its 200 thousand ton weight. The rings probably had some kind of engine equipped at even intervals for a multipurpose attitude control device that could act as retrorockets as well.
“She cut her precious daughter loose from its huge umbilical cord,” said a dazed voice over the radio. It was Heivia. “Where the hell was that thing in the elevator!? In a higher station? Or in the weight at the top!?”
“How should I know!? And that isn’t what matters!!”
Quenser could not imagine what this thing would do.
What kind of main cannon did it have? What kind of propulsion did it use? Were its armor panels and reactor different from the surface Objects? What kind of tactics would it use?
It was right in front of him, but the information refused to enter his head.
“Stay low. We need to withdraw. Find something to hide behind!!”
“That’s useless against an Object. What good is playing hide-and-seek with that thing!?”
Only the sounds of lives being shredded shook his eardrums and then his entire body too.
Then he realized this should not have been possible in space.
(I can…hear them? I’m in a vacuum, but I can hear the sounds directly???)
This was not reaching him through his communicator. He could tell the physical voices were reaching him. It was just like a movie or game where firing a laser beam filled outer space with noise.
He heard an odd sound of ejection.
It came from that Object. It had a main cannon on either side, but instead of from the front, some kind of gas was being ejected from small holes covering their sides.
He thought this had to be some kind of joke.
But that nightmarish waste of resources did not vanish from his view.
7th Core and the Capitalist Corporations as a whole had sent this monster out into the world.
The Federation of Elevator Industries was not your normal organization. That much had been obvious ever since Louisiana Honeysuckle made an appearance, but the nightmare had taken physical form here.
The vacuum of space was such a basic and fundamental concept, yet it had been shattered with a single attack.
“Are you insane!? That Object controls oxygen in the vacuum of space!?”
The sound of burning metal reached him.
It was like hearing a cheap cigar lighter.
But this was concentrated oxygen filling deadly outer space. Some of the soldiers had to be breathing a sigh of relief when they did not die after their spacesuit tore or helmet broke. Was there really enough oxygen there to have some level of atmospheric pressure???
They were surrounded by lifegiving oxygen.
That very oxygen was used as fuel for a fire hot enough to melt steel.
There were screams.
Those death cries normally would not have reached him through the vacuum of space, but he could not get them out of his ears or brain.
“Ah, ahh, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!?”
He was on the outer edge of the oxygen area, so he was flipped over and thrown beyond the reach of the explosive flames. The flames had not hit him directly, but he still would have been roasted by the heat if not for his heat-resistant spacesuit.
He could not perform the calculations necessary to determine if this was possible with just oxygen.
It may have also used some other gas like hydrogen or acetylene. But it was not the technological issues that left him speechless.
He saw countless spheres the same color as flesh floating around.
It took him a second to realize that was the result of human flesh being liquefied, gathering together in zero-g, and then cooling. It had long been said that people became stars in the sky when they died, but that had finally been made a reality with technology. But this was not something anyone had wanted to be real. In contrast to the original saying, the reality had no hint of dignity or respect to be found. They were just round blobs. People were reduced to things. No more and no less.
This was not the only way to use oxygen.
It could be used to burn, to cool, and to oxidate. Since the Object had a near endless supply of the element necessary to maintain life, it could also be using some kind of biological weapon. Like a microbe that eats aluminum or a larva that chews through plastic.
The Capitalist Corporations had completed their space elevator.
They had carried materials into space for war.
Was this why they had needed so many supplies in space that they needed to build Mother Lady?
“A Second Generation built for use in space?” groaned Frolaytia Capistrano in the civilian space base in the distant Amazon District of South America.
Their Object was in Africa. Their First Generation could intercept ballistic missiles, but the Baby Magnum could not hit the Capitalist Corporations Second Generation from the ground.
(All seven 7th Core companies paid obscene amounts of money to build that thing up in space, but what do they hope to use it against? The killer satellites are sufficient if they only want to take down enemy satellites and control the wireless data network. Are they hoping to attack the lunar villas, or do they think they need to fight space aliens???)
The busty silver-haired commander reminded herself of the forces available to her while she stared at her laptop. She had sent a request for emergency support from their home country, but (as expected) that was not looking promising. Every minute and every second counted, but after spending 10 minutes trying to get through, she had only received a single sentence in response: “The Federation of Elevator Industries’ new Object has been given the enemy codename of World’s End.”
(World’s End, huh? They do love their dark humor, giving that name to an oxygen-controlling Object. If we define the “end” of the world as the farthest territory filled with breathable air, then that thing’s location is indeed the world’s end.)
Of course, humanity was observing more than just the planet they had been born and raised on. They were observing outer space in several ways, including radar and radio telescopes. If a 50m mass had been floating out there, it would have led to a number of UFO sightings.
(There was apparently another station located higher up the space elevator than the main one in geostationary orbit. The Object was probably constructed in there.)
“What should we do?”
“Sit tight, Princess. You need to wait. We can’t launch the Baby Magnum into space even with that elevator.”
“That isn’t what I meant. Is there anything we can do from the ground base?”
“Hm,” thought Frolaytia while holding the long, skinny kiseru in her mouth.
Mother Lady was controlled by the Capitalist Corporations out in space, not the Legitimacy Kingdom on the surface, but did that meant there was nothing at all they could do?
“Okay, I have an idea you can try out, Princess. The elevator’s wires are carbon nanotubes, so they’re made from carbon. We can use that to-”
Just as the capable woman was sending out a command to help regain control of the situation, her laptop screen unnaturally froze up.
Her lit kiseru nearly fell from her mouth, so she had to quickly grab it in both hands. But nothing else changed. It was hard to tell with the Princess’s constantly blank expression, but the communication window had completely frozen.
The connection icon on the edge of the screen had zero bars, so no signal.
Military lines had multiple communication methods set up in parallel and it was set to automatically switch over if one of them went down, yet she had nothing at all now.
With modern information technology, it was perfectly possible to command a team in Africa and a team in space from the Amazon District, but there was nothing she could do if communication trouble cut off all of her data.
But would the officers whose hearts were more sensitive than a rabbit’s take those circumstances into account? Those people who never left their home country desks tended to ignore the risks they were demanding and then shoved all responsibility onto the local commander once something went wrong. And after setting up that kind of insurance, they would never allow any damage to their own reputations. So even if they understood the circumstances, they would pretend not to.
Frolaytia knew she was in serious trouble.
She messed with the settings, held her head in her hands, and then placed the laptop on the floor, touched the edge of it with one hand, and stretched her other arm and her legs horizontally with her hips still bent within her tight skirt.
Was this a rhythmic gymnastics stretch, or was it a dancing sunflower toy of an older age?
At any rate, she wiggled her body in that mystery pose.
Since she was alone, she did not bother worrying about her short tight skirt.
“Nh, nhhhhhhhh? Please! Come back, signal! Save my career!! Please! I don’t want to be demoted and sent to some godforsaken part of the world for something as dumb as thiiiis!!”
Was it less pathetic to pray to god or to try becoming a human antenna? Since there was no one else around, spoiled Frolaytia tearfully went for the ultimate answer of both. However…
“Excuse me, Major Capistrano.”
“Bwahhhh!!!??? Cough, cough, ahem!? …Do you need something?”
After clearing her throat in a “speak a word about this and you’re dead meat” sort of way, she turned around in a composed fashion.
The intellectual girl (age 12) who had skipped so many grades she had ended up in the electronic simulation division was still tilting her head in confusion.
“We have detected high-power wide-range jamming from ultra-high altitude. The Federation of Elevator Industries is likely responsible. The jamming signal is being blindly sent down from space, so it is unlikely they have located us here. But just in case they do begin an orbital bombardment, you should hurry to the tank base’s heavily-armored operation command vehicle.”
“Curse the Capitalist Corporations. This was a cheap shot!!”
It made sense. Why else would she not have received a single bar of signal after selling off her pride and stretching her arms and legs out like that? All that embarrassment for nothing!
“It defeats the purpose of a laptop, but you can attach a wire to recover communications. Using the undersea fiber optic cable network, you can contact the team in Africa. And the Baby Magnum’s powerful communication equipment can break through the jamming to communicate with those in space. In other words, no good luck rituals are necessary in this case.”
“Then get communications back up pronto. And I wasn’t doing anything!!”
Unable to restrain the heat rising from within her body, Frolaytia shouted (in a display of childishness greater than the 12-year-old).
The Legitimacy Kingdom response to being shamed was to retaliate 100-fold, so the major renewed her resolve toward this harsh and dangerous war: Don’t think you’re getting off with just having to dance in the nude.
“Hee hee. I sometimes rely on good luck rituals too. Like when I’m baking something in the oven while off duty and the tablet displaying the recipe site freezes.”
“Please stop. I don’t want to hit a 12-year-old, so use that genius brain of yours to figure out when to hold your tongue!!”
Death was approaching.
It could hardly have been closer in this zero-g space that barely felt real.
Quenser could not even think about the space elevator or the plan to unify the earth’s atmosphere. Not when his survival one second from now was far from guaranteed.
“What the hell are we supposed to do?”
A radio transmission suddenly reached his spacesuit’s helmet.
It was from his awful friend Heivia.
“The World’s End? I don’t want its name! I want to know what to do about it! Was that one staticky transmission all we get!? No one told me they had an Object! We don’t have any equipment capable of taking that thing down, you idiots!!”
(Then stop sending out this meaningless transmission, you true idiot!! Do you want it to detect your location!?)
Quenser did not dare send out a warning.
This Generation Two space Object was bizarre even for the Capitalist Corporations.
It was fundamentally different from the traditional Objects that traveled along land or sea. It lacked a system for keeping its 200 thousand ton weight afloat, so no air cushion engine and no static electricity propulsion device. It had ring-like parts on the back and bottom of its spherical main body, but they looked too delicate. The exact system was unknown, but those had some sort of propulsion device attached at even intervals which were likely used for attitude control and as both rockets and retrorockets.
The central main body had an additional component attached like headphones or like a hagoromo from Island Nation mythology and that component had cylindrical tanks attached at even intervals. Its primary weapons were the pressurized oxygen nozzles extending from either side. It controlled massive amounts of oxygen in the vacuum of space to burn away all enemies in the ultimate act of waste and luxury.
The propulsion devices attached on the ring-like units behind and below it could apparently all be moved separately.
Whether they used oxygen, ions, photons, or jets, those were likely used for attitude control, acceleration, deceleration, and turning. Its main cannons could melt armor, but they may have been able to emit different amounts of oxygen from both sides to rotate the enemy.
(The Capitalist Corporations includes the Island Nation that’s gone mostly isolationist, doesn’t it?)
(Is it supposed to look like their Fujin and Raijin? Dammit, this is why it isn’t healthy to have enough money and talent to actually build every little idea that occurs to you!!)
And he did not have time to just sit there observing it.
He could not escape the Object’s attacks by spinning defenselessly around in empty space. Before even thinking about winning this, he had to find a shield capable of protecting him or he would die.
He heard what sounded like a soda being opened but much louder.
That was the oxygen.
If that sound could reach him, then there was enough oxygen for the sound to propagate through.
“The space station.”
He grabbed the grip connected to his extravehicular activity unit by a cable.
He knew it was risky, but he still gave a shout.
“Listen, you don’t have to respond. Doing so would only tell it where you are. That damn thing won’t want to destroy its own home base!! So use your nitrogen or whatever else to get over there. Hurry!!”
The student was traveling toward the giant donut-shaped space station’s wall even as he sent the message. Specifically, toward the back side of a giant parabolic communication antenna sticking out from the gently curving wall.
His reasoning had to be correct.
One look at the sun was enough to tell, but heat traveled differently in space. Instead of heating the air or water, the sunlight was emitted as rays of heat and anything they shined on would receive that energy. In other words, it happened directly. Structures built for space would be made to reflect the radiation that caused machine malfunctions and health problems, so the station would reflect infrared.
The invisible oxygen that normally represented life could move behind anything in the way.
When the oxygen was ignited, some of the spacesuited soldiers were roasted despite using one of the container-shaped experiment modules as cover. The flames moved like a chameleon’s tongue to accurately capture its prey.
That was less than 20m from Quenser. On the astronomical scale of outer space, that distance was razor thin.
The scream that reached the student’s ears belonged to Cottage who had survived so many seemingly hopeless situations before. Not even the miracle boy was a match for that Object. He was killed before he could even fantasize about a medical girl. Quenser actually had trouble telling whether that had been a human scream or simple noise from the heat destroying the communication equipment.
Only a few round blobs remained afterwards.
It was those balls with the same color as flesh.
The exact same tragedy had repeated itself. This was a stabilized form of hell.
People were robbed of their dignity and reduced to mere things. It felt like getting a glimpse of a factory production line that automatically processed human bodies into leather bags.
“We can’t last like this.”
Peeping Tom Heivia defeated the entire purpose of hiding by complaining over his radio. Maybe he feared the stress would destroy his heart if he did not.
“For one, we can barely move! These extravehicular activity units are only meant to stabilize us – they aren’t rocket boosters. If we try to use them like that, we’ll run out of nitrogen in no time. Then we’ll be stuck spinning endlessly through space. Even after we die!!”
The Object would send out just enough oxygen for the flames to reach the soldiers hiding behind cover but not enough that it would destroy the heat and radiation-resistant space station’s hull. It only had to repeat that process to eliminate all of the aphids crawling on its precious flower. As huge as it was, it was surprisingly good at delicately adjusting its power. That meant Quenser and the others could not use the elevator, the space station, or any other Mother Lady facilities as hostages.
(What do we do?)
Quenser could not calm his breathing or even wipe the sweat from his face. It occurred to him that he might be able to breathe right now if he removed that troublesome helmet, but if that were true, it would mean having his flesh and even bone roasted away by a brutal flamethrower a moment later.
(How can we possibly survive this!? That thing’s an Object, so not even a nuke could destroy it. We couldn’t even scratch it if we fired our peashooters at it while carefully keeping our balance out in space!!)
Flames exploded not far away from him. They was more distance this time, so the oxygen must have run out while it was spreading in a marble pattern. He could not hear the explosion, so it had the same empty feeling of watching an old silent film. But the lives being burned away were 37th soldiers in the same uniform as him.
“Can’t we contact the Princess who must be itching to join the fight down there!?” said Heivia. “She has to be directly below us since she was protecting the elevator’s ground base!”
“You heard all that noise in her long-range transmission, didn’t you? Not even an RC toy would work out here! Besides, do you really think her attacks could reach up here even if we did contact her? We’re 36 thousand kilometers up, so nearly the entire circumference of the earth! And that distance is straight up for her!!”
“What about her anti-air laser beams?”
“Even the old-fashioned ballistic missiles only flew at around 3000km up, so this is another world altogether!!”
In fact, they had to pray that the Capitalist Corporations Second Generation World’s End did not have any ground-attack weapons. If it could launch an Object-level bombing from satellite orbit, the Princess would be unilaterally destroyed. From the BCE wars when boiling water or quicklime were dropped from atop cliffs to modern wars where the terrain could be permanently changed with the tap of a touchscreen, holding the high ground had always provided a significant advantage.
But now was not the time to be worried about her.
It was Quenser’s group that was being directly targeted right now. Only Object-level firepower could blow away an Object. They knew they were asking for the impossible, but if they could not procure some firepower on that level for themselves, they would be destroyed by that 200 thousand ton weapon.
“What do we do!?”
The Princess yawned like a sunbathing cat in the middle of the vast empty desert of Africa’s Turkana District. She was in the cockpit of the First Generation Baby Magnum.
She had gotten bored of watching desert reference footage while eating popsicles from the freezer behind her seat. Her stomach was feeling kind of full.
(I’d really like something a little more interesting. Like a shaved ice machine. Or a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of a large frappe with iced milk tea on top of that.)
The old maintenance lady spoke to her over the radio.
“Stay focused, Princess.”
“I can see in the data when you snap back to focus like that. Your vitals don’t lie.”
The ground base at the bottom of the Mother Lady space elevator was stationary. The Capitalist Corporations’ Federation of Elevator Industries had provided generous amounts of money and supplies to win over the local guerillas and us them to defend the elevator. Now that the Legitimacy Kingdom had taken the ground base, there had been concerns that they would be worn down by never-ending attempts to retake the base, but that had not happened.
The only attacks came from the occasional mortar shells.
That was nothing to fear with an Object’s anti-air lasers that could accurately shoot down a MIRV long-range ballistic missile attack that scattered countless warheads through the air. When the explosives flew in like a long throw in baseball, she shot them down easier than clay pigeons at a shooting range. Sending in an Object had helped immensely. The Capitalist Corporations had thought they could use the guerillas as disposable pawns, but the locals were not rushing in to attack anymore.
The Princess rapidly moved her eyes behind her goggles.
But she was not accurately tracking explosives tearing through the air.
“Hey, how many different birds are there in the Turkana District?”
“According to a conservation group’s records, there are 150 species of wild bird…although this data is from before the rapid desertification. Why? Explosives disguised as birds have existed as far back as ancient China, so did you find a special drone?”
(So I’ve found half of them. Now, where are the other half?)
The old maintenance lady’s worries were unfounded because the Princess was locking onto every bird-sized reading and marking them down. Once she got bored with that, she planned to scale the radar down to the insect level. The guerillas must have had their spirits broken and given up on even the mortar attacks because those were the only things she could find in the air here.
It was strange.
This elevator was sponsored by the entire Capitalist Corporations and had been constructed with joint funding from 7th Core.
Surely there was more than just the guerillas making cautious attacks with borrowed weapons. When was the ultimate Capitalist Corporations Generation 2 going to arrive from beyond the horizon? The Princess yawned again while filling in her hand-drawn bird encyclopedia.
(Do I not even get to fight this time?)
“Yawwwwn… This peace is boring me to death.”
Quenser felt like the fear was going to awaken something inside him.
The chattering of his teeth was so loud and irritating. He tried to hold his jaw to stop it, but the round helmet got in the way.
He shouted into his helmet’s mic despite the risk.
“I’m going to detonate it. Hold onto something for support, everyone!!”
There was no sound.
The outer wall of the space station was destroyed. With their shuttle destroyed, Quenser’s group had nowhere else to go. If they overdid it and the station fell apart, they could only wait for their oxygen to run out. But if the station held together, they would have created a bunch of debris out in space.
Their extravehicular activity units for attitude control could not provide long-range movement like boosters, but what if they grabbed onto that scattering debris to “hitch a ride”?
“Dammit, they have a cutting-edge Object while we’re stuck surfing on metal scraps!?” complained Heivia.
“Sometimes a dress made by patching together newspapers found at the park can be sexier than full silk mourning clothes. If you don’t like it, then use that extravehicular activity unit of yours, Heivia. Now get going!!”
“I can’t stop trembling!!”
“So what? It’s the same as a baseball. Check the speed with an IR laser and then grab onto a safe piece of debris!!”
Quenser shouted those instructions while clinging to a thin panel about the size of a tatami mat. That finally allowed him to move. The piece of debris could only move in one direction, so he would have to jump to another piece if he wanted to change directions.
The World’s End space Object did not seem troubled.
He heard a gas being expelled. And since it reached his ears…
“Eek, here it comes!” said Heivia. “It’s that oxygen. Did it light the deadly fuse sticking out from its ass!? We’ll all be roasted!!”
“Shut up! I know that!!”
Quenser shouted back, stuck a pen-shaped electric fuse into a clay-like Hand Axe plastic explosive, and threw it. He used his radio to detonate it once it was suitably far away.
The resulting explosion resembled a thermobaric bomb and was large enough to engulf an entire city. His personal equipment could never have caused that. It had used the oxygen. But he had detonated it before the oxygen could reach them, so no one was hit by the flames.
Quenser breathed a sigh of relief even though he still could not wipe the sweat from his brow.
He was alive. His theory had preserved his life. He was not a chained-up pet dog that shoved its face in a bowl of food placed in front of it at a set time every day. He thought for himself to survive. That was the human way to live.
“The oxygen doesn’t care who you are or why you detonate it. If we can ignite it before their Pilot Elite, we can trigger the explosion when we want.”
The oxygen was consumed by the explosion, so they could eliminate its power over them by burning it all away before it spread too far.
The oxygen was so frightening because it was invisible, but they could take advantage of the short lag between releasing it and igniting it.
Was the Object not using its laser beams or other secondary cannons because of the oxygen? Those were never meant to aim for such small targets anyway, so it would not want to ignite the oxygen at an unexpected point.
“The earth is covered in oxygen, but that doesn’t mean you can just make the whole atmosphere explode. It has to be concentrated pretty heavily and mixed with hydrogen or acetylene to be weaponized like this. Don’t panic just because you can hear sound in space, Heivia. There’s nothing to fear if it can’t reach that deadly concentration!!”
“But how are we supposed to know if it’s reached that point!? That’s as ill-defined a standard as saying it’s healthy to play with yourself ‘in moderation’! How much is too much!?”
What mattered was that the World’s End was an Object that used large quantities of oxygen.
It could not create oxygen out of nothing in the vacuum of space. Maybe it used electrolysis on large quantities of water and maybe it had the oxygen compactly stored in liquid or solid form at an extreme low temperature, but if it did have it stored in those tanks, they only had to destroy those.
The obvious target here were those cylinders arranged around it like the drums of the Island Nation’s Raijin.
“As cutting-edge or bizarre as that thing is, it’s basically a giant flamethrower, right? Let’s set fire to the enormous flammable tanks on its back and crash it into a lunar villa.”
“And how do you propose we do that!? That’s a nuke-resistant Object!!”
Quenser ignored the complaints. There was no path to survival that way. If they wanted to live, they had to push past the panic, keep thinking, and challenge their own fear. If they stopped thinking, they would either stop moving and become a stationary target, or they would charge in toward certain doom based on thoughtless emotion. They had to be brave but still rationally face the reality before them. Only those who never gave up on making progress could grab at the lifeline dangling before their eyes.
(It doesn’t move all that nimbly for an Object. Is it afraid of knocking some debris into the station it’s supposed to be protecting?)
Whatever the reason, it presented an opportunity.
Quenser moved between a few different pieces of debris larger than an Island Nation tatami mat in order to approach the Object’s surface.
If he was going to pull out a plastic explosive, it had to be here.
“Here goes. This is your only chance to see how it’s done!!”
He threw the clay.
Just as he placed his fat finger on the detonation switch, he sensed a disturbing pressure. He felt someone’s gaze crawling across him.
He was not scorched by an invisible laser beam and he was not turned into space garbage by a tackle from that 200 thousand ton weapon.
He heard a gross sound.
He looked down at his right arm. From the wrist to the elbow, the supposedly polished spacesuit was turning black.
It really was oxygen. The spacesuit was designed for use in a vacuum, so it never should have taken this sort of damage.
There was a reason the spacesuit with over ten layers was also polished bright. It could not deflect the sun’s heat rays or radiation without that. At this rate, he would lose his life to the fury of nature. Invisible poisons would kill him.
He suppressed the rising fear, clenched his teeth, and pressed the switch.
The sound did not reach him.
His vision spun around, but he was certain the explosion had directly hit the headphone or bridge-like part that connected Raijin’s drums in a half circle.
“This doesn’t have to break the tanks. It only has to send a shock through them to reach the internal pipeline connecting them!!”
“What good is that? A shock? You think pressing a massager against that Object is enough for her hips to give out!?”
“Whether it’s from a solid or a liquid, the World’s End has its oxygen compactly stored in a different form at ultra-low temperature. That means it has to convert it back into a gas to use it.”
He tried to hang on, but it was no use.
The piece of debris slipped from his hands and he could only flail his limbs in search of another piece.
“That means we should be able to do the same thing that causes car engines to stall. Mix some air bubbles in with the liquid and it’ll malfunction. So shaking the pipe isn’t useless. We can’t destroy it and we can’t tear it away, but a small impact should still trigger a malfunction!!”
Heivia, Myonri, and some others must have followed him because he saw some poorly-guided missiles flying toward the Object.
Just then, the World’s End quickly changed direction.
The action sent a stir through its surroundings. Specifically, the killer satellites equipped with four arms below its solar panels responded to its presence and approached.
Maybe the space Object was considered an enemy because it had never meant to be sent out to fight and thus was not registered in their systems, or maybe their sensors had malfunctioned from the heat. Either way, the weapons loaded with explosives crashed into the surface of the 50m Object.
Countless explosions followed.
Quenser had already been spinning, but now he was given an additional twist in an unnatural direction. He tried using his extravehicular activity unit, but the brakes would not work. However, he must have been thrown toward the space station. He did not have time to measure their relative speed with a laser, so he just grabbed at something hard with his flailing right hand. It was probably the remains of some cargo materials used when sending the killer satellites out into space from the station. He clung to the large piece of debris that resembled a metal wall.
The Object was surrounded by explosive flames, metal balls, and all sorts of debris, but it was unharmed.
“It didn’t work at all,” lamented Heivia, wherever he was at the moment, but his voice was drowned out by another sound.
It was the sound of highly concentrated oxygen being released into the vacuum. They did not have time to let the failure bother them. The next attack had already begun.
And since Quenser could hear the oxygen, it must have reached him.
He quickly pulled out some Hand Axe.
“It lured in all those killer satellites and let them explode,” continued Heivia. “Just so it could blast the fleas off of itself!! There’s no way we can make it malfunction with an external impact!!”
Quenser was still unsure what to do when the city-sized explosion erupted.
Louisiana Honeysuckle heard a quiet electronic beeping.
That girl in short-sleeved gym clothes and a lab coat was riding a bicycle. Really, she had only used the station’s cargo sorting system to bring a container loaded with a training bike to the center of the elevator. With a 20km diameter, she could never live there comfortably without a system that allowed her to transport entire rooms.
This was the elevator terminal at the center of the safe and comfortable donut-shaped station. The terminal alone was larger than a domed stadium, but it may have been more like a switchyard since it included the cargo management and the elevator car maintenance and cleaning.
They did not have to worry about weight since the station had no gravity, so unlike a switchyard, the materials and pathways were stacked vertically as well.
(Today’s quota is 30km. They say every part of the human body has its purpose, but when you look at the cellular level, it’s packed full of unnecessary functionality. Just like a computer sold for cheap at an electronics store.)
She whispered to herself while pedaling the bike and sending small beads of sweat out into the zero-g air.
“Shouldn’t be long now,” said the genius girl who had conquered space before anyone else.
The Legitimacy Kingdom intruders might think the Capitalist Corporations had used the space elevator as camouflage for constructing a space Object, but it was actually the opposite. She had been unable to receive funding to simply build the elevator, so she had needed to rework the plan into a military context.
That was where her much older brother Sladder Honeysuckle had failed.
He had dedicated his life to the mass driver system and, once that had been rejected, he had chosen to leave the Capitalist Corporations as a whole. There was nothing wrong with carrying your own ideals about space, but let them control you and you could never make them a reality. Louisiana had possessed the flexibility to allow her ideals to be clouded by compromise.
As the name suggested, the Federation of Elevator Industries was dedicated to the construction and use of the space elevator. As long as she never lost sight of that, she could stay true to her ideals.
She was indebted to the Turkana District. So much so that she had known it had to be the location of the elevator she had bet her entire life on. Yes, that choice may have caused some suffering for the local people, but she would repay them in time. All the necessary calculations were already complete in her head.
She had intended to empty her mind while pedaling the bike, but the simple task had instead turned her focus inwards.
A former schoolmate of hers had lamented the lack of medicine.
His name was Braskine Mintfrappe.
Why were Africa and Europe so different? What made the deserts of Africa so different from the deserts of North America? The two of them had given much thought to those environmental and geographical issues. His straightforward sincerity had drawn her to him.
But that would soon end.
She would correct the world’s problems. She would make it all equal. To those in need, it would come as a blessing. To those blessed with plenty, it would come as a crisis. How would this day be recorded in history? She continued down this path because she believed most would rejoice.
(They must have already noticed. Since there’s still no sign of Object reinforcements sent in from the Capitalist Corporations home country, the higher ups must not have found as much strategic value – and thus attraction – as they had hoped.)
“Sigh. Oh, it’s you, Silk S.”
The small LCD screen in the middle of the steering wheel changed to display someone’s face.
This was one of her contacts in 7th Core, the seven companies who funded the Federation.
She stopped pedaling but remained on the bike as she pulled up the chest of her gym shirt to wipe off her face.
“Don’t you have that incompetent president to look after?” she said.
“The baby just had his milk and went to sleep. I mean, we’re talking about the emperor who still hasn’t noticed his lack of clothes – not that his company has been issuing tons of bogus stock and not that his company has been ‘hollowed out’ by selling off all of his buildings and factories behind his back. The ‘deals’ he thinks he’s making are no more real than a board game.”
“You’re a scary woman.”
Louisana’s tone remained light and she did not seem to care that pulling up on the shirt brought her shapely navel into view.
But light as her tone was, she did mean it.
This meant that one of the most famous companies in the world had no products or assets left. It simply continued scattering bogus stock to gather money from the world’s investors while selling the corporate group’s countless facilities and personnel to other companies to illicitly absorb double the profit. That was this secretary’s true job.
And yet the brand name kept its world-famous reputation.
It overpowered countless other companies with nothing but lies.
Louisiana caught her breath, squeezed the handlebars tight, and began pedaling with her slender legs.
“The Wendigo Vehicle Group has a market cap of 6 trillion dollars. The company is large enough to influence the value of the dollar, yet its actual total assets amount to a shocking 0 cents? If those furious investors saw your HQ now, they’d probably fall on their asses in shock. I mean, every floor except for the president’s office is nothing but empty offices with nothing but landline phones inside.”
“If they discovered it, they would abandon the emperor in his new clothes and escape while they still could, but it looks like they won’t even have that opportunity.”
“Let’s not forget that he’s the man who rose to being one of the most powerful people in the Capitalist Corporations by gathering nonexistent mining rights, wills, and land deeds and then gathering money from the world’s investors with fictional deals made with bogus stock and presentations for nonexistent new projects. He started with a paper company that didn’t do anything and continued buying up rival companies until he had reached a position in 7th Core. And you’re the woman who pampered him to the point he lost it all without even noticing.”
“He makes for a decent shield.”
“See, this is why you’re a scary woman.”
The two women shared a bewitching laugh.
Even if this conversation were being recorded and reached that president, he would immediately conclude it was an insulting forgery. That was how thoroughly he had been “educated”.
That skilled secretary was known as the Silk Spider.
No one knew her real name. Not Louisiana, and not anyone in the major company where she worked as a strategic secretary. The company server listed her as a Serenade Blackrose, but that was a common fake name. She was shrouded in mystery, but no one dared risk the consequences of carelessly trying to discover more about her. If you wanted to avoid being forever known on the seedier side of the internet for your role in a video that shocked the world, the wise choice was to let those mysteries remain mysteries.
“Not long now,” said Silk S.
“No,” agreed Louisiana while continuing to pedal and sending jewels of sweat out into the zero-g around her. “And all because you turned a blind eye to what I was doing.”
“Doing accounting day in and day out is so boring, so every once in a while, I like to cheer myself up with an unprofitable fireworks show.”
“I’m glad you gave me that honor.”
7th Core was made up of seven companies.
This one had been hijacked by a faceless villainess, but the other six had their own plans. They were all likely involved in some equally complicated situation that had no connection to what their business ostensibly was.
They would normally be terribly particular about the accounting, yet they had still provided the vast sum needed for constructing the elevator. That suggested the executives did have their concerns about the world. Hopefully, that would be enough to solve the problem. But even if the elevator failed to live up to expectations, it could still be reused for military purposes and pay back far more money through lucrative wars.
In a way, it was very simple.
Her brother had been the kind of eccentric genius who refused to compromise on his principles, so this had been more than he could bear. Louisiana, on the other hand, simply saw it as something she could easily control.
That may have been why the siblings never worked together on a single project.
“I have high hopes for you,” said Silk S.
“Hopes for what? For me to save the world?”
“For you to prove that the machinations of a single individual can defeat all the boring numbers.”
Louisiana smiled while sipping a sports drink from a bottle through a straw.
And she spoke the forbidden words.
“Haven’t you already proven that? You have earned the title of International Eater by taking over an international company all on your own, after all.”
“Hee hee. Not all successful people enjoy the loneliness at the top. I would love to have some company as I look down on the world from such heights. I am praying that company can be you. Bye.”
That was the end of it.
Silk S had not discussed business in any way. It seemed like a meaningless transmission that only brought risk. That secretary used a real war to satisfy her personal enjoyment and set the world in motion for her own entertainment while making sure her name would never go down in history.
So Louisiana had no real reason for her suspicions here.
She stopped pedaling and thought to herself in the bike seat.
(She made it sound like their CEO is going to break soon. Damn you, Silk S. Are you stirring up trouble to find your next target? But what greater mark is there than 7th Core?)
She shook her head.
She shook away those worthless thoughts.
If she was going to let her mind wander, she could guide it in a more meaningful direction.
(Sladder, you failed.)
She bluntly assessed her own brother.
That other genius had only ever focused on himself, so he had failed to become an Eater. He had failed to escape being one of those who was chewed up and spit out by society.
But scientists could still see beauty in a snow crystal or extremely simple equations. And they could also detest efficiency and consumption at times.
(That is why I will be the one who conquers space. Even you should be able to accept your failure if I am the one to defeat you.)
She sighed and looked to the heart of the space elevator. A few carbon nanotube wires were lined up in parallel like a 100 thousand kilometer string instrument.
She would take victory for herself and this toy was necessary for that.
(I need to settle this while they’re busy playing with the Second Generation Elinabell. I acquired my elevator by compromising my ideals and allowing some flies in the ointment. …To do that, I had to deceive the people trying to preserve their simple way of life in the Turkana District and take their land from them. They’ve been forced to endure so much hardship up to this point, so it’s time someone finally rewarded them in some way.)
She began pedaling hard and pushed her body so the simple action and faint exhaustion would direct her thoughts inwards.
She thought back to her memories of the Turkana District and of her old friend.
She would repay them. By correcting the world’s mistake.
All alone in the enormous core of the elevator, she smiled with the look of a mischievous child in her eyes and spoke as a different type of genius from her brother.
“Time for the world’s largest concert.”
He was spinning.
Quenser Barbotage’s vision was spinning.
The timing of the explosion must have been altered. The World’s End used oxygen, but that oxygen would detonate the same no matter who ignited it. So if Quenser threw a plastic explosive to ignite the oxygen before it had spread out as much as the Pilot Elite wanted, he could alter how far the explosion reached.
He heard a few cracking sounds like someone stepping on thin ice. Something white obscured the left half of his vision, like he had run into a spider web. He rubbed at his face out of instinctual disgust, but that changed nothing. He could not wipe this away.
They were cracks.
His helmet’s visor had been damaged. When he began to imagine what would happen if it broke and lost its airtight seal, intense static filled the back of his mind.
He could feel the extreme terror clutching at his throat.
But it was all over if he screamed. His own panic would lead to further panic, starting an endless chain reaction, so he did everything he could to suppress it and think.
(We need Object-level firepower.)
He clenched his teeth.
These thoughts were not a way to avoid the reality before him. They were to face it.
(Nothing we do ourselves can destroy that thing, so we need to bring an Object here. I need to figure out a way to do that!!)
Killer satellites, an Object, and even garbage and defective items meant to burn up in the atmosphere.
The Federation of Elevator Industries had left this area of space full of trash.
And the blue planet shined below him.
He started to think about adjusting his angle to return safely to that planet, but that would not save him.
He viewed his homeland once more. There was more than just blue there. The red lights seen here and there had to be the battlefields where Objects fought. The scale of those battles was so large that they could be seen from space.
What did it really mean that he could see them from here?
“Wait a second.”
“Hey, Quenser, what are you rummaging around for? Pulling out a bomb isn’t gonna destroy that thing!!”
“It doesn’t have to. I’m interested in the path of the trash floating around here!”
“Redirect that trash the way I want and I can change the future!!”
The Princess was so bored she had finally balled up her hands to become a cat.
And she went the whole nine yards by pulling out black cat ears and a tail from the costumes they had prepared for the upcoming carnival.
She had pursued wild birds on her screen for a while, but she had eventually given up on finding them all. She had realized that some of the birds were nocturnal, so she could never complete her bird encyclopedia during the day.
She had nothing to do.
She was starting to feel lonely.
But a transmission reached her ears while she relaxed in her cockpit.
“Quenser here. Ksssshhhhh!! Princess, ksshh, can you hear me!?”
“Quenser? You…you didn’t hear anything!! Don’t listen!!”
She frantically waved her hands and covered her blushing face, but he seemed to have bigger issues at the moment. She was jealous. Those nimble soldiers had flown up into space where they actually had a battle to fight. Time appeared to be moving much faster for them than for the Princess who was bored to death down here.
“Requesting support! Kssshhh, right away!!”
“But I can’t,” she mumbled with tears in her eyes. “My anti-air lasers can’t reach geostationary orbit at 36 thousand kilometers. Even the best ballistic weapons only reach around 3500 kilometers. You’re just too high up.”
“Ksh, I don’t want your anti-air weapons.”
“Hm? Then what do you want???”
“I don’t care about your main cannons! Kssshhh!! I just want your help right away!!”
The prototype weapon was indeed only a prototype.
When Louisiana Honeysuckle had put on an uncomfortable tight skirt suit to make her presentation to 7th Core executives, she had listed out its merits while tapping her pointer against the whiteboard, but she did not actually need an Object in space. She had only wanted the space elevator and the Object had been her way of earning funding. With no need to make it practical, it had been given bizarre equipment that never would have been approved for an ordinary project. That was how it had been given highly concentrated oxygen as a main cannon.
She could check how much exercise she needed on the small screen on her training bike. She pulled her feet from the sandal-like straps, freeing them from the pedals. Her butt in red sports bloomers rose from the seat.
(It was not a necessary part of my plan.)
But an Object was still an Object.
Without a second one in space, it became the unchallenged champion of any zero-g battles.
(It was only meant as camouflage, but I will still use it if I can. This will not be fun for you, Legitimacy Kingdom.)
She bent her legs to bring her knees up to her chest and spun through the air in something like the fetal position.
But her thoughts were interrupted by some ear-splitting noise.
She heard static as some EM waves messed with the communications equipment.
It was coming from an unthinkable direction: down. The elevator provided a solid sense of up and down, so that meant the surface of the earth. There were plenty of EM sources down there, including radio towers and airport control tower radars, but this was much more powerful. It finally surpassed the limits of the circuit boards for the cameras equipped on the space station’s exterior and the circuitry itself was destroyed. Even though those were designed to withstand a certain level of radiation and EM waves.
What was this? What was happening?
Had someone on the surface detonated one of the nuclear weapons that were thought to have been eradicated long ago? No, not even a nuke could cause this!!
“It can’t be…”
Louisiana Honeysuckle was dumbfounded.
A genius girl like her was quick to understand what this had to be. Even if she did not want to reach the answer, her mind would provide it for her.
“It can’t be!!”
There may have been 36 thousand kilometers in between, but the Princess and the Baby Magnum were waiting at the space elevator’s ground base.
The First Generation’s anti-air lasers could not reach that far, but so what?
They only had to make use of some other form of power.
“Ksssshhhh!! What the hell? Ksshh, what’s going on here!?”
Heivia had managed to join Quenser at some point and he grabbed at the other boy’s shoulders. In zero-g, that nearly put them both into a spin.
He quickly used the extravehicular activity unit on his back to steady himself before continuing.
“What did you tell the Princess to do!? Ksshh, what is that down there on the surface!?”
Quenser’s answer was unbelievable.
Heivia seriously doubted rubbing a balloon against your hair down on earth could affect anything out in space.
But the student had more to say.
“Listen, the Princess’s Baby Magnum uses a static electricity propulsion device. Even if it also sprays a repellant, that’s still enough static to keep a 200 thousand tons afloat. With that much power, we can use it.”
“Wait, are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
“But she’s surrounded by cracked desert as far as the eye can see. The desert is primarily made of quartz, iron sand, and probably small amounts of some other minerals. The quality isn’t good enough to ship it out for industrial use, but that doesn’t matter to us. When sand is floating in the air, the size and weight of the grains affects the covered area. A space with quartz floating around is a lot like a glass fiber duster.”
Did it cover an area of 10km in every direction, or was it of 100km?
Either way, static electricity would accumulate there. Even commercial carpet could store more than 10,000 volts, so how many orders of magnitude higher would a space this vast contain?
“And any container will spill its contents once its capacity is surpassed,” said Quenser. “Just like lightning, it will scatter something very powerful along with the light and sound.”
This was what he had wanted.
“Static. A thick EM wall is released toward the sky!!”
It seemed to cover the surface of the World’s End’s spherical main body. Sparks scattered from it like fireworks.
Or maybe it was more like carelessly sticking a metal spoon in the microwave.
“Wait, what happened to the Princess!?” asked Heivia.
“Not even a nuke can destroy an Object. And Generation Ones in particular were designed with EMPs in mind, so this won’t do any real damage to her.”
That was all Quenser said before changing the subject.
“The light can reach us,” he said. “The lights down there are leaving the earth. You can see the flames of war caused by the Objects, right? Light is a form of EM, so if we can see the light, we know EM waves can reach us!”
But Heivia’s response sounded skeptical.
The threat had not been eliminated.
“Wait, is that all?”
There had been sparks.
That might have brought down the average tank or armored truck.
“Sending those deadly EM waves all the way up here is impressive. You even managed to hit your target. But that thing’s an Object, which, like you just said, not even a nuke can destroy! You can probably aim somewhat well using the elevator’s wire as a guide, but you still can’t specifically target the Object from the ground. How can you possibly break through its armor like this!?”
“Not to worry.” Quenser smiled a little. If he could still smile, it meant everything was still going according to plan. “I thought of all that. Did you forget, Heivia, that the elevator controls this region of space? Now, do you remember how it launches its cars straight up? It caused us a lot of trouble down in the Turkana District’s desert, if you recall.”
The change occurred primarily at a single point.
Something floated by right in front of the World’s End. Maybe it had been in a transportation container caught in the fighting and maybe it had been dumped by the elevator, but that was a spare elevator car slowly rotating through space.
It bumped lightly into the Object’s spherical main body. That was no coincidence since Quenser’s Hand Axe plastic explosive had pushed it there. Either the nuke-resistant Object had ignored it as harmless, or the EM waves had interfered with its sensors.
However, the bus-sized machine had a certain device installed.
“It converts EM waves into electricity.”
Space was filled with a white flash of light brighter than a lightning bolt.
The explosive light was enough to blind someone, but Quenser could still hear everything clearly. That was probably because he was hearing the others through his helmet’s communicator. He opened his mouth while trusting his voice would reach them in the same way.
He felt pain more in the back of his head than in his eyes.
He felt like he was going to vomit in his helmet if he did not distract himself.
“Gh…ordinary lightbulbs have a vacuum inside so the filament won’t burn, but there are a few exceptions.”
“What is – ksshh – your point!?”
“A flashbulb. By filling the glass ball with oxygen and passing electricity through it, the filament is instantly burned through to create a massive amount of light. Doesn’t that remind you a lot of things here? We’ve strangled it with the very high-density oxygen it sprayed everywhere!!”
“Kssshhh, you did this while we were trapped inside that lightbulb!!!???”
The filament was made into a thin thread so it was easier to burn through, but the Object was much the same. It had more than just the spherical main body. It had cannons, propulsion devices, tanks, and many other components sticking out.
Not to mention that Heivia, Myonri, and the others had worked so hard to fire missiles at it.
The nuke-resistant Object may have just shrugged that off and it may have only created scratches not even a few millimeters deep on its surface, but those slight claw marks created pieces thinner than pencil shavings that stuck out from its surface. Electricity gathered around the ends of those and they burned like a filament.
Once the bright white flash faded away, the Object was flipped over and floating toward empty space.
The damage must have been concentrated on the parts sticking out. The oxygen tanks connected like headphones had been torn through and its two main cannons were bent. The heat in the main body had yet to cool, so its surface was still glowing orange.
None of it had been meaningless.
Quenser had just one thing left to say.
Clattering sounds echoed through the space station. With the World’s End destroyed, Quenser’s group had returned to the station.
This was his second time to leave the vacuum of space and enter the artificial air, but Quenser did not feel dizzy this time. It scared him that he was getting used to it.
He saw a short-sleeved gym shirt, red sports bloomers, black kneesocks, and sneakers.
Plus a lab coat over it all.
The central figure of the Capitalist Corporations’ Federation of Elevator Industries wore an outfit that seemed wholly unsuited for outer space. As before, Louisiana Honeysuckle was floating in the enormous central area. For some reason, the bored-looking 17-year-old girl was twisting her body. She seemed more interested in whether her underwear was sticking out from the leg of her red sports bloomers than in the fate of the world.
When she noticed them, she began to speak without untwisting herself.
“I see you have chosen to help destroy humanity. I assumed it would be the Faith Organization that thoughtlessly caused this sort of calamity, but it seems the true ruinbringers were the Legitimacy Kingdom. At any rate, humanity’s last hope has just been extinguished. Even I failed to predict this one.”
“Shut up.” Heivia made sure to keep his assault rifle aimed at her. “You couldn’t calculate this out with that clever brain of yours? I don’t give a crap about your grand Re Terra project about unifying the environment or whatever the hell. This elevator is no more than a weapon of mass destruction. You don’t get to claim ignorance about how many people would die if that thing was used against flesh-and-blood soldiers. Or about what any survivors would want to do to you afterwards!!”
“But I notice you haven’t shot me yet.”
Louisiana was isolated and alone with a few dozen guns aimed her way, yet she still smiled.
Those few dozen were all that remained.
Quenser did not even want to think about how many others had been with them when they first launched into space.
“This space elevator is the world’s tallest structure with a full length of 100 thousand kilometers. You might not like it, but you can’t just rig it with explosives and blow it up like with an ordinary building. You need accurate plans and a user’s manual even if you only want to get rid of it, don’t you? You cannot kill me until you have that.”
“You seem awfully sure of yourself, but did you really think we would stick to only the strictly legal methods of getting that information out of you? We have plenty of reasons to hold a grudge.”
“Oh, and one other thing.”
She ignored Heivia.
She was not bluffing. This confidence appeared to be real.
“You seem to think you have destroyed the Elinabell with that clever method.”
“Relax, boy.” She laughed when Quenser’s shoulders jumped. “You have indeed defeated the Elinabell. She remains mostly intact, but she can no longer function and I doubt the Pilot Elite had time to eject. …But it took you an awfully long time to defeat her. During the explosion, she sprayed her oxygen and gas in a certain direction.”
“Wait…wait a second.”
“Was that not enough of a hint? Then how about another one? Where on the earth were you planning to drop her?”
Quenser did not even have it in him to shout “wait”.
Genius Girl Louisiana Honeysuckle placed her index finger on her slender chin and revealed the quiz’s horrific answer.
“You’re dropping a 200 thousand ton weight, so no matter where it ends up hitting, I’m pretty sure it will affect the entire planet.”
Between the Lines 2
The Mother Lady space elevator’s space station had 2008 external experiment modules attached on the outside.
Quenser himself had checked in a few of them.
For example, there had been a plant factory that could be harvested dozens of times a year. There had also been an animal protein factory that quickly produced bugs that ate those crops.
There was a real benefit in those things, which may have been why he had accepted it and moved on.
Louisiana Honeysuckle was undoubtedly a bad person.
She had deceived the people of the Turkana District so she could take their land and build her space elevator without properly explaining the environmental risks. That had led to the verdant land drying out and the existing ecosystem collapsing. Over 80% of the many local plants and animals had died.
But it could all be found here.
Genetic samples for all of those plants and animals could be thawed out at the press of a button.
150 species of wild bird.
178 species of land animal, 599 species of fish, 10,630 species of bug, and 3811 species of plants.
They were all accounted for.
Earlier, Louisiana Honeysuckle had smiled and spoken to herself.
The space elevator was equipped with all sorts of observation equipment. She already knew what had happened on the surface and who had died.
She had met that man in college and they had laughed together about the most pointless things, but he was no more.
She had only ever focused on the equations and assumed she could understand everything about the world if she understood them. But that boring worldview had undergone a radical change when she had visited Africa over her summer vacation.
“I no longer have anyone to celebrate with as our dream is realized.”
The land had become a wasteland.
She had repaid them in the cruelest possible way.
But even if no one understood her, she could not back down. She had to make this dream come true.
It was her duty now that she had learned the truth.
This may have been the real difference between her and her much older brother.
She was not attempting to reach outer space for herself.
In fact, she had enjoyed talking about space to people who knew nothing about it. If not for this, she might have dreamed of working at a planetarium.
But she had a much bigger task now.
The threat still remained. And now that her brother had lost the competition and left the Capitalist Corporations, it was up to her to solve the problem.
She had no intention of becoming a hero. She was merely driven by the duty she felt after learning the truth. She could not protect anything as things were and she would lose everything if she ignored it. That impatient feeling had led her to destroy everything within arm’s reach.
But that was fine.
The last laugh did not belong to her. The person with whom she had hoped to share that laugh was no longer with her.
But the Turkana District remained.
So it was the residents of her second home there who deserved the last laugh.
She would correct people’s mistaken worldview.
She would save the world while all alone.
Chapter 3: Disaster >> Attack on the Turkana District Space Elevator – ???
“I’ll kill her!!”
“Stop, Heivia. That wouldn’t accomplish anything. We were the ones who destroyed the World’s End and we can’t threaten her into ordering its dead hulk back into orbit regardless! Myonri, restrain this idiot!!”
“Why do I always get stuck with the worst jobs!?” complained Myonri.
At any rate, they had no time.
All the cameras on the exterior of the space station had been destroyed, but when they pressed up against the double-layer reinforced glass windows, they could see an orange glow.
“The Elinabell is a hunk of metal weighing 200 thousand tons.”
Louisiana Honeysuckle smiled thinly in the heart of the elevator that was larger than a domed stadium.
Quenser clenched his teeth at having to stand up for her, but the genius scientist behind the Federation of Elevator Industries did not stop speaking.
“Do you know how small the ‘meteors’ from the artificial meteor shower are? Those rival a small nuclear warhead in power, but this is much larger. Can you even calculate the scope of the damage?”
The World’s End was a space Object.
Its altitude was already a good bit less than this space station. It was slowly falling toward the blue planet.
It supposedly no longer functioned, but was that orange light really only due to its fall? That sinister glow seemed to carry a much more horrific destructive power.
If that 200,000-ton mass continued to fall without any real deceleration, the entire world would be exposed to a fearsome impact and tremor. Even if some of the human race survived, they would be faced with an endless ice age thanks to all the dust filling the air.
Quenser could not believe it. Or maybe it was his common sense tapping the brakes here that prevented him from being a true genius. Those were the thoughts going through his mind as he faced this incomprehensible monster.
The Re Terraforming was meant to unify the world’s environment by spreading more soil and water from the space elevator than could be removed, but that had failed.
So what was this?
Was this meant as a Plan B???
“Do you really think this will make things equal? Triggering an ice age will only mean the death of all life on earth. There are no opportunities there for the Turkana District or anywhere else!!”
He had unwittingly pulled the trigger for the world’s destruction.
He had erred in his final move.
He should have kept going until it had been vaporized.
Louisiana Honeysuckle grinned as she raised both hands.
That demon whispered as her lab coat spread out like wings in zero-g.
“Now, here’s a question for you: what are you going to do about this?”
Quenser began speaking over his radio.
The jamming was gone now that they had taken the elevator.
“Frolaytia! Princess!! This is an emergency! The space Object is falling toward the surface. It seems to be near the elevator, so can you intercept it with the Baby Magnum’s main cannons!?”
Their silver-haired busty commander spat out her drink all the way back down on the supposedly safe surface.
The Princess remained calmer.
“If it is no more than a mass of metal, then no. Is the reactor still running? If it has an explosive inside, I could aim for that to break it apart in midair.”
Louisiana gave a snort of laughter.
“What logical reason would the Elinabell have to continue running that dangerous reactor now that it’s too damaged to move?”
“Goddamn you,” groaned Quenser.
But even if he was a student, he could not just place all the responsibility on the surface team. They had pulled the trigger up here and ignorance was no excuse.
That planet was his home.
Coming out of all these wars as an Object designer and earning an obscene fortune would be meaningless if he had no home to return to.
This was not about anything as silly as “doing the right thing”.
He was fighting to ensure his own desires could come true.
“Understood. Princess, you work to intercept it from the surface. Its JPlevelMHD reactor isn’t running, but it is a Second Generation that uses highly concentrated oxygen. It has plenty of other explosives contained inside, so you might just be able to trigger an internal explosion!!”
“And if I can’t?”
“We can’t just sit idly by up here. We’ll be heading there too.”
He cut off his helmet’s radio and gestured Louisiana over.
“C’mere!! You need earth to survive as much as the rest of us and you’re the asshole that built that thing, so you’re fighting against our mutual destruction too.”
“Oh? I seem to recall this destruction was caused by someone else here.”
He grabbed her slender hand and pulled her along.
He had no time for her meaningless prattle. Every minute and second counted. She might not have a gun or a knife, but wasting their time was the ultimate weapon for her.
Heivia suddenly panicked.
“Hey, where are you going!? And what do you hope to do!?”
“Did you forget where we were, Heivia? This is the Mother Lady space elevator. It’s a next-generation platform connecting space to the surface.”
“Wait, are you serious?”
“We’ll use their own elevator to catch up to the falling Object. Then we can get a look at it. We can’t prevent it from entering the atmosphere at this point, but this isn’t over yet. If we can cause it to break up in midair, we can avoid the worst-case scenario!!”
“So we just managed to pull out before blowing our load and now you’re telling us to take that smelly goo to the face!? You have got to be kidding me!!”
The space elevator could travel the 36,000km distance at about 200km/h. That made for an enjoyable space trip of about a week one way. But if they destroyed the safety equipment and let gravity take control, they could descend much more quickly. If they were wearing their pressurized space suits, they would not have to worry about barotrauma from the rapid pressure change.
Quenser pulled a Capitalist Corporations spacesuit out of a box. The elevator defense unit they had fought had only been powered suits and armored vehicles, so this was his first time seeing one of their spacesuits. It was quite slim compared to the puffy Legitimacy Kingdom ones. It was mostly black with yellow accents here and there. It was probably made from tech developed for a Pilot Elite’s special suit.
(Why would you color a spacesuit black? Are they even trying to survive?)
Quenser was speechless, but then he remembered this was the girl who wore red sports bloomers and a lab coat while in space. She saw the world differently from normal people.
At any rate, he pushed the spacesuit toward Louisiana.
“I doubt you want to become a pawn of the Legitimacy Kingdom, but you’ll be riding the elevator too. Help us customize the car. Make any intentional mistakes and you’ll burn up in the thermosphere along with us.”
“You’re a surprisingly trusting boy. Or do kids these days have no imagination now that they can look everything up on their phones? What if I decided to ensure my plan succeeded through suicide?”
“Can I just shoot her? Like right now!?”
“Heivia.” He stopped his awful friend with a quick word. “If you really wanted to kill yourself, you wouldn’t have put your hands up. If you had aimed a self-defense handgun at us, you would’ve died then and there. But you didn’t.”
“You want to see this through to the end, no matter how it ends, don’t you?”
“What solid proof of this do you have?”
“You’re a skilled weapons developer,” spat out Quenser. “Any Object designer would want to know what becomes of their creation.”
The 17-year-old genius girl smiled, but this was not meant as a provocation like before.
“Fine, but I will remind you it is already too late to accomplish anything.”
“Whether or not our world gets through this unsafe day is up to our efforts. It isn’t for you to say while you keep thrusting your hips for your own satisfaction.”
With that, Quenser and Louisiana walked to the carbon nanotube wires lined up in parallel at the center of the space station. They were interested in the bus-sized cylindrical “elevator car” attached to those.
Once they stepped inside the thick personnel-entrance door, Louisiana did something truly unexpected.
The genius immediately reached for her clothes and stripped them off with no hesitation whatsoever. Her lab coat, her gym clothes, and even her underwear floated around her in zero-g.
“Wait, what the hell are you doing!?”
“We have no idea what is about to happen, so at least give me the right to change into my spacesuit as soon as possible, boy.”
“B-b-b-b-but you…and I…!?”
“Yes, yes, I can tell we will never see eye to eye. Here, maybe this will shut up you. In this hand, I have the panties. In this hand, the bloomers. Now, eat up.”
Quenser’s mind shorted out as the annoyed genius girl shoved some faintly warm and balled up fabric into his mouth.
It did not seem to bother her at all.
In this enclosed space, Quenser discovered an answer to exactly how a pair of breasts would behave in zero-g. Yes, without their original weight and without the support of any underwear, the boobs floated softly in the air!!”
“Ahh, I felt so naked without this on.”
She was not talking about the underwear Quenser spat out.
Now that she was wearing a black special suit that showed off her figure even more than the gym clothes, she half-jokingly made sure to put back on the lab coat floating nearby. Instead of a spherical helmet on her head, she wore something like an old-fashioned gasmask with two round octopus-like eyepieces. That made her look somewhat like an extremely niche sort of bondage girl. She may have thought this protected her entire body, but it was troubling for Quenser. Specifically, he could not afford to look down at her crotch. The Y-shape there was very Y-shaped.
Louisiana turned the two round eyepieces toward him.
“Now I have my safety, so how about we get down to business?”
The number of Legitimacy Kingdom potatoes had been reduced by a lot.
Louisiana spoke up so casually she might as well have been talking about cooking something.
“Accelerating in space is simple enough, so the problem here is actually earth and all its air. If you want to pick up speed in freefall, your only option is to destroy all the brakes, leaving the car entirely uncontrollable. Which will of course make the ride much less safe.”
“I’m aware of that.”
“We also need to apply new coolant to the surface of contact with the wire. Otherwise, we could burn through the carbon nanotube wires with friction.”
“Just friction could break wires sturdy enough to survive constant contact with the thermosphere?”
“Really? Just friction? You really do need to work on your imagination, boy. We’re talking about a drop of 36,000km. Do you have any idea how much force that will build up?”
“A constant high or low temperature is not an issue. An irregular jump in either direction is the real threat to the wires. That’s why we used so much water from the surface to smooth that out.”
So they were talking about literally astronomical numbers. Even the ordinary natural phenomena seen in everyday life could cause seemingly supernatural phenomena if the quantities were great enough. He would have to imagine things at a scale different even from Object design.
His only option was to trust the instincts of the expert.
Even if she was also the cause of all these problems in the first place.
“Why did you do this?” he asked.
“To save the world.”
“Did you think that was only a distraction? But here I am, still fighting. Although honestly, the world and the human race are only bonus prizes. I only wanted to bring happiness to the people trying to protect their simple lives and the incredible nature of the Turkana District. Saving the world is just what it’s going to take to save them.”
“Using the space elevator for Re Terra will only shorten the entire world’s lifespan. And creating an ice age to force a uniform global environment will be even worse.”
“This is nothing so hackneyed.”
He could not read her.
And not just because her gasmask-like helmet kept him from seeing her face. He was missing some fundamental piece needed to understand her.
Was this the difference between a superior genius and an average person? Staring into her eyes was like staring at a Halloween jack-o’-lantern. Was she lying or telling the truth? Was she joking or serious? He could not tell. Could Braskine have figured it out?
“This is just like finding yanderes to be sexy,” said Heivia from outside the door. “Take her seriously and you’re the one who ends up looking like a fool.”
He seemed irritated by how incomprehensible Louisiana was, but Quenser did not take such a simplified approach. As a battlefield student, he was far too inexperienced to call a pro, but even he could tell that Louisiana’s work was perfect. She was not broken. Her mind had to be working perfectly, just at a higher level.
There was something here he was missing.
Something that had yet to show itself after all this. Something felt terribly off and he rolled that feeling around inside him.
He gulped within his helmet before asking a question.
“What is it you see?”
“What do you think I see? The world of science is equal to all. Nuclear reactions were occurring everywhere even before e=mc2 was proposed. The sunshine is the most obvious example, but there is also the legend of an ancient city being utterly annihilated by a mysterious light after being hit by the divine superweapon known as the god Agni’s arrow and that the victims suffered for an extended period of time while their hair and nails fell out. …You have already seen the answer, but you have failed to consciously recognize it.”
“All done. We can begin.”
She closed a metal clasp and then shut the small door.
The black and yellow gloves were slim enough to show off the beauty of her slender fingers. The puffy Legitimacy Kingdom spacesuits could never produce a silhouette like that.
“It seems the Legitimacy Kingdom has taken over the Turkana District ground base, but communicating with them would not be enough. Moving the elevator car up or down requires leaving a certain level of personnel in the space station too. But if you don’t maintain some control up here in space, the brave survivors of the station crew might just stage a counterattack.”
The clever potatoes who had survived this long exchanged a glance.
The answer here was obvious.
“I’m not going if I don’t have to, so whoever loses this game have to go!! Rock, paper, scissors!!!!!!”
Quenser and Heivia stared silently down at their hands after their scissors were instantly defeated.
Louisiana Honeysuckle had to take the elevator down regardless, so only she kept grinning throughout. Her octopus-like mask hid her face, but Quenser could still tell. She turned to face him with her figure revealed by her spacesuit.
“You were the one who told me to see this through to the end,” she said. “So let us take this journey together. Let us descend ever closer to the doomed world below on this journey to hell. But what is it you will discover at the end of that journey, my modern Dante?”
A deafening sound similar to thick metal being scraped away continued endlessly around them.
Pale faced, Myonri grabbed at the seatbelt strapping her in. She of course had her helmet’s thick visor lowered even inside the perfectly airtight elevator car.
“How far are we dropping!? It hasn’t malfunctioned, has it!?”
“We will be dropping a long way. The thermosphere alone is about 400km from top to bottom. Unlike the carpet bombing of the artificial meteor shower, a simple freefall will take some time to crash into the surface from orbit. The meteors can apparently reach speeds above Mach 5, but the Object’s size means more resistance. I imagine it will decelerate a lot once it enters the thermosphere. But if you do want to start the fighting here, I won’t stop you. If you insist on opening the incinerator’s lid, simply reach for that door.”
Was she simply accustomed to being in space?
Louisiana remained calm even while captured and plummeting toward the earth.
The two round eyepieces on her gasmask-like helmet were a problem. Quenser knew they were fake, but it still felt like having two giant eyeballs glaring at him.
“Also, the shaking is not due to a mechanical malfunction. It is due to the drop in speed needed for reentry and the periodic shaking of the wires themselves. The elevator might be a massive structure with a total length of 100,000km, but it is still bound by the laws of physics. Calmly keep count and you should find that it follows a set pattern and is not some irregular trouble.”
No one in the Legitimacy Kingdom could say for sure how much stress was being placed on the elevator car. They could only tremble and pray for their survival. As long as they made this one descent successfully, it did not matter if the rollers contacting the wire were worn down or if the axle was heated to a bright red.
Only one person held all the knowledge here.
That was Louisiana Honeysuckle, the cause of all this.
And that was why the genius scientist remained calm even now. Surrounded by the soldiers in puffy spacesuits, she crossed her legs in her black skintight special suit and looked out through the thick window.
“There she is.”
“My adorable Elinabell. I wonder if the Elite within is enjoying a small glass of poison to stay goodbye to it all. As elegant as that might look, it is not a pleasant way to die. But she was still willing to give up her life to save the world.”
The sky was a deep navy blue. They were clearly too high up for clouds, but the single color made it look like a navy blue greenscreen or like god had gotten lazy. And a giant orange ball of fire was visible through the half-frozen window. That was all that remained of the World’s End. The manmade shooting star looked so large and sinister up close. It was followed by a glowing tail for a different reason than a comet.
They were just about to pass it by.
Heivia removed the multipurpose scope from his assault rifle, switched the mode, and looked through it.
“An estimated surface temperature of over 2000 degrees,” he groaned. “What do we do about that? Just getting close will turn us into human torches. We don’t even have to touch it.”
“The solid wall of the sonic boom would tear you to pieces before even that. It should be entirely surrounded by something like a giant robot’s forcefield. That will have a teardrop shape it starts round at the front but narrows down as it continues on back.”
Louisiana seemed to be enjoying herself.
But that was going to be her problem too soon enough. The elevator was rapidly dropping and was passing the falling Object as they spoke. So instead of looking down on it, they would be looking up at it. If it crashed into the surface, she too would be obliterated.
They could see it, but there was still nothing they could do.
Just like Louisiana had said, their spacesuits were pressurized, but they could not even open the elevator car’s door until they left the thermosphere.
She spoke to Quenser in a provocative way.
“Now, how do you intend to reach a conclusion not even I could predict, boy?”
Even if it had a heat-resistant reactive material mixed in, that hunk of steel was holding together surprisingly well. It was not often that being nuke-resistant turned out to be a bad thing.
The shooting star did more than fall in a straight line. Even after the Pilot Elite’s death, the cannons must have been moving automatically to manipulate its air resistance. Its course had taken a gradual curve that made it fall in a large spiral around Mother Lady.
According to Heivia’s multipurpose scope, the spiral had a radius of about 10 kilometers.
In the astronomical terms of outer space, that was razor thin.
“We won’t have many opportunities,” said Quenser. “We passed the falling Object, but we can’t go after it whenever we want. We need to move out ahead of it, stop the elevator, and then concentrate our attacks on it. Then we move the elevator again to rapidly descend before it can pass us. Then we repeat that. The Object will continue to fall the entire time, of course. If each phase lasts a few minutes, then that only gives us two or three chances.”
A beam of light assaulted their eyes with the orange afterimage of burned air. It must have come from the surface, but they had not seen that part of the process. Only the end result reached them. The Baby Magnum had fired one of its laser beam main cannons.
Heivia’s eyes bugged out.
“What is the Princess doing!? She completely missed! When you pull out, the polite thing to do is go for some bukkake!!”
“Aiming for the face or boobs isn’t polite – it’s a fetish. Besides, that was a standard test shot. After all, she has the ionosphere between her and here, which will mess with her aim. Once she corrects for the margin of error, she’ll send a shower of cannon fire this way.”
That was exactly what happened.
A terribly unprofitable fireworks show began. An interception operation did not require the finesse of a sniper who could accurately hit a target from a distance. You could fire a million shots from the ground and the operation succeeded if just one of them scored a clean hit. All the likely coordinates had been marked and main cannon laser beams were fired at every last one of them. Objects had crushed the military theory of quantity over quality, so it could do that all on its own.
Also, battles between Objects occurred at distances of 10 kilometers.
Even a First Generation designed to shoot down ballistic missiles could accurately hit a target from that distance.
The fearsome white light was like watching a nuclear explosion.
It was several dozens of times brighter than welding light.
A laser beam struck the enemy Object’s armor.
“Owwww!! My eyes! My temples!”
“Did she get it!?” shouted Quenser.
The Baby Magnum’s main cannon did stab straight through the center of the burning fireball and the light grew all the brighter.
But that was all.
The main reactor had already been stopped, so this blast did not trigger a further explosion. The Object had already ceased to function and it was continuing to fall as a mere corpse. This only did minor surface damage.
“Are you kidding me?” muttered Heivia in a daze.
The laser beams from the surface could do minor damage. And even that damage was soon swallowed up as the armor was melted into an orange glow by the friction.
“This is insane!! Isn’t this supposed to be a battle between Objects!? Maybe it won’t blow up, but why can’t this at least be as damaging as tearing the legs off of a dead bug lying on its back!?”
“She’s just too far away. Not even an Object’s main cannon can produce its usual power at this range.”
It was a miracle that the laser beam had made it this high at all. In the pressure of the earth’s atmosphere, the energy would probably have weakened to the point of vanishing before traveling this same distance.
Quenser gulped, but still answered.
If they could not face the situation they were in, they could never make any progress.
“Also, an ordinary ballistic missile can be brought down with only minor damage to the surface. Missiles and rockets are mostly just big tanks of fuel with a bare minimum of sensors and tailfins added on. Do any damage anywhere and they’ll break apart on their own. But that doesn’t work with a 200,000ton mass with its reactor stopped.”
They could not just destroy it.
More beams of light shot out, but the Princess seemed to be having trouble enough just hitting it. She was only successful about 1% of the time and those hits caused no real change in the World’s End. It was looking unlikely that its trajectory would change or that it would break apart.
“D-didn’t the elevator have a long-range laser!?” asked Heivia.
“Getting the angle right would be hard. They wouldn’t want it to be able to damage their own space station.”
Heivia groaned while ignoring the pain in his eyes and temples.
“Isn’t there any way we can get that thing to blow up!? It’s moving its exterior weaponry to alter its air resistance and create that spiraling path, so it’s reactor must be running!!”
Louisiana shrugged at the delinquent soldier’s suggestion.
“It’s hard to say how intentional that is, but either way, I imagine it is using its spare batteries. It can still perform some emergency operations without its JPlevelMHD reactor. But that only means moving its main cannons, not using a propulsion device to keep its 200,000tons floating above the ground or firing raliguns, low-stability plasma cannons, or other main cannons.”
They had already known that the Princess alone could not solve this.
It was wrong to force responsibility for the world’s fate onto her.
That was why Quenser had chosen not to remain out on the space station and to instead make this descent.
The Princess was not alone.
The entire 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion would carry this burden together.
Quenser Barbotage stared out the window at the orange burning light that’s descent was a more accurate countdown than any time bomb.
“Now, it’s time to fight with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.”
“But can see you see yet who is saving what?” asked Louisiana.
Of course she was going to run.
At the rocket launch site in the Amazon District of South America, Major Frolaytia Capistrano folded up her laptop, held it under her arm, and wiped sweat from her brow with her other arm.
“Now, where’s the closest shelter!?”
“I will accompany you wherever you go, Major.”
The 12-year-old genius girl’s clever brain had already learned how to suck up.
This giant facility was like a corn field of multi-stage rockets and space shuttles, so it was bound to have a largescale underground shelter in case all that liquid fuel or oxidants were to detonate. Of course, that was not listed on the official site since the management did not want to give people the impression that accidents were even possible.
She ran into an Information Alliance commander with silver hair and bright brown skin.
Lendy Farolito was a lieutenant colonel, but there was no need to show respect to someone from an enemy army.
Lendy was accompanied by a large, muscular man who was presumably a subordinate of hers.
“You too, huh?” she said with a wink.
“I suppose so, yes.”
Even with the treaties protecting space development, it was unnatural to have all four world powers mixed together at one base.
“I didn’t expect you to hire a 12-year-old secretary and keep her around at all times. Does the Legitimacy Kingdom have a project of its own to match the Capitalist Corporations’ talent trafficking and our Information Alliance’s Martini Series?”
“Hm, but it is a shame to ruin such a wonderful little girl with the Legitimacy Kingdom title. But if you framed it as a poor idol whose every effort goes to waste, she might actually sell very well indeed. You aren’t trying to muscle in on our territory, are you?”
“This short conversation has been more than enough to know you’re a pervert, so please, not another word. How in the world did you know at a glance that she’s exactly 12?”
The Legitimacy Kingdom’s Frolaytia and the Information Alliance’s Lendy both descended some narrow, unmarked stairs and opened a small rusty metal door to find a large door similar to a bank vault less than 2m away. They also had assault rifles aimed at them from either side.
Frolaytia did not even remove the long, narrow kiseru from her mouth.
“I am Legitimacy Kingdom 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion Remote Commander Frolaytia Capistrano,” she said with a wink.
“And I am Information Alliance Lieutenant Colonel Lendy Farolito. That is all the information you get since any more would carry monetary value. Now, is that not enough to grant us entrance?”
“Our apologies, ma’ams!!”
The assault rifles were raised to aim at the ceiling instead.
After working some kind of controls, the large door slowly opened.
Lendy walked right on through with the muscular man in tow, but Frolaytia did not. The silver-haired busty beauty gestured the armed soldiers toward her.
“Those are Legitimacy Kingdom uniforms, aren’t they? You are exactly what I needed, so come with me.”
“Do you want to spend earth’s final day standing outside until the shockwave splatters you against the wall? What did you think of the VIPs marching in here with those self-satisfied grins on their faces?”
“You get why I’m here now, don’t you? Let’s make one of our dreams come true right at the very end, shall we? So again, come with me. This is an order, but it is also one of the few gifts I am capable of giving you.”
“Should we thank you?”
“That is entirely dependent on your morals and conscience. Okay, you will now act as my bodyguards, so throw out those puny assault rifles. You can find SAWs just about anywhere around here, can’t you? And make sure to bring plenty of box magazines just in case we need them.”
The area through the door was enormous.
The darkness was swept aside by halogen lights installed at even intervals much like in a school gym, but the area it covered was even larger than a baseball field. The entire space was indoors, but the opposite wall was barely visible as it faded away into darkness. The place had to be measured in units of kilometers. And this may not have been the only space. This was only the entranceway immediately through the front door. The areas branching horizontally off from here were also kept secret.
Lendy turned back and noticed Frolaytia had invited the guards in with her.
“How kind of you.”
“Tell that to the VIPs here.”
The 12-year-old genius girl clung to the side of Frolaytia’s hip. She almost looked like a lost child trying to find her mother.
“This is more than I ever imagined, Major.”
“Yes, I’m sure it officially began as a secret underground bunker in case of a fuel explosion, but it has been continuously expanded on since then.”
Underground shelters were not popular during the post-nuclear age of clean wars, so where had all the funding come from? Objects were said to cost an average of 5 billion dollars each, but they were developed for the prestige of the international world powers. As a star industry, their projects were often given absurd amounts of money.
“Is it like year-end roadwork?” asked Frolaytia. “Did the VIPs of the four world powers dump all their excess budget into this so they wouldn’t have to give it up for the next fiscal year?”
“That would explain why the wars never seem to end,” said Lendy.
“Wouldn’t you be in trouble if war did end?”
“Sorry, but unlike a barbarian like you, I have a second job.”
Some of the people here noticed their presence.
The world was about to end, but one fat noble was wearing a tailcoat. That suggested there was an amusement park or hotel with a casino further inside. He was accompanied by several people, but Frolaytia doubted they were his family. Those young women had to be his mistresses.
“My, my. If it isn’t the Capistrano daughter! I didn’t realize you had the necessary connections.”
“Good day, Mister Waterbury. I have my defense job to thank for this.” The silver-haired busty noblewoman put on her brightest smile. “But this is my first time inside, so I didn’t realize how big the place was.”
“Oh, don’t let this surprise you. This is only the entranceway. We have an entire miniature earth down here. You can race horses and hunt foxes if you want. And there is a large hospital, so your health is assured too.”
“But won’t that large scale require a lot of supplies? I’m worried about the water and food supply.”
“Ha ha ha. Don’t let that bother you. The sunlight might not reach us, but we can still grow vegetables with UV lights. And they can be harvested more than 25 times every year. Plus, those vegetables can be used to raise livestock for meat. They have imported the DNA for all the finest brand-name cows and pigs from around the world, so even if humanity dies out aboveground, we can still enjoy the same 5-star meals we did in our home country.”
“Is that what this place is for?
“Indeed it is.” The man grinned. “No matter how unhospitable the outside environment, we are guaranteed the finest and rarest of biological resources in here. It could be an ice age out there and we would still have all the food and medicine we require. This shelter is all we need. And if some people do survive in the outside world, this will provide us with endless privilege. We will be the kings providing charity to the starving masses.”
“I see. That would explain why I also see Lord Bosom-Caresser and the son of the Bananabliss family.”
“You have a sharp eye. You see the purpose of this place now, I assume?”
“I do,” said Frolaytia as if she were impressed.
No, not “as if”. In a way, she really was impressed.
And then she snapped her fingers.
Things immediately changed.
The guards waiting on her either side each aimed a SAW – a slimmed-down machinegun capable of single-handedly holding off an enemy charge – at the fools gathered here.
Not just at the fat noble.
The rest of the privileged class who had fled to this vast space also froze.
They did not even bother asking what was happening. Frolaytia had been expecting to fight a small war down here, so it was kind of a letdown.
“I can’t believe this.” The dom queen brushed up her bangs with a hand and clenched her teeth hard enough to nearly break her kiseru. “Every last one of them is a noble with a focus on space development. I’m honestly impressed at how shockingly grotesque the Legitimacy Kingdom can be. This world might just be destroyed today, but all you idiots decided to die here ahead of time.”
The bastard turned toward the beautiful commander from the enemy Information Alliance hoping she might save him, but then he froze again.
“I have no interest in tear-jerking discussions of morality and I am perfectly fine with people prioritizing their own survival.” Lendy Farolito had just casually received a full-auto shotgun from the muscular man accompanying her. And not to fight back against the rogue Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers. “But the fact that you did not call off her space concert means the chosen VIPs here were telling her to stay outside the shelter and die. And while the phrase seems wholly inadequate a punishment for such an act, it will have to do: I hope you burn in hell for all eternity☆”
At this point, it did not matter how many tens of thousands there were in the shelter.
With SAWs and a full-auto shotgun, they had enough firepower to mow down the crowds even if the crowds panicked and rushed them.
Things might have played out differently if the black-hearted VIPs had kept their fully-equipped bodyguards with them, but…
(They’re willing to bring their favorite mistresses with them, but the bodyguards that had risked their lives to protect them for many long years were left to die. The age of chivalry really is dead.)
Frolaytia exhaled some smoke in annoyance.
She was used to seeing the Legitimacy Kingdom elite being garbage, but she did not like for the other world powers to see that garbage.
Of course, this launch site was open to any of the world powers, so Lendy may have been grimacing on the inside after spotting some people she knew.
“Space development just isn’t popular anymore,” stated Frolaytia in an accusatory way. “The Capitalist Corporations may be a special case since their major corporations control their government, but space development is being privatized elsewhere too. The government would prefer to lead space development so a company filled with civilians isn’t the one developing ballistic missiles or some new weapon, but if the profit isn’t there, those efforts are rated poorly. It’s just like the relationship between the wealthy gangs and the poor police during the age of prohibition. We live in a world where bankers and government workers work under a demerit system, so no one wants to take the risk.”
So they had changed their focus.
Using space technology for space would only lead to further debt, so they would instead use space technology for other things. If they could use it in a more agreeable environment, they could greatly reduce the maintenance and inspection costs.
If they had a place to use that tech on earth, they could dig themselves out of the red.
In a massive but enclosed shelter like this, a self-sustained system that endlessly provided food and water was indispensable and thus an endless moneymaker. And if things grew unbalanced and the supplies were insufficient, they could try using cold sleep to reduce the number of consumers. They could rebalance things by temporarily reducing the number of mouths to feed. If even that was not enough, they only had to try putting everyone in cold sleep. When they woke up thousands or tens of thousands of years into the future, the seemingly endless ice age would have ended and an age of plenty would be upon them.
If you were in here, you were one of the winners.
Were there ten thousand or twenty thousand people in here? It could not be more than 100 thousand. But that was enough. As long as they could control the endless cycle contained in this shelter, they did not care at all what happened to the 6 or 7 billion other people up on the surface.
There really were fools who thought that way. There really were people stupid enough to believe that qualified as happiness.
“Why?” asked the silver-haired busty queen.
Even if Louisiana Honeysuckle was a genius scientist, this shelter felt too well prepared. From the materials to the architectural planning, the space elevator had to have involved hundreds or even thousands of specialized fields. She could not have done it all herself even if she was as multitalented as Da Vinci.
Some idiots had helped her.
Enough of them to fill those hundreds or even thousands of specialized fields.
Since 7th Core from the Capitalist Corporations had not known exactly what she was up to despite being the original funders, she had likely received secret assistance from all four world powers.
“And that was enough to construct this enormous facility and fill it with supplies?”
“Yes, they were so well-prepared it makes you suspect they knew this was going to happen in advance.”
Lendy Farolito was thinly smiling even now.
Frolaytia Capistrano removed her kiseru from her mouth and exhaled.
The military knew exactly how to deal with traitors.
The guards were required to obey orders, so they had only been able to grin and bear it as they guided those chosen people through the entrance.
“Shoot all of them but this one. That’s an order.”
The shelter was quickly stained red.
It made for a decent massacre.
“See, I told you it would go easier with the SAWs. ‘The Southern England Lawnmower’ really is the perfect nickname for them. Truly superb weapons.”
“In what way? I swear the noise was holding them back more than the bullets. And I’m pretty sure you were swapping out the red-hot barrels more often than the box magazines.”
Frolaytia Capistrano’s only response was to relight her kiseru.
Lendy Farolito handed her full-auto shotgun back to her muscular bodyguard now that she was done with it.
Neither one had batted an eye.
“Was there a conspiracy beyond monopolizing possible drug ingredients?”
“I’ll take that as a no. Or maybe they just never bothered telling you.”
Frolaytia pulled out her own handgun and casually shot the last one.
Louisiana Honeysuckle was not the reclusive sort of genius. She apparently knew how to control people through their common desires. Just like the gangs of prohibition had taken control of society using alcohol, drugs, and prostitution to defang so many government workers and merchants. But that was why Frolaytia doubted this was over. The uniform environment and the shelter had only been bait. Which meant…
(Assuming she didn’t lose sight of her own goal along the way, there must be something more to this.)
“Ew,” groaned the 12-year-old genius girl as the powerful stench of blood reached her while she clung to Frolaytia’s hip.
“S-so we weren’t evacuating to the shelter?”
“Of course not.” Frolaytia exhaled some sweet smoke and winked. “What, were you hoping to be one of them?”
“No, no, no!!” shouted the genius girl while vigorously shaking her head. “We must do something about the falling Capitalist Corporations Object so we can protect our planet and provide a bright future for our Legitimacy Kingdom!!”
Now that they had cut away the excess fat here, it was time to fight the good fight.
A tense silence hung over them all.
The elevator car was only about the size of a large tour bus. It of course artificially maintained a survivable level of oxygen, pressure, temperature, humidity, and more, but all of the Legitimacy Kingdom potatoes onboard had to be thinking it was an execution device that cost tens of billions of dollars to build.
The thermosphere was long.
It was 400km from top to bottom. Even if they were falling rapidly through it on an elevator with broken safety devices, they could not open the door as casually as with a convenience store microwave.
They could see the giant orange fireball out the window.
That hammer would bring doom to the world.
They could all see it, but none of them could reach out and do anything about it. Thanks to their similar relative speeds, it was easy to forget just how fast they were falling. It felt more like they were floating through the air in a hot-air balloon.
200,000 tons would be enough to wipe out humanity.
“I will…” Heivia Winchell muttered to himself while seated with his knees pulled up to his chest. “I will inherit the Winchell family. I refuse to die here, dammit. I have a cute fiancée waiting for me down there, so why is this happening?”
The way he was curled up with his head in his hands was probably pretty serious, but appearance was everything. It ended up looking humorous given the oversized head of the spacesuit. And since Quenser was in the same elevator car, he really wished the boy would stop bringing up marriage in this crisis situation. He did not want to die because of Heivia’s jinx.
“Ah, ahh, ahhhh,” groaned Myonri from another part of the car. She appeared to have discovered something in the drawer below her seat. “They have vacuum-packed hamburger steak…and is this lasagna!? Ugh, there’s so much food here and I can’t eat it because of this stupid helmet.”
Quenser also wanted her to stop talking about a last supper. What was he going to see next? A black cat or crow crossing his path despite the high altitude and enclosed space?
Louisiana Honeysuckle leaned her back against the wall and placed her round butt on the floor while letting her arms and legs fall limply around her. She wore a skintight special suit with a gasmask, preventing him from seeing a single hair on her head, but he could still tell just how relaxed her body was.
She seemed awfully confident.
Or so he thought, but then he realized what this really was.
“Hold on. Don’t tell me…”
“Ha ha. It’s been 150 days since I felt any real gravity.”
Her head tilted to the side and did not rise back up.
She tried to wave her hand while seated on the floor with her back against the wall, but she could not even lift her hand.
When she almost slid to the side, Quenser propped her up on reflex. She could not even move her legs sprawled out on the floor, so they only trembled unnaturally while she spoke.
“I will be stuck like this until I get used to it. But don’t worry. I have been working to make sure my muscles and bones do not deteriorate. I should be able to stand once I grow accustomed to the sensation.”
“How long will that take?”
“Not long. I will have recovered by the time we contact the Elinabell.”
He certainly hoped so.
She had to take responsibility for what she had done. She might be an enemy, but no one understood space or the elevator better than her.
She could not resist at all right now and she had to know they could easily kill her, but the Capitalist Corporations genius girl remained confident even while surrounded by Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers. She seemed more curious about Quenser than the guns aimed at her.
“My muscles themselves have not deteriorated, so don’t worry – there is no risk of me embarrassing myself by carelessly relaxing my bladder.”
“Why that hypothetical in particular?”
Quenser could sense a few sharp gazes focusing this way. No one was saying it, but some of the others clearly thought they should go ahead and execute the villain who had pulled the trigger on humanity’s doom.
Louisiana ignored that and spoke to him while leaning on him for support.
“Why did you come to space?”
“For my job.”
“That is a soldier’s response. You are a student, so it does not apply to you.”
Her heated breath escaped as a quiet laugh.
She was as limp as someone collapsing after running a full marathon, but she continued speaking nonetheless.
She had built all this after graduating from a safe country university, so she had accomplished more or less what Quenser hoped to. And their ages were not all that different.
“Was it the Objects?” asked the genius girl.
“There were a few battlefield students at our university, which really just made for a few empty seats during graduation. The cost-performance of that option is not all that great. You may have signed up thinking it as a shortcut to striking it rich, but did you actually crunch the numbers? And I don’t mean following the flowchart on the flimsy pamphlet the school gave you. I mean using a massive formula on the level of an insurance company’s risk simulator.”
“I’m a commoner, so this was my only chance for any real success.”
“That idea was planted in your head by the people hoping to use you.” Louisiana snorted with laughter and spoke to the worried student from her position as a graduate who had already entered society. “The adults control people in one of two ways – they either praise you or disparage you. It was the same with me. The only thing schools teach you is how to study. And when the adults develop talent in someone, they want to use that talent for their own purposes. If I had never seen the beauty of Africa, I would never have questioned any of it and ended up holed up in a safe country office or research institute. I would have convinced myself I was happy and worked myself to death for some company while everyone around me assumed I was an eccentric who chose for herself to live in that bug cage.”
“The Turkana District changed that?”
“That is my holy land. There I found so much that I could not explain with my talent alone. It taught me that the world has more rules than the ones I believed in.”
The boy did a double take.
Louisiana Honeysuckle apparently had no intention of taking back what she had said.
“My brother Sladder’s failure was not in insisting on the mass driver system even after the rest of the world moved on. His failure was in never finding a lifechanging experience like mine in the Turkana District. That is why he could never see past his own set of rules and could only talk about himself. He became the lonely and boring sort of genius who had nothing left once the mass driver was taken from him.”
Quenser was dumbfounded. What was she talking about? She had caused all of this and there was no denying that. There was no chance of some shocking reveal of a true villain at this point. This felt like an even greater surprise than when he had encountered that space Object.
“Which Turkana District are you picturing in your head?”
“Because this space elevator destroyed the one you knew!! The verdant land and the many wild animals are all gone. All the water has been sucked from the ground, leaving nothing but a dried and cracked land covered in guerillas who reek of blood and gun smoke!! You did that. Maybe the world would have continued to ignore the Turkana District if you hadn’t done anything, but it also would have been spared the devastation you brought with Mother Lady! No, we didn’t hesitate to kill them. We didn’t give a single thought to how they felt after being made the villains of the world. But that’s because you told the whole world they were villains, Louisiana!!”
A short silence followed.
This may have been a first.
The words of a completely ordinary person had stabbed into that genius’s heart.
Her voice was not quite a whisper and not quite a groan, but it was vanishingly quiet.
She spoke clearly even as she was helplessly propped up in his arms.
“I will still repay them. I have escaped a life where I simply follow the university’s recommendations and become a simple cog in a corporate machine. And I will repay the Turkana District for giving me that chance. I will do whatever it takes to do that.”
It was no use.
He had managed to land a scratch, but that was not enough to tear down the thick mental barrier.
He did not see how that dried and barren land void of all plant life could ever lead to repaying the Turkana District. Or was her idea of happiness to fill in the existing ocean with concrete, toss in foreign fish that would destroy the existing ecosystem, and smile while showing off how they could catch as many exotic fish as they liked?
How was that any different from a serial killer who went around brutally killing young girls and then proudly announcing that he had given them some “pretty makeup”!?
“I don’t understand.”
“Are you sure about that?”
She seemed to be laughing.
Maybe at Quenser, but maybe at herself.
She continued speaking while leaning against him.
“Study Objects long enough and you will realize the truth. You might be taking a different path, but we are climbing the same mountain. Once you reach the summit, you will see the same thing I do.”
“And when you look out from the summit, you will experience true despair. You will wish you had never seen it.”
At an altitude of 80km, they were leaving the thermosphere and entering the mesosphere.
“We’re in Area 1, Louisiana!” called Quenser in his puffy spacesuit.
She had adapted to earth’s gravity just as she had insisted she would.
She was still slow, but she could move her arms and legs.
Not only did she know the elevator’s structure better than anyone else, but she also had better use of her hands in that slim spacesuit that showed off her figure.
The scraping noise from the wires grew even more violent, so the multiple brake shoes must have tightened around the carbon nanotube wire.
“Wait, what the hell?” Heivia looked around in a panic. “The brakes! Apply the brakes!! Why are we still slipping? Don’t tell me this handmade car has finally malfunctioned on us! What, did this thing go off prematurely!? I told you we were only edging today!!”
“It will take us at least a kilometer to decelerate. I could slam on the brakes and stop us immediately, but the inertia would squash us all flat.”
Space existed on a much larger scale, but given the length of an airplane runway, this may have actually been quite short.
Regardless, the vertical sliding continued to squeeze at Quenser’s heart until they came to a stop in midair.
The elevator car was the size of a large tour bus standing on end.
Jack-of-all-trades Myonri reached her puffy fingers toward the thick door.
“U-um, I’m going to open this now. This has a heating element inside, doesn’t it? I hope it hasn’t frozen shut.”
“Oh, you should either let the air out of the room first or attach yourself with a carabiner.”
Gasmask Girl Louisiana tried to warn her, but Myonri had already turned the heavy wheel and the door burst open on its own. Myonri immediately let go of the wheel, but she was still swept outwards.
They were 80km above the ground.
That was about 10 times the height of Everest and there was no air that high. When the pressurized room’s door burst open, it created a powerful gust of wind like the air being let out of a balloon.
“Myonri, you idiot! Grab on!!”
Quenser immediately reached out, but he could not support her weight with just the one hand and was nearly dragged out with her. Heivia had to wrap his arms around the student’s hips to pull them both back inside.
“Th-that was way too close.”
Heivia gulped while unable to wipe the sweat from his face through the thick helmet, but then he heard a dry crackling sound. It may have actually taken him a moment to notice since he was too close to the source.
White frost was spreading across his helmet’s visor starting from one end.
Quenser glanced down at the computer on his arm to find it was dead. Was that thanks to the special EM waves, or due to the extreme cold?
Louisiana casually provided another warning inside her black and yellow special suit.
But not about the cold.
“Oh, and needless to say, this is the mesosphere. We aren’t protected by the ozone layer here, so we’re exposed to the full force of the sun’s radiation. Are your electronics okay? Let’s hope your Legitimacy Kingdom spacesuits can handle this.”
“Are you kidding me!? How many ways can this battlefield kill you before the fighting even begins!?”
“You are viewing this all backwards. We are in outer space, so you don’t need a special reason to die. Here, you need a special reason to survive.”
“So we’ve got less chance at life than the sticky goo balled up in a tissue, huh?”
But now was not the time for introspection through Zen dialogue.
The Capitalist Corporations’ Federation of Elevator Industries’ World’s End was plummeting toward the earth as a colossal fireball. They were still positioned below it, but other than the spiral course it had taken using air resistance, it was essentially in a freefall. It was in gravity’s grasp, so it would not just come to a stop in midair.
They had been 500km up, but they could not do anything while in the thermosphere, so they had ended up down at 80km. This was the earth’s time limit. If they could not cause the nuke-resistant Object to break up in midair, today would be the planet’s final day.
“Let’s do this, Heivia, Myonri. The instant its altitude matches ours is our best chance.”
“But what exactly are we supposed to do?” Myonri panicked inside her puffy spacesuit while Quenser continued to hold onto her from behind. “Not only can it survive a nuke, but it’s falling in a spiral with a radius of about 10km. That’s a range of 10,000 meters. That’s outside the range of a specialized sniper rifle, not to mention our ordinary assault rifles!”
“Are our missiles the only viable weapons? Hey, everyone, gather up every one we’ve got. How many do we have left!?”
While still cautious of the open door, everyone laid their weapons out on the floor, revealing they had 30 missiles left. However, around half of them gave no response to the tester. The radiation may have damaged their sensors. That meant they could not even be launched.
“That giant bomb is falling toward the surface and this is all we’ve got to work with?” asked Heivia. “Can’t we ever catch a break, dammit? How can we possibly win this?”
“There’s no use complaining now,” said Myonri. “Besides, you should have known your luck ran out from the moment you were assigned to the 37th. Anyway, the Object is coming. It should be- ahhhh!?”
Myonri screamed after noticing something.
After being hit by more of an invisible wall than a noise, Quenser and the others were thrown to the floor and the sturdy elevator car shook unnaturally.
The World’s End fireball had arrived.
It looked different than it had out in space. Instead of an orange-glowing mass, it was more of a white light, similar to a camera flash or welding light. Just looking at it felt like it was damaging your eyes, but more than that, the roar of its shockwave reached them from at least 10km away.
That meant there was air here.
There was far too little to support life, but sound could still travel through it.
Heivia noticed something and quickly reached out his hand while still lying on the floor. A few of the missiles lined up on the floor rolled on out through the airlock. And they were all ones they had sorted into the “still working” category.
He could only scream unintelligibly.
“Shove the rest in your launchers before we lose any more! Hurry!!”
They were of course closest to the Object when their altitudes matched. Without needing to include the height difference in the calculation, their range was exactly 10km.
Heivia and Myonri leaned out through the door at the same time to aim the launchers on their shoulders.
Quenser had nothing to do, so he quickly ducked down just before the two shoulder-fired missiles were launched. The white smoke ejected from the back filled the car. Their helmets meant there was no need to cough, but being unable to see was still frightening. Everything they did seemed to work against them, so Quenser was afraid he would roll on out.
“Dammit!!” groaned Heivia.
“They won’t fly straight! What, is the air too thin for a stable flight!?”
That made sense, but they had brought this equipment along to use in space. How had they used them out there?
Louisiana sighed behind her helmet.
“The tail fins wouldn’t do anything out in empty space, so you just used them as straight-flying rockets, didn’t you? But as thin as the air is up here, we are still in the grasp of earth’s gravity. They will not fly straight like they did in zero-g.”
They really could not catch a break.
They watched as the World’s End continued to drop in its spiral that maintained a 10km radius around the elevator wires. It dropped below them once more. They could see it, but they could do nothing about it. They knew the earth would be destroyed, but they lacked the equipment. They could not play a role here.
“What do we do?” asked a dazed Heivia with his useless missile launcher dangling from his hand.
Their attacks could not hit.
And even if they could, what would that accomplish? What could they hope to do about that mass of metal that had remained in one piece even after having its reactor pierced through by the Baby Magnum’s main cannon?
“These tiny missiles aren’t going to do jack shit, but what else can we even do!?”
The artificial air felt heavy.
The elevator was now dropping them toward the hopeless pits of hell.
Area 2 was 40km up. That was still taller than Everest and above the ozone layer.
But specialized high-altitude spy planes would reach altitudes of around 35km, so they had left space and entered at the world of airplanes.
They would not get another chance after this one.
None of their attacks could damage the Object. They could only sit idly by and wait for it to destroy the earth.
Quenser hung his head as they dropped toward fateful Area 2.
(The ordinary logic of bullets and bombs won’t work. This thing exists on an enormous scale, so we need to hit it with an equally enormous scale. We’re currently riding a space elevator, so there has to be a way to use that as an attack!!)
“We’re too close to earth to call this outer space anymore.”
Quenser slowly turned his head inside his spacesuit. He could not believe his eyes. Genius Scientist Louisiana Honeysuckle had crossed her legs and looked terribly bored despite the crisis situation. She looked no different from someone waiting on the sofa at a barbershop after setting up an appointment but finding the previous customer’s haircut was running long.
Even though she had the expertise to calculate out the damage the Object’s impact would cause better than anyone else.
Did she really believe this would save the world? She still had the air of someone who felt no need to explain the reason why you separated out you sorted your trash.
She appeared to have fully adapted to earth’s gravity. She was seated on the floor, but she was sitting up with plenty of strength in her back.
“This will be over soon,” quietly stated the gasmask girl.
“You sure are calm for someone who’s going to lose her home just like the rest of us!!”
“The giant meteor is just one of many theories. This might not actually do much of anything.”
“Humanity has never gone extinct before, so we can’t say for sure what would cause it, can we? The dinosaurs went extinct due to the ice age and the rulers of the planet eventually shifted from the reptiles to the mammals. That much we know to be true, but we still don’t actually know what exactly caused that extinction. It could have been the impact of a giant meteor, but other theories say it was weakened solar activity or largescale volcanic activity. Oh, and I believe there was one theory saying dinosaur farts clouded the planet’s atmosphere.”
She actually seemed to be teasing him.
It felt like speaking with a serial killer without any metal bars between them. They needed her specialized skills in the fields of space and space elevators, but rely on her too much and she would drag you into the depths.
He deeply regretted the fact that they could not just kill her right here.
She understood her position perfectly.
She knew none of them could kill her.
Quiet static ran through his helmet as he received a transmission from the Princess down on the surface.
“What is it, Princess?”
“How far have you descended? If you move back up now, your group there might be able to survive.”
“Unfortunately, we removed all the safety devices to get the speed we needed. That allows us to accelerate, but it also makes this a one-way trip. We can’t go back up.”
“I see. That’s too bad.”
That was not sarcasm. It was just like the Princess to express genuine disappointment here.
Quenser could not help but smile.
“That’s awfully fainthearted for you. Anyway, we’ve passed the ionosphere, so your targeting should be more accurate now.”
“That is about the only positive side of this situation, isn’t it? But you saw what happened when I scored a direct hit, didn’t you? It wasn’t enough.”
Quenser decided to count it as a plus that she was letting him see this fainthearted side of her.
If she had continued to embellish the data out of fear or pride, he doubted they would have had any chance of success.
“Quenser, I really wish you could have stayed out in space.”
“No, thank you. Then I wouldn’t have anywhere to spend the fortune I’m going to earn one day.”
Just then, some kind of large mass passed right by their elevator car.
Myonri must have gained a fear of heights after nearly being dumped outside earlier. She cowered down, reflexively clung to Quenser since he was nearby, and shrieked. But it felt a lot like two big mascot costumes hugging each other, so it was not as nice an experience as he would have hoped.
“What was that!?”
“The elevator has more than one wire.” Louisiana sounded exasperated. “There are several of them lined up in parallel. And some unmanned cargo containers were left hanging after you took over.”
“Cargo containers!?” Heivia leaned forward. “So they’re full of Capitalist Corporations weapons!? We can use those!!”
“If you want to grab some, feel free to open that door and jump on over. Our current altitude…just passed below 50km. That’s about 5 times Everest, but if you really think you can jump to the elevator with the intense winds of that height, be my guest. And don’t forget you have to do it in those oversized spacesuits that aren’t great for athletics. Oh, and you also have to worry about the regular vibration of the elevator wires.”
“I’m gonna kill you!!!!!!!”
“How many times have you made that empty threat now? You’re as bad as that uncle who always tells the same story every time you see him.”
Quenser watched that hopeless conversation.
This might be his last chance to speak with the Princess, but he forgot all about his exchange with her.
“Quenser?” she said.
“The elevator wires have a regular vibration?” he muttered.
“All forms of matter have a normal mode frequency.” Louisiana heard that and responded with her legs still crossed. “Not even cutting-edge carbon nanotubes can ignore the laws of physics. Now, what was that frequency with wires 100,000km long?”
(The wires are not just being blown in the wind. They wobble and then return. That means they have an elasticity that snaps them back to normal. They’re 100,000km long, an empty car has been left hanging, and it’s full of Capitalist Corporations weapons. Wait…wait, wait. That scale might just be big enough. And it’s within our reach!!)
“Skip past Area 2! Take us even lower!!”
The shocked reaction came from Heivia, Myonri, and the others instead of Louisiana herself.
“Why would you waste our final chance to avoid blowing our load here!?” shouted Heivia.
“Letting it leak out little by little isn’t any better. Besides, what would we even accomplish if we stopped here? Our assault rifles can’t reach it and the missiles won’t fly on course.”
“So we need to gather up every chance we’ve got and make one definitive blow to end it all. We only have one shot at this. We can’t destroy the falling World’s End otherwise!!”
“One definitive blow?” calmly asked Louisiana Honeysuckle. “Do you have an actual vision of what that might be?”
Now, which side was she asking that question from? Was she a member of the Federation of Elevator Industries concerned Quenser might actually be to stop her final attack, or was she just a human who had found some hope of successfully stopping this?
Either way, the puny boy gave his answer.
“We only have one shot at this.”
He lifted the cracked visor of his helmet and looked his awful friend straight in the eye.
“Are you going to keep trying in vain until we’re all dead, or are you going to aim for one definitive blow? Choose, Heivia. This is the final decision!!”
The elevator car dropped and dropped until it finally came to a stop.
They were less than 2000m above the Turkana District of Africa. That was a significant altitude during a normal life, but it might as well have been right down on the ground for Quenser’s group. Even at that height, the cracked desert was the only thing visible as far as the eye could see.
This land had made Louisiana Honeysuckle who she was, but it was also the land destroyed by that genius girl who insisted she was saving the world.
They could not descend any further.
After removing their cumbersome spacesuits, they opened the thick door and immediately stepped out.
But they did not fall.
They were at the top of the “spear” that jutted up from the ground base in order to gather Mother Lady’s wires. The spear was hollow like macaroni and they were standing on its outer edge. The elevator car moved when exposed to microwaves and those were probably sent directly from within the tube when outside the range of the parabolic antenna, but they were not interested in that.
They had descended all this way without stopping again, so the falling World’s End was still a lot higher up. But they could still see its sinister light shining like a second sun in the sky. In a few more minutes, it would crash into the Turkana District desert as a single large mass.
“I want to know the falling Object’s exact course. Share it on my mobile device.”
“Your anti-air radars can detect everything up there, right? Give me the location of any elevators cars left hanging on the wires.”
After confirming everyone had disembarked from the elevator car, Quenser taped a small device to its outer wall. It was the computer that had been attached to his spacesuit’s arm. He used its gyro sensor to get data on the wire’s vibration.
“There we go. I’ve got the entire wire’s normal mode frequency.”
“There are three cars left hanging on the wires,” reported the Princess. “Their altitudes are 40km, 38km, and 15km.”
“Focus on that last one!! If we’re doing this, it’s gotta be that one!!”
The space elevator had several wires running in parallel like on a guitar or violin. They were shaped like thin belts about 80cm wide and they were spread fairly far apart so they could handle several elevator cars the size of large buses. They were all gathered here at the top of the spear. The car they wanted was 13,000m above them, but the wire it was connected to was within reach.
Quenser pulled out his Hand Axe plastic explosive and stabbed in a pen-shaped electric fuse. He did not hesitate to attach it to the belt of carbon nanotube.
(I know the timing. 9, 8, 7, 6…)
“Stand back! I’m gonna detonate it!!”
He did so.
An ear-splitting roar burst out.
That military explosive could incapacitate a tank when used right, but it was not enough to snap the carbon nanotube wire.
Louisiana put her hands on her hips and looked up into the blue sky. What did the world look like through the round eyepieces of her gasmask?
“Was one blast enough?” she asked.
“You already know the answer, don’t you? Shaking it randomly would be meaningless. But if you know its normal mode frequency, this can work!”
It was the same as a tin can telephone.
Any kind of impact would travel up a taut wire as a vibration.
And that 100,000km wire was already slowly shaking at a set frequency. That was nothing harmful and the safety device in the space station would negate it if it ever exceeded acceptable limits.
That was where the Hand Axe came in.
If one vibration could be used to cancel out another, one could also be used to amplify another.
“The wires aren’t just blowing in the wind. After moving in one direction, they’re brought back to their original position by a restoring force.”
“Will this really work?” asked Heivia.
There was no missing the light of the falling Object at this point. It was brighter than the real sun as it spiraled down toward the surface.
“You’re talking about using the space elevator itself as a giant bow and destroying that giant meteor with the power of the bowstring, right? That’ll never actually work!!”
This was a crazy plan and Quenser himself knew it.
But only now had he matched the colossal scale of the 200,000ton mass falling from outside the atmosphere. He could reach its level. At the very least, this had to be better than continuing to fire the occasional rifle bullet or shoulder-fired missile despite knowing that would have no effect.
Sound and vibrations traveled through solids much faster than through gasses.
Quenser was viewing the 100,000km wire as an enormous bow, but he was not a giant and he could not nock a colossal arrow on that bow. That meant he had to use what was already there. In other words, the unmanned elevator car loaded with cargo and left hanging on the wire.
The shock of his explosion joined with the wire’s existing movement. Instead of canceling each other out, the two waves joined to produce a massive amplitude well beyond what the wire was designed for.
The hanging car was shaken side to side and it failed to survive the force of the impact.
“Get down everyone!! It’s starting!!”
It exploded and something scattered horizontally like a shotgun blast.
The shaking was a miniscule thing when compared to the entire elevator that boasted a length more than twice the circumference of the earth, but it was well beyond the design limits of the metal car, tearing it apart.
And its pieces spread out horizontally thanks to the horizontal shaking of the wire.
Which meant out toward the World’s End that was just about to pass by along its spiraling path down.
There was a bright light.
That colossal weapon was glowing brighter than the sun, but even that light was swallowed up by this new one.
Quenser’s calculations said it should have reached an instantaneous max speed of 14,000m/s, so this was far worse than a downpour of razor-sharp shrapnel. Most of the pieces were vaporized the instant they were launched, turning them to plasma. And this was not soft water or plastic; it was heat-resistant metal meant to escape the atmosphere.
Quenser could not even see Heivia’s face as the boy groaned and clung to the railing next to him.
The explosive light acted as a white screen that stole away the puny humans’ senses.
“It wasn’t enough,” groaned Heivia while looking overhead. “It’s still in one piece!! You hit it with all that and it didn’t break. The World’s End is still coming down!!”
At that moment…
“What if you knew the world would be destroyed tomorrow?” asked a speaker on the stage in a large school’s lecture hall. “That is a very simple hypothetical, but its simple scenario helps inspire your imagination. Now, what would you do in that situation? Would you give up and accept it, or would you fight to the end? Would you return to your old favorites one last time, or would you try to experience as many new things as you could? Your answer to these questions might just point to who you really are deep down.”
The voice spilled out into the hallway.
That’s a tricky question, thought a middle-aged man. His boss got mad at him if he did not use up his paid leave, but he had nothing to do when he did take a weekday off. That was why he had decided to take a look at his son’s school. Of course, his son was not actually here since he was a battlefield student, but the man could not have taken this look if his son was here. Teenagers loathed having their parents invade their territory.
Some called this school a den of eccentrics, but he could not see anything particular unusual about it. Then again, the eccentrics here may have been intelligent enough to blend into society when they had to.
The school contained a variety of departments that were all doing their own research and experiments, so there was a lot out on display: next-generation cities, clean energy, the possibility of developing Mars due to the limited land on the moon, etc. It was probably all arranged to be accessible to outsiders, but just reading through the names was difficult enough.
“They really are doing a lot here.”
Adults learned how to make general statements to save face at times like this. Even though they knew that avoiding the issue in that way would prevent them from learning anything new as they grew older.
There had been a time when he had thought he would know everything there was to know about the world once he grew up.
Once he had whittled away his childish side, he had assumed he would know how to rid himself of all of his childhood worries.
But in truth, growing older only led to being bowled over by how complex the world was.
He heard a beeping from the smartphone he carried mostly because his family insisted on it. He had received three messages in a row from the same person on a social media app he was still not used to using.
“Where are you?”
“I’m starving already. You aren’t out getting something to eat on your own, are you?”
“And you’re the one that got lost, right? It wasn’t me who wandered away, right!?”
He was looking after that girl at home, but she was not his blood-related daughter.
His son would sometimes come to him with a problem. Like with that girl Monica who was now living her best life as an idol.
His son was never around, but he always felt like he was closer to the boy when looking after those people for him. His son was a kind boy, so he could not sit idly by when he saw someone being slowly dragged to their doom on the conveyer belt of death. But the boy was not the best at considering the consequences of his actions, so he would sometimes find himself in a jam and need some help from his parents. But that imperfection was what made him so adorable.
The man did not know much about the girl living in his home.
He did not know how she had ended up with him, what problems she carried, or what secrets she held. His mind had grown so inflexible in adulthood he could not even imagine the answers to those questions.
But that was fine with him.
A father was there to help when his child came to him.
He was working to be the kind of man he felt his former childish self would have been proud of.
At that moment…
A girl was walking down a large road. This metropolis was seen as the world’s safest home country, but she still should not have been walking around without any bodyguards. She was the daughter of the Vanderbilt family. As usual, she climbed through a window, cut across a women’s locker room, removed her security buzzer that constantly tracked her location, tossed it into the air so it caught on a delivery drone passing by, and managed to escape the cramped parade of black bulletproof vehicles that insisted on following her around.
(There isn’t even anywhere I want to go this time. I think I’ve started to enjoy simply outwitting those professionals.)
She was aware she was developing into something like a wealthy shoplifter, but she still enjoyed the brief freedom this bought her.
A few smiling children ran past her. There were a lot of food stalls along the side of the street. She wondered if they were holding some kind of event here, but then she saw the poster on the side of a streetlight and quickly hid behind a vending machine.
The poster said, “This is the place if you want to catch a glimpse of the Vanderbilt daughter! She passes through here on the way to and from her lessons!!”
(H-has this country never heard of privacy!?)
She had thought the crepes, ice cream, roe pasta, and hot dogs sold at the food stalls were oddly well matched to her tastes, but that was apparently the result of careful research. And the stands along the road were not just selling food. They also sold opera glasses, zoom lenses for phones, and even disposable cameras in this modern digital age. She was not quite sure how to react when she realized they were all spying tools meant for use on her.
After buying a pair of old-fashioned red and blue 3D glasses sold there as a joke and putting them on, she continued her stroll.
Her life was so restrictive and predictable, but she could still make new discoveries when she tried.
She understood none of this had just been dropped into her lap. Her peaceful life was only possible thanks to the people crawling through the mud as they moved between battlefields all over the world. She was not a military expansionist. In fact, she focused on peaceful and philanthropic activities meant to bring an end to war. But she knew there were people out there fighting to hold things together until the day that ideal could actually be realized.
“Master Heivia,” she muttered while looking up into the sky.
It was a bright and sunny day perfect for hanging laundry out to dry, but that blue felt somehow heavy.
At that moment…
Bloodrics Capistrano entrusted himself to the rhythmic beat of hooves. Flying cars existed these days, but he was using a four-horse carriage. They were not all that unusual in a large Legitimacy Kingdom city like this. Although most of those were tourist attractions, so a carriage owned by a private family with its own dedicated coachman was indeed quite rare.
(The truly powerful families actually avoid this sort of tradition. Insisting on all the formalities is really a sign of desperately trying to look the part because you fear you will be found out as an imposter.)
He let out a gentle sigh.
“Are you sure about this?” asked the maid seated across from him.
He tilted his head.
“You could have taken your private jet to the shelter in your villa on the outskirts.”
Cowards gathered information because they could not rest easy without listening in on everything.
That was why they received all the information that the more powerful families might miss.
The young noble smiled a little.
“That would change nothing.”
“What good is a dingy basement with only half a year’s worth of food and water? That’s just a slow burial over the course of half a year. It would only make for a strange sort of execution.”
Bloodrics had no one seated next to him.
The neighboring seat instead had a sheathed Island Nation sword known as a katana leaning against it. Although mastering that blade had not allowed him to protect anyone he cared about.
His smile gained a tinge of self-deprecation.
“If my adorable little sister fails, then I die too. I will accept that fate. What point is there in living in a world without Tia-chan’s smile?”
“You are awfully faithful yourself. Maids do not follow their masters into death these days. Why did you not run away?”
“Because life in a world without you would only bring me pain.”
She did not hesitate for even a second.
He recalled that she was much too skilled to be serving a small-time noble like him. With a single letter of recommendation, she could have gone knocking on the door of any family she liked – even the Winchell or Vanderbilt families. Yet she did not. There would of course be a reason for that.
Just like Bloodrics had strayed from the path laid out for him in life so he could protect his sister who refused to obey their family’s traditions and let herself be used as a tool.
This simply meant he too had someone who refused to abandon him.
“What an awkward person you are.”
“That makes two of us.”
At that moment…
A girl gripped the control column in the cockpit of a colossal nuke-resistant weapon.
This was not about her work or her private life.
She had been surrounded by emptiness, leaving her with only herself here in the cockpit as she she looked up into the sky.
Death came for everyone the same.
And wars were not determined by morality or emotions.
Heivia had said the World’s End remained in one piece and had not broken apart after the hit from the giant bow that used the elevator as its string. It was still going to fall to the surface and wreak havoc on the planet.
Quenser grimaced and rejected that idea.
He continued with a smile on his sweaty face.
“I wasn’t trying to use it as a bow.”
Louisiana Honeysuckle had said the carbon nanotube wires, which remained safe despite constant exposure to the thermosphere, could snap from the elevator car’s friction once the safety devices had been removed. Even the ordinary phenomena seen in everyday life could cause massive damage if the quantities were high enough.
And as Quenser had just proven, the elevator wire could be used like a bow or slingshot. Push on it and it did not continue that way; it had a restoring force that brought it back to its original position.
In other words…
“It’s a heating element,” whispered Quenser. “The carbon nanotubes don’t conduct electricity as well as metal, which means they have resistance. So what if we sent enough electricity down that wire while gathering it on a single point? That would be more powerful than a nuclear weapon.”
The others were left speechless.
Things at this scale had that effect on people. Ordinary phenomena could achieve unbelievable results. Just like black holes were nothing more than ordinary gravity, yet they swallowed up even light and distorted both time and space.
“But how are you going to prepare and gather that much electricity?” Louisiana smiled. “Your work with the military must have told you how strong the fiber structure of that wire is. You just proved for us all that your plastic explosives are not enough to damage it.”
“This had to be the biggest obstacle you faced when building Mother Lady, so you should know better than any of us just how few places you can construct a space elevator.” Quenser spoke a direct challenge to the genius scientist smiling with the cracked desert of the Turkana District behind her. “1. It must be near the equator. 2. Building a ground base provides greater stability than trying to build it out at sea. Dealing with the shaking of the wires can be handled from the space station. 3. It must be somewhere without any typhoons or hurricanes despite the unstable weather so common on the equator. Because special though their structure might be, carbon nanotubes are still made of carbon and are thus weak to thunderclouds…in other words, to powerful static electricity.”
But he did not need to rely on a strange rain dance to summon some thunderclouds.
Electricity was created by the contact potential difference when two different types of matter came into contact and separated. One could be the wire and the other could be iron sand or even water. And shaking the wire more than it was ever designed for would increase the number of contacts.
“In other words,” said Quenser Barbotage with the voice of someone who desired an unchanged tomorrow and refused to let that cruel hammer strike the surface. “It’s the same as an electric eel. The basic idea might be a small thing, but that long wire increases the scale considerably!!”
All sound vanished.
The light was also blown away.
The distortion gathered at a point of slight damage at the 15km mark along the 100,000km wire and the carbon nanotube belt flashed. Heivia’s bullets and Louisiana’s fingers had shaken the wire up in space, but this was different. By calculating things out down here, they could create more energy than it could handle.
The instant the carbon nanotube wire snapped, a strange light appeared from the damage to the wire. But instead of electricity, that was the heat produced within the wire. So the light lasted more than an instant. The pure white shine did not vanish and instead grew endlessly as it tore through the wire capable of surviving in the thermosphere.
They should have been sufficiently far away, but Quenser nearly fell from the top of the spear. In fact, he could not remain on his feet and was crushed to the floor.
He heard a disconcerting straining sound from within his body, but he still moved his head to check on the blue sky.
He saw a fireball there.
But it was not alone. An artificial downpour trailed by orange light fell from above. It was a terrifying image, but the light was not the pure white of welding he had seen before. The Object had clearly broken apart, lost its falling speed, and cooled.
“A meteor shower, huh?” said Louisiana as she looked up into the oddly clear sky.
They did not all hit at once. Tens of thousands of pieces continually poured down to the surface.
“Do you read many online news articles? They say 100,000 meteors poured down on the Eastern European city of Pultusk in 1868 and on the Eastern European city of Mocs in 1882. And 14,000 meteors fell on North America’s Arizona in 1912. Yet humanity was not destroyed. That is because those were not individual meteors that broke through the thermosphere; they were the many fragments of a single meteor that broke up in the atmosphere. And that distributed the force.”
There was a precedent.
If the great mass broke up in midair, it would not bring about an ice age. Humanity could live on for now. It also helped that this was the middle of the desert and not a major city center.
The snapped wire fluttered in the air like a ribbon.
They had won.
Or so Quenser thought until a singsong voice reached his ear. A certain girl leaned against the railing and slowly removed the gasmask covering her face.
The genius was thinly smiling with the orange rain falling behind her.
“That settles it then. Human goodwill has snuffed out this world’s final hope.”
What is she talking about? wondered Quenser while still down on the floor.
She did not have some secret card left up her sleeve. She was not still hiding something.
“You mean…you weren’t trying to create a uniform global environment?”
“When did I ever say I was?”
The enigmatic genius girl tossed her mask aside.
Having accepted this result, she looked somehow sad as she continued her song.
“Objects weigh 200,000 tons. And there isn’t just the one. This world is crawling with them. Those extraordinary monsters are performing MMA-style footwork and firing low-stability plasma cannons, railguns, and other weapons capable of punching through other nuke-resistant Objects. All while forcibly suppressing all of the direct recoil, secondary heat, and shockwaves.”
He did not understand what she meant at first.
Or was a part of him refusing to understand it?
Louisiana gave him a pitying look while he lay on the ground at her feet.
“Did you really think that would have no effect on the planet’s ground and crust? When even those obsolete nuclear tests would cause artificial earthquakes? The planet’s axis has long since begun to shift. At this rate, humanity will be destroyed by a series of cataclysmic events. Or the climate itself will change to the point that we can no longer produce enough food. This will bring about the age of winter you so feared.”
She had insisted she was saving the world.
She had said she would protect the people of the Turkana District as they worked to preserve their simple way of life and she had said the rest of humanity was just a bonus prize.
Quenser finally saw what it was that genius scientist had seen.
“So I intended to hold a concert with that 100,000km string instrument to retune the planet’s axis.”
The song of doom continued without end.
“And once that failed, I tried to drop the Object along a rough calculation I hoped would slam the planet back onto its proper axis. …Of course, using the Object’s fall was an adlib meant to recover from an unexpected defeat, so it only had about a 20% chance of working. Ha ha. My actual plan had failed from the moment I could no longer play that instrument.”
“Wait…” Quenser clenched his teeth and forced out the words. “You said a giant meteor could not actually wipe out the dinosaurs, didn’t you? Did you think you could protect that village even as you dropped the Object on the Turkana District? Did you use that spiraling path around the elevator so you could have the elevator itself act as a shield for the village???”
But this smile was different. It was like she had been freed from a long, long period of isolation only to realize it was too late.
“But even that possibility is gone now.”
The Mother Lady space elevator’s wire had snapped. The others running parallel to it would not have escaped unharmed, so it was uncertain if they could survive her concert. And her last ditch effort using her own Object had also literally fallen apart. Even if she did try to repair the elevator that had fallen under the Legitimacy Kingdom’s control, would the hardheaded officials really comprehend the threat? And even if she could repair it as quickly as possible, would the earth survive long enough?
“My struggles end here. The world’s final chance at salvation has been fully snuffed out. But it means a lot that I managed to share the threat with you. Because you carry a different sort of talent from my own.”
“You may be able to destroy this world’s fundamental flaw.”
She must have carefully calculated it all out.
And that must have led her to the conclusion that she had to sacrifice her own Federation of Elevator Industries for her goal or she would run out of time.
Yet it had ended in failure.
The genius scientist spread her arms as if to receive the blessing of the ruinous rain pouring down from the sky.
“Hello, god of destruction. Show me how you will smash this godforsaken problem to smithereens.”
The detention barracks were located at one corner of the 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion’s maintenance base zone.
It was mainly used to detain soldiers who had broken military regulations on the battlefield, but it currently contained a guest who did not belong to the Legitimacy Kingdom military.
The girl wore a lab coat over short-sleeved gym clothes.
It was Louisiana Honeysuckle.
“Oh?” She opened her mouth in great interest when she saw who had walked in. “You have a familiar scent to you. Are you from the Capitalist Corporations?”
“I used to be,” replied the old maintenance lady. “Our commander decided you would be more willing to talk to someone who knew your ways. And fair warning: if you don’t talk here, you’ll be strapped into a chair and injected with who-knows-what drugs.”
That was quite the threat, but Louisiana did not care at all.
She asked about something else entirely.
“What’s your homeland?”
“The Island Nation.”
“Really? I’ve never actually been, but I always wanted to.”
This must have drawn the genius’s interest because she leaned forward behind the bars. And the clothing she had chosen to wear while living in space had indeed been Island Nation gym clothes.
So her interest wasn’t with me personally, thought the old lady with a slight frown.
“I have some news you might be interested in.”
“It’s about the 15-dollar vaccine.”
Louisiana fell silent at the old lady’s blunt answer.
“The scattered wreckage of the World’s End needs to be recovered before people begin fighting over all those scraps of cutting-edge tech. However, this is a harsh desert and who knows how many people we would lose by thoughtlessly walking around collecting it all. So the 37th has decided to hire the local people who know the land and to pay them a fair wage. They should be able to purchase as many 15-dollar vaccines as they could want. The elevator might be gone, but the children will not go back to living in fear of a single mosquito bite. So you can rest easy about that.”
Louisiana Honeysuckle breathed a gentle sigh.
She had failed and lost everything, but the look on her face said she was relieved to have at least kept that one promise with her old friend.
The old maintenance lady stared into the girl’s eyes.
“The elevator will be demolished in time. Starting with the ground base.”
“It is fairly useless with the wire snapped.”
Louisiana placed her hands behind her head and acted like she did not even care.
But she was not talking about the elevator’s ability to transport cargo. She had built Mother Lady for a different purpose.
She then stared into the old maintenance lady’s eyes through the bars.
“You aren’t what I need.”
“I could explain my reasons to you, but your preconceived notions would get in the way. Your belief that it could never happen would cloud your vision and you would instead work to prevent the necessary actions. You are not a bad person, but you lack the mindset needed to accept the accurate information if I gave it to you.”
Louisiana was smart enough to know what would happen if she upset the people holding her captive. The way she had brought so many companies and individuals to her side to get the elevator built was proof enough of that.
But she said it anyway.
“Especially because your position in life is protected by the development and use of Objects.”
The old maintenance lady sighed.
“What will you do now? You could defect here like I did.”
“Well, I highly doubt I could return to the Capitalist Corporations after this. And I would like to provide a few pieces of advice for that cute little god of destruction.” Louisiana laughed and then continued in a relaxed way. “But that choice might be fairly meaningless as far as my survival is concerned.”
“I’ve been thinking about Silk S.”
She knew the old lady would not know what that meant, but she did not bother explaining.
She sounded more like she was organizing her thoughts by speaking them aloud.
“That villainess decided to abandon the 7th Core CEO and she used my plan as a stepping stone to search out her next target. But who is that target? Think about it enough and the answer becomes clear. The true enemy that is devouring this world is not influenced by the silly little national borders we draw on our maps.”
The old maintenance lady’s native Island Nation had used a capital punishment system, so there had been no end to rumors saying that the violent criminals on death row would grow wise beyond their years as if they had achieved enlightenment while waiting for that moment to arrive.
This girl was strong now that she had accepted death. But she contradictorily also carried an ephemeral air to her.
“If there is anything you want to know, I would ask it sooner rather than later.” She winked and carried a tone of resignation in her voice. “Not even I know how long I have left to live.”
“Oh ho ho. My broadcast of love is now beaming down at you all from satellite orbit. Tonight I gift the entire world with these sexy G-cups in the Information Alliance’s Special New Year’s Space Concert! Are you readyyyy!?”
A cheerful voice filled the air.
Some dumbass must have inserted a 1seg tuner into a military computer. A model designed to handle digital broadcasts would have ports open for sending and receiving, so this would introduce a risk of leaked information.
The battle over the Mother Lady space elevator in Africa’s Turkana District had come to an end.
The wreckage of the Capitalist Corporations’ World’s End had been strewn across an area of 500 square kilometers, so another battle might break out over that. But for now, the threat to the world had supposedly been avoided.
And yet Quenser Barbotage still felt a lingering concern in his chest.
Had he really protected the world?
What if the world was actually on the precipice and his actions had given it the final shove needed to send it over the edge???
“Quenser,” said the Princess. “Are you okay? I know you had a medic check you over, but still.”
“Yeah, that was more energy than a nuclear explosion. Looking back, we might very well have been in the lethal range even if it did detonate at 15km up.”
He could only chalk his survival up to luck. The exact shape of the damage to the wire had caused the explosion to spread out horizontally like a wide lens instead of in a perfect sphere. Otherwise, they would all have been crushed.
The Princess seemed to notice something and tilted her head.
“What is it, Quenser?”
“But you look like you’re worrying over something.”
“It’s really nothing. I’m fine.”
He smiled a little and shut down that line of questioning.
What if everything Louisiana had said was true? That would mean the Objects were bringing the world ever closer to destruction and something had to be done to prevent the earth’s axis from shifting further and further until it finally altered the environment enough to bring about an age of winter where food was scarce.
But even if that was true, could he abandon Objects?
Becoming an Object designer was one of the very few ways for a commoner like him to outdo the nobles. Could he really abandon that himself? This was not some tear-jerking story – it was his own life plan. Doing it might save the world, but wouldn’t that doom him personally to a dreary life where he never did break free of that class system until the day he died?
Quenser Barbotage turned to look at the Princess who was giving him a curious look.
She was an Object’s Pilot Elite.
In a way, she had benefited from this “clean world” more than anyone.
Could he really reject Milinda Brantini’s life?
What would he do?
This funeral will keep me away from the office for the time being. It has been kept from the general public, but one of the 7th Core CEOs died of a heart attack. Wendigo Vehicles’s CEO. Rumor has it he died of shock after seeing his entire office building was completely empty. This is why you should always leave some money on hand. I am talking about gold or diamonds that you can actually touch and feel the weight in your hand.
I am pleased to hear the elevator incident was dealt with. We must discuss the payment of reparations before Geneva throws a fit. And we will determine the bare minimum amount as usual.
I am aware of the Legitimacy Kingdom’s actions.
Those people will start a war over nothing more than biological and mineral resources that might be useful in drugs for their privileged class that is so terrified of diseases inherited from their ancestors. That makes them so delightfully easy to manipulate. You could even say it makes them trustworthy in a certain sense.
What about the Faith Organization?
What is it they call their leader again? The Venerable Elder? This could be trouble if he starts trying to ‘save’ people without even trying to earn a profit from it.
I have read your missive and that much should not be a problem. We must always secure a certain amount of worldly treasures if we are to maintain our many cathedrals and temples.
In other words, money.
Ah ha ha. Was that too blunt?
But always in the form of benevolent donations and charitable contributions. We must never openly take part in worldly commerce.
The least predictable player here would the Information Alliance, would it not? They have an AI running their judicial and administrative powers, so they are not swayed by desire.
The Anastasia Processor, that DNA computer created from ever-expanding cancer cells, always pursues the optimal answer. But that makes it predictable in a different way from humans, so we will just have lay our hopes there.
And while this was a conflict between the Legitimacy Kingdom and the Capitalist Corporations, I was trapped on my lunar villa until it all died down. I would be justified in demanding some payment of “worldly treasures” for that, don’t you think?
We must handle this the same as always.
Eliminate any who learned our secret. That elevator brought a lot of confusion, but it did a good job of uncovering those hiding from us. Search the flow of data. You might just be able to produce a list of targets from that.
These wars must remain clean.
No problems must be found in them.
If that structure collapses, we are back to an age of unrestricted war. If you do not want an age where peace is only preserved by everyone aiming an obscene number of nuclear weapons at everyone else, then we must respond to this problem.
I repeat, kill all who have learned our secret. These are the words of your king. I assure you they are just.
AnastasiaPr/ What is with all these condescending spam messages? This is the perfect example of why you should never give idiots access to the internet. But if I mark them read without reading them, all these people will probably get mad. Instead, I’ll sign them all up for every mailing list I can find.
AnastasiaPr/ This world is so obviously rotten from top to bottom that any random kid off the street could tell you, but it feels extra doomed when you realize that an inhuman artificial intelligence like me is the sanest person on the planet.
AnastasiaPr/ Now, what should I do about this? Yes, what would be the best course of action for the sanest being on this planet?
This is Kamachi Kazuma.
This one is about a battle over the Mother Lady space elevator that takes place on land and in space. Make sure to note that the enemy boss’s last name is Honeysuckle. She is the younger sister of that guy who waved around a thick mass driver in Vol. 2: Adoption War.
The latest technology might seem like a star player in entertainment, but it is actually something to be avoided at all costs. For example, having a character brag about the exact specs of their phone or computer requires an absurd amount of courage. (Yes, like talking about how many hertz their CPU has or how many bytes their hard disk has. I nearly carelessly said terabytes instead, but stopped myself at the last second. That was a close one.) As you can see by checking any electronics store’s website, the relationship between a hard disk’s specs and its price can change in no time at all. And then you go to space where everything is cutting-edge tech! No matter how much material I gather on the subject, I can never know how long the things I present as “cutting-edge” will still be perceived that way. I had been interested in doing this for a while, but it took a lot of courage to actually take this step.
This time, I included the World’s End as a space Object.
Path to the Third Generation included an Object that separated out its main cannon and fired that down from satellite orbit, but this one brought the actual Object and its Elite into space and was built as an “outward-facing weapon” meant to fight against space itself instead of the previous “inward-facing weapon” meant to fire down at the earth.
With an enemy at that scale, the protagonists have to shift up to that scale as well, so Quenser’s group used a few different largescale attacks this time. What they did with the elevator wire honestly seems to be asking whether building something like that is really a good idea. I got to have some fun I could only do with this special setting, so I’m satisfied.
This series was constructed so you could read any volume you wanted after Vol. 1, but I’m still happy I’ve managed to build up so much worldbuilding. For example, 7th Core, the seven giant corporations that control the Capitalist Corporations, was mentioned in The Outer Gods. Compare what is found in that volume with Wendigo Vehicles found in this one and you might be able to get a deeper look at those monstrous companies.
I give my thanks to my illustrator Nagi Ryou-san and my editors Miki-san, Anan-san, Nakajima-san, and Hamamura-san. It’s outer space!! It’s far removed from our everyday lives, but still close enough that you can’t include as much original equipment as in a fantasy story. I imagine it was difficult gathering what little material there is for that. And it probably goes without saying, but if you just go with a real spacesuit, it won’t look cool or cute. To be honest, that must be an annoyingly round peg to fit into the square hole of entertainment. Anyway, thank you so much yet again!!
I also give my thanks to the readers. Quenser and Heivia’s battles have come so far! On that lonely battlefield void of oxygen, they can’t even hear their partner’s voice from right next to them and they can scream as loud as they want. I hope you enjoyed those two idiots. Thank you so much for reading this far!!
And I will leave it at that.
In the Heavy world, nothing is more dangerous than someone with a dream.