HEAVY OBJECT:Volume 20
“I happened to detect a Longshot CM flying at low altitude toward a large safe country city. That’s the type of cruise missile that snakes along in an S-shape to slip past the ground-based radars. If I hadn’t shot it down, Warsaw would’ve been wiped off the map. It had an FAE warhead.”
“Protect the safe country. Save Warsaw. Ksh, so do whatever you need to do. I grant you authorization for it all. This is the final command Royal Air Force’s Jotunheim Air Base has for you in our joint operation. I’m glad we had this chance to work together.”
“Does that mean the Chain Cutters’ cruise missile bombing of Warsaw and attack on Jotunheim Air Base were all so they could target this Information Alliance transport plane? They wanted to alter their targets route to lure it into their ‘lair’.”
“I wonder what’s in that thing. So many people died on both sides, but that turkey wasn’t even scratched. Even though it’s nearly defenseless and at the center of it all.”
“The accuracy of their statements is not being officially recognized, but we do know the Information Alliance higher ups were getting frustrated with their inability to end that war and lent their Object an add-on we have called the Ghost Changer. We don’t know what it does.”
“They swapped out containers several times along the way while zigzagging it between the east and the west to disguise where it was going, but fortunately we were able to figure out where it was being sent next.”
“Would the world powers really just give up after that? Like with the Chain Cutters and Electric Drills, Bad Garage had infiltrated the militaries to set up their own people in enemy territory, so they were clearly planning something bigger than that.”
“But that isn’t the end of it. The Electric Drills – or really, Bad Garage who leads all those online terrorists – wants to prove their environmental destruction by Objects theory. They want a disaster so bad not even the joint efforts of the four world powers can cover it up.”
“And luck would have it Mount Vesuvius is located on the Italian Peninsula. It’s one of the world’s most famous active volcanoes, right alongside Mount Etna, and it’s only about 200km from the center of Rome. Mineral springs are fairly common around here, so there is a chance the same magma reservoir exists below the city. It’s currently dormant, but the kind of massive energy that destroyed Pompeii in a single night still lurks below the surface.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. An Object disaster is coming to Rome.”
“The Princess and Oh Ho Ho were the real trigger!?”
“It’s finally started. This isn’t the usual clean wars. No one’s even trying to pretend anymore. The four world powers aren’t going to stop until they have truly burned each other to the ground, bringing down the rest of the world with them. This is a true world war.”
Chapter 4: Thus Spoke the End >> *No Mission Name Set Due to Confusion in the Chain of Command
How long did Quenser Barbotage stand there staring?
A few minutes?
A few hours?
Looking to the big clock didn’t help since it was scorched and the hands had stopped.
Everything was black and orange.
Rome had been so full of world heritage sites, but now it was submerged in a sea of lava erupting straight up from the cracks in the pavement. The Faith Organization’s home country had been destroyed. This marked the end of an era and symbolized the collapse of the global power balance.
It was beginning.
There was no going back to the clean wars now. This was an endless global war that would continue until all four world powers were gone. It was a world war.
But Quenser Barbotage could not just stare forever.
Time was passing.
A stained glass window shattered overhead, sending colorful shards raining down toward the boy. Even a historical building or work of fine art would be transformed into a downpour of blades when falling from sufficient height.
Quenser was wearing some rough casual clothing to blend in, so he wasn’t protected from embers and shards as much as in his military uniform.
He grabbed the nearby small child’s hand and crawled below a wooden bench. A moment later, they were surrounded by too many sounds to count.
He shouted out from below the bench.
“How are the train passengers!? Was anyone hurt!?”
“They went back into the tunnel, so they’re fine!! You worry about yourself, Quenser!! These people are civilians, so the Faith Organization police will protect them if we leave them here. …The problem is us. The Faith Organization has already declared war. Who knows what kind of justifications they’re using, so they might just treat us like mass shooters without evidence. If it gets out that we’re Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers, the angry masses might just hang us from the roadside trees!!”
Heivia Winchell, Myonri, and Putana Highball were here too.
Millia Newburg from the intelligence division was in Rome as well, but she had gotten separated from them. Unfortunately, it didn’t look like they would be able to get everyone out of the city like this.
Quenser crawled out from under the bench, still holding the boy he had rescued. He of course had to watch out for the glass shards as he did so.
(God, saving people is just not worth it.)
“Eek! Kidnapper! Those Legitimacy Kingdom murderers are snatching children off the streets!!”
The false accusations were already beginning.
(I’m not in uniform, so how’d she know I’m Legitimacy Kingdom!? My clothes? The scent of my hair? My mannerisms? I don’t know, but it’s a good reminder that Rome is enemy territory!!)
A dangerous change came over the crowd’s mood. It wasn’t that they all heroically wanted to save a strange child. When subjected to an inexplicable disaster, people wanted to locate and attack some kind of cause or villain.
“Heivia, they’re civilians!! This isn’t war!!”
Quenser couldn’t believe how hollow his words sounded. Was that argument even valid anymore? It was like seeing an old TV ad from a time before a major disaster struck.
If Heivia and Myonri hadn’t held out their T-shaped submachineguns, the murderous crowd of civilians probably would have started firing. Yes, soldiers weren’t the only ones with guns.
They had reached a dangerous stalemate.
The tingling on their skin was from more than just the lava’s heat carried on the wind.
But it didn’t last long.
The first to notice was Putana. Her pupils constricted and her face paled.
Quenser heard a deep grinding sound approaching.
“Are you kidding me? These eyes…run away, everyone!!!!!”
The 8-wheel armored truck that charged in from the side ran over the Faith Organization civilians by the dozen.
It was utter pandemonium.
The Faith Organization military had put defeating their enemy over protecting their people. What were they even fighting for at this point? What did they hope to leave behind?
The Faith Organization armored truck approached with its beautiful feet and skirt coated with red and black gore. The groans of the people who hadn’t quite died were drowned out by the humming of a motor as the 120mm gun on top of the truck rotated to aim at the Legitimacy Kingdom group.
The gun’s specs were the same as a tank gun.
Quenser picked up the boy and ran into a narrow alley just before an explosive roar filled the world outside. Heivia had said to leave the tourists behind because they would be protected, but the young boy would have been obliterated along with that church’s wall if Quenser had followed that advice.
That armored truck was in charge out there and it was so focused on killing its enemies that it had lost sight of its allies.
The recoil of the shot must have slid it to the side, killing even more of the civilians it had run over. Although to the ones caught in the 8 wheels, half crushed but unable to actually die, the dead ones may have seemed like the lucky ones.
“Don’t look. Don’t look at any of it. This is just a bad dream, so you don’t have to look at it.”
Quenser’s head ached from the close-range gunshot. He ran deeper into the alley with the small boy in his arms and he also radioed the others.
“Heivia, Myonri, Putana, are you still alive? We need to meet up somewhere. Check the color of the sky. The lava shouldn’t have erupted quite as much to the east, so head that way!!”
There was no response.
He prayed they had at least heard him as he made his way to their rendezvous point.
The boy in his arms asked the most fundamental question.
He must have been oversaturated with emotions because he sounded weirdly calm.
“Is it over?”
“Don’t worry. I swear to you I’ll get you out of here. I won’t abandon you, so there’s nothing at all to worry about.”
Quenser was not at all confident in what he was saying.
And that lie revealed itself even sooner than he had feared.
He held his breath at the alley’s exit while a bunch of Faith Organization soldiers marched down the street with bayonet-equipped assault rifles. Once they were gone, he turned back the way had come, hoping to find another way around.
That was when the stone wall exploded and a mass of composite armor burst into the alley, blocking the way.
It was that armored truck. He had no idea what kind of shortcut it had taken and he noticed a stuffed rabbit caught in its bloodstained 8-wheel undercarriage.
…How could they carry such hate in their hearts?
Quenser honestly didn’t get it. It sounded exhausting. He knew militaries came in many different forms, but what good were they if they prioritized killing the enemy over protecting the people they held dear? That didn’t sound sustainable unless the soldiers enjoyed the killing itself and everything else was just an excuse.
He heard the humming of the motor turning the gun his way.
That was when static came from his radio.
“Ksshh! Burning Alpha here. Hey there, little knight, do you have an anti-friendly fire card on you? If not, then I’ll mark your radio signal as friendly. Keep transmitting on a safe bandwidth, hold that kid tight, and keep your head down.”
Quenser had no idea what this was about, but his understanding wasn’t necessary.
A Legitimacy Kingdom delta wing fighter shot by overhead.
A moment later, the smart bomb that separated from the bottom of its wing accurately blew away the 8-wheel armored truck.
He was outside the range of the blast, but the invisible shockwave still hit him like a solid wall.
He was knocked backwards with the small boy in his arms. He found himself a few meters away from where he thought he was, which just showed how far he had flown.
“Cough!! Cough cough!?”
He was coughing hard, but he was more worried about the boy than himself.
“A-are you okay? You weren’t hit by any shrapnel, were you? Good.”
(But this is the Faith Organization’s home country. How is one of our planes flying here!?)
“Burning Alpha to my virtuous Legitimacy Kingdom brother. Your rendezvous point is outside Tiburtina Station. Get there now if you don’t want to be stuck at the back of the line. Especially when you have that kid with you. Don’t forget that this is a battlefield and the odds of death rise by the minute.”
Quenser walked through the burning and smoking city of Rome while holding the boy’s hand. The air support was perfect. He had a gun aimed at him a few times along the way, but each time a 40mm Gatling gun or missile from the sky accurately eliminated the threat. The fighter must have been using specialized ground attack equipment.
No distinction was made between the Faith Organization soldiers, powered suits, and armed civilians.
Of course, his ally was really only interested in protecting the child.
One person was torn to pieces by a stream of bullets and another was transformed into a living pillar of fire. One person couldn’t bear the pain and jumped into a river of lava while dragging along something dangling from their ruptured gut. …Quenser had expected that to result in an instant death, but the actual result was very much not that.
“Why is this hap-”
“Don’t look!! Listen, I’ll hold your hand and guide you, so just close your eyes. Then we can escape all this scary stuff!!”
How was he a hero?
The most he could do was hold the trembling boy and cover his eyes. He was a frail and pathetic liar without any ability to influence this war.
This was happening because his team had failed to stop it.
Of course, they had been pursuing a decoy into the subway tunnel and there hadn’t been any way for them to stop it. He was honestly relieved once the fighter flew elsewhere.
Right up until he heard a quiet metallic sound.
Someone was aiming his way through the dark smoke.
It really didn’t seem to matter he wasn’t in uniform. An outsider like him stuck out like a sore thumb.
Soaked in sweat, he tried to protect the small boy, but the gunshot and pain he expected never came. He was surprised to find himself taking that action since he thought of himself as more inappropriate and disorderly.
He hesitantly opened his eyes to see a familiar face nearby.
It was the local commander of the Faith Organization police special forces known as the Valkyries.
Her name was Sarasa Gleamshifter.
She wore a tight-fitting black combat outfit with add-on parts resembling lingerie.
Her gun was a short-range sniper rifle with an awfully big caliber for its compact size. The cool woman with short blonde hair aimed that at Quenser and the boy and clicked her tongue like she had found something she didn’t want to find. Whether that meant Quenser or the small boy was unclear.
She had control here. With Rome in this state, she would have a hard time finding a reason not to shoot an enemy soldier.
(I don’t have time to pull out a bomb and insert a fuse. I can’t beat her. But can I shove her out of the way? Could I at least get this kid to the alley right over there?)
His pulse rang loud in his ears.
Time remained stubbornly frozen. It felt like making any move on his part would cause everything to collapse around him, so he couldn’t even bring himself to construct a ridiculous plan in his head. Which meant the fool couldn’t protect the life in his arms.
“Go,” said Sarasa.
Quenser blinked in confusion as the Valkyrie commander aimed her gun upwards and stepped aside to clear the way.
She gestured behind her with her shapely chin.
“Take that kid and get out of here! If the others see this, I’ll have no choice but to shoot you!!”
Propelled by her voice, Quenser pulled on the boy’s hand and took off running. Sarasa intended to remain in this hell. When he took a hesitant look back, his eardrums were struck by a warning shot fired into the air.
Running full speed with the small boy in tow was his only option.
Toxically bright lemon yellow smoke was rising from Tiburtina Station. That would be a smoke grenade. That was their rendezvous point and tiltrotors capable of carrying trucks were currently landing, their rotors loudly beating at the air. The people gathered there weren’t in uniform, but they had to all be Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers. They didn’t have insignia or dog tags to identify themselves while undercover, so they were instead holding up their mobile devices to a device that read its registration data.
A blonde beauty wearing a hoodie and tight pants over a bikini waved her full arm his way.
“Over here, Quenser!”
“Who’s the kid? Not that it matters. Just get over here. Looks like I’ve got a lot of praise to give you, but this place is far from safe. Get onboard!!”
Obeying the instructions that the blonde intelligence division woman shouted over the din of the two giant rotors, Quenser and the boy boarded one of the midsized VTOL transport crafts. After around 30 people poured in, it lifted from the ground before the cargo door was even closed. He couldn’t tell if Heivia, Myonri, and Putana were on the same tiltrotor as him. He was also surprised to find so many Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers had been in Rome.
The aircraft wobbled to the side and rapidly gained altitude.
Quenser realized he had been wandering Rome for a long time. It was already night time. Dark smoke had covered everything and he had been too focused on the hell below to notice the change in the sky’s color overhead.
The view down from the open door was hell itself.
The orange lava and black smoke had taken over, leaving none of the colors of the white marble world heritage sites. And millions of people were still trapped in that hell.
But he didn’t have time to get sentimental.
A trail of white smoke shot up from the surface. A surface-to-air missile flew directly past them and struck one of the other tiltrotors. The metal manatee stuffed full of Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers ruptured from within and fell back toward the Roman hell as burning scraps.
This wasn’t calculated.
Even the slightest difference and that would have hit Quenser’s tiltrotor instead.
The friendly craft drew a streak of dark smoke as it dropped to the ground 400m below and exploded. But instead of mounting a rescue, gunfire rang out from below. The Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers still on the surface must have surrounded the missile launch point and opened fire. After several explosions, the school being used as a hideout collapsed. A school, usually a symbol of safety, had been destroyed to get at a single killer.
Why did everyone so happily flock toward the killing?
Quenser knew the odds were slim, but wasn’t there something they could have done before revenge?
He covered the boy’s eyes with a hand and spat out a few words.
“This is wrong.”
The tiltrotor escaped westward, flying just above the ocean surface. Once they crossed the Mediterranean, it was only a short flight to the Legitimacy Kingdom’s Normandy District, which meant their home country of Paris.
But they could not celebrate. That showed just how close they still were to the furious Faith Organization’s headquarters. Rome and Paris were only about 1000km apart. Everything here was packed into a distance only about half the length of the small Island Nation floating in the Asian sea. If their defensive line fell, Second Generation Objects might rush in all at once. After all, those things could perform high-speed mobility at 500-600km/h. A single open seam could cause it all to fall apart.
The clean wars had protected them from all this.
Nothing was designed for a true battle between home countries.
“So what’s your name?”
Quenser pulled out a large, eraser-like ration, broke it in two, and handed the boy half.
“Okay, Carat. Are you hungry? You should eat while you have the chance.”
“What is this? It has no flavor.”
“Good, I’m not the only one that thinks that.”
Quenser smiled a little and some other soldiers gathered around. A lot of them had red stains on their undercover clothing or bandages and makeshift splints on their arms, but they all wanted to help look after the kid. Some even showed the small boy a magic trick with a coin or how to fold some complex origami with exhausted smiles on their faces. They may have wanted to keep their hearts from being corrupted by this new age by reminding themselves of the goodness there. Quenser himself felt Carat’s presence had saved him in that hell. Without that young boy trusting in the existence of heroes, Quenser may have already started down the path of killing. And if that had happened, he doubted he would be on this tiltrotor now.
(Heivia, Myonri, and Putana aren’t here. They did get away, didn’t they?)
He felt his weight tilting to the side. The tiltrotor had just turned off of its straight-line course.
He thought he saw a lightning-like flash tear apart the sky and then an escort fighter that had joined them was sliced through by a laser beam. With the alarm belatedly blaring, Millia Newburg grabbed the receiver on the wall and shouted at the pilot through it.
“Why the hell are we flying this high? Stop getting scared and bring us down now! Aerial refueling? That can wait! We’re in an Object’s anti-air zone. We’re screwed if we don’t have a mountain to shield us!!”
The Faith Organization had begun their attack. The Alps defensive line was starting to fall and the Legitimacy Kingdom forces were falling back to their secondary defensive line further north. No aircraft could survive when in range of an Object’s anti-air lasers.
Quenser spotted a familiar silhouette.
“That’s the Princess.”
The main cannon on the very edge shook like a wiper, perhaps to mimic a wave.
The Baby Magnum was not alone.
The Faith Organization’s Second Generation Zombie Powder and Blast Samurai were already crossing the Alps. Millia had said they needed a mountain, but it looked more like they needed to put the horizon between them and those Objects or they would be shot down at the speed of light.
(We can’t let the Princess know it was the Objects’ presence there that caused that disaster.)
Once they moved inland from the Mediterranean, he could feel the tension gradually fading. Paris did not have a unique defense network like the Information Alliance’s Manhattan or the Faith Organization’s Rome did. They only had three layers of simple but powerful defensive lines constructed around their home country. He could see the wheat fields, the vineyards, and the thick transport routes spread out like a spider web. Those eight-lane highways were large for farm roads and were designed to allow a 50m Object through. To allow for that, they had no real median and there were no streetlights on the sides.
Strange and unique systems tended to cause unexpected errors once they were actually used.
To protect what truly mattered, it was better to trust in the tried-and-true methods.
It was simple – extremely simple – but would that simplicity get the job done in this new world war? Quenser wasn’t confident. After what had happened to Rome, he had no idea what they could even do to make him feel safe. Had the people at the top really designed the defense system with a situation like this in mind?
“If you’re still alive, then listen up!!”
After their tiltrotor landed in a vineyard on the outskirts of Paris, Major Frolaytia Capistrano gathered everyone who had escaped Rome in the garden in front of the vineyard’s residence. They were about halfway between Paris’s center and the third defensive line, which left them still outside the city.
Why hadn’t they flown directly into Paris?
Quenser guessed Frolaytia was about to explain that for him, but he doubted it was going to be good news.
For now, he left Carat with Charlotte Zoom, the Black Uniform glasses woman who happened to be nearby.
Carat Affinity held something out to Quenser. It was a small cloth bag with a string attached. Rubbing it revealed it had a flat piece of wood or thick paper inside.
“It’s an Asian amulet. You aren’t supposed to open it.”
“Thanks. I hope it brings me good luck.”
That was all Quenser said before waving goodbye and joining the other filthy potatoes. Frolaytia was continuing her speech.
“Currently, the Faith Organization is approaching Paris along two primary invasion courses. The first is a land route over the Alps and the other is a sea route across the Mediterranean. However, we have discovered the possibility that both are only diversions.”
Quenser was relieved to see Heivia, Myonri, and Putana among the potatoes covered in soot and mud. They hadn’t had time to change, so they were hard to miss when everyone else was wearing identical uniforms. This meant he wasn’t the only one lucky enough to escape that hell.
The initial problem had been started by Bad Garage, but they were dead now.
This war was all about finding someone to blame when the real culprits were gone.
When Quenser had encountered Sarasa in Rome, she had seen Carat, clicked her tongue, and secretly let him past. There were good people in the Legitimacy Kingdom and the Faith Organization.
But Frolaytia described a situation that didn’t allow for that sort of idealism.
“The enemy used those obvious invasion routes to hide the elite commandos they sent to Charles de Gaulle Airport, located only a few dozen kilometers from the center of Paris. We have received a report of the airport being occupied using poison gas weapons! This war is over if they get the airport running again. The Faith Organization will be able to send in transport planes full of soldiers and vehicles. We must take the airport back before that happens and nip their direct attack on Paris in the bud!!”
At a distance of a few dozen kilometers, the Faith Organization airborne troops might not even need to set foot inside Paris. They could line up rocket launchers in the airport and send fire raining down on Paris.
But they were hesitant to immediately gather several Objects to defend Paris with their anti-air lasers. They had already seen what happened to Rome. Heivia raised his voice while forgetting all about the chain of command.
“So are we going to have a ton of Objects gathered around Paris now? Damn the Faith Organization. Is that how they hope to get revenge – an eye for an eye or whatever!?”
Logical arguments were not always convincing to someone who was running off of emotion, but Quenser cut in all the same.
“I don’t think there’s a large magma reservoir underneath Paris.”
“That just means they have something else planned. Like pressurizing the groundwater to liquefy the entire city into a marsh!! We can’t just assume everything will work out all right!”
Frolaytia agreed with Heivia’s frantic shouting.
“I sent in a report, but I have no idea if the higher ups will even see it. The clean wars structure has collapsed, after all. Everyone has awoken from that dream and now an unprecedented world war has begun. The higher ups are probably buried alive in more reports than they’ve ever seen before. …If the gravity of this threat is not conveyed to them, Paris might just become a second Rome. That’s why we need to take back Charles de Gaulle Airport before all those Objects arrive in the name of air defense. Got that!?”
“Contact. Claire Whist to Baby Magnum. I’m one of the guest technical officers given an online invitation to deal with this emergency. My specialty is Object design. I know your specs already, so can you pass me the data I need to analyze the enemy Object?”
All hell had broken loose in the Legitimacy Kingdom territory near the Mont Blanc border on the west side of the Alps.
The Princess observed the enemy through her special goggles that used lasers to read her eye movements.
The Baby Magnum was making quick evasions to the left and right, but the Princess was aware she was also gradually falling back. This one was especially difficult to deal with.
The Blast Samurai.
It had a main cannon on either side…except they weren’t quite cannons really. This Faith Organization Second Generation wielded twin 10m blades made of ultra-hot low-stability plasma. She was dead if it got close enough. That plasma was so powerful it couldn’t be fully controlled with ordinary magnetism, so it would be able to slice through a nuke-resistant Object like it was made of jelly.
“Its versatility is a much bigger threat than its simple destructive power,” said Claire Whist. “It can trigger an explosive blast in those two blades to make high-speed dashes to either side.”
“It can also explosively strike the air, so by mixing in an impurity, it can set up a scattershot barrier. That wouldn’t be a fatal blow, but it would be hard to dodge and definitely slow you down. Don’t get careless and lose your balance. If you stop moving, it’ll cut you down in a single strike.”
(Why does this have to happen when I want to talk with Quenser? I want to ask him how I’m supposed to live in this new world and about so much more too!!)
A volley of her own main cannons was not enough to stop her opponent. In fact, the moment of motionlessness after firing would give the Blast Samurai a chance to rush in.
She had to keep her distance to survive.
That was a bad situation when she was supposed to be holding the line to protect their home country.
And on top of that…
“The Zombie Powder is moving.”
The U-shaped part surrounding the back and sides of the spherical main body was not additional armor. It was probably a field hospital. Even from here, she could see an elevator for carrying people up and down. Its design appeared to have focused on that to the neglect of its other functions. It had two ski-like floats for its static electricity propulsion device and its only main cannon was an extremely short mortar-like railgun on the very front, so it was even less creative than the Princess’s Baby Magnum.
That railgun was no threat except at extreme close range and the skis were split into pieces like a chocolate bar to match the bumps and dips in the terrain. The Princess felt no envy toward that Object.
“Listen, Princess. Don’t try to deal with them both at once. The Zombie Powder is a support Object and it can’t do any critical damage to us. Focus on the Blast Samurai for now!!”
“I know that!!”
The Princess clenched her teeth at the old maintenance lady’s advice.
Something was moving along the ground. The surface was crawling with Faith Organization soldiers. Those soldiers in synthetic uniforms charged fearlessly toward the 50m mass of firearms and armor that was the Baby Magnum.
The Zombie Powder was a special Object with a U-shape field hospital on its rear. It was also the reason the Faith Organization would not stop or give up no matter what.
They didn’t realize how suicidal their actions were until the bullet had passed through them or the explosive blast had hit them and modern medicine could do nothing for them. When an Object blasted you or ran you over, there was no chance of recovery.
If any of the soldiers did notice the horror of their situation and came to a stop, another one would grab them by the shoulders.
The reluctant soldiers were dragged back to the hospital where their mind was destroyed just the right amount to throw them back out onto the battlefield.
Hence the double meaning of the Zombie Powder name.
This was not just a battle between foot soldiers. Quite a few soldiers and trucks recklessly charged directly toward the Princess. The Legitimacy Kingdom’s defensive line was being pushed back, but the Faith Organization did not look at all happy to the Princess. It almost looked like they had a vague idea what was happening to them and wanted to die of their own free will before their mind was fully destroyed.
It reminded her of army ants.
They were a great threat, but it didn’t feel like she was battling humans.
(How far is the Faith Organization willing to go!?)
“Claire Whist to Baby Magnum. What are you doing? Crush them already. Your top priority is the Blast Samurai. You can ignore the enemy infantry as long as you don’t stumble over them. That static electricity is keeping 200 thousand tons afloat, so the high-voltage current will obliterate anyone you pass over. I’m guessing you had already noticed, but that’s actually what they want.”
“Hey, can I switch off her channel!?”
“The Zombie Powder is designed to anger its enemies like that,” said the old maintenance lady. “Don’t let the tragedy get to you. Your heroic feelings will cloud your strategic judgment. You can’t throw out your own calculations if you want to avoid being sliced by the Blast Samurai’s dual swords!!”
“Their home country has fallen, so how do they have so much momentum!?”
“The highly skilled delinquent units that were being restrained before have now been unleashed across the globe,” said Claire.
“The rules of the clean wars don’t apply to this world war,” said the old maintenance lady. “These are the fools who sold their soul to the devil for power. I’m from the Island Nation, so I understand how frightening technology sans morals can be. Let your guard down and it will consume you!!”
Of course, the Faith Organization wasn’t the only threat. Capitalist Corporations and Information Alliance Objects were taking advantage of the confusion to approach as well. It wasn’t clear if they were targeting the Legitimacy Kingdom or Faith Organization, so the Princess had to assume they were hostile.
Just then, the old maintenance lady’s mic picked up a tongue click. She had likely had an operator directly whisper a report in her ear instead of receiving it on another channel.
“So that wasn’t an instrument malfunction.”
“Um, there appears to be a discrepancy in the altitudes of the Alps. It’s almost certainly caused by rapid plate movement. The mountains have grown by 2-3cm in just the past half hour.”
“The Indian Peninsula has always been solidly under Faith Organization control, but it has never been a monolith thanks to the constant conflict between its multiple major religions, like Shiva or Buddha. According to Royce, a journalist currently deployed there, the Information Alliance is threatening them from the ocean, presumably to drive a wedge between those factions and ultimately tear it apart.”
“Moving on to today’s headlines, it unfortunately looks like the Panama Canal will never be free of war. The canal is currently on fire, thought to be fueled by crude oil. This appears to be part of a Capitalist Corporations barricade operation to keep the Legitimacy Kingdom from traveling northward from South America. The Capitalist Corporations home country is Los Angeles, in the Central Valley District, so…”
“Subway Online News. Several pipelines and fuel storage bases across the battlefield countries of southern Africa have been destroyed. Capitalist Corporations and Legitimacy Kingdom special forces have been accused of destroying each other’s energy infrastructure. As you can see, the sky has been blotted out by dark smoke and the cities are covered by a rainbow-colored film of oil whenever it rains.”
“We have heard a few explosions here at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Whoa! Earlier, there was an unconfirmed report of a poison gas attack at this same airport, but- eh? What? Who are you people!? You want us to stop the broadcast? Ehh!? Ksshhh!!!!!”
Charles de Gaulle Airport was located only a few dozen kilometers away from the center of Paris.
The airport had been taken by Faith Organization commandos and it had to be retaken before it was back up and running or Paris would be engulfed in flames after armored trucks or rocket launchers were flown in.
“Damn, there are mines. Medic! I don’t care if you’re scared! Get over here!!”
The sound of thick gears turning came from directly ahead. The club flail, an additional piece of equipment attached to the front of a tank, was an extremely imprecise device. The dozens of chains and weights attached to the thick axle forcibly plowed the dirt and detonated all of the mines. This was a race against time and they weren’t about to go through the painstaking process of digging up and deactivating each end every one of the Faith Organization mines.
Something flashed near the corner of the fence surrounding the rectangular airport grounds.
Rapidly installed heavy artillery blew away both the tank and the soldiers and medics spread out around it. The ground was torn up in an unnatural fan shape and shrapnel was thrown through the air. The lethal range was three or four times the size of a small convenience store.
“Dammit, I am not dying an emotional death here. My daughter’s college fund is riding on this. And I haven’t been paid any of the retirement money I’ve earned!!”
“Did you see that crater? That must have been a 25-inch gun. Even the tough powered suits were smashed up and thrown into the air. Th-that’s got to be fortress artillery.”
25-inch fortress artillery had a range of about 15km, so it could directly reach Paris. But did the Legitimacy Kingdom force have the firepower needed to push them back when they were having so much trouble with the minefield?
The commandos were a small, elite squad, so they had arrived knowing they would be outnumbered. That was why they had planned to make up for their inferior numbers with mines and artillery. But that also meant they couldn’t have laid out tens of thousands of mines by hand. They must have loaded them in their extra-large artillery and launched them in every direction to rapidly distribute them.
And during all this…
“Wow am I glad I challenged them to that rock-paper-scissors game. Sometimes we actually win.”
“I still think we got the worse job. I mean, those powered suits are only a diversion. Once the suits are destroyed, the soldiers inside get to sneak away.”
“So it’s all about stripping the armor off musclebound macho men?”
“Yeah, the enemy gets to strip them, but there’s nothing worth seeing inside. Probably meant as psychological warfare to bring down enemy morale. Remind me to never get on Frolaytia’s bad side.”
The idiots hung their heads with shadows over their faces.
Heivia and Quenser had changed into their Legitimacy Kingdom uniforms and were now walking through a thick metal pipe with flashlights in hand. The pipe was more than 2m tall, so it felt more like a small tunnel.
While the rest of their forces fought a diversionary battle up top, around 20 Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers were traveling underground. They were meant to sneak below the airport and wipe out the Faith Organization commandos in a surprise attack.
They were accompanied by the 7th Special Training Unit’s Elise Montana and Black Uniform Charlotte Zoom. Those two had both mastered close combat even in the Age of Objects. This surprise attack operation needed warriors like that to provide any chance at survival, so the battlefield student doubted he was coming back alive.
“So does this drain pipe really reach the airport?”
“The more than 3000m of runway would be entirely useless if they sank by even 10cm, so controlling rainwater and groundwater is crucial. An entire network of pipes runs underneath the airport. But that doesn’t mean they are all running 24/7. They are only insurance just in case.”
They were on their guard the entire time, but they did not find any mines or other traps. The Faith Organization probably hadn’t noticed the pipes. This was the Legitimacy Kingdom’s home turf, so they had superior intel.
Even Heivia was avoiding chatter for once.
Eventually he pointed upwards.
A ladder led to a maintenance hatch, but they did not push it open just enough to stick out a mirror or fiberscope. A concerning number of their satellites had been shot down, but the information from the diversion team’s binoculars and range fingers was being shared with this team’s mobile devices. There were 16 “moving human-sized heat signatures” in the airport terminal and three each at the fortress artillery guns set up at the four corners of the airport grounds. But the firing angle did not let those guns fire inside the airport, so they could be ignored for now.
“We’re making the surprise attack, but they have us outnumbered.”
“We’re relying on the element of surprise because we’re outnumbered. C’mon, let’s go.”
They knew it was safe since there wasn’t anyone here, but they still tensed as they pushed up the hatch. Quenser watched from below as Elise climbed up the ladder first.
“The real threat is the gas.”
“Wait a moment, I’m checking the reading now, so- hyah!? Who just pushed up on my butt while I’m trying to see if we’ll die!?”
“So are we safe or not?”
“The reading suggests no gas, but wait, ahh, stop lifting my butt like that!! M-my glasses are fogging up!”
Even knowing her true identity, that busty glasses instructor was still extremely bullyable and she only had herself to blame for choosing to climb the ladder first. Had she really thought the filthy potatoes weren’t going to start attacking that peach-shaped pinata hanging above their heads?
“Hey, no fair, Quenser! I want some teacher love too!! Damn, how can such a skinny guy get so thoroughly in the way!?”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Teacher’s best student is up here protecting her from all of you horny idiots. I am the barrier!!”
If Quenser hadn’t made sure he was second up the ladder, everyone would have started hitting the restlessly wiggling sexy pinata with their rifle stocks. It had been a real close call. Really, he was the hero here. A guardian even.
The Black Uniform glasses woman gave him an icy look from below.
“Quenser, I will not get after you for your actions here, but I am recording them.”
“What for!? How many extra lives do I have left on that phone of yours!?”
“If the hidden parameters concern you, I would recommend shaping up before you game over. Memo, memo.”
The metal cover creaked open and they rushed out into the first floor of Charles de Gaulle Airport’s terminal building.
Bodies littered the floor. The poison gas would have been removed by the automatic ventilation, but the people killed by it were still there. The security guard holding a tiny handgun had probably been a retired police officer or something. Thousands of people were doubled over on the floor and not one of them was moving. An airport firefighter was collapsed on the way to the emergency exit with her only oxygen mask covering the mouth and nose of a short old man. The old man wasn’t moving either. And he never would again.
The firefighters must have continued crawling toward the exits while grasping the victim’s clothing. Of course, the poison gas had covered the entire airport grounds, so leaving the building wouldn’t have accomplished much of anything. But still.
The heroes had failed.
There had been no goal for them to reach.
Quenser bit his lip and hung his head.
The people in the airport would have been civilians. With all the travelers gathered here, there might have been businesspeople and tourists from the Faith Organization among them. The Legitimacy Kingdom travelers may have been stuck here after their trip to Rome for the carnival was cut short.
Had none of that given the commandos pause?
“Damn the Faith Organization.”
“No enemies detected among the bodies. The 16 must be elsewhere. If you have time to talk, then get your ammo ready. The battle is about to begin.
They split into two teams: one to secure the terminal and the other to destroy the fortress artillery.
Quenser and Heivia were on the fortress artillery team.
However, they didn’t need to walk across the flat open space to the corners of the airport. The outward-facing fortress artillery were filled with explosives, so a single shoulder-fired missile from an angle outside their turning range could blow them up along with the commandos operating them. To cover everything from the four corners, each one covered 90 degrees. Blow up just one of them and that cardinal direction became a safe zone. Then the Legitimacy Kingdom forces waiting outside could blast their way through the minefield and enter the airport. The Faith Organization would know the enemy was coming, but their guns couldn’t turn far enough to aim that way. And the stationary heavy artillery could not be moved by hand like an Island Nation mikoshi.
Leaving the building would actually give away their presence.
There had to be blind spots everywhere with the enemy occupying a building the size of a school with just 16 people. But if Heivia thoughtlessly launched his shoulder-fired missile, the enemy would notice and raise their guard. Their allies sneaking up on the enemy with suppressor-equipped carbines would not appreciate having their deadly game of red light, green light ruined like that.
Quenser didn’t have a weapon, so his job was to keep an eye on their surroundings. While their safety was secure, Heivia used a special tool to cut a sufficiently large hole in the thick soundproof glass covering one wall of the lobby, giving him line of sight with his missile.
First they would take the terminal and then they would blow up one of the four fortress artillery guns.
Heivia peered through the sight of his shoulder-fired missile and muttered something under his breath. Quenser couldn’t tell if that came from fighting spirit or fear and nerves.
“Come on. Hurry up. I already have them right in the center of my sight. I’ll have a lock as soon as I send out the IR and microwaves. Just give me the go sign already, you dumbasses.”
“Why are you assuming our people will succeed? What if we start to hear gunfire inside the building?”
“Then I fire this and we get back underground. Succeed or fail, I just wish they’d hurry the hell up.”
Ten nerve-racking seconds passed and then another.
But all of a sudden, the tension was gone.
It began with Heivia. The delinquent noble had been staring through his missile’s sight, but then he noticed something. His tone of voice was one of confusion.
Puzzled, Quenser looked over and then realized it was too far away. He quickly pulled out his binoculars and looked to the base of the fortress artillery gun 20km away.
Something was moving there – a human-sized shape.
But it was sliding unusually smoothly for a human. This was not taking steps. Unless this person was using the shuffling technique seen in Eastern martial arts, then this was a communication robot moving on wheels. They were common enough as guides for large facilities with lots of people who spoke different languages.
It was moving and it had a heat signature.
Either wrap it with electrically-heated wires or heat its surface with a hair dryer and it would indeed have the temperature of human skin.
“Charlotte here. There are no Faith Organization commandos here. The moving heat signatures were all guide robots!”
“Elise here. Same here. Come to think of it, weren’t the mines distributed through the air by the fortress guns, not placed by hand? If the guns are remotely controlled, then they wouldn’t need anyone actually here.”
“Shit!” swore Heivia. “Then where did the Faith Organization commandos go!?”
“Gnostic Witches reporting in. Local targeting adjustments complete. They were lured in as planned. This is the final adjustment before we begin. Record all of the values for use during the real mission.”
Someone lay on the ground looking through a pair of binoculars at a location well outside the airport. No, those were awfully large for binoculars. With all the electronic equipment and the large battery attached, it was too big to fit inside a business bag.
They remained on the ground with the binoculars to their eyes as they made one last command.
“Do it, Yaldabaoth.”
At the Mont Blanc border 500km form Paris, the Princess frowned behind her special goggles.
Just when she expected the Blast Samurai to rush in toward her, it turned and ran along a straight line. But not toward the Baby Magnum.
She of course targeted it, but it could easily rush up to her if it resumed using its low-stability plasma blades as boosters. She was too wary to fire a main cannon now.
Then she found the answer.
The Blast Samurai insisted on fighting in close quarters because its high-power plasma could not be stabilized enough by magnetism to be fired across long distances. It was too powerful which prevented it from attacking in the usual fashion.
But what if it had something other than a main cannon’s barrel to harness the magnetic force?
Designer Claire Whist sounded nearly dumbfounded as she spoke over the radio.
“The pinch effect. When plasma’s electricity is strong enough, it’s compressed by the magnetic field that forms around it. This should give it an effect other than those swords!”
“Electromagnetic induction!! Even an elementary school kid knows you can generate electricity by passing a magnetic material through a coil. Artificial air currents can form a coil out of iron sand and passing a 50m hunk of metal through that at high speed will create an instantaneous blast of electricity. Add the reactor’s energy on top of that and it should be able to control the plasma using the pinch effect!!”
“You don’t mean…!?”
“Have you noticed anything odd about its secondary cannons…no, about its low-stability plasma main cannons? The exterior shielding has intentional gaps that allow a magnetic field to escape. That makes the entire Object a massive magnetic body!!”
The Princess quickly fired all seven of her main cannons, but it wasn’t enough.
The Blast Samurai had reached the needed velocity and launched a pure white beam like it was throwing a javelin. The beam was aimed high in the sky. No, it was aimed at a target 500km away.
It felt like the world had been torn apart by the color white, starting from a single point.
Quenser couldn’t even hear his own scream.
Something had fallen from the sky and hit the runway in the center of the flat airport grounds. It lost its shape and scattered in every direction, tearing up, burning, and melting the dirt and asphalt. He vaguely recalled Heivia shoving him behind a pillar, but he was having trouble recalling how that had turned into this.
He very nearly kissed the ceiling.
But not because he had left the floor. All the pillars supporting the lobby had collapsed and the ceiling had fallen nearly to where the boy lay on the floor.
A bitterness hung in the air. It reminded him of the Water Strider and the Extra Arc.
He may have been lucky his lungs and eyes had survived.
The gap between ceiling and floor was so short he couldn’t even roll over like he was trying to get comfortable in bed. He was stuck on his back until someone pulled him out. His blurry vision couldn’t make out their face. He focused on psychological care, trying to keep the claustrophobia from setting in.
“Hey, Quenser!? Are you still alive, you bastard!?”
“Heivia?” he weakly muttered before sitting up. “Oh, were you who saved me?”
“Huh? What are you talking about?”
Apparently it hadn’t been Heivia. But he looked around and didn’t see any other surviving soldiers in the vicinity.
His radio was only receiving a noisy signal.
“Charlotte here!! Ksh! Based on the damage, that blast was likely an Object’s low-stability plasma cannon! But the enemy Object’s location is unknown!! Ksshh!?”
“Narumi was carbonized… Kssshhh, we have several injured and I recommend we evacuate them. The crater is shallow, ksh, so we should be able to escape safely if we head back underground!”
The fence surrounding the airport grounds had been knocked over and the sea of flames had spread its damage beyond that. The surrounding minefield had to be burning too. That meant the damage likely covered a diameter of more than 20km.
This had been their aim from the beginning.
Hold the Legitimacy Kingdom’s attention on the airport for as long as possible, take out as many Legitimacy Kingdom forces out as they could, and make it look like their own people had been killed too to give them greater freedom and safety behind enemy lines.
That meant all of this was just a means to some other end. The Faith Organization commandos had been given freedom for some other task.
Where were they headed?
They didn’t need to lay out the evidence for that one.
Quenser grabbed his radio again while leaning against some rubble.
“Respond if you’re still alive, you incompetent commander! This is always what happens when we obey your orders!! The Faith Organization commandos are using this chaos to infiltrate Paris itself. Pay special attention to the transport routes for military doctors and medical equipment that reeks of ethanol! As well as all civilian media and communication companies!! I don’t know how they fired it over such long range, but we can’t let them launch a low-stability plasma cannon blast into the center of Paris!! Our home country will be decimated!!!!!!”
A 12-year-old girl with her hair worn in a single long braid waved at a couple in the city. She was waring a miniskirt below a baggy sweatshirt, which at first glance gave the awkward impression she wasn’t wearing anything but the sweatshirt.
Her name was Catherine Barbotage.
Her body had been thoroughly modified as a Legitimacy Kingdom Pilot Elite, but she had since left military duty. With no family to live with, she had given up her Blueangel last name and been adopted by the Barbotage family for a second life in Paris.
It was hard to imagine how those two parents had managed to raise a serial bomber like their son. A middle-aged man called over to the girl in a calm and gentle tone.
“Catherine, I know you’re excited, but slow down and look where you’re going.”
“Eh? But you’re too slow, dad.”
It was a day off for them.
On Saturday nights, the Barbotage family might get carried away and not get to bed until the following morning, but they always went to worship at a small neighborhood church on Sunday afternoon. Catherine had trusted in her own combat skills more than prayer when bullets were flying on the battlefield, so she mostly just saw it as a pleasant stroll through the neighborhood.
(Does this mean big brother went to church on Sundays? Hm, I find that hard to imagine.)
It wasn’t celebrated as much as in the Faith Organization, but it was still carnival season. There were more people out than on the usual Sunday. The supermarkets in the area were usually closed on the weekends, but today they had their shutters up and were selling sweets and snacks until late at night.
Catherine viewed the decorative advertisements that resembled something from an Island Nation festival.
(Chocolate, huh? I wonder if big brother will be visiting us for Valentines.)
An unpopular idol was shouting something on the LCD monitor installed on a building wall. That was probably an evening variety show. The on-site reporter, who didn’t have a regular seat back at the studio, was speaking excitedly.
“This is Monica, the battlefield idol reporter who can both sing and kill! Today, I’m doing an all-you-can-eat walking report on Champs-Élysées. Yes, this is one perk of the business that only comes once a year. That’s right, it’s Valentines, the time of year when girls are surrounded by sweets. Everywhere I look I see 5-star patissiers awaiting my arrival!!”
Paris was unnaturally peaceful this afternoon. Everyone was smiling on an informational program that didn’t provide a single scrap of information about the war raging outside.
To Catherine, it felt more like a doctor hiding the prognosis from a terminal patient. Her unique senses picked up the scent of death on the air.
But the rest of the Barbotage family got all their information from TV and the newspapers, so the mother crouched down and smiled at the girl. She doted on the girl because she had always wanted a daughter.
“Oh, look, Catherine. The store is open today. How about we grab something for dinner on the way back from church?”
“I like the ginger pork you make better. And I like it with pilaf more than bread.”
Just then, Catherine spotted something out of the corner of her eye. The gentle flow of pedestrians was interrupted by a quick-moving group that had stepped out of a black bulletproof car parked on the curb. A girl wore an old-fashioned dress straight out of a fairy tale and she was surrounded by several dangerous-looking maids who looked ready to kill at a moment’s notice. The maid with an eyepatch kept her voice low as she gave some instructions.
“Hurry!! Shelter 9 will be closed soon. Sealing the door is meaningless if you aren’t inside!!”
“Karen!! I will fight too. What good is the Vanderbilt family if we nobles will not stand up when the country and its people are at risk!?”
“Do not let the belligerent atmosphere affect you. Your role is not to pick up a gun and display such one-sided righteousness. Your power lies in your philanthropy and diplomacy to cross the boundaries between world powers and bring together the world’s pacifists. And if anything were to happen to you, the people would be incensed. We might serve the Winchell family, but we do not want that. If you wish to avoid plunging the people into an endless hell of blood and bullets, then please understand the role you are meant to play. Now, Shelter 9 is this way!!”
All in all, it took less than 30 seconds.
No one paid any heed to the group that crossed the large road and vanished down a narrow alley. The Legitimacy Kingdom was all about chivalry, so that antique dress and the maid uniforms were common enough sights here in Paris.
“Mom, you go on ahead. I’m going to feed the pigeons.”
She didn’t have time to listen to her adoptive mother telling her she wasn’t supposed to feed the animals in the park.
There was a soldier here.
The person was not wearing a camo uniform and she wasn’t carrying an assault rifle or shoulder-fired missile, but the sharp look in her eyes said it all.
She was an adult woman in her late 20s or early 30s.
But a closer inspection revealed her right eye was a detailed prosthetic. This was not an ordinary model; it was designed for military spies. It moved in sync with the left eye to help her blend in and the fake pupil even dilated and constricted. It probably used magnetism.
(Based on her gait and eye movements, she must be Faith Organization. But she isn’t an ordinary soldier. Maybe an intelligence agent and maybe a commando. No, I know the answer. She isn’t using a radio and has cut off all EM signals, so the countdown has already begun. Is she going to blow up crucial infrastructure, or just throw a case of gas into the crowd? Whatever it is, she’s here to do something in Paris. If this is her final preparations before the attack, then the attack should be in less than half an hour.)
Catherine Barbotage was hesitant to swipe a gun from a passerby.
Instead, she pulled out her handkerchief, neatly wrapped that around the grip of a thick Phillips screwdriver lying on the ground, and stabbed it twice into the side of the undercover soldier as she passed by.
Catherine had made the attack, but she was the one to grimace.
She hadn’t felt it pierce flesh.
They both made and blocked a few quick arm and leg attacks before backing away from each other. Catherine had grabbed the collar of the woman’s blouse to throw her, but the collar had instead torn away, revealing the glint of synthetic fibers below. She recognized that formfitting material.
It was green, the Faith Organization’s color.
That was a Pilot Elite’s special suit.
“The same as me!?” said Catherine, switching to a backhand grip on the screwdriver.
She heard several footsteps and found she was surrounded by several people. She could see four, but she assumed there had to be more in total. If all of their bodies were artificially boosted to Elite standards, then every part of them would be customized. Increased muscular strength and oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood was only the starting point. Their blood vessels, muscles, and nerves would of course be strengthened, but knowing the Faith Organization, they would have been given special traits and talents like perfect pitch, spatial cognizance, or atmospheric pressure sensing. Some of those abilities were practically occult, like sensing the weather and predicting death.
Catherine still saw the lazy Sunday afternoon out of the corners of her eyes. A small child ran around with a balloon, an old woman was taking her dog for a walk, and the Barbotage couple were watching her in ignorant confusion from a short distance away.
They were all in range of a stray bullet, so Catherine could not back down. She re-judged her distance from the enemy with screwdriver in hand.
“So you too have abandoned your humanity.” The woman did not say anything out loud, but the movements of her lips passed a death sentence. “If you had noticed before your attack, you could have fled without looking back. That might have saved your life.”
In a populated area, an opponent like this could be more dangerous than a tank or attack helicopter.
Catherine Barbotage was the same, so she knew that all too well.
But these people differed from Catherine in one key way. They felt no qualms about using guns in a safe country.
They couldn’t find them.
They had gathered their 8-wheeled armored trucks and searched the shortest route from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Paris, but Quenser and Heivia hadn’t found anyone suspicious. They were about to arrive at the entrance to Paris.
“What the hell are we supposed to do now!?”
The Legitimacy Kingdom military had surreptitiously set up a checkpoint they hoped wouldn’t alert the city’s people that anything was wrong and the soldiers there were shocked to see the potatoes arriving. It didn’t look like they had found the commandos and prevented their entry.
The Faith Organization had the upper hand.
“I’ll be borrowing this.”
“Wait, Major!? Hey, you there! Put together a bodyguard team immediately!”
Frolaytia grabbed a large anti-materiel rifle and hopped out of the truck, so her secretary-like aide quickly called in some of the surrounding infantry.
But there was a good reason for even their commander to join the search.
The Faith Organization commandos had to have some kind of target in mind. If the Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers couldn’t catch up to them and stop them before the attack began, an ultra-long-range plasma attack capable of turning 20km to scorched earth would fall into the center of Paris.
Their mobile devices must not have been working with all their satellites shot down because fluffy blonde Elise Montana spread out a paper map before explaining the situation.
“We can safely assume the Faith Organization commandos are inside Paris. We can start by getting inside and raising the security level. Then we will request a siren be sounded to inform the people.”
“They would notice that!!”
“If they could attack right away, they would have done so already. They haven’t, which means they have some reason for waiting. Our top priority is to flush out the shadows lurking in the city. And no matter how much these spies have trained with VR goggles or in a fake city built out in the middle of nowhere, they will make a mistake if caught up in an irregular accident their training didn’t cover. So hurry.”
That last sentence was directed at the checkpoint guards who blocked the main road into the city. One of them nervously spoke into their radio and a deep, low noise began to play from all the disaster speakers installed throughout the city.
Heivia drove into Paris behind the wheel of an 8-wheel armored truck and used the side mirror (forcibly attached to make it street legal) to glance back at Frolaytia who was waving with the hand not resting an anti-materiel rifle on her shoulder.
“Our supposedly peaceful home country has an air raid siren going off and all four world powers are gathering Objects here.” Heivia impatiently clenched his teeth. “It’s exactly the same. We’re on track to be a repeat of Rome.”
“That’s probably what the Faith Organization wants,” calmly noted Black Uniform Charlotte Zoom, making Heivia wonder whose side she was on.
Meanwhile, Quenser frowned.
“But what’s keeping the Faith Organization from attacking now? We know they got into Paris ahead of us, so they should be free to act.”
“The Round Table.” Heivia sounded disgusted. “Don’t let the courageous name fool you. It’s actually a set of 10 underground shelters distributed across Paris. Board the elevators behind barriers cleverly hidden around the city and you’re in for a freefall straight down a 5000m shaft. I think it only takes 180 seconds to reach the bottom.”
“I’ve never heard of that.”
“Of course you haven’t. A smalltime regional king wouldn’t even know about it. Did you forget I’m heir to the great Winchell family? I know all sorts of dirty secrets about Paris. For example, the Legitimacy Kingdom only gives a crap about bloodline and history, so they never even tried to ensure the millions of commoners here would be safe. They just made sure a few dozen from noble bloodlines would be saved. God, just makes me want to punch them.”
Devastating losses would be answered with more devastating losses.
The Faith Organization no longer cared who was responsible. They just wanted to take someone else down with them.
If Rome could never be rebuilt, then they would do so much damage to Paris that it would never recover either. No, if they could pull it off, they would also want to cross the ocean and take out the Information Alliance’s New York and the Capitalist Corporations’ Los Angeles. So they had decided blowing away the surface of the city wasn’t enough.
Quenser couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“So…what? Are they in Paris surveying the city?”
“I bet they’re seeing where they can plant their explosives to do the most damage to their 10 targets and crush those VIP chickens under the collapsing bedrock. You love that kind of thing, don’t you?”
“Then they might be using elastic wave exploration,” groaned Charlotte Zoom. “You open a long, narrow hole in the ground with a metal spike, shove explosives inside, and create a powerful vibration underground. By picking up the reflected waves, you can figure out the quality, quantity, and deviation of underground materials. …And with that kind of delicate work, you want a peaceful city more than a pile of rubble that could trigger a secondary explosion at any time.”
The asphalt and stone pavement looked solid, but a hole several meters deep could be automatically created in just a few minutes using specialized electric-powered equipment. In a city, they would have to locate and account for any other vibration sources, such as sewers and boilers, but that wouldn’t require all that much more time.
Also, it didn’t particularly matter to Quenser’s group if that work was done correctly or not.
If the Faith Organization commandos ended up with a completely mistaken idea of where the shelters were located, they would still be ordering an ultra-high-temperature plasma blast from the distance. The emperor trembling in his new clothes deep underground might survive, but the more than 3 million people living on the surface would all be engulfed in flames.
“The Faith Organization can go to whatever hell they believe in. If it hurt that bad to see Rome drowning on lava, why would they want to force that pain onto us?”
“Wouldn’t you feel the same way if it was done to you? Not that sharing that experience is going to help us get along.”
All of a sudden, Quenser ducked down on instinct.
A fighter with a distinctive silhouette had just flown by directly above their armored truck. Several of them had.
They had lost air superiority over their own home country.
The Black Uniform woman’s eyes widened.
“Zig-27s!? Those were Capitalist Corporations fighters!!”
“Shut up! Quit explaining how screwed we are and do something to avoid it! Get outta the truck unless you’re interested in having your bones roasted to a nice crispy brown. The bombs will hit in 3!!”
Quenser was hesitant to jump after seeing the asphalt rushing by below, so his awful friend roughly grabbed his collar.
Heivia and the others opened the still-moving armored truck’s doors and hatch and forcibly rolled on out. They didn’t have time to escape indoors, so they got down on the street and covered their heads with their hands.
Aerial bombs dropped from almost directly overhead.
Red hot shrapnel broke all the nearby building windows. The truck was flimsier than a full-on tank, but it was still a sturdy vehicle. Nevertheless, its eight wheels flew off in different directions.
“Kh…this is our home country. What are our Objects doing?”
Needless to say, those fighters couldn’t have been flying overhead if any anti-air lasers were aiming their way, yet the Capitalist Corporations squadron of 4 Zig-27s made a sharp turn in the sky.
Elise waved something in her hand while down on the ground with her other hand over her head and her butt sticking up in the air.
It was a radio.
“Communications are down. But not because we’re being jammed. Th-the home country defense Objects were taken out at some point!! Something bad is happening out there!!”
The Strait of Dover, located between Great Britain and the west end of Eurasia, was about 39km wide. That was downright cramped for a part of the ocean and it had even been used for events where people attempted to be the first to swim across, ride a balloon across, or whatever else.
In this case, it may have been praiseworthy that the Object didn’t scrape up against the edges.
A dull roar reverberated across the ocean as history was made.
This extraordinary Object measured more than 20km long. It was also the central and most populous portion of the Information Alliance home country of New York in the Chesapeake District.
Its name was Manhattan 000.
A combination of factors was to blame for no one noticing something so large approaching. For example, the Legitimacy Kingdom’s satellites had all been destroyed in advance. And let’s not forget he nightmarish fact that the Manhattan 000’s colossal cannon had a greater range than the Legitimacy Kingdom’s ground radars.
Also, that cannon was an electromagnetically-launched reactor cannon that directly launched JPlevelMHD reactors.
Also also, it could detonate a reactor in midair in advance and then fire its laser beam cannons to accurately pierce an enemy Object with a laser bent using the same principle as a mirage.
Anyone in position to notice its approach would be eliminated before they could do the noticing.
It had not permitted any observers – not surface facilities, not airborne early-warning system aircraft, not submarines, and not even mobile bases.
By blinding any eye that might see it, even that colossal Object could approach while effectively invisible. It only aimed for radar facilities and wired or wireless communication infrastructure bases, but the phone company’s server center was located inside the safe country. It was obvious what would happen if an Object’s laser beam or coilgun fired on that.
It didn’t care. This had already developed into a world war.
The other two world powers could have ignored it if the Legitimacy Kingdom and Faith Organization would simply duke it out between Paris and Rome, eliminating each other’s Objects. But they could not let the flames of war in the musty Old World spread to the peaceful New World.
The Capitalist Corporations had their home country in Los Angeles and the Information Alliance had theirs in New York, so they were strongest in the New World located across the Atlantic.
This was not just the four world powers randomly attacking whoever was within reach. Clear lines were being drawn in this world war. And this wasn’t just about the home countries. Battles with little chance at a quick resolution had started up all over the world with no distinction between safe country and battlefield country.
“Hm, hm, hm, hm☆”
A girl’s oddly cheerful humming could be heard in a strange city where all the residents were enclosed in what looked like rectangular pieces of hardened jelly.
“This won’t work if they shoot down the electromagnetically-launched reactor in midair. 205. Good, good. That won’t be a problem if I take out all the Objects waiting around Paris with my bending lasers☆”
She was Martini Series #29.
A young girl with blonde hair and brown skin didn’t seem embarrassed about wearing only a two-piece surgical gown made of crimson oil paper while out on a Manhattan street.
In fact, a thrilled tremor ran up her spine.
That little monster had her butt seated inside a giant swim ring filled with a special liquid that slid along like a curling stone. She wore a pair of VR goggles backwards on her head and held a notebook-sized game console in her hands. That genius girl in charge of Manhattan security was named Melly Martini Extradry. And she giggled.
As the head of New York security, the Manhattan 000 belonged to her.
She got help from the Capulet, a massive AI network with its core’s location shrouded in mystery, and the two of them would shoot down each other’s ideas while piloting the Object, but Melly was ultimately the one in control.
“Lisbon, Madrid, and London have all been disconnected and silenced. Now I can focus on Paris. 824. Are you ready, Legitimacy Kingdom? I’m about to put you in checkmate.”
“I see you’re crazy as ever, Information Alliance.”
Mariydi Whitewitch spat out the words while gripping her Zig-27’s stick in the sky above Paris. She couldn’t have pulled off this pleasure flight if the defense Objects equipped with anti-air lasers hadn’t been destroyed, but she wasn’t about to feel thankful.
At more than 20km across, the Manhattan was absurdly large. They weren’t holding anything back. They had sent their secret weapon to the front line where it continued to blow up ground military facilities from the sea. Even though some of those contained both military and civilian facilities.
“Ice Sword 2 to Ice Girl 1. You’re the one who said we could end this global chaos if we did enough damage to Paris fast enough. So harden your heart.”
“I’m aware of that!”
This world war was Paris and Rome’s business.
The Legitimacy Kingdom had held an operation within Rome without the Faith Organization’s permission and the failure of that mission had destroyed their home country. Or so the story went.
At this point, that was only an excuse. The Faith Organization didn’t want to fall into last place, so they were probably just attacking the closest enemy.
They had left the truth behind and no one seemed to care.
To repeat, the Faith Organization was just mad that Paris was sitting there so pristine and untouched while Rome had been utterly destroyed. So they were desperate to change that.
That meant the solution was to even out the damage done to both sides. And why bother waiting for the Faith Organization to begin their attack? If Mariydi’s squadron flew in and bombed the hell out of Paris first, they would lose their justification for a world war. The Faith Organization was only interested in the total amount of damage done to Paris as a whole. They didn’t have any specific people or buildings in mind.
(So if we go in first and attack only military targets and unmanned but critical infrastructure, we can give them the damage they want while keeping civilians casualties to a minimum. That isn’t a job for an Object. You need us and our ability to precisely choose and attack specific targets. We haven’t done anything wrong here. Not a thing!)
“Ice Burn 4. Wow, Moss Green’s paratroopers are jumping!”
The Manhattan’s ultra-long-range attack had destroyed the defense Objects, so Mariydi’s squadron had gained air superiority without needing to lift a finger. A large, slow Capitalist Corporations transport craft flew across Paris and opened its rear cargo door. That would be carrying 380 elite PMC soldiers equipped with parachutes.
That first wave would secure the surface.
Or it would have if a blinding white beam hadn’t sliced the transport craft in two. That was an anti-air laser. Mariydi quickly adjusted her grip on the stick.
“Ice Girl 1 to you assholes in the Information Alliance!! One of the Objects was only pretending to be dead!! I have visual confirmation of the Legitimacy Kingdom Excalibur’s survival. Enough shoddy work!! Take them all out this time!!!!!”
“Ice Sword 2 to Ice Girl 1. At least the Legitimacy Kingdom had the good taste to name it after a legendary sword. Anyway, we need to reduce altitude. Okay, everyone, try not to get tangled up in a clothesline covered in lingerie!!”
A transport craft exploded in midair, becoming a fireball trailing black smoke.
The smaller dots scattering from it may have been human torches with their parachutes burning.
Heivia threw up his hands and gave a meaningless roar.
“That’s what you get, you shits! That fall’s gonna last at least 30 seconds, I’ll bet. Plenty of time to suffer and regret your actions before you die! No one’s gonna pretty you up for a funeral, you greedy assholes!!”
“Uh, Heivia? Their uniforms and parachutes are still on fire. Th-the city is going to burn!!”
The wind carried the charred remains of a Capitalist Corporations soldier so it fell right next to Quenser’s group. It made a wet splat and made a puddle of filth, but the fire was still burning. It probably used fuel or something like that. When Quenser looked into the distance again, he could see several pillars of dark smoke rising into the evening sky.
He was at a loss now.
“Where do we even start with cleaning this up? There’s the Faith Organization commandos, whatever silenced the defense Objects, and the Capitalist Corporations fighters and transport ship full of paratroopers. Am I forgetting any other problems we have to deal with!?”
“This does not change our initial plans,” said Charlotte Zoom. “Our top priority is the Faith Organization. If we do not stop their commandos from acquiring targeting information, Paris will be burned to the ground with a plasma blast. A single shot covers a diameter of 20km!”
With fire truck sirens blaring all over the city, the Black Uniform urged the rest of them to resume their mission. Hadn’t Elise Montana said sounding an alarm from the city’s disaster speakers would cause those professional spies to panic and give away their position?
They heard a gasping shriek.
A few members of a TV crew were collapsed on a major Paris street. The smell of blood hung in the air. The shriek appeared to have come from a young female reporter who had fallen onto her butt.
Someone whose skin had fused with a melted parachute and military uniform was aiming a carbine her way.
“Oh, no you don’t!” shouted Heivia, raising his assault rifle.
“Monica!!” shouted Quenser from the other side to draw the badly burned soldier’s attention. That eliminated the possibility of him taking Monica hostage.
The soldier didn’t do anything fancy. He didn’t acrobatically kick off the walls.
It looked like he only walked diagonally forward.
But he managed to accurately avoid the short burst of bullets fired from Heivia’s assault rifle.
“The hell was that!?”
“He must have learned that in the Northern Restricted Zone,” said Elise. “They train you way better there!!”
People assumed an object’s movement was a continuous thing and they would correct their aim for an extrapolated future position of their target without even noticing it, so by keeping your movement one step to the side of that extrapolation, you could avoid the enemy’s aim.
As soon as Elise shouted her conclusion, the soldier rushed in toward them. It was a perfectly reasonable speed for a human, but he had intentionally slowed his earlier movements to mimic an immobilizing injury. After assuming the man was injured, it took Heivia a second too long to switch gears.
By the time he did, the soldier was within knife range.
Elise’s rifle moved in to block the flash of silver. She caught the blade on the stock, stomped on the soldier’s foot with her boot’s heel, spun her rifle around, and pressed the muzzle against him.
With a sharp gunshot, her bullet punched through the burned soldier’s chest.
Heivia felt the need to praise someone else’s skill for once.
“Damn. They knew what they were doing when they made you an instructor for the 7th Special Training Unit, didn’t they?”
“We were lucky he was so badly burned. He would have won if he was in top form.” Elise Montana urged them to keep their guard up. “Anyway, they’re coming!! We need to hide now!!”
Quenser picked up Monica and hid below a nearby overpass. A Capitalist Corporations Zig-27 flew by overhead and a straight line of machinegun bullet holes were blasted in the asphalt ground. If they had been out in the open, they would have essentially exploded and been splattered across the wall.
Meanwhile, Monica had entered dreaming maiden mode in her childhood friend’s arms.
(He was wearing the remains of a parachute, so he must have been a Capitalist Corporations paratrooper, not a Faith Organization commando.)
“Damn, then this was just a waste of time!!”
“What? Servant!! How can you rescue such a beautiful lady and then call it a waste of time!?”
A dry gunshot reverberated through the air.
It came from quite close by. Monica cowered down in fear, so Quenser left her in the relative safety below the overpass and checked outside. He saw someone fighting on the opposite bank of a river that had been made into something like a park. One was a small girl with a blonde braid and the other was…a woman with a highly detailed prosthetic eye?
The woman wielded a very small handgun. The barrel had a built in suppressor, so the loud volume of the gunshot suggested she hadn’t covered the ejection port with her hand. However, this was not a model issued to ordinary soldiers. Nor was it the kind a normal person could purchase. Did that mean she was one of the Faith Organization commandos on a secret mission?
They were supposed to kill the commandos once they found them, but Quenser raised his voice instead.
“Catherine!? What is she doing!?”
“Damn, I can’t get a shot with the metal railings and trees in the way!!” complained Heivia.
“Then get close enough that you do have a shot. Hurry!!”
If this was the result of panicking the commandos to flush them out, then it had been a bad plan. Quenser would have to spank Elise later. That 12-year-old girl had been enjoying her second life this Sunday afternoon, so he doubted she would have been wearing a heavy bulletproof jacket below her clothing. And if the commando really was panicking from the alarm or the scared crowds, no one knew what she might do.
Fortunately, the river between them was shallow and there were some stepping stones sticking up from the surface.
But Quenser took a panicked step forward, a terrifying new development played out before his eyes.
Two people leaped across the river toward him by kicking off of the flower beds and benches in what looked like a triple jump. They weren’t wearing any extra equipment like a powered suit, so this feat made him question if they really were carbon-based humans like him.
Catherine forgot all about her own fight to shout over at him.
“Don’t, big brother!! The commandos are freaks like me!! They’ve been customized to the point they could lift a light truck!!”
(Shut up!! The next time you call yourself a freak, I’m giving you such a talking to!!)
With a short burst of gunfire, Heivia shot down one of the two leaping commandos, but it was hard to know if that had been a lethal blow or not. And the other one was untouched.
She crashed right into Quenser.
His forward momentum was forcibly twisted so he and the Faith Organization assassin crashed into the river to the side of their paths.
A student like him had no chance in a close quarters combat. He grimaced from the pain of getting water up his nose, but got to work with his hands. He pulled out a pen-like electric fuse and jabbed it into the commando’s chest like a stake.
The woman easily grabbed his other hand.
Her other hand held a glinting combat knife.
(Dammit. If I could just reach my radio, I could blow a hole in her chest with the fuse, but she isn’t going to give me the chance!!)
That was when he heard a sound like a popping water balloon.
The assassin had a hole the size of his fist in her chest.
“Hit 1 – confirmed down. Get up, Quenser,” said a familiar voice over his radio.
(Did Frolaytia do that!? She was carrying an anti-materiel rifle!)
Did it not matter if they were in the water as long as she had a line of fire? That demonstrated considerable skill even with the support of various sensors.
The color red had splattered in front of his face, but he only felt relief.
There were good people in the Faith Organization?
Quenser’s own words filled him with bitterness, but Catherine came first. He couldn’t be wasting time here.
He pulled his head above water and glared across the river. The situation had changed. The prosthetic eye woman had knocked Catherine Barbotage to the ground and aimed her small handgun down at the girl.
“Heivia – or Frolaytia!! Someone give me sniper support!”
“That would be difficult,” said Frolaytia. “The water helped shield you, but if I shoot her that close to the girl, the shards of her equipment and bones will hit the girl.”
Heivia had also said he couldn’t get a shot right away.
Quenser’s only option was to shout in despair while dripping with river water.
An Information Alliance officer named Wraith Martini Vermouthspray crossed her skinny legs and spun the pen-shaped device in her hand.
“Are you sure, ma’am? Getting inside Paris unnoticed wasn’t easy, you know?”
“This is worth it.”
With a dull crash, a garbage truck drove in from the side and ran into the prosthetic eye woman standing in front of Catherine.
The company logo painted on the side said Battlefield Cleanup Service.
(What are they doing in Paris? Aren’t they officially a Capitalist Corporations PMC!? And I thought the report said no one could find any sign of the company ever having existed!!)
But now wasn’t the time to worry about that.
Several suppressed gunshots followed. Catherine had immediately leaped behind the garbage truck, but the prosthetic eye woman fired Quenser’s way to pin him in place while she tried to escape onto the street. And she also grabbed something the size of a backpack from a fallen commando.
“There’s more to this!!” shouted the student boy.
“Then quit talking and do something about it, Quenser!” shouted Heivia. “Charlotte and Elise, you two circle in from behind. And you stay where you are, Catherine!! We don’t want you getting hurt!!”
The stench of flames and smoke hung in the air.
The Paris cityscape was gradually falling apart. They had to end this before it fully collapsed.
They heard a muffled explosion.
This wasn’t just a gunshot. It was bigger than a grenade.
There was nowhere to hide on the narrow street. Quenser ducked down in fear, but he felt no pain. This explosion had sounded different from the previous ones.
Heivia was the first to realize why.
“Was that their elastic wave exploration thing? She just drove the stake into the ground to scope things out underground!! And in this position, she’ll find Shelter 9!”
Once the computer completed its analysis of the reflected waves, she would know where they had to attack to crush the royals hidden in the shelter 5000m below the surface.
Once those preparations were complete, she only had to point out the location to their Object and the plasma blast would be coming.
But that blast wouldn’t just kill the chosen members of the privileged class. The damage would cover a diameter of 20km, so all the ordinary people in the city would be engulfed by the fireball and vaporized.
Heivia took a step further but was knocked back by a dry gunshot.
She was very close.
The impact had gotten to him even through his bulletproof jacket. Heivia had been distracted by his impatience and now he was collapsed on his back forced to give instructions by gesturing. He couldn’t speak, but he was telling Quenser to continue on.
The student hid behind a metal dumpster, molded his plastic explosive into an egg shape, and stabbed a fuse in. He tossed it out ahead and filled the narrow space with an explosive blast and shockwave before rushing in himself.
The prosthetic eye woman wasn’t there.
However, some rust had fallen from the emergency stairs on a building wall. He could tell that wasn’t just the explosion. There were signs of the chain link gate’s hinges having moved and a footprint in the rust powder on the steps. Someone had forced their way onto some stairs no one had used in a long time. Quenser radioed Charlotte and the others in case he was taken out and then ran up the stairs.
He arrived on the small building’s rooftop.
The prosthetic eye woman had her back to him and had just reached into the backpack to pull out a pair of binoculars larger than a next generation game console. They were large enough to fill the entire backpack. That wasn’t normal, so he guessed it was designed to instruct the Object to attack whatever she viewed through them. She wasn’t just going to destroy a piece of Paris; she was going to blow herself up along with it.
If she hit the switch on the side of the binoculars, Paris would be reduced to rubble.
Unfortunately, Quenser had audibly gasped when he noticed.
She turned around and fired her small handgun at him, so he was forced to jump to the side and throw a round plastic explosive that didn’t even come close to reaching her.
It did, however, reach the industrial air conditioning unit on the roof.
When he detonated it, the unit’s exterior and hoses were shredded and thrown through the air, a chemical coolant sprayed out as a white smoke of well below 0 degrees, and everything it touched froze solid, including the concrete and the metal pipes. White frost like inside a store’s ice cream freezer covered the prosthetic eye woman’s clothing and fingers.
She didn’t bat an eye.
She kept her gun aimed directly at him and spoke.
“You chose your target poorly.”
The first bullet hadn’t hit the boy, but he was down on his knee and she was confident the next one would kill. She tried to do just that, but then she noticed something. She looked down at her binoculars instead of her enemy.
Those binoculars were clearly equipped with a delicate computer and a large battery and now it was coated with white frost.
Needless to say, precision equipment was vulnerable to extremely low temperatures.
“It can’t be…”
Quenser rushed in before she looked up again.
It didn’t matter if the device was really broken or not. He had successfully gotten her eyes off of him for a moment while directly in front of her. Her immediate gunshot missed him and he tackled her with his full weight behind his shoulder.
Their feet left the ground.
A moment later, they slammed into the hard concrete and rolled along the roof together.
The large binoculars slipped from the woman’s hands and bounced along.
But Quenser couldn’t relax yet.
He couldn’t defeat a commando in an honest fight. And if his adorable stepsister was correct, this special soldier had been modified just like Catherine and Putana. She managed to get on top of him and then aimed her poorly-silenced handgun at his face.
He shoved a pen-like electric fuse directly down the barrel. It was too late for her to panic now. The fuse was a delicate explosive itself, so if she pulled the trigger the gun would blow up. And he would detonate it for her if she didn’t pull it.
He used his other hand to hit his radio’s switch and blow up the gun.
The countless metal shards hit both of them equally.
She held her mutilated hand with her other hand and screamed.
Quenser’s face felt hot.
He couldn’t even imagine how much damage he had just taken.
(I need to protect Paris.)
Half his vision was blocked by a sticky dark red, but he still saw the woman roll off of him while holding her bloody hand and unsteadily crawl toward the fallen binoculars.
(I need to protect all the people living here.)
He had only blacked out for a few seconds due to the metal shards he took to the forehead, but his lack of reaction seemed to have convinced her he was dead. Or maybe she had lost too much blood to think straight.
He couldn’t let her reach those binoculars. He had to protect all the people living in Paris.
No matter what.
He had to do whatever it took.
He clenched his teeth, got up, and grabbed a TV antenna lying on the roof thanks to the explosion. The metal pole was thicker than his index finger and he grabbed it like a stake and rushed toward the woman’s curled up back as she tried to collect the binoculars.
He stabbed her with it.
The special suit she wore under her clothes apparently had a lot of gaps, giving it poor bulletproofing.
She roared with anger and spun around to face him, but he shoved her away with both hands. The antenna rod must have done more damage than he had thought because she failed to prepare for her landing and hit the roof hard, her own weight driving the rod deeper into her back. The tip burst out from her chest.
But even then, she didn’t die.
She was lying on her back and coughing up blood, but she still clawed at the concrete roof. Her fingers found the large binoculars and a definite smile formed on her bloody lips.
The flip of a single switch would blast a scorching hole in Paris.
“Ohhhhh!!!!!” yelled Quenser.
He grabbed the metal antenna rod piercing her body and used the full strength of both his arms to stir it around, widening the dark red hole and finally pulling the entire rod out from her gut even though it had originally entered through her back.
“Die! Just die alreadyyyyyy!!”
Her body convulsed on the roof.
Quenser clenched his teeth but failed to suppress the scream that erupted from his throat as he stabbed the tip of the slick antenna back down into her. This time, into the face. And not just once – over and over. He kept doing it until she had stopped moving altogether.
“Please! Don’t destroy our cityyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!”
Her face was no longer recognizable.
The hemispherical prosthetic eye was now lying on the roof next to her.
He realized her convulsing had stopped.
Biological death may have occurred well before this.
He threw aside the dark red antenna rod and fell back on his butt. There was no human dignity left in that mutilated corpse. It looked like a wild animal had feasted on it. He couldn’t believe he had done that. But he had a feeling a mirror would reveal he was covered in her blood. He couldn’t have looked more like a deranged murderer.
His psyche had been pushed to the breaking point.
But he had still managed to preserve their usual city.
It hadn’t been destroyed.
He had managed to protect the few million residents of Paris. Heivia, Frolaytia, Monica, Catherine, and everyone else were still alive. As long as those binoculars didn’t send out their signal, the long-distance Object strike would not occur.
The hero had prevailed.
If he didn’t cling to that fact, his psyche really would shatter.
Or so he thought.
But then he noticed something on the roof. It had apparently fallen from the woman’s clothing. Those were her dog tags. Apparently even a commando on an unofficial mission didn’t use a fake name on those. Maybe because this was only a short-term mission and not a long-term espionage job. Or maybe the Faith Organization had been in such disarray after the destruction of Rome they hadn’t bene able to prepare the best equipment and fake IDs.
He stopped breathing when he saw what was written there.
Faith Organization Marine Commandos – Gnostic Witches Unit.
He found himself straining his neck to avoid looking at a truth he didn’t want to accept.
His fingers felt something else on the filthy roof.
“It’s an Asian amulet. You aren’t supposed to open it.”
“Thanks. I hope it brings me good luck.”
That conversation replayed in his mind, but the amulet Carat had given him was still in his pocket.
Then what was this?
Why was an identical amulet sitting on the bloody rooftop? Where had it come from?
“So what’s your name?”
He slowly looked both at the unusual amulet and the mutilated corpse.
“That…can’t be true.”
Come to think of it, he had never asked that boy which world power he was from. He had rescued the boy without thinking, so he knew very little about him.
Feeling the amulet between his fingers was enough to know it had a flat piece of wood or thick paper inside. He used his trembling fingers to untie the string keeping the small pouch closed. First, the one he had. A strange but simple pattern had been drawn on it crayon. A tall cross had been drawn with a line connecting the top to the right and another line connecting the left to the bottom.
Were those four lines supposed to form a compass needle?
The words “together by chance” were written directly below that. It was a popular phrase that different people found different meanings in. The pattern was not a square or a diamond, but the four lines gathered together to point in a specific direction like a compass. It may have been dedicated to the idea of people from different countries and factions coming together by chance to work together and help each other out.
Or maybe there was no deep meaning behind it at all.
Maybe it was just a neat pattern someone had come across while playing a matchstick quiz. Even the phrase might have been something someone saw while searching an online thesaurus or messing around with a machine translator. But Quenser still sensed the unique sensibilities of a small child. It carried a magic he lacked now that his hands were soaked with blood.
“No, it can’t be…it can’t!!”
He was breathing heavily now.
He untied the other amulet lying on the roof. He wanted so badly for the exterior to be the only similarity. He prayed for a difference, even if it was just a single line.
His prayers were answered.
The scrap of paper inside was different from the one he had.
Something else was written below the “together by chance” phrase: Good luck, mom.
He couldn’t breathe. His stomach acid was pushing up into his throat.
Looking away and refusing to accept the truth earlier had been a mistake. The dog tags rushed into the center of his vision now.
Faith Organization Marine Commandos – Gnostic Witches Unit.
His numb mind finally remembered how nauseous he was. He managed to turn away from the mutilated corpse, but that was all. The contents of his stomach traveled back up his esophagus and spewed out onto the roof.
“Oh, gh!? Gweh, abh!!!!!”
What had he done? Who had he killed?
Could he really call this – this! – the work of a hero?
There had to have been a chance to stop himself. What had he seen in Rome? Sarasa Gleamshifter had been perfectly reasonable. She had already proven for him that there were good people in the Faith Organization.
Yet he hadn’t questioned his actions here.
He could have avoided this tragedy, so what was it he had failed to do here?
“Agh, ahh, ahh, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!???”
His screaming did nothing to change reality, so he finally collapsed onto his side. He curled up in the fetal position and trembled.
The corpse remained a corpse.
Try as he might to deny it, his bloody crime would never go away.
Of course, he had needed to protect Paris no matter what it took. He had wanted to protect his parents, Monica, Catherine, and so many other people. There wasn’t any way he could have persuaded the commando to stop, so he hadn’t done anything wrong. Yes, just looking at that, his actions had been justified. But that’s why he found himself unable to believe in anything anymore. He reviewed his actions over and over and failed to find a single flaw each and every time, but he refused to accept this bloody and horrifying result. If these were the actions of a hero, then he wasn’t sure he could trust in the idea of heroes anymore.
This was the result of doing the heroic thing.
What would become of a world supported by heroes like that?
“Ah, ahh, ahhhhhh…”
How long would this last? Would it ever end? Had this become the norm in a world where the clean wars had been replaced by a true world war? Was this shitty new normal with them forever? Would it become as ordinary as going to sleep at night and waking up to the rising sun?
He didn’t care about the Legitimacy Kingdom or Faith Organization anymore.
He didn’t want to see any interference from the Capitalist Corporations or the Information Alliance.
He was through with this world war.
Everything about it was too painful to bear.
In a dark, enclosed world, Quenser Barbotage finally realized he was being dragged somewhere.
“He has what we’re looking for.”
“Ugh, are you sure? He’s covered in blood.”
“Cast out your doubts, thoughtless maid. He was lying next to that corpse. I’m sure he has at least begun to question this world war. Why else would the hero who saved Paris have collapsed in guilt next to the very enemy he killed?”
His world gradually opened up.
No, that question had directed his mind outwards once more. He still had enough defiance and rebellion to not want to let that stand.
A small girl spoke coldly next to a silent young man named Frank.
“Back with us now?”
She wore a black uniform, but she was not one of the Legitimacy Kingdom’s Black Uniforms. She was from the Information Alliance. She was Wraith Martini Vermouthspray, a product of their genius girl project. She must have needed something to habitually fiddle with because she was twirling a pen-like device in one hand. He recalled that she was a special commander known as the Stopgap Grim Reaper who swiftly regathered a unit that was left hanging after its commander made a mistake (while actually using the surviving soldiers to buy time).
She was not alone.
Several mercenaries in maid uniforms stood around her. They belonged to the unidentified PMC they called the Battlefield Cleanup Service. Their blonde-haired brown-skinned leader was named Wydine Uptown.
Wraith peered down at Quenser’s face which had to be a mess of exhaustion and confusion.
“This world war will never end if we simply follow the orders of each world power’s higher ups. Things are currently splitting between the Legitimacy Kingdom and Faith Organization in the Old World and the Capitalist Corporations and Information Alliance in the New World, but who knows how long that will last. The world war is growing more confused by the moment. This stained glass world is going to shatter even further. We hope to take action and end this before the flames of war continue to spread. Are you interested in joining us?”
“Are you serious, Information Alliance? You’re one of the people who attacked Paris once we were defenseless.”
“We are,” admitted Wraith. And then, “I don’t trust the Information Alliance any more than you do and that efficient but worthless world power isn’t in command here. Feeling more interested in trusting us now?”
He noticed a strange decoration added to the unit insignia on Wraith’s shoulder. It was a compass needle formed from a tall cross with the top and right points and the left and bottom points connected by lines. It had been hastily added with spray paint. The compass was positioned above and left of the insignia, so it wasn’t overwriting that. The insignia was positioned perfectly in the right angle there.
“Everyone who has gathered in opposition of the world war is doing this,” bluntly explained the girl.
The Stopgap Grim Reaper was a special commander who regathered units that had fallen due to a military scandal. Was Wraith doing that on a global level now that she had left the Information Alliance?
“We’re calling ourselves Together By Chance. We have gathered together by chance to cast off our ties to the world powers and join forces to end the world war.”
Quenser felt the contents of his stomach rising.
This could not be mere coincidence. Had Wraith and the others named their group after seeing the amulet that had so devastated Quenser?
But at this point, a more fundamental question occurred to him.
Where were they?
It looked like a dirt and mud airfield forcibly built in a vineyard. Some Capitalist Corporations Zig-27 fighters were stopped alongside the runway with low pressure tires installed. There were also a few Legitimacy Kingdom S/G-31 delta wing fighters. The Ice Squadron and Burning Squadron insignia on their wings had the same compass needle pattern painted next to them.
The place appeared to be mostly made from the 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion’s infrastructure, but it may have been more than that. The Legitimacy Kingdom’s Frolaytia Capistrano and the Information Alliance’s Lendy Farolito were viewing the same tablet and analyzing some intel. Staccato Raylong, better known by the codename of Burning Alpha, was teasing a 12-year-old pilot girl who responded with open anger. Heivia and Myonri were trading rations with the soldiers from other world powers for a taste test. Black Uniform Charlotte Zoom, the 7th Special Training Unit’s Elise Montana, and some others were discussing new rules and working out a schedule for the day to come. There were even some volunteers from the Faith Organization. Quenser caught sight of Millia Newburg, the intelligence agent who could go undercover anywhere, Sarasa Gleamshifter and more of the Valkyries who handled public morals and executions for the Faith Organization police, and Putana Highball who had once been a Faith Organization Pilot Elite.
The Legitimacy Kingdom, Capitalist Corporations, Information Alliance, and Faith Organization were all present.
Except those categories no longer existed here. These were the people who were sick of the world war after seeing all the bloodshed and chaos in Rome and Paris.
Together By Chance.
They had only happened to be in the same place at the same time, but that was enough. People who never should have had anything in common had gathered together and agreed to work toward a single goal.
Some of them were more than just soldiers. There were the triplet Martini Series genius girls and several Pilot Elites like Catherine and Putana. Prisoners with a criminal past like Azureyfear and Louisiana were also present. Those geniuses were a step away from being entirely mad, but their opinions were being gathered by Claire Whist, an Object designer wearing a lab coat over a bikini.
The eyepatched maid was Karen who usually served the Winchell family. Sogia, Sanya, and the rest of the infamous Unicorns were protecting the daughter of the Vanderbilt family and Princess Staivia. Those two would be more useful when it came to international law and political power than in actual combat.
And to top it all off, Quenser heard the sound of a cloth being pulled away. The old maintenance lady had removed a hard painter’s mask from her mouth. The Baby Magnum and the Rush now had the same compass needle pattern painted large alongside their unit insignia.
“We barely have more than two mobile maintenance battalions’ worth of personnel and equipment and just the two Objects. That means we have a unit of around 2000,” calmly stated Wraith. “But that isn’t near enough to seriously challenge the Information Alliance’s Manhattan 000 and the rest of those intent on continuing this world war. We need as many people as we can possibly get – every last one counts. So help us, Quenser. We need your daring and cunning here.”
The boy looked down at his hands.
They were weak and still covered in a rusty-smelling liquid. He had almost certainly sent that boy’s mother to the depths of hell and the boy would feel like the same had happened to him. It had been one-on-one, so Quenser couldn’t blame anyone else. If he simply trusted in being a hero and continued on as before, that would happen again. So what could he trust in now? He would fight to stop this shitty world war. Tear-jerking stories of heroism were fine, but how was he supposed to find something that let him really believe in them again!?
“Quenser, what did you see in that war? What did you do in it?”
“Can’t bring yourself to answer, huh? …Neither can any of us. We all made serious mistakes in this world war and then didn’t even have the decency to die for it. It’s the pure and the good who die first in this hopeless world, so if we want to save anyone, we have to do the wrong thing. And if we don’t do anything to change that, it will only get worse. We’ve seen too much of it already. We don’t have room for even a drop more.”
So they would wipe everything clean.
They would stop hanging their heads and taking it. They would fight in order to atone for their sins and look to the future once more.
They would start over from where they were.
None of them could say when it would be, but one day they would reclaim a world where everyone could trust in heroism and live happy lives.
So they couldn’t let this world war manipulate them any longer.
No matter what.
“Hand me that spray paint.”
They had to end this colossal mistake as soon as possible.
With the sound of spraying gas, Quenser added on to the unit insignia on his shoulder. He drew a long cross, a diagonal line connecting to the top to the right, and another diagonal line connecting the left to the bottom. He was not rejecting the Legitimacy Kingdom. The cross was situated on the insignia’s upper left, showing that he would respect his and everyone else’s birthplaces while they looked to a shared vision of the future.
Together By Chance. Maybe he didn’t have the right to bear that signal while covered in so much blood.
Everything seemed to come into focus for Quenser Barbotage.
He could see something clearly now.
(But if I can stop this, I have to do it.)
“Where are we starting?”
Wraith Martini Vermouthspray smiled at his question.
The fact that she had invited him here meant she had given him more trust than he felt he deserved. She had trusted he could grit his teeth and get back on his feet no matter how badly he had been beaten.
“This world war began with the destruction of the Faith Organization home country of Rome,” began Wraith. “In a true display of ‘courage’, those chickens in the Faith Organization proved they were more afraid of being the only losers than they were interested in pursuing the truth, so they lashed out, blamed the Legitimacy Kingdom, and launched a misguided reprisal. But we’ll never reach the people who are truly responsible if we waste our time on them.”
“But Bad Garage are already gone. We defeated them.”
“Are you suggesting resentful Bad Garage arrived at their environmental destruction by Objects theory all on their own?”
Quenser had a feeling they hadn’t.
They had pursued the research paper written by 9-year-old Elina Silverbullet in the Tunguska District in order to lend more credence to their theory. That meant they had not been confident enough in their own research.
“Someone fed them that knowledge in the first place.” Wraith slapped a stack of papers against Quenser’s chest. “We discovered this in Bad Garage’s hideout. Or more accurately, we acquired it by having a computer reconstruct the fragmentary text on the burnt remains left in their fireplace. They abandoned that place well before meeting Elina. The real villain sent them a few research papers while also fanning the flames of their emotions. The terrorists of every era are always sadly reliant on their backers. The information being fed to Bad Garage was cherrypicked to manipulate them. A clever move by the villain, I must say.”
“Who was it?” cautiously asked Quenser.
If they screwed this up and attacked the wrong person, they would never get a second chance at it.
“Who was smirking in the shadows while masterminding an attack on Rome, starting a world war, and sending the world straight to hell?”
“We already have that answer. It was right there in the documents their fireplace failed to burn properly.” Wraith’s answer was a short one.
“The Island Nation.”
Chapter 5: From the Land of the Rising Sun >> Unofficial Island Nation Landing Operation
“Are you ready to go, Princess?”
Two people spoke quietly in the darkness.
They were on the way to the Island Nation. The fleet was completing their final maintenance checks while hidden within a ship scrapyard in Southeast Asia.
The Baby Magnum was completing its final tune up as well.
Once that work was complete, they were headed straight to the Island Nation.
The Princess showed him the hand she had hidden behind her back. Or more accurately, the small box she held in it.
“In the Island Nation, you give chocolate on Valentine’s Day.”
“Girls give it to boys there!!”
“Gweh!? Why are you attacking me with the corner of the box like that!? Stop shoving it against me!”
The Princess didn’t answer and continued attacking him with her eyes squeezed shut.
But that aside…
“Yahoo!! This is handmade, isn’t it!? Anything handmade by a girl is cause to celebrate if you ask me!!”
“Anything!? This is supposed to special, Quenser!!”
“(Oh, but I can’t tell him girls give it to the boy they l-l-l-l-like. There’s just no way. But he won’t understand if I don’t because he doesn’t know the Island Nation traditions!)”
Rejoicing Quenser tore off the wrapping paper and began devouring the chocolate with the ferocity of someone starved for flavor after so long with nothing but flavorless rations.
The Princess stared in disbelief when he did this right in front of her.
“Quenser…” she said.
“Hey, I have to eat it while I have the chance,” he said in his usual flippant way. But then he lowered his voice and took a more serious tone. “I might not be coming back alive from this one, so I don’t want to leave anything undone.”
The Princess narrowed her eyes.
This really was not the time for something like this. Neither of them said so, but they still shared the moment together. Quenser could hardly have complained if he got stones thrown at him for this, but that was why he wanted some time to smile together while they still could.
He knew she had to feel the same. She had to know now wasn’t the time, but she had still neatly wrapped up the small box. He didn’t know what meaning that held for her, but she may have been afraid of ending up dead all alone in her empty cockpit.
“Quenser, what will you do now?”
“People think Objects are terrible things that will destroy the world. Even though we were fighting to protect everyone.”
Quenser only smiled vaguely.
He couldn’t bring himself to say that was wrong.
At this point, he didn’t have the willpower left to continue hiding the environmental destruction by Objects theory from the Pilot Elite.
Plus, Quenser himself had killed a certain mother. He had repeatedly stabbed her to protect the Legitimacy Kingdom home country of Paris.
The Princess had only been one cause among many, but it had been one-on-one for Quenser. Setting aside whether or not his actions had been justified, Cheddar Affinity would not have died if he hadn’t been there.
He would have to live out the rest of his life with a child resenting him for the loss of his mother.
The Princess was a Pilot Elite. He couldn’t pretend to understand how this made her feel.
But he had come to the battlefield dreaming of being an Object designer. This new direction for the world had robbed him of his dream.
So she wanted to hear his answer.
She hoped to find something there to help her.
“I’m sure I’ll be doing something related to Objects. I don’t care what anyone says – I just love them too much.”
The ever-expressionless Princess actually blinked twice in surprise.
“Sure, I’ll have to see how people view Objects and what position they hold in the world,” he said, unfazed. “But I’m not going to let the ghosts of some dead terrorists decide that for us all. So let’s end this silly world war and decide for ourselves what Objects will be in the new world. I’m hoping it’ll be something we like.”
“You can’t stand how the world sees Objects as villains now, right? Then let’s start from there. Let’s destroy all of this and create a new era where everyone’s thankful for Objects. I don’t know what actual work they’ll do – could be construction and could be garbage disposal – but let’s create a peaceful age of Objects so we can walk up to those so-called experts insisting Objects would destroy the world and give them the finger.”
With the softest of sounds, the Princess rested her forehead against Quenser’s chest.
And she spoke in a vanishingly quiet voice.
“I would like that too.”
“Then let’s do it. Someone pulled the trigger on all this to accomplish who-knows-what, but this is still our lives. If we want to do something, we should just do it.”
Time seemed to stop for a while after that.
They might not have the chance for any of that.
They might all die in the upcoming battle.
But no one had the right to deny them this moment.
Eventually, the Princess pulled her head away and spoke quietly.
“And don’t forget, Quenser.”
“When someone gives you Valentine’s Day chocolate in the Island Nation, you have to give them a gift worth three times as much on White Day.”
“What kind of loan shark holiday is that!?”
The Princess held a hand to her mouth and giggled when the boy jumped in surprise.
In that rare moment, her icy expression melted.
“You had better repay me, Quenser.”
Ordinarily, making promises now might have been a bad idea.
They shouldn’t have been creating extra causes for regret.
Quenser Barbotage couldn’t help but smile as he responded.
“You got it. It’s a promise.”
The world war blossomed before a freelance battlefield cameraman’s eyes.
Sewax pulled his SLR camera from his face and muttered to himself: “This world deserves to be destroyed.”
The Legitimacy Kingdom home country of Paris was surrounded by three defensive lines and the outermost one had been breached.
But the attackers were not free to do as they wished.
A 50m colossus crushed the massive wheat field in its path, switched the format of its main cannon, and unleashed a deafening boom and a bright orange beam of light. That was a brutal railgun.
The infantry down below covered their ears and shouted up at it.
“You’re overdoing it, Excalibur!! If we really do eradicate the Faith Organization, the table will permanently lose one of its legs. As much as I hate it, this world needs all four of those legs. As knights of the Legitimacy Kingdom, we have a duty to protect world peace!!”
The Pilot Elite did not care.
Even if the target was officially a civilian medical group arriving on the battlefield for peaceful purposes.
The Elite figured there was probably a Faith Organization assassin hidden among the doctors.
Their food and water supplies had been contaminated earlier, leading to several losses among the Legitimacy Kingdom troops. The only outsiders on base at the time had been a choir there to provide some comfort during such a difficult time, but the entire choir had been “dealt with” by the soldiers after the problem was detected.
The clean wars system had already collapsed.
And it was their fault. So they only had themselves to blame if the Legitimacy Kingdom made some harsh decisions during this world war.
“Excalibur to 22nd Division. Then are you asking me to sit here twiddling my thumbs while we lose more of our people? They are directly attacking Paris. I was granted this sword by my king, so I must use it to protect our people.”
The ordinary soldiers had done the right thing.
But at least three suicides by sidearm had been reported after the execution of the choir. The number of soldiers who were clenching their teeth and suffering from PTSD had to be tens or even hundreds of times greater. And this result had probably been part of the Faith Organization’s plot. Knowing them, they might even cut open a baby’s belly to hide a bomb inside or threaten an elderly woman into wielding a gun.
The Excalibur’s Pilot Elite would not let their horrific deeds continue. He would not allow any more losses from the youths who had sworn to fight for the good of the world.
…So he had chosen to shoulder all the dirty work himself.
He calmly double checked the defense target only he would be attacking.
They would learn the hard way not to underestimate the sword granted him by his king.
The Faith Organization was not going to take this lying down.
The Capitalist Corporations and Information Alliance intervened a lot sooner than expected. The Faith Organization had assumed those third parties would just keep watch from a distance and only join in at the very, very end when they knew which side would win, but they had jumped into the fray almost immediately.
They didn’t want this European war to reach the New World.
Perhaps the greatest driver of war was fear, not desire.
“Yes, yes. We just called in the Bad Maidens, the Tartaruses, the Poison Forests, and all the other infamous units engaged in unofficial missions in the Northern Restricted Zone. We might not have as many Objects, but we can turn this around with their help.”
“What about the volunteers?”
“They don’t even suspect what their real purpose is. Or that they have bombs packed inside their bags.”
This conversation would have been unthinkable once, but now no one questioned it.
They would use everything at their disposal.
In this new era, even a stuffed rabbit was no more than a weapon that could be stuffed down an enemy soldier’s throat to suffocate them to death.
“Detonate those in hospitals and schools across Paris and the Legitimacy Kingdom won’t know who they can trust. We must not fear their wrath – we must use it to our advantage. Once their battleline panics, they will make mistakes and their superior number of Objects will not be enough to determine the outcome.”
Why should they fight fair and square?
Quite a few of their Objects had been rendered inoperable or unmaintainable during the chaos following the collapse of Rome, so they had been forced out of the fight before it even began. They were starting at a disadvantage. If they chose to ignore that reality and attempted to fight fair and square, the raging Objects would cause even further damage in Naples and Milan where they had established a distributed emergency government.
So the Faith Organization would not rely on a direct fight.
“I pray the peaceful age of god will arrive to this sinful planet.”
But their faith was not broken.
When people had something to protect, they gained the ability to accept even the cruelest of actions.
It was strange how they had gotten to know each other.
The black-haired, dark-skinned bodyguard crossing his arms must have left a good impression back when they met at the Technopics. They were inside a luxury hotel room on Bali, but nothing sexy was going on here.
People gathered around the rich when they were winning.
In the bodyguard business, you helped build your brand by being the first person who came to mind when the rich began to lose and felt they couldn’t trust anyone anymore.
A woman calmly sat behind a laptop at a nearby table.
Her name was Alicia Sloppyjoes.
But wasn’t she supposed to be an agent for an advertising firm that worked mostly with Capitalist Corporations’ companies?
“Alarms are sounding in South America, Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe. This could be a problem. I need to decide where to shelter my assets soon. The LA main bank could be shutdown at any moment. Oh, but I can’t trust Oceania because they’ve always been politically unstable.”
“Quit trying to make yourself sound smart. The point is you can’t trust any of the digital data, so you want your assets with you in a physical form, right? Diamonds would be your best bet. Cash and gold are too bulky to guard while on the move.”
“Can you guarantee they would be safe during this world war with no safe zones to speak of? Diamonds are easily broken by impacts and I have heard they scorch in fires.”
“If you don’t like it, then I’m leaving. This is stupid and I’m only here to earn money for my family. Especially for my little sister who was separated from me when our parents divorced. It doesn’t really matter to me who I earn that money from.”
They heard hurried footsteps in the adjacent room. (Their suite actually had multiple rooms.)
That would be Pharmacist Stacy Palmetto providing a special service for a mercenary working for them. …Specifically, she was providing the “safe doping” designed for professional athletes. The bodyguard man had no interest in receiving that service himself.
He sighed and asked another question.
“Dammit, I can’t believe we’re still stuck counting money during a world war. Is the Capitalist Corporations going to come out on top again with the war industry consuming the world?”
“It doesn’t look that simple. The situation has moved past the limits of the investment programs. Everyone is pretending things are working out just fine, but it’s looking like the New World won’t be able to stop a chain reaction financial crisis. If this keeps up, a lot of companies are going to go bankrupt and shut down. And there are signs of the Information Alliance using cyber attacks to take out the crypto assets spread out across the world.”
“Will this affect 7th Core too?”
“Yes, even them. Are you familiar with the Object that guards LA?”
“I’m not familiar with its detailed specs, but I have heard it controls animals. Something about using ultrasonic waves, artificial pheromones, and other things to summon swarms of locusts and edible earthworms to form a massive wall protecting the border with Central America.”
“The Xanthippe is the Capitalist Corporations’ strongest Second Generation. It’s a special Object designed and constructed by the burger chain that’s globally famous even for a 7th Core company. Beyond simple combat, it was apparently designed to prevent starvation tactics where a unit is isolated with all supply lines cut off.”
The bodyguard man grimaced slightly. The combination of earthworms and burgers may have been to blame.
Alicia, on the other hand, didn’t seem to mind.
“Its title as the strongest should help discourage an attack, but simply preventing the damage from spreading too far is costing so much money that actually fighting would probably cause the company to go under.”
“Their funds are already running low. It isn’t a fierce warrior or a mysterious prototype weapon that brings down major countries and ends wars – that honor always goes to economic collapse. 7th Core might be the seven wealthiest companies in the world, but the more money required to keep things operating normally, the greater the risk if the ordinary financial engineering equations fall apart. To be fair, this hasn’t happened overnight. The CEO of Salem Logistics was assassinated by Nyarlathotep recently and the Elevator Alliance jointly funded by 7th Core failed pretty spectacularly. This blow hit all the harder because they had yet to recover from those other issues. Things are reaching truly scary territory here. That’s why I can’t trust the banks. Maybe I really should convert it all into diamonds or platinum and look after it myself.”
A dull roar reverberated across the dictator’s ocean.
The roar came from the Manhattan 000, the Information Alliance’s strongest Object and their home country itself.
No one remained who could stop it.
The baptism of fire and lead had taught the smart ones to remain silent. The less smart ones had been plunged into the watery depths along with their weapons.
“But the Manhattan 000 is our home country. No matter how effective it is, I can’t keep it on the front line for too long. 114. I need to cause enough damage to open the way for our other Objects and then pull back.”
Melly Martini Extradry was speaking as a Pilot Elite, not as the Martini Series in charge of New York’s security.
She spoke like she was humming the latest hit song.
Was she speaking out loud to help organize her thoughts, or to assist the massive AI network that operated the Manhattan 000?
“But it bothers me how a few Objects have vanished from such a crucial battlefield. The Information Alliance is supposed to be second to none when it comes to information, so I don’t like the feeling that I’m being manipulated by some unseen information. 994.”
The local time was February 15 at precisely 2 AM.
The sound of the ocean parting intruded on the pitch black world.
“Welcome, courageous warriors!! Whether we go down in history as the heroes who saved the world or filthy deserters is entirely up to your actions. I’m sure you all have different thoughts on your mind, but I know you joined us because you weren’t willing to throw out everything you believed in just to obey the orders passed down to you from on high. It doesn’t matter if you’re fighting for the world. Let’s start by protecting our own lives.”
Quenser and Heivia’s group was soaked with oily seawater as they used the veil of darkness to land on one of the small islands protecting the Kanagawa area at the entrance to Tokyo Bay.
They snuck up behind the self-defense PMC soldiers managing the giant fortress gun and silently slit their throats with knives. The Island Nation had once fought a fierce civil war, but it looked like they could join forces again when necessary. Not every guard out here was necessarily a villain, but Quenser and Heivia’s group needed to get past them to reach the villains manipulating them.
“Hurry up and set up the bomb, skinny boy.” The prestigious noble sounded impatient. “If we get rid of that 400mm railgun, we can call in the fleet!”
“There were supposed to be three of these artillery islands. Blow this one up right away and the others go on alert. I can detonate them all simultaneously using my radio, so let’s get back into the ocean and move on to the next island.”
“The world war was started here in the Island Nation, the very technological country that developed the first Objects and introduced them to the world.”
Something was floating on the ocean surface.
It was not a boat.
It was an amphibious continuous track armored vehicle weighing more than 25 tons and designed for river crossings. It could be used as a boat when a propeller and rudder were attached. Wydine Uptown of the Battlefield Cleanup Service PMC (which actually worked for the Information Alliance) gave a troubled look up at the top hatch.
The source of her troubles was Karen I Winchell, the eyepatch maid next to her.
“Ma’am, I would prefer not to have a real maid anywhere near us. I’m wearing cat ears!! This really draws attention to how fake we are!! Why would anyone choose us over a milkmaid who serves a fancy noble family!?”
“A-a milkmaid is in charge of looking after the cows and making cheese and butter. I don’t know what exactly you think it means, but it isn’t that!!”
“You’re capable in every way, you’re a coolheaded and strict instructor with an eyepatch, and yet your defenses crumble at the drop of a hat? Your maid level is off the charts, so we don’t stand a chance. Someone please send help!!”
Karen looked coolheaded but was actually very easy to get a rise out of, so she found it easier to relax when focused on her maid work. She cleared her throat and then turned to face Quenser.
“Ahem. Sir Quenser, please have this towel. I can never thank you enough for looking after our ill-behaved cockroach in place of the Winchell family maids.”
“Pfft. Cockroach? Ha ha ha.”
“Don’t encourage her, Quenser!!!!!!”
“The Island Nation is officially part of the Capitalist Corporations and defended by a self-defense PMC purchased with Capitalist Corporations money, but in truth, a complex power balance between the Legitimacy Kingdom, Capitalist Corporations, Information Alliance, and Faith Organization has settled in there. They invited in all those foreigners to fight against their plummeting birthrate and now very few of the original Island Nationers are left. In fact, no one can even agree who counts as one anymore.”
They used the ocean currents as much as possible, using the engine only when absolutely necessary.
After approaching one of the concrete-covered islands as much as possible, a highly mobile infantry force silently landed and eliminated the self-defense PMC (who were almost all foreign mercenaries due to the limited number of Island Nationers).
They caught some glimpses of some people more frightening than the island defense force.
“Geh!?” Quenser’s eyes widened. “A bunch of Martini Series girl just left a different armored truck!!”
“Keep in mind that I am one of the more sensible ones. Those easy-going and coldblooded triplets are nothing like me.”
Wraith Martini Vermouthspray looked exasperated while spinning a pen-like device in her hand, but…
“Aren’t you our commander!? What are you doing out here!?”
“Oh, do you want the Stopgap Grim Reaper to boss you around that badly? I’ve only ever treated my borrowed units as disposable tools, so I’m not great at keeping my people alive.”
“How are you different from the rest of the Martini Series again!?”
Wraithy was accompanied by a silent young man named Frank and she had zero interest in getting along with the triplets in red uniforms. She puffed out her cheeks when she was thrown into the same category as them.
After the highly international PMC unit was eliminated, Quenser attached a bomb to the base of the 400mm railgun that had a metal jacket of gel around the entire barrel for shock absorption.
The guns being on remote islands meant they didn’t have to bother hiding the bodies. They didn’t have to worry about an unlucky civilian seeing one and screaming.
The seabirds would probably eat them after waking up at dawn. Nature could be cruelly unbiased at times. But Quenser’s group didn’t have time to worry about the dignity of the corpses. This was a battle between professionals. If they encountered each other on the battlefield, they had to fight and they couldn’t exactly bring the enemy’s bodies back with them.
“I’ve gotten so used to killing. Makes me want to vomit.”
“It’s that world war that taught you to be like that. I don’t know what the people sitting around in their living rooms would think about it, but I’m not about to let the bastards behind all this complain about our actions.”
Quenser pictured that hemispherical prosthetic eye lying on the rooftop.
He had robbed Carat Affinity of his one and only mother, but he would have to wait until after this was over for that boy to repay him for it.
“The small Island Nation is secretly used by agents of all four world powers to speak with each other and work out deals behind the scenes. That international group is known as Azumaya. They have built a secret base deep within a self-defense PMC base in Ichigaya. They make all the decisions there. Each member is officially just some random soldier and the higher ups of each world power know nothing about this. They are the ones who fed information to Bad Garage and started this world war.”
They met some sporadic resistance.
But this was the last of the three artillery islands. It was too late for them to go on alert now. The armored truck’s 40mm machinegun fired from the concrete coast, tearing through a concrete wall and the enemy soldiers to silence them. Afterwards, Quenser attached a plastic explosive to the base of the giant cannon aiming south from the ocean.
“That’s the last one.”
“The party’s all ready to go, so it’s time to open the door for all the invited guests pounding on our door.”
Heivia and Myonri trudged back to the truck, but Quenser looked back just once.
“What is it, Quenser?”
“Nothing really. I just thought these 400mm railguns would have a round reactor attached to them.”
“They probably dug underground to run an undersea cable. That’s nothing compared to the Break Carrier. C’mon, let’s go.”
“Of course, the top brass back in the home countries have more authority than some agents shipped out to Asia. But only inside their world power. If anyone gets in these agents’ way, they have one of the agents of another world power kill them. That is the truth behind so many wars. It was a global scale murder exchange. They eliminated each other’s problems. That gave them the freedom to kill a Legitimacy Kingdom king or a Capitalist Corporations conglomerate president with the press of a button. And eventually, those lowly agents gained the influence needed to manipulate their entire world power. Their names are never found on any documents and they remain nothing more than a random soldier no one has ever heard of. The Island Nation is of course closely watched by the four world powers, but that is what made it so perfect for hiding something. Think of it like a stage magician’s table. When everyone is focused on something, they fail to notice what is happening right under their nose. Try this sleight of hand in a living room with all the lights out and they would make a mistake pretty fast. I bet this group would have been caught and eliminated a lot sooner if they hadn’t used the Island Nation, which acts as a sort of taboo.”
Once he was back inside the floating armored truck, Quenser flicked his radio’s switch with his thumb, triggering three consecutive fireworks that illuminated the late night sea. With the three artillery islands down, the Objects and their maintenance fleet could pass through to Tokyo Bay.
The colossal weapons controlled by Pilot Elites moved past Quenser’s group. The Baby Magnum waved one of its seven main cannons in greeting as the armored truck was retrieved by a landing ship.
“Oh ho ho. You all worry too much. Fortress guns? You should have just let us crush those puny things below our nuke-resistant Objects.”
The triple explosion acted as a trigger.
Air raid sirens began to sound from the harbors at Yokosuka and Yokohama and searchlights shined into the sky, but that was not what Quenser’s group had planned. Burning Alpha and Ice Girl 1 used aerial bombs to precisely blow up just the docked defense ships and then the entire fleet continued north.
“Hey, little lady? If you rely too much on your own bombs, you will run out eventually, no matter how many you’re carrying. And you don’t want to have to land on the aircraft carrier every time that happens, do you? The harbor is our target. The most effective and economical method is to block up the ocean with the enemy’s rubble. Aren’t you from the Capitalist Corporations? Then you need to worry about the cost of all that ammo, don’t you?”
“Shut your mouth, Burning Alpha. I am the leader Ice Squadron. I was just immersing myself in some hard rock after finally getting my hands on a phone with a proper subscription, so if you want me to show you who’s the better pilot, that can be arranged!!”
Why did it sound like those two fighters were competing over kills before the real battle even began?
Their destination was Ichigaya, Tokyo.
They needed to land near Odaiba and fight their way almost all the way to Shinjuku.
In other words…
“Your job is to work your way from Tokyo Bay to Ichigaya and crush Azumaya there.”
Their only objective was Azumaya.
This battle was meaningless for the majority of the people defending the Island Nation, but a shootout was unavoidable when they were attacking those defenders’ bases and garrisons. Trying to persuade the troops here would only give the mysterious members of Azumaya a chance to escape.
The Ichigaya garrison was officially known as a Capitalist Corporations self-defense PMC base, but it was more like a joint facility for the four world powers sharing control of the Island Nation. People were rapidly being pushed into the box that had been left nearly empty after the civil war.
That meant there would be Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers there as well, but they could not ask them for help. Quenser’s group had already left the Legitimacy Kingdom’s chain of command, as would anyone who had stayed on the Island Nation long enough.
This was a deadly battle between outsiders.
They were here to end the world war, but if the side with the superior justification always won, military might wouldn’t be necessary in the first place.
A point in the night sky flashed and then a small destroyer was vaporized disturbingly close to the landing ship that had collected Quenser’s group in their truck. The steel ship and the seawater around it literally melted to an orange liquid and erupted into bubbles while falling to the bottom of the ocean.
“A laser beam!? But it came from so high up!!”
They could see the fighters rapidly reducing their altitude. Quenser initially thought a flying Object had shown up to break all the rules they took for granted, but that wasn’t it.
The blonde-haired, brown-skinned fake maid named Wydine Uptown shouted out from where she was strapped into her seat in the armored truck.
“Sirs and madams. We only have an estimate at this point, but that was fired from 100km to the west at an altitude of around 3800m. That matches the peak of Mount Fuji!!”
That wasn’t a joke.
That explained why the fortress guns protecting Tokyo Bay had all been railguns specialized for targeting ships past the horizon. They already had a powerful anti-air defense to shoot down ballistic missiles and bombers.
As usual, Frolaytia’s pre-mission briefing had been lacking crucial information.
Quenser had experienced this more than enough already, so he paled and cursed that busty commander.
“A-are you saying anywhere you can see Mount Fuji is in range of that laser fortress gun? Heh…heh heh heh. But doesn’t the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji show you can see it from pretty much anywhere!?”
“It doesn’t really matter. You saw how huge that laser beam was. They can’t fire it on us once we’re inside Tokyo!!”
“Just so you know, it doesn’t look it’s going be that easy, you peeeeeeeeeeeeeesssssssssssssst.”
The eyepatch maid harshly criticized the noble boy’s idea (because she so so sooo couldn’t bear the idea of her beloved master getting himself killed here☆).
Their Objects could battle at 600km/h, so they could cross Tokyo Bay in no time. Yet the Baby Magnum and Rush had come to a stop.
Something was rising from the dark ocean surface up ahead.
Just like one of those giant kaijus the Island Nation loved so much.
It came from near an artificial island service area in the middle of the highway that connected Tokyo Bay from east to west. Something had been activated, like it was moving to prevent these uninvited guests from entering Tokyo.
It goes without saying what that 50m shape was.
A mysterious Island Nation model had finally shown itself.
“You can remove all the wind and oil you want, but you can never extinguish the forest fire if you don’t remove the actual source of the fire. …We must crush Azumaya underfoot. The giant feet of our Objects will stamp out the cigarette butt they so rudely discarded on the filthy ground!!”
No one had thought this would be easy.
But everyone here had still joined in because they truly wanted to stop the world war. So the appearance of an Object wasn’t going to stop them.
Operation Tokyo Invasion had begun.
“Ksh!! We are experiencing some unexplained signal noise. The Island Nation must be doing something!!”
“The complex arrangement of metal pipes and smokestack exhaust in Chiba’s industrial zone are interfering with our radars and sensors. Ksh, be careful you don’t hit any civilians!!”
Chiba, Kanagawa, and Tokyo.
Thick artillery fire pushed in to greet the Area By Chance fleet traveling north through the bay.
Very few people could stay standing on the shaking deck. Even the highly experienced old maintenance lady was carefully pressing up against the wall while she carried some repair materials. She knew relying on the metal railings would just get her thrown overboard when an impact rocked the ship.
Among all that, one commander held her right hand straight out, holding a rapier with the tip standing straight up. Lendy Farolito stared past the sword and into the distance, almost like a painter using her brush to decided where to start on the scenery.
(I can leave the stifling combat information center to that Legitimacy Kingdom smoker. I need to make up for the malfunctioning radars and sensors. That’s the best way to help that girl.)
The decoration at the base of the sword was what mattered here.
Lights flashed in the distance. Supersonic artillery shells were tearing through the air and pillars of water burst more than 20m up from the dark ocean near their ships. The fortress gun didn’t even need a direct hit. If a piece was torn from the plastic garbage floating in the ocean and hit her, it could tear off a limb.
But Lendy did not bat an eye.
This put her life at risk, but it also gave her a crucial hint.
Anyone who couldn’t think like that was not fit to serve as a soldier.
(The enemy is likely using 175mm guns. The muzzle flash is 1/2 the width of the Ki-Yong, so the range must be about 10km. The 30 second gap between light and sound confirms it. Double check complete.)
“Central command to Gatling 033. Set your reference point to 1200m west-northwest. The Island Nation fortress gun is loaded on a freight train. It appears to be traveling north at a cautious 40km/h to avoid tipping over from the oversized load, so correct your aim accordingly. Fire.”
A scorching light and a sizzling of the night air erupted simultaneously.
The laser beam secondary cannon unnaturally bent at a sharp angle from the exhaust heat coming from the industrial zone’s smokestacks, but that sent it straight down to accurately vaporize the enemy fortress gun hidden in the gap between industrial complex buildings.
“G-gun destroyed. The enemy mobile artillery gun in the Kisarazu area has been silenced!!”
“Wow, that laser beam flew over the industrial zone and then dropped straight down on its target. I never want to fight against that.”
A rush of reports came in, but cheers were the norm for an idol.
The idol Elite must have been able to see Lendy standing on the deck with rapier raised in front of her because she commented on it.
“Oh ho ho. I like that pose. I doubt you will go for it, but why not start your own career as an idol? You could go the thick and sexy route.”
“Please. I shine best as the manager working behind the scenes.”
Of course, taking out that one gun wasn’t enough to end it.
But each new instance of destruction tilted the overall battle further in the one direction.
The following conversation was held on the combat information center that Lendy found so stifling.
“Major Capistrano, the destroyers and small aircraft carriers have sent a request to our flagship!!”
“This is only a camouflaged cruiser – the Scarlet Princess.”
(Tch. That Information Alliance idol freak left the worst jobs with me. And now I find out that little girl in black and the red triplets from the Martini Series are mixed in with the potatoes entering the Island Nation. Damn, maybe I should have gotten out there too.)
The ship Frolaytia and the others were using was a special warship disguised as a cruise ship to lure in and slaughter pirates. Bringing it to the front line was like advertising the fact that they were so short on resources they had to use whatever was available.
“Our real flagship is that one carrying the Nikolaschka princess. Come to think of it, were they offering sunbathing and a chance to rest on there?”
The busty commander’s comment brought a troubled look to the operator’s face.
“It’s 2 in the morning. The sun isn’t out yet.”
“That’s too bad. I could really go for some sunlight after spending so much time in this windowless combat information center. Maybe I should at least have a sterilizing blacklight installed.”
Frolaytia’s comment earned a shrug from Captain Alfonso Zoom.
“We’ll do our best to avoid it of course,” continued the busty commander. “But this might end up being our final battle. Once things really get started, we won’t be able to get any fresh air.”
They were up against an unidentified Island Nation Object and a laser fortress gun installed at the summit of Mount Fuji.
It was an abnormal situation, but they had two Objects of their own.
(It’s two-against-one, so if we make an aggressive attack, they should try to keep their distance to avoid being trapped between our Objects. This isn’t going to end right away. Our ships are exposed to their laser fortress gun, but an Object’s laser beam or low-stability plasma cannon can increase the ocean temperature enough to bend light with steam or a mirage.)
She couldn’t let the great scale throw her off.
She couldn’t let the Island Nation’s legendary status stop her from thinking rationally.
Frolaytia Capistrano gradually gathered up what little odds they had and combined them into a real chance at victory.
“But first, we need to come up with a name for the enemy Object. Calling it ‘unidentified’ gives it an air of mystery we don’t want.”
That was a mass of metal ruled by physics and bound by chemistry.
It was not deflecting their bullets with a magical barrier or anything like that.
“The Island Nation Object will now be referred to as the Asian Monster. I repeat, the enemy codename is Asian Monster!!”
“Oh, shut up! Quit wasting time naming the baby and get us out of here!! Evacuate!!”
Heivia proved how well trained he was by snapping back at their commander’s radio transmission.
The firing rate of the fortress gun atop the Mount Fuji was unknown, but a single shot could erase a ship from the sea. They couldn’t ignore the Asian Monster directly in front of them either. It had four diamond-shaped air cushion floats, with one in the front, back, left, and right, and the long main cannon on its right side was probably a low-stability plasma cannon. That cannon was an obvious threat, but it could probably also sink a destroyer just by tackling it.
So now was not the time to be huddled together in a bunch of landing ships. Quenser and Heivia’s group hurriedly operated the lever to unfasten their synthetic belts and clung to the amphibious armored truck to leave their ship.
Fortunately, they were not just adrift and helpless.
The Baby Magnum and Rush moved out and clashed with the Island Nation Object long enough for the potatoes to head for Tokyo Bay’s reclaimed land.
Of course, the one Object wasn’t the extent of the Island Nation’s defenses.
“Ice Girl 1 here. I have confirmed enemy fighters preparing for takeoff at Haneda. We will now attack that airport as an enemy military facility.”
“Burning Alpha here. Haneda is an unstable airport constructed on a reiver delta and reclaimed land. So instead of simply dropping a ton of missiles on them, I recommend calculating how the impact will propagate across the surface and trigger soil liquefaction to prevent them from taking off.”
“Do I need to shove a big fat missile down your throat to shut you up first, Burning Alpha!? Anyway, commence attack. Engage!!”
Quenser’s eyes widened when he saw some flashing lights across the dark ocean and then a nearby part of the ocean swelled more than 10m straight up with a deafening roar.
“They’re firing something from the north!? Hey, isn’t that where that famous theme park is located!? When did that place arm itself!?”
“The Island Nation clearly has no fear of god.”
But if the enemy had made their test shot and were preparing a corrected shot next, they couldn’t just wait around here. Land was right in front of them now.
They needed to get on land before the second shot arrived.
They didn’t need to fear direct targeting if they used the buildings as shields.
Just as Quenser’s group arrived at the end of one of the reclaimed land sections, they heard several muffled explosions from an inland point to the west.
Quenser ducked down, thinking it might be a sign of mortars about to fall their way, but fortunately he was wrong.
“That appears to be some bridges and tunnels blowing up,” said Putana Highball while inspecting her assault rifle nearby. “I don’t sense any eyes on us.”
The reclaimed land contained a lot of parks and fish markets. It was still mostly undeveloped, so there was a fair bit of unpaved gravel and weed-filled fields. That meant a shell could easily reach them.
The radio transmission wasn’t quite silent.
Quenser heard a suppressed sigh from the old maintenance lady. Ayami Cherryblossom had chosen to leave the Island Nation and join the Legitimacy Kingdom, so how did this homecoming feel to her?
Unfortunately, someone wasn’t so considerate.
“This is the legendary Island Nation?” groaned Frolaytia, an Island Nation fanatic, viewing the footage coming from the potatoes’ small body cameras. “I had high hopes after seeing Mount Fuji light up like that, but where are all the geishas and ninjas? What’s keeping you, Island Nation? Where’s the samurai unit that can slice through an Object with no more than the power of their own muscles and a katana?”
“Has this bitch completely forgotten our lives and the fate of the world are on the line here?” grumbled Heivia.
Things might have been differently in Kyoto or Shimane which had been taken by the Faith Organization or were highly influenced by the Legitimacy Kingdom, which valued history and tradition, but Tokyo and Kanagawa belonged to the Capitalist Corporations and Information Alliance who preferred math and logic. Frolaytia wasn’t going to find anything she had hoped for here.
And on that note…
“I’m not delusional like Frolaytia, but this is the Island Nation,” said Quenser. “I was expecting half the scenery to covered in symbols or to find ourselves inside a giant hologram.”
“Oh, you’re delusional all right,” said the old maintenance lady over the radio.
A new figure emerged from behind some roughly-stacked steel beams.
Someone wielding no guns or knives spread his arms and dark red flames surrounded him.
Quenser watched as those flames surged up and descended toward him. It felt like he was a frog being swallowed by a big snake.
“I want you all to take back everything you said about this place being too normal!!!!!!” shouted Heivia while they all scattered.
The flames crashed into the gravel ground and scattered in every direction. The flames were unnaturally sticky like with a Molotov cocktail or a flamethrower.
Quenser had been slow to react and froze up, so 12-year-old Catherine had to push him to the ground and drag him behind a pipe. The boy shouted while clinging to the little girl’s hips.
“What was that!? Some occult stuff like with Putana!?”
“Teacher, our powers are mostly boosted sensory abilities, so they are not actually what you would call psychic powers. We cannot shoot fire from our hands or bend a spoon with our minds. If you see anyone doing that, they are probably tricking you in some way.”
The flames bent like a great serpent, so the rules of bullets didn’t apply. They could easily circle behind whatever cover you were using.
But it was being used by another human.
Putana could predict the attack timing using his “gaze”, so she gave some pointed instructions and the maid group, led by Wydine and Karen, nodded from behind different cover a short distance away. They pulled the pin from a smoke grenade and threw it to rob the enemy of his sight and oxygen while Heivia, Frank, and some others fired bullets and grenades in from multiple angles.
No one could avoid coughing or crying in the smoke. No one but the dead.
“It’s a high-tech flamethrower.”
Heivia approached the corpse and lightly kicked a weapon resembling a thick gun.
He knew what had given the man his pyrokinesis.
“I think it’s called a Kagutsuchi 9. It uses microbubbles filled with particles of flammable fuel to distribute them over an area. The bubbles can be burst at the desired timing so the fuel mixes with the oxygen in the air and is detonated. Basically, it’s like microscopic napalm bombs. It lets you create midair designs with the flamethrower, so you can make your own dragon breath or flame sword if you want. I guess it’s like a small Be Ablaze.”
“The Kagutsuchi series was originally used for musical parades, you know? The Island Nation must really be desperate.”
The old maintenance lady’s words were full of doubt and suspicion since she alone knew what the Island Nation had really been like.
The corpse didn’t look Asian. He must have been a foreign mercenary or only half-Island Nationer because his hair was a bright blond. Hadn’t the old lady mentioned something about this already?
“If this is what their individual equipment is like, what are their Objects like?”
That thought scared him, but he couldn’t come to a stop.
That one man naturally wasn’t the only enemy they came across. Soon, they saw steel construction beams and a tunnel-like pipe floating in the air. Just when they noticed something small gathering together, one of them coughed up blood and collapsed.
But all of it had to be magic tricks.
If they didn’t let the legend of this place influence them, they wouldn’t panic or take unnecessary damage.
“Is that an experimental tornado generator?” said Quenser. “Basically, it’s a drone that alters atmospheric pressure using an extremely powerful vacuum cleaner. I’m guessing he coughed up blood because of microplastics. They’re probably meant to be mixed with the air and ignited.”
“I don’t see how any of this is better than an old-fashioned bullet,” said Heivia.
“It’s not and they know it. That’s why they’ve set things up so we can’t use bullets. Once they realize we’re not falling for their tricks, they should shift back to the basics.”
Quenser’s group traveled across the reclaimed land to reach a beach TV station where they found the giant bridge had entirely collapsed. But that didn’t matter much to them. Once they crossed the ocean with their armored trucks designed for crossing rivers, they would be in Tokyo proper.
The somewhat muffled explosions they heard in the distance were probably the Island Nation troops blowing up their own elevated railroads and highways. Quenser beckoned some girls over.
“Putana, Catherine, come here. You too, Wraith!”
“Hmph. At least it’s better than being stuck in that truck with those dangerously stubborn triplets.”
Quenser invited over the Martini Series commander and then pulled her up onto the roof of the Battlefield Cleanup Service truck. She tried to play it cool, but as short as she was, he basically had to pick her up like a kitten.
The truck’s continuous tracks were grinding across the artificial beach to reach the dark ocean. They were less than 2km from the other side.
“Once we arrive on the other side, our primary landmark is the Keihin-Tohoku Line,” said young Wraith up on the roof. “After we follow that coastal route north and reach Akihabara, we turn west. Follow the Sobu-Chuo Line from there and we reach Ichigaya.”
Their amphibious truck followed the fallen bridge through the rubble-strewn ocean. Following the road using the railroad as a landmark wasn’t the shortest route, but Quenser agreed it was for the best. Trying to take a shortcut in this complexly laid out enemy territory could get them lost, stranded, or dead.
“I need to recharge, big brother!”
“Whoa, don’t hug me like that, Catherine! We’re in the middle of a battle! Keep an eye on your surroundings!!”
“Heh heh heh. Our boat is all floaty, so try not to fall off, big brother!”
Catherine made a confused noise.
Wraith Martini Vermouthspray toyed with her pen-like device in one hand and grabbed at Quenser’s uniform with the other.
Catherine puffed out her cheeks while hugging him from the front.
“And who is she, big brother? Just so you know, he belongs to me! You can tell because my name is Catherine Barbotage. Heh heh.”
“Cough, cough! Y-you married this small child, pedo teacher!?”
“Please don’t make this more complicated than it already is, Putana! She’s my stepsister!!”
But there was more than one eye of the storm here.
Wraith spoke up, still spinning her pen-like device.
“You can have this average and filthy potato if you like, but I retain the right to borrow him for some fun whenever I like.”
“How’s that for mature? (Why would This wriggling wharf roach crawl all over him when she is out there in the ocean watching it all? Has she no sense at all?)”
The younger girls were engaging in some kind of battle here, but Quenser couldn’t make sense of it. He also wasn’t sure why Wraith puffed out her (flat) chest so proudly or why Catherine grew pale and trembled.
Heivia, meanwhile, muttered to himself with a shadow over his face.
“God, why couldn’t my little sister be even half that cute?”
After being defeated(?) by Wraith and reduced to trembling in Quenser’s arms, Catherine decided to change the subject.
“Anyway, big brother, won’t the Azumaya weirdos run away with all this going on? It was just those four who started the world war, right?”
“How are they supposed to run away? Listen, Catherine. On paper, they’re just low-level grunts. They have no special rights. If they leave their posts without permission and run, the Island Nation will shoot them in the back for deserting. And even if they get away, they’ll stand out once recorded as wanted deserters. Running away dooms them sooner or later, so they won’t run away. They know taking any conspicuous moves will mean their deaths.”
“Wow. You’re so smart, big brother.”
“This really isn’t something I should be explaining to a 12-year-old kid.”
But even if the self-defense PMC soldiers were mercenaries gathered from all over the world, Quenser felt kind of bad killing them to get at the villains they had no idea were hiding among them. But holding back for that reason would be playing right into the villains’ hands.
Meanwhile, their truck arrived at the opposite coast.
The tank-like continuous tracks made a loud grinding noise. It was incredible they could reach 70km/h with those.
After crossing the ocean from the reclaimed land and climbing up onto land, the scenery changed entirely. This was prime waterfront property. Fancy high rise office buildings and luxury apartments created a world for the winners of urban life. They probably drank more vintage wine than chlorine-filled tap water here. One of the countless windows around here probably had a beautiful woman pressing her boobs against the glass while having sex.
In that jewelry box of a world, Heivia, Myonri, and some others climbed down onto the ground and readied their weapons.
The low rumbling of a motor was impossible to miss. Unless some wealthy female company president had a tungsten toy with the power of a jackhammer up her tight skirt, that had to be the enemy approaching.
“Here they come, here they come, there they come. Spread out and stay alert, everyone. There’s no point in keeping just one line of fire with this many people! They’re sending in the ordinary troops this time!!”
It happened suddenly.
A giant roll of something rolled out across the giant intersection of two 6-lane roads like the red carpet for a visiting noble. Tire spikes were deployed across the entire area. Then something emerged from behind a building: a thick powered suit. Even with its great size, it must have had trouble fully controlling the recoil of its 155mm sniper rifle because it had a special device attached around its legs. It looked like it was permanently sitting on something like a wheeled office chair. The chair legs moved on their own to get over bumps and the two humanoid legs out in front could be used to change direction.
“Is that from the Walk Optimization Project? It’s been decades since then, so why is the Island Nation still playing with those toys?”
“What’s even the point of it being a powered suit anymore!?”
No one bothered listening to Quenser’s complaint. With deep booms of gunfire, the Battlefield Cleanup Service truck was torn through like a stick poking into a clump of clay. The average armored truck couldn’t have survived, but Wydine and the others couldn’t escape the truck while the gunfire continued. Heivia kept his head low and ran away while pulling the pin from a stun grenade.
A lightning-like flash hung around as an afterimage.
The powered suit briefly froze up, not because the pilot had been blinded but because the camera footage had automatically switched the negative and positive in response to the intense brightness. That was the most effective method, but it still confused people when it happened without warning. It was a common problem when enclosed inside a powered suit.
Wydine and the other fake maids used that moment to escape the (wreckage of the) truck. The Martini triplets’ truck was still functioning, so they opened fire with their 40mm autocannon. That was only meant to hold the powered suit back, not defeat it. They aimed for the exact moment the powered suit fired, adding to the recoil and causing it to lose its balance while essentially seated in a chair.
“Yikes, yikes, yikes, yikes!!”
Keeping his head low and tearful with fear over being hit by a ricocheting bullet, Quenser ran toward the enemy. He threw a clay-like Hand Axe bomb with a pen-like fuse in it and it attached itself to the powered suit’s armor near the right collarbone.
That was supposed to be the most fragile point with a powered suit that could not escape the limitations of the human skeletal structure.
Quenser practically leaped to the asphalt in order to get down as he pressed his radio’s switch and blew up the powered suit.
He had gotten closest to the intersection, so he was the first to notice and shouted back to the others.
“One powered suit down, but there’s something else further back!!”
“Only one, foot soldier?”
“I’m just a student!!”
Quenser heard an exasperated female voice over his radio and then the continuous track of an armored truck passed by right next to him. It accepted whatever malfunctions the tire spikes would cause it and charged straight toward the second powered suit. This one was leaning against something like a giant stepladder set up in front of it. The stepladder was part of it. That looked like it would affect the movable range of its arms, but it must not have wanted to crawl on all fours like a dog. It all came down to using the poorly-balanced human body as a base. The truck seemed to tilt back as it partially drove up onto the enemy, keeping the powered suit from moving.
At that close range, the long 155mm sniper rifle was meaningless. The giant powered suit struggled like a little girl trapped underneath a large pet dog, so Heivia launched a shoulder-fired missile into it.
“One more down! I’m not letting that skinny boy get all the credit!!”
“Oh, shut up! There’s shrapnel way worse than nails flying all over the place, dumbass! You turned this blast area into a danger zone!! I’d be dead if I hadn’t gotten down!!”
“You should be thanking us,” said the triplets. “We had an entire continuous track taken out by the tungsten spikes. On that note, could you grab any usable repair tools from the scraps of the Battlefield Cleanup Service truck? They don’t need them anymore.”
It sounded like Quenser would have to give a thank you foot massage to those triplets who couldn’t perform their own maintenance. He cautiously approached the damaged truck that could blow up at any moment, raised it with a jack, and swapped out the track that was linked together like rosary beads.
“Th-this is terrifying. It’s not right that I just get paid ordinary wages for this. I should get hazard pay and more for all this extra work I do.”
“Did you forget we’re in Area By Chance now? We aren’t working for an actual military, so we don’t get paid at all until the world war is over. Did you still think we were with the Legitimacy Kingdom?”
“I swear being a hero is nothing but a big scam!!”
At any rate, Quenser and the others didn’t like the idea of charging on foot at such a heavily-equipped enemy group. They needed as many functional vehicles as they could get.
But even if they didn’t explode like a tank gun, the Island Nation was firing back with enormous 55m sniper rifles. Weren’t they afraid of destroying a piece of their own city with stray shots that could punch right through a tank’s composite armor?
“This is weird. Really weird.”
“What is? Don’t assume the Island Nation is going to make any sense. Oh, look. That blue sign says Akihabara.”
“Hold on. I thought it was weird this didn’t look like the electronics district I’d heard so much about, but are we on the end full of office buildings? We’ve gone too far past the station,” said Wraith. “Turn back! I don’t care how confident you look; we’re headed the wrong way. The partially-destroyed elevated railroad must have confused us. We need to turn back and pass below that railroad to reach the main road.”
Once they did reach the electronics district, they found Akihabara to be a desolate place this late at night.
Even on the main road Wraith had mentioned, all the stores had their shutters down. Worse, several powered suits had set up a barricade that resembled a giant concrete box. These ones hadn’t tried to forcibly make up for the inherently poor balance of the humanoid design, so they simply stood on two legs. The concrete block with an anime-style drawing on it was apparently meant to stop their vehicles and provide cover, but couldn’t they have just thickened the armor around their cockpit so they wouldn’t need cover? Quenser found it odd. And if they just made it so that block could move and shoot, wouldn’t they need fewer parts at those specs, which would make for easier mass production?
“Humanoid weapons are so wasteful,” said Quenser. “Why is the Island Nation so obsessed with weapons like this?”
“Hey, I wouldn’t be badmouthing humanoid weapons or railroads in the legendary Akiba,” said Heivia. “You’re liable to get yourself surrounded by an angry mob.”
“The greatest advantage of powered suits is the ability to intuitively operate it like your own body without needing to read through the manual. That can still be worth it even with the balance issues,” said the old maintenance lady. “And let’s not forget that Objects are pretty wasteful too. Especially in the earliest stages when they were built for no other purpose than ending the nuclear age.”
Simply put, powered suits were a convenient weapon that let you kill as easily as operating a smartphone.
But Quenser wasn’t interested in being killed by a shiny kuro gyaru’s device of choice.
An exchange of high caliber gunfire began in a strange area with only gyudon shops open despite the lack of customers.
“Ohhhh!! Don’t you dare mock me and look down on me just because I’m the indoorsy type studying to be designer! What’s so great about being the gaudy popular girl in class, anyway!?” shouted Quenser.
“Eh? You sure are throwing a lot of bombs. What’s gotten into you? Do you think the powered suits in Akiba are being piloted by a no-name underground idol or by a phony maid who normally hands out fliers on the street corner?” asked Heivia.
“Akihabara’s maids do get a lot of attention, but maybe think twice before assuming they are the same as the popular kids at school,” warned the old maintenance lady.
Since the powered suits had prepared their own cover, their armor had to be no thicker than an armored truck’s, so specialized equipment could punch through them. Quenser’s group turned west while using shoulder-fired missiles and the armored truck’s autocannon to shoot the powered suits on the ground or hiding behind the rooftop billboards for 3D printers and mobile games.
“Damn, it was all men inside. Now I wish I had just shot the powered suits along their center lines. Were they from a butler café or something?”
“Can you please stop thinking about Island Nation cafés, Quenser?”
“(Beep!) Ehh!? You have to be in Akiba to find the Baby Magnum? Why didn’t anyone tell me? No wonder I couldn’t find it on any of the other battlefields we visited!!”
“What the hell, Myonri? Do you have your personal phone with you?” shouted both idiots.
The battle to determine the fate of the world was changing positions.
They were now following the Sobu-Chuo Line. Using the elevated railroad blown up by the Island Nation itself as a landmark, they walked down a road following the Kanda River and finally approached the city center.
But the closer to the center they got, the more desolate things seemed.
The buildings were all so short.
“That domed stadium is past Ochanomizu. There must be something there,” said Quenser, hoping he was wrong.
“What, did it only now occur to you they might have something waiting for us at the baseball stadium? Look, more enemies are coming!!”
A patrol boat traveled down the cramped concrete-banked river. It looked a little bigger than a fishing boat, but its front and back deck were equipped with a 20mm Gatling gun and an 81mm mortar. Fortunately, the river was a level below the road, so the boat’s firing range was extremely limited. Putana and Catherine descended the gentle slope and threw grenades from a blind spot so they landed on the boat’s deck and blew it away.
The stadium combined with the theme park did indeed have something waiting for them.
“Charge!! Hurry!! That’s a railway gun reinforced with earthen walls and armor panels. They used the nearby railroad to send in the materials they needed to set that up. Quenser, we’re stuck here if you don’t blow that up with one of your bombs!!”
“Why should I have to do it when I’m not even getting paid!? Okay, Myonri, show us how it’s done!!”
“Bff!? I was trying to be inconspicuous so no one would notice me, but you just had to ruin that, didn’t you? Stop using me as a dumping ground for all the jobs you don’t want to do. Besides, this was Heivia’s idea, so he should do it!!”
The idiots started arguing and grappling, so Karen and some others took swift action and slaughtered all of the enemy soldiers.
With a caliber of 800mm, a single shot from that railway gun could obliterate an entire school with its powerful blast and shrapnel, but it was fairly helpless within a range of a kilometer. Since they hadn’t shot it earlier, the Island Nation must have set it up in a hurry and didn’t manage to complete their final targeting in time. Remember, the Island Nation had been caught by surprise, forcing them to hop out of bed and prepare at the last second.
Quenser’s group followed the railroad from there until they saw the river pass below the road. That was called a culvert, wasn’t it? It was extremely noticeable and stank like a ditch.
“Are we almost there? Ichigaya has a fishing hole, right?”
“Wait, wait. We still have a station to go. Don’t get it wrong. This is the station after Suidobashi, so we’re still at Iidabashi.”
“After Iidabashi, you won’t be following the Kanda River anymore. It changes to Sotobori there,” said the old maintenance lady via radio. “The green algae is just as bad either way, though.”
When a 110mm cannon fired on them from the roof of some short buildings a short distance from the station, Quenser’s group quickly hid behind the station mall. It was another of those powered suits. That made it a job for the Martini triplets’ armored truck. It helped that they had attached a mortar they had picked up somewhere. Alisa – or was that Rica? – crawled out from the hatch, crouched at the back of the roof, and performed some kind of work.
Heivia aimed his assault rifle toward the night sky and checked through the scope to detect something through all its sensors.
“Air temperature: 2 degrees. Humidity: 50%. Not much dust or dirt in the air. The wind is mostly 3m/s from the southwest, but the skyscraper walls are creating their own winds too.”
With what sounded like a louder version of a popping cork, a projectile flew like a long throw in baseball. The first shot exploded near the roof, catching the powered suit in the blast.
The enemy had been silenced.
The filthy potatoes used their binoculars to check where the mortar had hit.
A building labeled “Kadokawa” was now tilting at an angle.
“Uh, oh. Let’s get outta here.”
The Baby Magnum and the Rush fought a high speed battle in late-night Tokyo Bay against the mysterious Island Nation Object known as the Asian Monster.
Tokyo Bay was not as large a battlefield as you might think. There was a chance of being fired on from Tokyo, Chiba, or Kanagawa there, but that was all.
The terrain worked in the Princess and Oh Ho Ho’s favor.
With less available space to move in, the enemy would have trouble avoiding the simultaneous attacks from the Baby Magnum and the Rush.
“Stubborn thing. We have to have hit it so many times, but it won’t sink!!”
“Oh ho ho. The Object’s primary job appears to be holding us here, so their real weapon must be-”
The two Objects took nimble evasive action the moment before a white beam split apart the dark night. The giant laser fortress gun installed at Mount Fuji’s peak was to blame. The large circle from Kantou to Chubu was within its firing range. If they took too long with the naval Object, the laser would target them out here in the open ocean.
The Princess was using special goggles that placed a burden on her pupils and irises to read the movement of her eyes with lasers, but the Baby Magnum felt so slow it was like swimming through an invisible slime. This wasn’t about whether any immediate attack could hit or whether she could avoid the enemy’s shots – she was falling behind in a more fundamental way.
Frolaytia sent a tense suggestion.
“Princess, we can use our thermobarics to create a mirage if necessary.”
“That would affect my targeting, so don’t. But if they target your ships, do it immediately.”
“Oh ho ho. I will move out ahead to keep the Island Nation’s attention on me. I can’t have them targeting the slow fleet.”
Even Oh Ho Ho was the Pilot Elite who fought as the central figure of a battalion.
The two Objects approached even closer to the Asian Monster.
They were not the only ones that could make simultaneous attacks.
In fact, the Island Nation had the greater destructive power. The Mount Fuji laser fortress gun was powerful enough to destroy an Object in a single hit.
“That thing has a lot of power, doesn’t it?”
“Could it be adding volcanic energy on top of an ordinary reactor? Oh ho ho. It might be stable now, but Mount Fuji is technically a volcano.”
“But how is it getting rid of all that heat?”
“The summit is more than 3000m up, so maybe it’s covered with a thin layer of ice or something.”
But the attack was nothing to fear when they knew what direction it would be coming from.
The fortress gun was still a fortress gun. A stationary sniper was much less of a threat.
“We sent out meteorological weapons to produce thick clouds around Mount Fuji’s summit, but it isn’t going well,” reported Lendy Farolito. “Missiles and shells are just a poor match for anti-air lasers.”
“Oh ho ho. Try not to draw so much attention they focus their fire on you. It’s best if your attacks appear ineffectual.”
The Princess sighed.
(I really want to reach land so I can support Quenser and the others.)
The Asian Monster slid gently to the right and then cut sharply back to the left.
It was a classic feint.
The Princess kept an eye on the laser fortress gun’s movements while sliding out of the way of the low-stability plasma cannon aimed her way. Then she repaid the enemy by firing a railgun counterattack a bit to its left to cut off its escape route. That stopped its movement long enough for the Rush to fire the killing blast.
The unpleasant sizzling of vaporized metal burst into the air. The Rush’s rapid-fire beam Gatling cannon had punched right through the center of the Asian Monster’s spherical main body. Tens of thousands of deadly shots formed a single thick line that tore through more and more of the Object. The mechanical wound melted with an orange glow, giving the Object an actual donut shape.
“Oh ho ho! Do you see now what I am capable of? Spectacular results like this are all the proof you need I am a true idol!!”
“You never could have done it without my support.”
“Kyah!!” shouted Lendy Farolito over the radio. “A global top idol just does things differently!!!!!”
“Stop encouraging that idiot, you stupid commander,” replied the Princess in disgust. “Sigh. This is how popularity messes with people’s heads, isn’t it?”
The Asian Monster produced a creaking sound as it tilted.
The reactor would not last like this. To avoid getting caught in the blast before it sank into the ocean, the Baby Magnum slowly backed away.
The Princess caught it at the last second.
That was the only reason she managed to send her Object sharply to the side in time.
A beam of light roared through.
One of the Baby Magnum’s seven main cannons – the leftmost one – was sliced away by the intense energy.
But that hadn’t come from the laser fortress gun atop Mount Fuji.
It had clearly been a low-stability plasma cannon blast from the Asian Monster on the ocean directly in front of her.
“Oh ho ho. It…isn’t sinking? But I destroyed its reactor!”
“There must be more to this. It is an Island Nation model, after all!!”
After passing Iidabashi, they finally arrived at Ichigaya, where the self-defense PMC had their base.
“Ichigaya, huh?” muttered the old maintenance lady over the radio. She may have had some memories regarding the place.
It was officially registered as a Capitalist Corporations garrison, but it was effectively a shared facility where all four world powers came and went freely.
The location they wanted was obvious enough from the distinctive antenna towers sticking up past the building rooftops. One area’s were very different from the rest.
Heivia let out a visible breath in the late February night.
“So we’ve finally arrived at Azumaya’s home. Can we just blow up that building?”
“Azumaya is only four people out of the self-defense PMC personnel packing the place like a beehive,” said Quenser. “Do we know their names or what they look like? The end of the world war is counting on us doing this right, so we want to make sure they’re actually dead.”
“I feel bad for all those PMC soldiers who are only following their orders here.”
“If you feel that bad, then throw down your weapon and go try to convince them with a rousing and courageous argument. Me? I’m afraid of the Island Nation tech. Let’s silence all of them and then check through the computers in the building. There’s bound to be something left inside-”
Quenser came to a sudden stop.
They hadn’t done anything yet, but an explosion had already erupted from the Ichigaya garrison building. But the location of the smoke was unusual. Instead of the windows, toxic-looking smoke billowed from something like vents leading underground.
Heivia stared blankly for a while. It took an exasperated tap on his shoulder from Karen to snap him out of it. The noble boy realized what the enemy was up to a few seconds later.
“Th-the bastards set fire to their server room, didn’t they!? Those four are more interested in eliminating any information on them than in stopping us!!”
The mission was falling apart.
To protect their classified information, the self-defense PMC apparently did not call in the fire fighters all their neighbors in the city used. When some soldiers rushed out, attached a thick hose to the fire hydrant, and started toward their own fire fighting equipment inside the building, Heivia, Myonri, and some others aimed at them from behind and mercilessly fired into their backs.
It wouldn’t have gone that well under normal circumstances, but unexpected accidents were one of the greatest threats during a battle.
The four villains hiding behind their anonymity as random soldiers could not run away without getting shot as deserters.
But that changed here.
Soldiers and prisoners were allowed to evacuate their posts or cells during a fire. And it would take time to count and ID the bodies, so even if those four went into hiding for a while, it wouldn’t stand out too much if they later insisted whoever was taking roll had marked it down wrong.
Meanwhile, Quenser’s group could not stay in the Island Nation for long since they were reliant on the element of surprise. The shitty quartet knew perfectly well it was Quenser’s group that would be surrounded if they stayed too long.
If the villains could escape for just a moment here, they could get away forever.
So Quenser’s group had to capture them here.
(I will create an age where you can blame me for what I did. So let me fight just a bit longer.)
It was like they had stirred up a hornet’s nest.
The unlucky self-defense PMC soldiers were caught between a fire and gunfire, but there was no way to know who was part of Azumaya. The four villains had likely expected a lot of lives to be lost here. Meanwhile, the fire was spreading and enveloping the distinctive building.
“Find something we can use! I don’t care what!!” shouted Heivia, his assault rifle at the ready.
“I guess we’ll have to run into the burning building, huh? And this was a base, so there will be an ammo dump inside, won’t there!?”
They only knew Azumaya had four members, but they had no information on the names or appearances of those four. It wasn’t a problem if the Azumaya members were among those they had shot here, but they doubted it. No matter how good those four were at blending in with the other random soldiers, surely they would have done something more once a gun was pointed their way. Surely they would have played some kind of trump card that an actual random soldier wouldn’t have. But Quenser’s group hadn’t seen anything like that.
That meant they needed to check through the burning building.
Azumaya setting fire to their own hideout proved there was something there they needed to erase lest their identities get out. Assuming they hadn’t just been paranoid, there was some evidence in there. But that evidence would be erased if they didn’t act fast.
On the other hand, this was extremely dangerous. No matter what people thought, you couldn’t guarantee your survival in a burning building by dumping a bucket of water over your head.
“I think you should stay here, big brother,” said Catherine Barbotage when she saw the main entrance spewing dark smoke and embers.
“No!! I’d rather go in there myself than sit back and watch my 12-year-old sister do it!!”
In the end, war was all about vanity.
He charged inside with the Little Girl Army of Catherine and Wraithy accompanying him. His vision immediately narrowed due to the smoke. It was also as hot as a sauna. He was worried about his plastic explosives. Soft plastic could melt in high heats, so he feared the explosives in his backpack were being transformed.
“Hey,” called Wraith Martini Vermouthspray while cautiously aiming her submachinegun this way and that. The taciturn young man wasn’t with her, so he was likely doing some other job. “Time is of the essence, so where should we start the search, my panicky but slow pawn.”
“We need to read Azumaya’s mentality. Whatever they most wanted to hide will be at the source of the blaze!!”
When you wanted to erase evidence as quickly as possible, no one would set the fire far away from said evidence. Thus, Quenser and the others couldn’t avoid the fire as they searched. They would never find what they wanted that way.
Quenser started to open the door leading further in, but Wraith and Catherine both tackled him aside. As soon as the door opened a crack, it exploded out from within. That was a backdraft. They couldn’t do that every single time.
“Hee hee hee. I love the way you let your guard down and let your weak side show only for me, big brother.”
“You are delusional. He wasn’t trying to open up to you there.”
They needed equipment allowing them to walk freely through the fire.
Quenser made a trembling suggestion while collapsed on the floor covered by little girls.
“L-let’s find some powered suits. The self-defense PMC has been using a lot of them, after all.”
Fortunately, the search didn’t last long.
But instead of finding the cutting-edge Island Nation tech lined up on standby in the maintenance bay, they found them abandoned in a burning hallway. Those enormous suits couldn’t always fit through smaller doors. There would be a labyrinthine path that allowed them this deep in the building, but the pilots hadn’t been willing or able to exit the same way during the panic of the fire. Quenser, Wraith, and Catherine each procured and boarded a powered suit.
Wraith’s emotionless voice arrived over the radio.
“This is better than nothing, but if an ammo dump detonates, we’re dead along with anyone else in the building. Make sure you complete your mission before that happens, my cowardly attackers.”
The suits did more to stop the smoke-induced pain in their eyes and noses than it did protect them from the oven-like heat, but they still appreciated it. Image correction let them see despite all the smoke, so they clanked their way through the orange heat zone with ornamental plants burning like torches and an anime-style poster for some kind of public awareness campaign blackening and peeling off the wall.
“Will that poster of a smiling and saluting anime girl really get anyone to join the self-defense PMC?” wondered Quenser. “I mean, she’s a short magical girl with inexplicably big tits. You aren’t finding anything like that in the macho world of the military.”
“Don’t ask me. But we do have a lot of people who enlist because of that G-cups idol. It probably works better than a wild plant sommelier or a yoga instructor,” said Wraith, giving her big powered suit her usual cool but cute mannerisms.
Apparently Quenser wasn’t the only greedy person out there. But he did wish for a word of warning before he was confronted with a girl’s cold and calculating greed. It was bad for his heart.
Their objective was the source of the fire. That naturally brought them down the stairs into the basement. There were secret areas not found on the official diagrams and the place was full of smoke, so it was a nerve-wracking ordeal. Would a diver feel this kind of anxiety if they were trapped below a rusty ceiling while exploring a sunken ship and they discovered their oxygen tank had less left than they had thought?
They descended a metal stairway heated as hot as a grill and unintuitively found the intensity of the flames decreased as they approached the source of the fire.
“That means the oxygen is decreasing.”
Quenser had started to breathe a sigh of relief, but his 12-year-old stepsister’s comment forced him to rethink that. If not for the powered suits, they either would have had their eyeballs and lungs roasted by the heat or they would have passed out from asphyxiation.
They found a blackened metal door at the bottom of the stairs. Catherine and Wraith checked the door’s seam and knob, perhaps to prevent a backdraft, but Quenser couldn’t tell what they were looking for. In the end the two little girls in big armor exchanged a cute nod and gently opened the door.
They found a large space within.
That was the large server room supporting the self-defense PMC’s datalink. It felt like a locker room larger than a soccer field lined with vending machines instead of lockers. The place had to have more than double the processing power of a communication data center covering all the phones and tablets in Kantou.
The stairs leading down by the wall suggested this was just one floor, so how many computers did they have set up in all?
“The flames must have spread out through the ducts in search of air,” said Quenser. “Okay, where should we start the search?”
“The emergency data transfer route. There’s no way a facility this size doesn’t do backups.”
“Wouldn’t the people wanting to hide their data know about the backups?”
“What if these backups were done secretly outside the usual official military regulations? In the military, it isn’t unusual for a commanding officer to install keyloggers on all the computers in their unit to monitor everyone under their command. Although sometimes it backfires when the poor bald-headed fool discovers one of his subordinates is sleeping with his wife and his daughter and essentially taken over his family. You don’t want others to know you’re gathering their data. If they don’t know, they have no way of defending against it.”
Wraith really was a former(?) Information Alliance commander.
All of the cases had melted from the heat, but not all of the computers were broken. Wraith pointed at a functioning one (using her powered suit’s thick fingers) while explaining that to the others. And Azumaya’s fire gave them a hint here. The computer that had been directly set on fire was the most suspicious one.
“Big brother, the fuel was only poured on this one. It’s labeled N-88.”
“There’s your answer, Wraith.”
“N-88 itself was physically burned, but these are parallel computers. The shared cache should remain in the surrounding servers. Yep, there it is. N-88 contained a personnel condition visualization and quantification service providing their skills, physical condition, motivation, etc. Basically, it’s the data used to determine their pay. The place is officially Capitalist Corporations, but it was actually a mix of the world powers.”
Quenser frowned, but he made sure to speak aloud since she couldn’t see the frown through his powered suit.
“Um, but won’t that database have tens of thousands of people in it?”
“The four we want were sent to the Island Nation from the Legitimacy Kingdom, Capitalist Corporations, Information Alliance, and Faith Organization at around the same time. Coordinators like them would have no past offences on their record and know at least three languages. We know they have to be experts in psychology and negotiation technique and they definitely have to know a thing or two about economics and geopolitics. …And unless you’re putting together a hacker team, you wouldn’t care too much about the academic history of your general personnel, so the unusually educated ones will stand out. And voila: here are exactly four with a ton of qualifications unrelated to killing.”
She read off the list.
“From the Legitimacy Kingdom, we have Caines Ambrosia. Age: 28. Sex: Male.
“From the Capitalist Corporations, we have Isabelle Millionaire. Age: 22. Sex: Female.
“From the Information Alliance, we have Fong-Lan Greendevil. Age: 39. Sex: Male.
“From the Faith Organization, we have Daria Weddingbell. Age: 15. Sex: Female.”
They had finally found them.
They had identified Azumaya, the villains who benefited from this shitty world war.
“I can’t believe this,” groaned Quenser. “I thought this was an Island Nation conspiracy. But this is all outsiders – not a single Island Nationer among them. I know they’re all mercenaries, but the self-defense PMC really got the short end of the stick here.”
“Azumaya only wanted a magician’s table they could use to fool everyone watching. And the taboo of this place worked quite nicely there.”
Snipers, hackers, and global string pullers all had one thing in common: they worked best when no one knew who they were.
Shooting through the Asian Monster’s reactor wasn’t enough to sink it.
The battle against an immortal monster had begun.
Lendy Farolito had returned to the combat information center at some point and now she clicked her tongue while facing a whiteboard. She used multiple pens to fill that board with letters and arrows colored black, red, and blue.
- Multiple reactors?
- Sub power system?
- Reactor not fully destroyed?
- A spare sent up and attached from the ocean floor?
- Does it even use a JPlevelMHD?
She wasn’t even considering if these possibilities were realistic. She would list out all of her ideas and pit them against each other to achieve greater inspiration. The possibilities would grow more specific and realistic as she went. As long as the countless theories combined into the right answer in the end, it didn’t matter how absurd they were to begin with. This may have been how she organized her thoughts.
Frolaytia Capistrano was somewhat impressed. Not so much by the technique than by Lendy’s willingness to show it off in front of the Legitimacy Kingdom.
That may have shown she had accepted them more than Frolaytia had thought.
Then there was the text written extra large in the center of the whiteboard.
- How can I shine the spotlight on that girl?
Frolaytia Capistrano silently put her kiseru in her mouth when she saw it. Why was defeating the enemy Object not her top priority?
She stiffly turned her head to look at the brown woman using the pens and saw she was breathing heavily.
“Risks are necessary for a return. Risks are necessary for a return. Yes, a true idol can’t just be strong. She needs a weaker side that you feel like she’s only letting you see! Pull that off and it becomes the greatest rocket fuel toward stardom!!!!!”
Lendy may have seen war as nothing more than a way to advertise her idol. Frolaytia began to wonder if she had only joined Together By Chance because ending the world war was the most heroic option.
But there was something else written in tiny letters at the very edge of the whiteboard.
- The Legitimacy Kingdom would make a good sacrificial pawn☆
Frolaytia finally grabbed the heavily-breathing woman by the collar.
“That’s it!! Don’t you dare write that with all those cutesy decorations!!!”
The Baby Magnum and the Rush needed to gather information and come up with a new plan fast. They were the ones being exposed to enemy fire after all.
Time didn’t actually stop when the unexpected happened.
In her cockpit, the Princess glared at the unbelievable sight through her special goggles.
“How is it still operational!?”
“Oh ho ho. Could it have another reactor attached elsewhere?”
That couldn’t be.
Even a bare reactor was 10m across. There was no way it could be hidden in the main cannon or propulsion device. There would be an obvious bulge there if it was. That was how it had worked with the Extra Arc.
They were making some kind of fundamental misunderstanding.
And if they didn’t figure it out fast, they would be in serious trouble.
“This one looks stronger than the Lizard Tail, so we need to find a solution fast. But it sounds like the important people like Frolaytia and Lendy aren’t going to be much help here.”
She had forgotten to switch off her radio, but she didn’t have time to worry about those complaints.
The Princess nodded with a completely serious look on her face.
“Help me, Quenser. I’m scared.”
“Hey, no fair!! What kind of puppy dog voice was that!?”
They were up against an immortal Object they couldn’t seem to destroy and a laser fortress gun accurately firing from Mount Fuji’s summit.
When she explained the situation over the radio, Quenser Barbotage responded with exasperation in his voice.
“So you have two problems: you don’t know where the Asian Monster’s reactor is located and there’s a laser fortress gun using an absurd amount of energy on Mount Fuji’s summit. Sounds simple enough to me. So, Princess, what is the surrounding EM situation like? Have you encountered any radar or communication interference? Like a bit of static or a drop in transmission speed?”
“Yes, but it isn’t on the level of jamming. The Island Nation is desperate, so aren’t they sending all their radars out from Tokyo, Chiba, and Kanagawa?”
“That’s not it at all.” He fully rejected her idea and gave the real answer. “It’s wireless power transfer. And the communication interference confirms the medium they’re using is EM. Simply put, the reactor is located up on Mount Fuji and the naval Object is running off of the power sent from there. We thought it was waiting for you out in the middle of Tokyo Bay because fighting in the complex urban area is tricky – and I’m sure that is part of it – but all the buildings would get in the way of the EM waves while the open ocean doesn’t.”
“Oh ho ho. But it rose from below the surface at the start of the battle. EM waves have trouble penetrating water. That’s why sonar is used instead of radar.”
“That’s probably why it uses an air cushion. The initial surfacing action was just it using its floats. It only started receiving the wireless power after reaching the surface. …The 400mm railguns on the artillery islands didn’t have reactors either. Heivia guessed they used an undersea cable, but they didn’t need to. It was all EM.”
“And if the Object isn’t acting scared after you’ve given it such a beating, I doubt the cockpit is there either. But drone-style remote control signals are pretty distinctive, so you would have picked those up by now. It may use a form of human body communication instead.”
“The body is mostly water, so it conducts electricity. Human body communication uses that fact to send and receive data using the body in place of an antenna or wire. The idea is to keep the data inside an implanted chip or a wristwatch and have it sent when two people shake hands or something. That way the signal can’t be intercepted by a third party. …Isn’t that perfect for this? Tokyo Bay is full of salt water, so if you wanted to, you could send electrical signals through it and control the Object floating in it.”
“The Object’s true identity is Tokyo Bay itself. The Pilot Elite’s nerves reach every part of that ocean, so what looks like a clean hit doesn’t really matter. Even when it reacts like it’s hurt, that’s just an act like the bit parts in a samurai movie who have to be ‘safely cut down’ by the samurai’s sword. You’ll never deliver a finishing blow to the Asian Monster if you fight normally and strike where you think will work. But now that you know the trick, you have nothing to fear. Existing tech gives you plenty of ways to scatter and attenuate the EM waves and the electrical signals in the ocean. Wars aren’t won by clever tricks. Show this monster just how frightening the fundamentals can be, Princess. You can win this.”
After removing the radio from his mouth, Quenser stared off into the distance.
“Yeah, that’s the job I should’ve been doing all along. Why am I even on this mission?”
“You don’t want to spend time with me, big brother?” asked his sweaty sister with a glare.
But as much as the blonde braid girl put her hands on her hips and puffed out her cheeks, she still had a lot of growing to do and lacked the seduction skills needed to draw that idiot’s attention.
After escaping the burning Ichigaya garrison, they had removed the powered suits. The armor had done the job, but those weren’t specialized firefighting gear. The overheat alarm had been beeping at them the entire time, so they hadn’t been comfortable staying in them longer than necessary. Staying at the site of the fire would have cooked them alive in those oversized foil wrappings.
They had names and faces to search for now, so they wouldn’t have to shoot all of the PMC soldiers here in Ichigaya. Well, they would unfortunately still have to silence those soldiers if they resisted.
Just as Quenser was thinking that, he heard some heavy tires tearing at the ground.
It was an eight-wheeled…something. The hunk of metal was about the size of a large fire truck, but it didn’t seem to be a black armored truck. It appeared to have a boxy silhouette at first, but it actually had a folded-up crane arm on the back.
“That’s an armored recovery vehicle!!” shouted Wraith Martini Vermouthspray, eyes wide.
“Eh? It’s a what???”
That was apparently a type of military vehicle. Quenser wasn’t sure what it meant, but it didn’t particularly matter right now. He could only think of four people who would try to escape in the confusion right now. Unlike an ordinary bus or van, it had no rear windows, but Quenser still glimpsed the young man in the driver’s seat.
That was Caines Ambrosia, one of the Azumaya members in the data they had extracted. Quenser had also glimpsed some other people inside.
“You’re not getting away!!”
“This sounds like a job for us.”
An armored truck started forward.
Most of the potatoes had come here on foot, so they didn’t have many vehicles available for a car chase.
When the Martini triplets’ truck passed by, Quenser grabbed onto the side. The tank-style continuous track seemed like it would be slow, but the truck could actually move at highway speeds.
“You stay there, Catherine!!”
“Your clothes will get caught in the track! Climb up on top!!”
His stepsister cutely formed a megaphone with her hands to give him some very helpful advice that made his balls shrivel in fear. He was now intensely aware of the track grinding away as loudly as a chainsaw. He was dead if he didn’t obey her and fast.
He found Heivia had climbed atop the truck from the other side. When their eyes met, the idiots exchanged a greeting.
“Wanted to be a part of ending this mess?” asked Quenser.
“Nah, I just don’t trust those triplets,” said Heivia. “Who knows what they’ll do once we’re not watching.”
That was the way of things in a messy war.
The elevated highways had already been destroyed by the Island Nation, so the vehicle the size of a large tour bus was trying to escape along the labyrinthine collection of ordinary roads. It couldn’t quite make the turns, ignored the lights, and covered both sides of the road. That was all necessitated by its size, but it still felt like too much.
“Yikes. Am I imagining things or is the rubble burning over there?”
“That isn’t the explosives. There was a parking lot below the highway and the crushed cars would have been full of gas. That could explode at any time.”
Anyone who would have been out this late was staying indoors due to the war, but they would have run over quite a few people in just a few minutes otherwise.
Heivia checked the blue sign hanging over the road as the wind whipped at him.
“Looks like we’re headed west. They aren’t driving all the way to Mount Fuji, are they? Come to think of it, that laser fortress gun is still up there, isn’t it?”
“Are they trying to get help from whoever’s at the summit? Or they could be trying to lose us in Aokigahara forest at the foot of the mountain. The thick forest creates a tunnel that satellites can’t see through and I’ve heard compasses malfunction in there too. Not to mention the self-defense PMC has a largescale training camp at the foot of the mountain.”
Simply put, they needed to take those four out before they left Tokyo.
Together By Chance’s two Objects were in Tokyo Bay and Quenser’s group did not want to get too far away from their Objects in the unfamiliar Island Nation.
The Martini triplets used their radio to speak to them from within the truck.
“If we know they’re the villains, we can just kill them now, can’t we?”
“Wraith,” said Quenser.
“It would be best to leave one of them alive for a court martial, but the documents and data we have acquired is enough to prove their murder exchange and that they started the world war through Bad Garage. Think of taking one alive as a bonus. Now get firing.”
“You heard the lady.”
With the hum of a heavy motor, the gun on the roof slowly turned. It was a lot slimmer than a tank’s gun, but a 40mm autocannon still had more than three times the caliber of an anti-materiel rifle. A spray of bullets from that could tear someone apart along with the thick reinforced concrete wall they were hiding behind.
Two seconds before it started firing, something hopped up from the ground.
It came from the armored recovery vehicle. It was basically a large tow truck used to tow destroyed military vehicles and missile launchers from the battlefield. The wire had been released and the J-shaped hook that resembled a monstrous fishing hook had had bounced off the asphalt.
Orange sparks flew while the wild hook soared toward the Martini triplets’ truck. It crashed into the side of the autocannon barrel that was a bit thicker than a construction pipe.
The 25ton truck slid diagonally from the hit.
Quenser clenched his teeth and clung to the roof before shouting about what he had noticed.
“Stop!! Do not fire!!”
“Eh? Why not?” asked the triplets.
“The barrel is bent. Fire now and you’ll blow us up!!”
The truck had no device to detect a bent barrel with laser reflection, probably because the reflectors would get wet whenever the amphibious vehicle went in the water.
With more heavy clangs and crashes, the thick wire and metal hook flew into the air again. It was like a morning star used to crush a knight’s helmet. Quenser would be helpless to stop it if it happened to fly toward his head. And if it caught the edge of the truck, the entire truck would probably be thrown around.
Their only remaining weapons were the 12.7mm heavy machinegun attached near the hatch and the 81mm mortar forcibly attached at the rear.
Heivia slid back across the roof to get at the more difficult mortar.
“I doubt I can hit a moving target with this, but I can give you a shot if it lands in front of them and forces them to slam the brakes. Quenser! You aim for their ass with that machinegun! Just get it aimed and pull the trigger when the time comes! It’s fixed to the roof, so you don’t have to worry about the recoil!!”
When Quenser hesitated uncertainly, the nearby hatch burst open and triplets in red parade uniforms crawled out from between his legs while he sat on the roof.
Alisa Martini Sweet.
Rica Martini Medium.
Orsia Martini Dry.
They moved more like a single sea anemone than individual sisters. Quenser could only tell them apart by their hair styles and chest sizes.
“What are you doing? Hurry it up.”
“Oh? Do you not know how to use it?”
“Fine, we’ll show you how it’s done. First, hold this like this.”
They were all over him a moment later. If they were going to lean against him and move his arms for him, why couldn’t they just operate the gun themselves!?
Meanwhile, Heivia was shedding tears of blood.
“Why is it always him!!!???”
Also, hadn’t Catherine mentioned in her journal that she liked how he didn’t use guns?
Alisa Martini Sweet licked her lips and blew a breath in Quenser’s ear.
“Now, just move this like this and you can shoot out all of that hot stuff built up deep inside☆”
“Um, um, wait. I made a promise to innocent Catherine. Stop! I can’t betray a 12-year-old like this! No, I can’t stop iiiiit!!”
The 12.7mm bullets showed a complete lack of stamina by shooting out in full-auto mode at the lightest of touches. Sparks blossomed from the asphalt to the left of the armored recovery vehicle, so Orsia Martini Dry’s slender hand grabbed the long, thick shaft and yanked it to the side. The full-auto bullets formed a line like a sewing machine that finally found its target.
The bullets tore through thick metal and sent orange sparks flying. The flying wire thicker than a thumb was severed and the metal hook bigger than Quenser’s head flew toward them.
Terrified, Quenser accidentally buried his face in the boobs of one of the triplets.
“Watch ou- mgh!!”
“(Medium, do you really think he’s going to notice we’re trying to make him jealous when he has his hands full driving?)”
“(He’s as dense as they come, so I seriously doubt it. But it’s his clueless and harmless side we fell for, so it’s not like we can complain.)”
The triplets were smiling darkly about something, but Quenser had bigger things to worry about.
A few of the heavy machinegun’s bullets had hit eight-wheeled armored recovery vehicle, but it was still running. Just like a fire truck or crane, its special equipment doubled as thick armor. Think of it like a dump truck full of gravel. That wouldn’t matter if they could fire directly to the front or side of the driver’s compartment, but it was hard to do serious damage when firing from the rear.
A light flashed in the night sky.
By the time he noticed that, a powerful laser beam had already sliced through the darkness and torn through Sendagaya. The luxury apartment buildings alongside the road glowed orange after being melted through.
“Are they twisting around in that shaking vehicle to use a binoculars-style handheld targeting device? I don’t see any other way an anti-air optical weapon would miss a moving truck like that.”
Quenser was boiling with anger, but the Martini sister supporting his face with her boobs kept her cool. And once he extracted his face from those soft cushions, he noticed something else.
Quenser was forced to look back to get a second look at the destruction alongside the road.
“Those aren’t office buildings. They’re apartments where people live. But I didn’t hear any screams as they collapsed and I don’t see any bodies among the rubble.”
“They’re probably empty.”
He could understand an office building or department store being empty in the middle of the night, but it didn’t make sense for apartments. Those were people’s homes, so they should have been there sleeping at this hour.
(Have they already completed a largescale evacuation of all the residents? No, we caught the self-defense PMC by surprise, so they barely had time to get their railway gun set up. I doubt they would have had time to think about anything other than defense.)
But now was not the time to worry about this mystery of Island Nation culture.
He noticed a few signs for musical instrument stores and live music venues before they drove past a blue road sign saying Shinjuku. A distinctive building shaped like a rugby ball standing on end was visible in the distance. They also passed by the wreckage of an elevated railroad. Heivia gave a shout when he noticed.
“We’ve moved outside the Yamanote Line loop!? How far are we from the ocean now? We can’t move any further from Tokyo Bay. Nothing good comes from leaving your Object in enemy territory!!”
This was never going to end at this rate.
The buildings rapidly grew smaller and more closely packed after they crossed the Yamanote Line. That meant the layout of the roads would get more complicated as well. Only so many routes were accessible to the large armored recovery vehicle and armored truck, but Quenser’s group was still worried they would lose sight of the enemy at any moment.
That was when new instructions arrived over their radio.
“Ice Girl 1 to ground team. We finally neutralized Haneda Air Base’s ability to get aircraft in the air, so we can provide you with air support. You just want to stop that vehicle in front of you, right? I can take care of that before you leave Shinjuku. I’ll give you a countdown, so prepare for a bumpy ride.”
The unique silhouette of a Zig-27 fighter flew in from out ahead with an aerial bomb already detached from its main wing. Instead of hitting the fleeing armored recovery vehicle itself, it blew up the road ahead to keep the vehicle from continuing.
“That’s a hit.”
“What happened to the countdown!?”
To Quenser, the noise felt more like being hit by an invisible wall.
Even with its continuous tracks holding tightly to the road, their truck slid to the side. An expanding gray cloud of dust rushed in at them from the front.
That filthy screen blocked their view of the armored recovery vehicle up ahead.
But that wasn’t their biggest problem.
As the armored truck regained its balance and continued on ahead, it suddenly broke free of gravity.
Or rather, it fell into a large hole opened by the aerial bomb.
The actual fear crawled up Quenser’s spine after they were already falling. He clung to one of the triplets’ waists and buried his face in her boobs again.
“I don’t care if you bite your tongue when we land, but I have to admit I’d be mad if you bit my nipple off, okay?”
A distinctive delta wing fighter cut across Tokyo Bay late at night. That was Burning Alpha’s S/G-31. The enemy Object was still functional and the anti-air laser continued to fire from Mount Fuji’s peak, but the ace pilots’ dance continued unabated.
The fighter flew above the Baby Magnum and radioed a report and a suggestion to the Pilot Elite.
“Burning Alpha to naval team. We liquefied all of Haneda’s runways, so nothing is getting off the ground there. We’re switching our objective to supporting you.”
“Burning Alpha, the Asian Monster is using EM-based wireless power transfer. Do you have any ideas how we can prevent that!?”
“This’ll be the easiest commendation I’ve ever earned.”
The delta wing fighter reduced altitude and flew between the Baby Magnum and the Rush at supersonic speed while dropping something. What looked like glittering confetti was the chaff normally used as a missile countermeasure.
The metal foil spread through the air would scatter the EM waves used for radar.
“Th-the output levels we’re talking about are on another level entirely! Oh ho ho. I doubt that can block energy on the level of a power plant!!”
“I wasn’t expecting it to. This is the Age of Objects, isn’t it? You two aim your main cannons at the ocean. Fire on the surface and you’ll create pillars of chaff-filled seawater!!”
The Princess’s low-stability plasma cannon and Oh Ho Ho’s rapid-fire beam Gatling cannon produced deafening booms.
The instant their shots contacted the dark ocean surface, they produced a loud sizzling sound. But that was not just a steam explosion from the seawater. It included a lot of the chaff Burning Alpha had distributed beforehand.
It all transformed into a hot spray.
That coated the Asian Monster’s surface, making it shine like a mirror’s silver coating.
And what happened next?
The Asian Monster’s fierce movements clearly slowed. The wireless power coming from the mountaintop could be blocked if its EM receptors were given a metal coating not even a millimeter thick.
“But this won’t stop it for long. This is far from a perfect solution. Young lady, does it have any other weaknesses!? Or is the wireless power all we’ve got!?”
“U-um, Quenser said it uses something called human body communication. The ocean surface itself is used to send it electrical signals to remotely control it.”
Lendy Farolito cut in, pounding excitedly on something. Maybe a combat information center console and maybe a whiteboard.
“Then move your Objects around to stir up the seawater!! Make a circle with a diameter of greater than 100m and you can win!! This part is crucial!!!!!!”
They complied on reflex.
The Baby Magnum and the Rush repeatedly swapped positions. It looked like they were ballroom dancing, but their naval floats were rotating the seawater like a washing machine.
Sending a faint electric current through the water meant there would be some magnetism there too. And it was a known fact that rotating a fluid containing a magnetic field would generate electricity. For example, it was theorized the earth’s geomagnetic field was produced by the planet’s own rotation turning the magma deep below the surface and its own core into a massive generator.
This was the same.
They already had the information they needed. The Asian Monster communicated with electric signals passed through the ocean just like similar signals passed through the human body. Changing the direction of the existing electricity and giving it a rotation would create a new electromagnetic field.
And as weak as that might be, it would still interfere with the electrical signals.
The Asian Monster stopped moving altogether.
The error lasted less than a second.
But Burning Alpha’s delta wing fighter passed right by the colossal weapon in that moment. The laser fortress gun atop Mount Fuji was still active. It might try to shoot down the interfering aircraft now that the situation had changed.
In fact, Burning Alpha had goaded it into doing just that.
“Go to hell smeared in your own shit, you freak.”
After that rude declaration of victory, the enormous laser fortress gun’s thoughtless shot missed the fighter and pierced the Asian Monster.
How many meters did they actually drop?
When Quenser came to, he found himself on his back. He had been clinging to one of the Martini sisters last he remembered, but none of them were around. He noticed a scorching smell and found the armored truck lying on its side.
He was below Shinjuku.
The vast space was encased in concrete.
There were lights, but not nearly enough. A tunnel-like darkness remained.
Containers were piled up like this was a supply warehouse, but the space was larger than a soccer field.
Yes, this was simply a space. It wasn’t a subway tunnel or a highway. It wasn’t a route leading somewhere. It felt more like a public facility of some kind. He shook his heavy head and slowly got up while guessing this was a common utility duct used to manage rainwater, power cables, and more.
A handgun he didn’t recognize lay nearby.
He silently picked it up and walked onward. The armored recovery vehicle they had been pursuing was stopped a short distance away. Its eight wheels were on the ground, but the driver’s compartment was half scrapped after crashing into a concrete wall.
Someone was groaning below the passenger side door.
She was a blonde-haired brown-skinned girl of about 15. That would make her Daria Weddingbell of the Faith Organization.
She was part of Azumaya.
She was one of the villains who had started a world war for their own benefit. The shock of falling underground must not have killed her, but she appeared to have severe internal injuries. Quenser slowly approached from head on, but she didn’t even have the strength to ready a gun or knife.
If not for her…
If not for that piece of shit, that boy and his mother would still be…
He immediately fired a shot into the center of her body.
He didn’t care if he was violating the rules. She continued groaning even after collapsing into a pool of her own blood, so he fired another shot into her head at close range. That fully silenced her.
Immediately afterwards, a scorching bullet tore through the air from a different angle.
It hit Quenser, knocking him to the side. Someone else was lurking in the shadows here. When the younger girl had said “you”, she may not have been talking to Quenser.
Had she been cursing this other person for using her as bait?
The four members of Azumaya had used the confusion to escape Ichigaya together, but that didn’t mean they were good buddies. It was damage to the Faith Organization alone that had led to the start of the world war which had made the strength of the world powers crumble, so they may have been at each other’s throats already.
“Ha. Ha ha. I’m not dying here.”
This one was an Asian man of around forty.
He was probably Fong-Lan Greendevil.
“I will do whatever it takes to survive. It’s not like this world is worth protecting anyway!!”
Quenser had still not let go of his gun. His muscles may have locked up while he gripped it in his overexcited state.
He held the gun out while collapsed on his side.
But the man was faster.
A dry gunshot echoed through the enclosed underground space.
Quenser was untrained and his hand was trembling, so his shot missed. It hit the wall, sending orange sparks flying.
But the Azumaya man, Fong-Lan, didn’t hit either.
The global villain had a final question on his lips as he doubled over and collapsed to the filthy floor. The man had sacrificed his comrade to survive, but his fate was a swift one.
There was someone else here.
That was the answer to his question.
“Are you alive, boy?”
That someone else wore a Legitimacy Kingdom uniform.
But Quenser had never seen him before. His smile did nothing to put Quenser at ease. But the last time Quenser had seen this man, he had already used plastic surgery to alter the face he was born with.
He could only think of one person this could be.
“That name holds no meaning,” said the faceless man.
He was a monster in a different way from the Objects.
He had started out as a Capitalist Corporations spy, but he had refused to forgive the society that stole his family and birthplace from him and become a true “evil god” who had assassinated a 7th Core CEO all on his own.
“If you can ask a question like that, you must not be bleeding too badly. Something in your survival kit pouch must have stopped the bullet. Your gear will be a mess, but it’s better than dying.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I never intended to show my face again, but the current age demanded it. And I think I’ll repay it by tearing down this world war.”
When had he infiltrated the 37th? Come to think of it, hadn’t someone Quenser didn’t recognize pulled him out from below the rubble after the plasma strike on Charles de Gaulle Airport?
He heard some movement.
From deeper in.
They opened the door to find stairs leading down.
Their eyes met someone else’s when they took a look down the metal stairway. Quenser and Nyarlathotep fired simultaneously.
The third Azumaya member was holding something, but she could only shoot one person at a time. One of the two bullets hit the woman, knocking her back against the wall where she slid to the floor with a red stain growing around her.
Quenser remained standing.
Nyarlathotep had fallen to the floor and stopped moving.
There was nothing special about it.
No matter how long he had remained undercover and no matter how much he acted like it was a piece of cake, a single bullet was all it took in a real war. The same conditions applied to Quenser as well.
But Quenser would almost certainly have died without him here.
“You moron!! This is Yog-Sothoth!! The last one is still alive and unfortunately you’re the only one still capable of doing anything about it!! So go!! End this world war!!”
The voice of an elusive female hacker came from the phone in Nyarlathotep’s pocket. She would have been the one who gave him the electronic ID he needed to infiltrate the Legitimacy Kingdom military.
Quenser didn’t have time to be sentimental.
There was only one left.
He had no one left to rely on. From here on, it would be one-on-one.
He would stop them, no matter what.
(Wait just a little longer, Carat.)
He was the bastard who had come to the Island Nation from the Legitimacy Kingdom.
Quenser had four rounds left in his gun. Killing this man would eliminate the Azumaya group that had taken root in the Island Nation. That would prevent him from attempting the same thing again.
Quenser pictured the hemispherical prosthetic eye lying on that roof.
And he recalled the message inside the amulet: Good luck, mom.
At the bottom of the metal stairs, found a door leading to a small chamber and another door. That was to keep people from tracking dirt inside and to keep even small amounts of dust from blowing in with the air as the door opened and closed. It was a common feature at semiconductor plants. He passed through both doors.
On the other side, he found bright lights and a model roller coaster filling a vast space.
The automated factory had a great number of test tubes traveling along conveyer belts arranged in all three directions. Some kind of thick, clear jelly filled the bottom few centimeters of the tubes, but he had no idea what the factory was meant to do.
“Those are sperm and ova.”
Quenser wordlessly spun around and aimed his gun toward the sudden voice, but that spot was already deserted. A young man’s voice came from behind a metal box larger than a refrigerator. It may have been a control panel of some kind.
That was Caines.
The final member of Azumaya and the bastard who had started the world war.
No one would have suffered without him.
“The Island Nationers are created here. They labor away, follow the government’s recommendations even in how they use their days off, and make sure to pay their taxes – all without questioning any of it. You should have noticed something off about things on the surface.”
“The apartments you blew up were empty even late at night. And again, those were apartments, not office buildings.”
“The civilian evacuation happened awfully quickly for how unexpected your attack was. You didn’t see anyone out on the streets or a single abandoned civilian vehicle, did you?”
Quenser slowly circled behind the piece of machinery with deadly gun in hand, but there was no one there.
Caines Ambrosia’s voice came from a second-floor walkway overhead. There weren’t any stairs nearby, so what had he used to climb up?
“They didn’t disappear – they weren’t there to begin with. The country’s poor birthrate has caused the population to fall to critical levels over the past decade. Maybe 20% of residences are occupied anymore. Really, the mystery is how they built up such large cities in the first place. Do you know the Island Nation’s food self-sufficiency rate? Even with ample ocean resources, the place couldn’t support itself without importing a lot of food if all of those windows really did have people living behind them.”
That was why the place was full of empty homes like a city set up for a movie shoot.
That was how they had continued on with the resource and food consumption rates dwindling.
That was why the world powers no longer considered the Island Nation a threat.
Eventually, the resource and food consumption rates would drop to zero. The country would destroy itself on its own, so why bother fighting it? This was the trick to turning that around.
The real population of Island Nationers could be massive.
There could a hundred million of them, if not a billion.
They were mass-producing humans to bolster their national strength without anyone the wiser. If you could create humans like that, you could build factories for other kinds of meat as well. And if that wasn’t enough, chemically-created jellies and supplements could be made.
It was all meaningless of course.
It was an empty trick created to cling to their pride. They didn’t want to grow old and die off, so they were using their precious technology to fool the rest of the world.
Quenser Barbotage thought carefully and aimed his handgun straight up.
“I’m not talking about the Island Nation’s crisis or contradictions. Don’t dodge the issue, Caines. You’re part of Azumaya. You aren’t an Island Nationer; you’re one of the coordinators sent in from one of the world powers. You don’t really care if this nation of modified Asian DNA crumbles – you just want to use it to escape.”
“Can’t really deny that one.”
“Why did you start the world war? War profiteering? But if that’s all, you could have lived the high life using the clean wars just as well.”
“I removed the hindrances,” said the young man. “Each of the world powers has its own problems just like the Island Nation. And those distortions are concentrated at the very top of the four pyramids. Did you know about this? Bloodline and history are everything to your Legitimacy Kingdom. You might think that means the royals and nobles there are lionized, but that’s not actually true.”
“Ever heard of the Caesar Project? That isn’t a specific name – it’s just a catchall term for all the titles like Kaiser and Tsar. Not that I expect you to have heard of it since you need to be at least a major general for that. And in fact, no one in the military even get to know what it entails. The real leaders of your Legitimacy Kingdom are sperm and ova. They’re being automatically crossbred in a shelter deep below the home country even as we speak. The calculations apparently said the 59th generation of crossbreeding was the earliest that the process could create the ideal ruler, but they are apparently in the middle of around 176 generations of detours to reduce or neutralize hereditary diseases.”
The young man continued with amusement in his voice.
“The Body File saying the Legitimacy Kingdom is fighting wars to gather the rare herbs and minerals needed for the frail royals and nobles is secretly a way of gathering materials for the Caesar Project. The nobles are all catalogued and the commoners are only allowed to live as sources of highly-randomized genes. Did you realize what it was you were kneeling to? If you’re fine with bowing your head to a smelly refrigerated pool sprinkled with pubic hairs and if you’re fine being no more than a faucet that provides all the white goo your superiors demand, then feel free to turn around and go home.”
Quenser heard an electronic beeping.
Was it coming from Caines Ambrosia’s pocket?
Whatever it signified, he laughed quietly before continuing.
“That means the bomb sent by the Faith Organization has blown away Caesar. The gilded test tube has been shattered and the Legitimacy Kingdom’s idol is no more.”
“It’s a real tragedy what happened to the Faith Organization. With Rome sunk, its people have finally realized that relying on charismatic religious leaders does not actually protect you from bullets. The alchemy holding together the Capitalist Corporations’ 7th Core is in fact a financial calculations computer designed for computing life insurance. To them, human life isn’t even something to preserve. It is a resource to be either sold off or consumed as efficiently as possible. Unfortunately for them, the incalculable world war caused such violent fluctuations that the 7th Core companies are filing for bankruptcy left and right. …The current world is ending. Anyone should have seen that from the very beginning. This was never about the disasters brought by Objects or what the Island Nation did to avoid its slow demise. Our world was broken in a more fundamental way from the word go.”
The world powers were like the four legs of a table.
If just one of them broke, the table would be tilted.
But what if all four were broken? Then they would reach a new stability after the catastrophic fall.
Quenser Barbotage had considered that a bit himself.
And he had arrived at an answer.
He did not hesitate to fire straight up.
Something wobbled, tumbled over the walkway railing, and dropped down.
Quenser aimed his gun at collapsed Caines.
“Everything about this stinks.”
“You said you needed to reach the rank of major general to have even heard of the Legitimacy Kingdom’s Caesar Project and no one in the military knows what it entails, didn’t you?”
The boy’s expression was unchanged.
No matter how disgusted he was, he couldn’t just ignore that long-ass speech.
“Then how did the coordinators of Azumaya learn about it?” His tone was icy. “How would a member of the military like you know a secret no one in the military knows about? Did you think it was a coincidence? Did you think you were just so clever you were the only exception? Not a chance. No one can keep a secret like that if there’s a loophole someone like you could exploit.”
The man must have realized the truth.
But it was too late now.
“How did you learn about it? That’ll tell you who was really behind it all. You were only being fed information like so many others.”
Quenser aimed for the center of the head and pulled the trigger multiple times, permanently silencing the poor young man.
Now he was out of ammo.
He tossed the empty handgun aside.
He didn’t need to hear the answer from the man because he had already arrived at it himself.
It all came down to paying attention to what Caines Ambrosia had said.
The top of the Legitimacy Kingdom, the Caesar Project, had been blown up with a bomb.
The top of the Capitalist Corporations, 7th Core, was being driven to bankruptcy.
The top of the Faith Organization, their religious leaders, had disappointed the people and lost their charisma.
But what about the Information Alliance?
The massive AI network that ruled over all people and things in that world power was the sole survivor of this world war. More than that, it was entirely untouched.
The human factory shook violently around Quenser. An error must have been detected because the many conveyer belts carrying the test tubes came to a stop and the lights switched to red.
It didn’t matter how far he was from Tokyo Bay or that he was deep underground.
A normal Object never could have done that. Something so massive was approaching that it required a 200 thousand ton Object that cost 5 billion dollars to be qualified as “normal”.
He could only think of one option.
“That damn thing.”
There was no applause.
No one got to work analyzing who deserved how much credit for the Asian Monster’s destruction. They had even forgotten about the presence of the laser fortress gun atop Mount Fuji.
Everyone had noticed the appearance of a much more dangerous enemy on the battlefield.
And this may have been an enemy of the Island Nation as well as the Princess and Oh Ho Ho.
“Th-there’s something there.” The operator paled inside the combat information center. “It’s 20km long? I don’t believe it. This isn’t a megafloat airport. It’s…it’s an Object!!”
Frolaytia and Lendy both watched in silence.
Only after working up the nerve did they quietly speak.
“Hey, that toy belongs to your people, doesn’t it? Got any information on it?”
“It isn’t from my department. I might be able to find some small loophole or trick to use, but do you really think I have the detailed plans for that thing?”
Tokyo Bay was completely sealed off by something rising from the ocean to the south.
The culprit was more than 20km long. With it stationed at the narrow entrance to the bay, it physically blocked the way out to the open ocean, no need for cannons at all.
That was the Information Alliance’s strongest Object and its home country.
That was the Manhattan 000.
“Ah ha ha.”
Melly Martini Extradry.
#29 of the genius girl project.
The blonde-haired brown-skinned girl had her butt inside a large swim ring and wore VR goggles upside down while gently speaking toward the notebook-sized video game system she held.
“Now, let’s extract the rest of the world’s pus. 819. I lend the Manhattan 000 to you, Capulet. I’ll just make any necessary corrections☆”
Chapter 6: –––––––Determination––––––– >> Mission to Rescue the Entire Earth
It was 4 AM.
Some might call that early morning instead of late night, but it was still too soon for dawn.
Nevertheless, an excessively bright and large explosion at the peak of Mount Fuji swept away all the darkness.
“Laser fortress gun is confirmed destroyed and Mount Fuji’s height has been reduced by more than 2m!! That was the Manhattan’s electromagnetically-launched reactor cannon recorded in our previous battle report. It uses a giant railgun to launch a JPlevelMHD reactor that blows away its target with a blast of tens of thousands of degrees Celsius over dozens of kilometers. The center reaches a temperature of…100 million? M-Mount Fuji’s surface has been glassed by the high temperature!!!!!!”
The cruiser operator’s shouted report explained the highly unusual mountaintop sunrise they had witnessed.
The entire ship rattled and the inertial force nearly tossed the crew to the side thanks to the rapid atmospheric disturbance producing an artificial storm with a massive pressure difference. Frolaytia braced herself against the sideways movement of the ship and checked the monitor to see several unusual streaks of light near the mountain summit. Unnatural lightning had to be striking there.
This Object’s range and power were both off the charts. If one of those was dropped into Tokyo Bay, the entire Together By Chance fleet could be wiped out. And the Manhattan could do more than just that.
That was just one of the many cards in its deck.
It had positioned its 20km self in the only exit from the bay, so it was not going to let them escape.
Frolaytia toyed with her kiseru.
“The Capulet AI network and the Juliet that manages the Rush are compatible, aren’t they? Could your Pilot Elite stage a cyber attack against the Manhattan 000?”
“It’s called the Gatling 033. And things are different from last time. There might be some online vulnerability in the Capulet, but it will have already been manually fixed. Generally speaking, cyber attacks are one-use things.”
The question was why the Manhattan – no, the Information Alliance – wanted to fight here.
Frolaytia Capistrano and Lendy Farolito listed off the possibilities together.
“Possibility 1: Some Together By Chance members came from the Information Alliance. This could be meant to purge those who disobeyed their orders and left the military…all in order to get them to obey the will of the world powers.”
“Possibility 2: They may also want to preserve the world war that has torn apart the world powers, so they want to eliminate Together By Chance since our goal is to end it.”
Both options meant battle, but their position in that battle changed entirely. Did the Manhattan want to preserve the world powers or doom them? Unfortunately, either option made sense for the Manhattan. It would benefit greatly either way.
A tense moment followed.
Lendy Farolito used her chin to gesture toward the radio, so Frolaytia Capistrano accepted the transmission from the front lines with an exhalation of smoke.
(Why do I always get stuck with the worst jobs? I bet this dumbass idol lover climbed the ranks by crushing her rivals under all the annoying work.)
“Melly Martini Extradry? Did you bring the Manhattan all the way out here as a spokesperson for the Capulet?” asked Frolaytia.
“We have already achieved our goal in this world war. The Legitimacy Kingdom, Capitalist Corporations, and Faith Organization’s social and mental support pillars have been destroyed. Thus, the old world powers paradigm no longer holds meaning. Lay down your arms. We have ended this war already. The Information Alliance has survived the world war as the only worthy power, so the time has come to rule the entire planet on our own.”
(Has she completely fallen to the AI network? No, it’s too soon to decide she’s a Martini Series gone berserk. She is technically benefiting the Information Alliance as a whole here.)
They had contacted Melly before, but she sounded like an entirely different person now. She was probably reading from a script, which also explained the lack of three digit numbers.
Those numbers were apparently tags that helped her recall the memories later, so did that mean she didn’t consider this worth committing to memory?
Frolaytia bit the mouthpiece of her kiseru.
She strongly told herself now was not the time to let her emotions show.
(So it isn’t even Possibility 2? She doesn’t care what the rest of the world powers want. She isn’t listening to anyone else!)
Lendy erased all the text covering her whiteboard and added a new message in large black writing at the very center. She made certain not to make any noise as she did so.
- The rest of the world powers mean nothing. Wants to end it with only IA surviving?
- Using the world war.
- Probably going around breaking pillars needed to support other world powers.
That wasn’t enough to take control of the conversation, but having someone else visualize the information helped organize her confused thoughts.
Melly Martini Extradry continued speaking.
“The war is already over and we are merely declaring victory. Again I tell all surviving soldiers to lay down your arms. Obey any further instructions from us and await the restructuring. We do not wish for any unnecessary bloodshed. I repeat, as the new managers of this world, the Information Alliance does not wish for any unnecessary bloodshed.”
The war was already over?
What had happened in the rest of the world while Frolaytia and the others were fighting in the Island Nation?
Had they been left behind by history like a soldier trembling in the deep jungle and cut off from all outside information?
If the Legitimacy Kingdom no longer existed, could Frolaytia find a strong enough reason inside herself to continue fighting?
“Now hold on there. If you really had us so thoroughly checkmated, you wouldn’t need to come tell us all this, would you? It’s pretty obvious you’re bluffing and hoping we’ll fold.”
This didn’t come from Frolaytia Capistrano or Melly Martini Extradry.
It was Quenser Barbotage.
Melly’s self-centered announcement came to a stop, so it was possible the Martini Series and the Capulet were of split opinions.
The ordinary boy’s voice spoke over the radio again.
“This isn’t over yet.”
He did not hesitate.
He was part of the group that had gathered to end the world war.
Frolaytia and Lendy were as well.
“Three of the table’s legs have been broken. Leave it like that and maybe there is no stopping the world from collapsing. But there is one way left of restabilizing it. We stop using the legs. Maybe we’ll nail it to the wall and maybe we’ll suspend it from the ceiling, but we don’t need you anymore.”
So no one stopped him.
No one could stop that battlefield student with no real authority of his own.
“Are you saying you will kill us – 251 – and end the world war? Ah ha ha. The Manhattan 000 is no more than a tool. The Capulet and the Martini Series are only pieces of the AI network, so you haven’t even seen the core of the Information Alliance for yourself.”
There was more than tension in Melly’s voice.
There was also a strange elation that didn’t fit the circumstances or her appearance.
No one had noticed what was so wrong with the world, but now she had found the one person who had. Her young spine may have been tingling with excitement.
“Yeah, last time the Capulet AI Network said she was the camouflage used to hide the Information Alliance’s true representatives.” Quenser punctuated that with a snort of laughter. “I guess it would be mean of me to suspect those ‘true representatives’ don’t really exist. But if they haven’t shown themselves with all this going on, they might as well not exist. Maybe they’re programmers or analysts, but I’m betting they aren’t the warfighting type. At the very least, they can’t influence our field out here.”
“So – 979 – are you saying you can kill me?”
“I’m shouting it. You apparently get off to walking around the camera-filled city in nothing but body paint, but courage and taking on greater risks don’t actually increase your strength. Once the truth is out, you’re the one who’ll be in tears.”
Thus, he wasn’t interested in how deep the Information Alliance rabbit hole went.
Quenser Barbotage wasn’t going to let the information deceive him any longer. He was already facing the actual enemy he needed to defeat.
And he made one final statement.
“Maybe the Capulet AI Network really doesn’t have a center point. But I’m the only one in the world who knows where to find your weak point – the breaker you intentionally had made. You’re the one who taught me there that you’re like a billboard and anyone who realizes the truth is given great riches to ensure their silence. Isn’t that right, Capulet?”
It was 4 in the morning at Tokyo Bay.
The time had come to end the world war.
Quenser Barbotage and the rest of Together By Chance’s final target was history’s largest Object, the Manhattan 000. If they could get through this, Quenser could shut off the only breaker for the massive Capulet AI Network that was trying to break free of the four world powers paradigm and rule the world with only the Information Alliance.
They could no longer use their armored truck now that it had fallen into the underground space that was in truth a human factory used to support the Island Nation’s population. Quenser and the others climbed back to the surface where they stole a civilian vehicle and drove back to Ichigaya. The fire must have never reached the ammo dump, so they took military vehicles from the garrison and returned to Tokyo Bay with that. They had 8-wheeled armored trucks, rocket launcher vehicles, and even actual tanks, but it all felt so inadequate.
At 20km long, the Manhattan 000 was absurd even for an Object. Was there any amount of gear that would make them feel safe against that?
“The Anastasia Processor,” muttered Wraith Martini Vermouthspray aboard the military truck she rode with the taciturn young man.
They drove toward the ocean.
However, Quenser’s group aboard an 8-wheeled armored truck was not taking the ordinary road back east along the Sobu-Chuo Line to reach Ariake or Odaiba. The Manhattan 000 was positioned at the southern entrance to Tokyo Bay, which meant it was near Kanagawa, at the Tokyo Bay exit of the Uraga Channel. Needless to say, heading out onto the open ocean would just get them blasted. They would leave those forceful tactics to the Baby Magnum and the Rush while they circled around to the rear.
“We’re already in Yokohama,” said Heivia from the same armored truck’s roof. “Damn Island Nation isn’t even putting up a resistance anymore.”
“Yeah, all the bridges and overpasses are still up. Maybe they realized this isn’t their fight anymore. They’d need a death wish to attack us over the Manhattan.”
Quenser’s group followed the Keihin-Tohoku Line south and then hid among the buildings to reach Yokosuka. Driving the armored truck full speed from Tokyo, it took 30 or 40 minutes. Mariydi and the other pilots had taken out the port when they attacked, but that didn’t mean there was no usable equipment or facilities there.
They entered the off limits area of the Port of Yokosuka, a shared government and civilian port.
Heivia whistled when he checked inside.
“This hangar was entirely untouched. They’ve got patrol boats, amphibious coastal mine layers, and air cushion landing craft.”
“We’ll be fighting at sea, so let’s pull out everything that might be usable. If you can’t find anything, use your head. If you can’t think up anything, then we’ll be stuck swimming through the cold February ocean the old fashioned way. Hurry!”
The Manhattan 000 was not just a massive barricade.
It was equipped with a wide variety of weaponry and was heavily fortified with sensors and radars, so they had to assume its eyes and ears were better than theirs. Myonri let out a small cry as she messed with the radar aboard an air cushion landing craft. Someone must have pointed out the Manhattan 000 might detect her signal.
Without panicking or making a fuss, Quenser brought his radio to his mouth.
He had never expected to make it the whole way unnoticed. They had only wanted to reduce the risk of being fired on during their approach as much as possible. Getting this close to the Uraga Channel without the skyscrapers around them being vaporized meant a lot.
So now he sent a transmission straight to #29 of the genius girl project.
She was back to her usual way of talking.
There was a clear difference between the announcement she had made to Frolaytia and Lendy and when she was speaking with Quenser. Maybe this was how she sounded when not reading off a prepared script.
“I want to confirm one thing before we start. What happens to the people of Manhattan? They won’t be thrown into the ocean to drown if we sink that, will they?”
“Those ordinary people couldn’t endure the g-forces of Object movement. 502. So during combat, they are preserved inside transparent cubes. They can float around frozen inside there for three years after being thrown out into the ocean.”
“I see,” said Quenser. He had ice in his voice. “Without them as hostages, you’ve thrown out your last hope. We won’t hesitate now.”
The potatoes boarded patrol boats and amphibious armored trucks and set out into the sea.
The Manhattan 000’s first shot arrived at the same moment.
The Port of Yokosuka was reduced to charred earth instantly.
The electromagnetically-launched reactor cannon launched JPlevelMHD reactors as disposable tools and detonated them at the center of the attack area to create a massive crater. The location Quenser and the others had just vacated had been flattened, buildings and all, and a large chunk was taken out of the ground, allowing seawater to rush in.
A gust of wind slapped Quenser in the cheek. It had carried some water with it. That one blast stirred up the atmosphere, creating a sudden storm.
Heivia took a look around.
“So where are we?”
“At the Uraga Channel’s exit. Although we’re closer to Sagami Bay than Tokyo Bay.”
They didn’t have time to look back.
Its attacks could fall on the ocean as well. If they didn’t split up in a hurry, they could all be wiped out with a single attack.
“To honor your courage, I’ll open up one of Manhattan’s aquariums for you. 515. You’ll be stripped bare and submerged in a gelatin pool that gives you the oxygen and nutrients you need to survive while people gawk at you like some kind of endangered species.”
She made it sound so simple, but that told Quenser she really intended to do it.
An age where a single person could rule the entire world like this would mean a society where no one could question them no matter how grotesque they were.
The world would be remade to satisfy an individual’s interests.
So Quenser gave a warning.
“And if you do die, I can sterilize your body and stuff a drying agent up your nose inside an oxygen-free space. When the human body’s moisture falls below 50%, the putrefying bacteria can’t function, so you will be forever preserved. 169. I’ll open a museum for you. And each and every one of you will be accurately labeled as too stupid to live. Your shame will be displayed there for all eternity.”
“That bad joke will come back to haunt you. Have you never heard of the brazen bull? The man who proudly presented his new execution device to his leader became its first victim when he was thrown inside and the fire was lit below it. The same will happen to you.”
In the pouring rain, Quenser and Heivia were both aboard an air cushion landing craft designed to carry a tank. Myonri and Azureyfear were with them.
“No, why do I always get stuck with them!? Wait, please wait! I want to board that patrol boat! Please don’t leave me with them!!”
“Myonri, we need to have a chat later.”
Quenser made a mental note of that.
Meanwhile, a very different hell was playing out on the boat.
“Catherine Barbotage and I got separated at some point, but the way she honestly expressed her feelings convinced me a brother and sister need so much more physical intimacy than we have enjoyed. We need to flirt while we fight like those two do! And no time like the present to start!!”
“Please realize there’s something severely wrong with anything that combines flirting with fighting!!!!!!”
Heivia pushed his annoying sister’s face away with one hand while yelling at her. Quenser didn’t care all that much, but he was mildly curious how Azureyfear was doing so well. Hadn’t Sladder Honeysuckle shot her back in the Tunguska District?
“I’m down with picking a fight with that thing, but how are we gonna do this, Quenser!? For that matter, how many reactors does the Manhattan even have? It launches the damn things like disposable shells. I’d find it hard to believe it just has one of them installed at the very center like an Island Nation hinomaru bento!!”
They were about 10km away. That might seem like a lot when thinking in terms of foot travel, but for the 20km Manhattan, that was only half its own length. Just one step to either side and it could crush them.
The lighthouse wharf, the yacht harbor, and all the other life-sized obstacles sticking out into the ocean from the Manhattan looked like the small teeth on an electric saw’s chain.
“That thing can make full use of its 20km length, right? It must be full to bursting with energy on the inside. That’s a strength and a weakness both. We should be able to do a lot of damage if we blow up the reactor itself, the pipes or cables used to transfer the energy, or the various safety devices.”
The ocean itself shook as the Manhattan 000 turned.
It turned to face them like someone swatting at a fly.
An actual attack would be coming next.
Except they had a more imminent threat to worry about.
Myonri looked so far up she strained her neck.
She was looking up at a 30m tall wall. The Manhattan had created the large wave just by shaking itself like a surfboard.
Heivia shouted into his radio.
“Angle yourselves toward the wave!! Pulling back out of fear will get you capsized!!”
That was correct in theory, but how many of the boats could actually make use of the advice? Quenser and Heivia’s air cushion landing craft managed to pass through the tunnel-like wave before it crashed down (it helped that the air cushion meant it was not in direct contact with the water), but…
“Stop! Do you want to die!?”
Quenser reached for the edge of the boat, but Azureyfear forcibly stopped him.
A nearby patrol boat, which was supposedly designed for ocean use, was smashed to pieces and swallowed up by the dark ocean. The Manhattan was attacking them using the waves. So many soldiers hoping to end the world war had to have been aboard that boat, but there was nothing anyone could do for them.
This wasn’t over yet.
The Manhattan 000 hadn’t even fired on them yet.
Not even the high-speed Simple Is Best had affected its surroundings this much. Myonri clung to the wall to avoid being flung out into the rising and falling ocean and she tearfully shouted for assistance.
“Baby Magnum!! Princess!! Please come here!! We’ve already engaged the Manhattan 000 in-”
There was no response.
In fact, Myonri never finished her sentence.
Why wasn’t the Manhattan 000 firing on them when it should have been able to at any time? She had belatedly realized the only possible reason.
A bright light shined in the distance.
The shockwave slapped them in the face a moment later.
But they weren’t about to complain about the pain. When someone’s life was spared, it meant someone else’s life was being targeted. That coldhearted rule of fighting on the losing side bared its fangs here.
They heard a shouted report over the radio.
“I-it’s been destroyed… The Baby Magnum has been destroyed!”
It only took one shot.
Everything the Manhattan 000 did was over the top.
(This battle is going from bad to worse.)
Mariydi Whitewitch hated how coldly calculating she could be at times like this.
She only clicked her tongue while piloting her Zig-27 fighter. Not even the hard rock playing from her phone could preserve her good mood. The special oxygen tube extending toward her mouth like a headset continued to provide the optimal amount using the data sent by the small mic attached to her throat, but that couldn’t prevent the tingling displeasure in the back of her head.
(The Information Alliance Object is our top priority! If we lose our only remaining Object, we’ll have lost any method of sinking that monster!!)
The enemy was the center of New York itself. Dropping aerial bombs from a fighter wouldn’t even scratch it. In fact, she wasn’t sure a bomber’s FAE bombs or bunker busters would be enough to damage the depths of that thing.
“It’s no use. The lasers are already coming. I can see them because of the raindrops. Burning Alpha, I- ahhhhh!?”
“Eject, Plus Del- arrrgh, goddammit!! This world war can go to hell! That kid was only 17!!!”
She heard a loud explosion followed by a wail of sorrow from Burning Alpha.
But this wasn’t an issue of poor skills. That fighter had been hit by a blast of wind or something just beforehand.
Mariydi softly bit her lip. As a squadron leader, she knew all to well how painful it was to fail to protect a member of your squadron.
They needed something – anything – to turn the tide.
They were not the only ones taking damage. Everyone was exposed to the threat of death out here. If they didn’t find some way to escape and soon, someone else they cared about would die. It could be a member of Ice Squadron next time.
And the crucial key to surviving this was…
“Information. Okay, fine!”
“Ice Sword 2 to Ice Girl 1. What are you doing!?”
(I hate those Objects from the bottom of my heart for getting paid so much when they aren’t even putting their life at risk, but my squadron will die without their help here!!)
She had no intention of answering her squadron member’s question. Because if she did, all three of them were sure to follow her toward near-certain doom.
Mariydi adjusted her grip on the stick and felt the powerful g-forces lifting her stomach. It must have affected her ears too because the hard rock sounded briefly distorted. Her Zig-27 rapidly lost altitude and then flew straight toward the Manhattan while skimming just above the ocean.
(Damn, did I catch on something? Is the Manhattan manipulating the air currents to protect its urban areas from its own movements?)
A fighter canopy had no wipers. Drops of water were kept off with water-repelling chemicals and with the fighter’s own speed.
She soared through a city of skyscrapers at Mach 2.
Something like transparent vines were tangled around the buildings. 3m cubes also covered the ground. She knew they were protecting the buildings and people from the rapid movement, but the bizarre image still sent a chill down her spine.
(Modern military fighters have multiple sensors attached around the undercarriage to assist takeoff and landing at night and during stormy weather. I should be able to find something if I run a careful scan of the Manhattan with those: locations of main and secondary cannons, layout of underground cables from the heat distribution, number and location of reactors, and so on. I don’t need to find everything. Just a few of them should help fill in the rest of the blanks like with a crossword puzzle!!)
The Manhattan’s great size meant it actually had trouble targeting something less than 10m above it. The cannons couldn’t track it and the buildings got in the line of fire.
The Zig-27 flew straight through the metropolis.
Anything not fixed in place must have still been affected by the inertial forces because she saw a large propane tank fly by next to her. The glass shards raining down from above suggested she had applied too much pressure to the smooth skyscrapers. Sucking those in through the air intake would lead to engine trouble.
Once she flew out over the ocean on the other side, the colossal Manhattan gave a groan.
That moment stretched out toward eternity as she sensed death approaching. Everything seemed to freeze around her as that fact dawned on her. But this wasn’t like the close calls of the past. The frozen time of impending doom did not end a moment later. She was trapped in a cage and moving the control column now wouldn’t allow her to escape the Manhattan’s shot.
Her fighter shuddered from within. The jet engine may have absorbed some invisible town gas while she flew through the city.
She smiled a little.
And then she focused on her radio instead of the control column.
“Ice Girl 1 to Ice Squadron. Obey Burning Alpha’s orders from here on. It was a pleasure flying with you all.”
“Ice Girl 1!!”
“Burning Alpha, I hate everything else about you, but you do have some skill. Enough to look after the squadron I value more than my own life. I will never forgive you if you let them die. Got that?”
A moment later, time sped back up and the Manhattan’s anti-air laser beam vaporized the Zig-27.
Once one piece of the puzzle crumbled, the rhythm of the entire battle collapsed.
Just like a crack only a few millimeters long causing an aircraft made from tens of thousands of precision parts to break apart in midair.
The white beam looked like a welding torch burning the predawn sky.
Former Elites Catherine Barbotage and Putana Highball brushed their rain-wet bangs aside with a hand and shouted while operating personal amphibious motorbikes used for ocean patrols.
“Someone was shot down!!”
“We can’t let that happen again. Let’s make a more direct attack.”
The two amphibious motorbikes tore through the oceanwater to approach the Manhattan. Of course, that was a 20km collection of firepower. Even if it had trouble aiming at anything too close, it could still crash into them or attack them with waves. Close in was not a blind spot. In fact, it just put you in range of its most deadly attacks.
Scrap materials were floating everywhere. All of them must have belonged to sturdy warships originally. They had to skillfully swerve around those to avoid hitting them.
There were other things caught on some of the metal panels, like a scrap of a military uniform or even a severed arm.
That wasn’t the end result of making a mistake.
That was the end result of doing everything right. The Manhattan 000 wasn’t really a weapon anymore – it was a human slaughterhouse. Charging at it was not an attack – it was diving headfirst into a woodchipper.
“It might be impossible for normal people, but not for us. Because we have been thoroughly modified as Elites,” muttered Catherine under her breath.
In her opinion, the Manhattan crashing into them was a more fearsome attack than the cannons. But at the same time, that required the Manhattan to approach them. A normal person would be obliterated along with their boat, but that might change with an Elite’s thoroughly boosted muscles and reflexes. They would have a chance to jump onto the Manhattan’s coast just as their amphibious motorbikes were being destroyed.
Metal containers rained from the sky. Anything not fixed in place properly on the Manhattan would be thrown into the air by the inertial forces. Any one of those would be enough to kill them instantly.
Catherine heard a bubbling sound reminiscent of a fizzy drink. It came from the ocean below. The Manhattan may have used extremely small air bubbles to move its large size so quickly. Which would mean it was now close enough for those bubbles to reach them.
“…? Be careful. I sense some ‘eyes’. Rising rapidly from below!!”
Immediately after Putana’s shouted warning, the ocean surface parted and several spear-like weapons burst out. Were those high-tech torpedoes fired from the submerged portion of the Manhattan? It felt more like having a machinegun firing up at them from the ocean floor. Putana and Catherine barely managed to avoid them by twisting the handlebars to snake along in an S-shape, but that wasn’t the end of it. After shooting up to a height of 10m, the explosives inside the spears detonated them and they each scattered more than 800 small metal balls in every direction like a deadly umbrella.
“That’s just cruel!!” Catherine clenched her teeth.
These weren’t all being controlled by a complex AI. These were unmanned weapons controlled by simple circuitry that reproduced the movement of swarming insects through basic yes or no questions.
Still, they were nearly at the Manhattan’s wharf. After being exposed to so much danger for an extended period of time, their minds had to be such a mess of adrenaline and endorphins that their sense of pain wasn’t working properly, so they would have to check for injuries after arriving on land.
“I hope they don’t have a weapon that concentrates all the city’s exhaust gases and polluted water.”
Catherine suddenly realized Putana was looking a bit higher than straight ahead.
Puzzled, the younger girl looked in the same direction.
“S-so many ‘eyes’…”
At first, it looked like a sandstorm.
Or like a swarm of hornets covering the horizon.
But it was neither. That was the hundreds of thousands of drone weapons launched by the Manhattan. Each one was only the size of an open parasol, but with that many, they looked more like an Eastern dragon flying through the sky.
“There are too many ‘eyes’. We can’t avoid them all!!”
No plan or instructions could help them now.
The two girls were soon swallowed up by the swarm of light metal and silicon weapons.
“Oh, dear. This might be our worst mistake yet. I think we joined the wrong side of this fight,” said Alisa Martini Sweet inside their amphibious armored truck.
“B-but it’s too late to change sides now,” protested the ordinary young man, trembling.
“Oh, did that hurt, Alisa? S-sorry!!”
Everyone knew he couldn’t relax his grip while pale and trembling like that. Even the timid young man himself.
Alisa Martini Sweet’s right arm had been broken when the force of several simultaneous blasts had rocked the floating armored truck hard enough to slam her against the wall. This wasn’t a hospital and it had no real medical equipment, so they had made do by removing the extendible stock from a submachinegun and wrapping a bandage around that as a makeshift splint. For some reason she stubbornly refused to take the general-use painkiller used by the military (which was a lot stronger than the commercial variety).
The triplet was pale and sweating but also thinly smiling for some reason.
In fact, she had a string of drool dripping from her corner of her mouth.
“Yes, yes. Heh heh heh,” she laughed, breathing somewhat heavily. “A single broken arm is a small price to pay for all the attention it gets me. Too bad, Orsia and Rica. He’s mine today☆”
“Bff!? What is wrong with you?”
“Look, I can prop my boobs up on my arm sling. Behold the power of the biggest boobs in the family.”
“Again, what is wrong with you!? You’re just going to hurt your broken arm that way! A-anyway, no one likes someone who goes back on their word. We chose this path, so we just have to stick with it to the end!”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
Then Rica Martini Medium, who had her upper body sticking out of the hatch in the ceiling, gathered their attention by kicking the ladder she stood on.
“I’ve found her. The Legitimacy Kingdom Pilot Elite is floating in the ocean. Dunno if she’s alive or not, but we can still collect her and earn their favor.”
“(Medium, what if we turn her over to the Information Alliance as a gift instead?)”
“(Dry, don’t be ridiculous. An Elite without an Object is fairly worthless. The Manhattan 000 is too powerful, so she wouldn’t be much use in the fight anymore. And if she’s dead, she might not even be worth slicing open to study. …Besides, I seriously doubt our kind friend down there will agree to that kind of coldhearted negotiation.)”
That was a no then.
And they would get nothing if there was no one left to negotiate with, so they would have to continue resisting and protect everyone from the Manhattan 000’s deadly attacks.
They were willing to sacrifice their own lives, but they could not let that helpless and ordinary young man die.
For now, they had to retrieve that Pilot Elite.
The young man nervously tapped the control lever.
“U-um, should I bring us in closer?”
“She’d be reduced to mincemeat if the propeller caught her, so no. We’ll climb up top and find something to use as a net…or if we can’t find one, a long stick will do.”
On the triplets’ guidance, the young man climbed up onto the amphibious armored truck’s roof and noticed the occasional glimpse of a distinctive blue coloration between the waves.
But could they reach her from here?
She was too far to crouch down and reach by arm, but then Orsia Martini Dry handed him something.
“Here, use this.”
“A-an anti-materiel rifle!?”
“It’s a fishing rod☆ Or maybe a hand net? I say it’s 50/50 she’s alive or dead, but stretch out and reach the tip toward that Elite. You’re good at goldfish scooping, right? You always win it for us.”
That weapon could shoot down the more thinly-armored varieties of attack helicopter in a single shot, but this was about all it was good for in the fight against the Manhattan 000. The young man was left speechless by the overwhelming scale of it all, but he still took the anti-materiel rifle, crouched down, and reached it out toward the dark ocean.
Noticing something, the triplets exchanged a nod and then shoved him into the ocean.
He was confused until the end.
The three girls in love smiled thinly just before a blast from the Manhattan 000 mercilessly eliminated the armored truck floating in the ocean.
The Scarlet Princess, a 380m disguised cruiser, moved out.
Orders bordering on screams were exchanged as soldiers carrying repair materials rushed around to seal up the holes in the ship, but the damage had reached Leve 5 in four different locations and there wasn’t anything they could really do. And there were far more smaller holes. Even by the most generous estimate, the ship would be sunk in 15 minutes’ time. And they doubted the Manhattan 000 was gentlemanly enough to spare the helpless soldiers fleeing in lifeboats.
That left them with only one option.
Oh Ho Ho in the Gatling 033 was everything for Commander Lendy Farolito, but she gave a puzzled look to her fellow brain.
“You have no obligation to stick with us here.”
“Now that our Baby Magnum has been destroyed, the Rush is our greatest and only weapon left. Without it, we have no way of dealing effective damage to the Manhattan. And that would mean death for everyone in this battle.”
Frolaytia Capistrano relit her kiseru.
She may have meant this as a final smoke.
“Also, our true flagship is the one carrying Princess Staivia, so we can play the role of the privates pouring all our energy into achieving victory.”
“And your real reason?”
“The longer we keep its attention on us, the more chance someone has of collecting the Princess.”
Lendy Farolito and Frolaytia shared a smile.
War was best with a touch of personal interest mixed in.
So they both shouted their next command together.
The Manhattan did not even bother to dodge.
For one thing, its top speed was on par with other Objects, but it could not perform the nimble footwork necessary to avoid laser beams and railguns.
It tanked everything with its weight and thickness.
So it let the ship crash into it.
Frolaytia and Lendy had made the attack, but it was them who were tossed around inside their ship.
Frolaytia clenched her teeth and raised her voice after being slammed against the wall.
The ship was going to sink soon regardless, so they might as well do whatever they could in that time.
“Are we caught on its shore!? Then keep firing until we’re out of ammo. Aim for the Manhattan – where doesn’t matter. Target anything other than the cubes containing the civilians. Let’s show Melly how much ammo this ship still has in its belly. Fire!!!!!!”
They loaded more propellant than usual, so when all the ship’s guns fired simultaneously, its armor shutters bent and its bulletproof glass shattered.
The asphalt was torn up and dark soil was flung into the air.
But that was all.
The silver armor panels below that weren’t even scratched. How thick was that armor in all?
“The Capulet AI Network isn’t actually aboard the Manhattan. I don’t know where it really is, but we can cut off its commands by destroying the antenna facilities!!”
“And which ones are we supposed to destroy!? From the cellphone antenna base stations to the satellite TV antennas on house roofs, there are more than 10 million of them!!”
The Manhattan was both a weapon and a giant city. The operator looked back for her next instructions, but Frolaytia didn’t have anything for her.
The 380m Scarlet Princess broke free of gravity. The ship had run itself up onto the concrete wharf, so the Manhattan shook itself like a seesaw to fling the ship into the air. And while it looked like a cruise ship, it was actually a cruiser and had the weight to match.
There was no time to grab onto anything.
The Manhattan’s anti-air lasers and railguns struck the helpless target one after another, detonating it before it could even fall back into the ocean.
The sound of bending metal was loud enough to reach the cockpit protected by onion armor as thick as a nuclear shelter.
The Gatling 033’s right main cannon had just been torn away.
It had failed to fully avoid the incoming attacks.
And the Manhattan 000 wasn’t even fully focused on this fight. That had just been one of its hundreds of railguns. It wasn’t even like fighting with just one hand – it was more like fighting with just your little finger.
A single large keyboard surrounded the cockpit seat. It had multiple levels, like an Island Nation hina doll platform. But the Pilot Elite’s fingers had come to a stop.
She couldn’t even decide on a general course of action.
She had once used the manual interface to redirect the Capulet’s interest and take control away from the Manhattan 000, but that interface had already been closed by Melly Martini Extradry.
Now she was the one being overwhelmed.
A small girl with ringlets bit her lip in the cockpit nestled deep within the nuke-resistant Object.
She was the Information Alliance – no, the Together By Chance Pilot Elite, Oh Ho Ho.
(I still have the one main cannon left.)
The ringing of alarms was incessant.
The Gatling 033 was a unique Object that was automatically controlled by an AI while Oh Ho Ho’s manual commands corrected any minor errors. But with the Pilot Elite no longer typing, more and more severe errors continued to pile up inside the machine.
This wasn’t about any individual action. The AI was rejecting the entire operation.
The Juliet loaded in the Object had no way of defeating the Capulet that managed the entire Information Alliance.
(I need to at least get one good shot in!! I won’t be defeated without accomplishing anything!!)
Strong feelings were not enough to turn the tide of battle.
Multiple lines of fire intersected, all escape routes were cut off, and the Juliet’s many error messages combined to form what sounded like a scream.
Oh Ho Ho saw the white beam a moment later.
That it was visible meant the Gatling 033 had already taken critical damage and the spherical main body had been torn into a crescent moon shape.
Wreckage floated in a sea of blood.
Quenser clung to the air cushion landing craft in the intense storm.
Blinding lights, deafening booms, and powerful shockwaves surrounded him.
He had to cling to the landing craft to avoid being thrown out while it bounced between the waves.
Myonri was pale and fighting her own panic nearby.
Did calculating firing range even matter with that thing’s electromagnetically-launched reactor cannon? Quenser started having ridiculous fantasies about the reactors being launched into orbit where they circled the earth before falling back down on their target.
Was that sinking metal over there the remnants of a warship? Or of an Object?
But the ordinary fear didn’t reach Quenser’s mind.
He was too preoccupied by great confusion.
“What…is happening? Who was that that just got destroyed!? There’s too much going on to keep track!!”
“Dammit, we’ve got no Objects and no commander. So who’s even in control of this battle!?”
Their air cushion landing craft was still in one piece, but that could change at any moment.
When someone’s life was spared, it meant someone else’s life was being targeted. The instant the Manhattan 000’s attention turned to them, their fate was sealed.
“I think the time has come to reveal my hidden feelings for you, brother.”
“No! Don’t you doom us with that bullshit!! The little sister doesn’t get to give up before her brother does!”
The time finally came.
A transmission arrived at their radios. This told them all too well that she was focused on them.
“I’m not asking for a ceasefire. 152. I already gave you a chance and you refused.”
“If we don’t do anything, you’re the next rulers of the world. Then you can rewrite morality and the history books to say whatever it is you want. If we did surrender, we’d just be shot at some phony court martial. We only have two options here: die now or die later. Isn’t that right?”
“Did you forget already? 101. You’ll never die in the aquarium’s gelatin pool.”
“That’s a fate worse than death.”
Was this Melly speaking?
Was she only conveying the AI network’s thoughts?
Or had neither one chosen this and it was only the result of pitting their opinions against each other?
“Quenser, do you really think you arrived at the Island Nation all on your own? Even if the world war had created a lot of confusion and done severe damage to the satellites and communication networks – 435 – do you really think a group of 2000 deserters could make it all the way from Europe to the far end of Asia without being detected by any of the world powers’ ground radar bases or early warning radar aircraft?”
“You had a lot of silent cooperators who couldn’t actually join you but still questioned the world war enough to not pass the reports on to their superiors. They were in all four world powers and even in the blank zones. 301. Those hidden traitors are a lot harder to root out and a lot more dangerous than an open resistance force.”
“So we made the perfect bait to track them down?”
“We didn’t want to have to deal with counterattacks from all four world powers, so we gathered up all the heroes to kill them in one fell swoop. That way anyone who might think of joining you can’t. There will still be people out there with complaints, but they’re stuck now. 800. It’s perfect because we control even morality now. This will show everyone what happens if they try to assist some pipe dream of a resistance. You will lay the foundation for a new order. A new order ruled by the Information Alliance.”
“Azumaya has been eliminated from the Island Nation, but secret gatherings of agents from the four world powers can be held anywhere. Where will it be next? The Northern Restricted Zone? The Greater Canyon? 930. Anywhere that a historical taboo makes people excessively cautious can be remade into the magician’s table.”
“I don’t care what the Information Alliance wants. I want to know why you’re using the Manhattan this way.”
“Did you think I had gone berserk or something? I was born and raised to wage war like this. 850. Even my optimized mind has a part that hates war. I don’t have much of a response for you if you claim that’s just an error in the Martini Series, though.”
She made it sound so casual.
Was that how it felt once you had reached that level?
“There isn’t really anything we want to do after we end the world war and reign supreme. It’s just that we don’t see anyone else out there powerful enough to do this. 793. So we’re going to try and awkwardly balance the world on the one table leg left. As long as we can pull that off, what does it matter who’s in charge? So that doesn’t have to be a world power or even a human mind, does it?”
The world war would not end on its own.
No appeal to normalcy or ordinary values could defeat such a powerful enemy.
The only way to avoid tragedy would be to rely on the victor.
Morality wouldn’t even enter the picture. People wanted peace, no matter who they were ruled by. They would have no choice but to rely on the Manhattan 000 if they wanted to extinguish the flames of war burning across the globe.
This would make the perfect demonstration of that. Especially because she had shown up just in time to suppress Together By Chance’s mysterious attack on the Island Nation. She had increased the value of her target and now she was reaping the benefits.
“So, Quenser, if you don’t like the aquarium plan, don’t bother begging for your life. 759. The most I’ll listen to are some final words. What epitaph would you like for your tombstone?”
“Bend yourself into a pretzel and count the wrinkles of your asshole, you piece of shit.”
A mass of air pushed up from below as the Manhattan rushed in.
The air cushion landing craft took flight and was torn to pieces by the impact.
“What did I tell you?”
Tokyo Bay had become hell on earth.
The Manhattan 000 had destroyed everything there.
“Did you see that, everyone? You can say whatever you like, but you cannot overthrow our power.”
No one remained there.
“I’m here with our Top Word Headline. The gunfire in Buenos Aires will not stop! Th-this is known as an industrial city full of arsenals for Faith Organization Objects, but it looks like they worked to destroy any classified information we of the Information Alliance might have found during the attack! Whoa!? And that ‘classified information’ apparently included the scientists and technicians! Hey, Royce, not so fast!! You’ll get yourself killed!!”
“The Information Alliance says their space force has arrived among the lunar villas. We are working to confirm the authenticity of the video, but our experts say it is almost certainly legit. There are no national borders there, making it the last remaining location for peaceful talks between high-ranking members of the world powers, so this is even worse than the expense sheet would suggest.”
“The Information Alliance has just announced they will donate 50 billion dollars to support all war refugees. The charities are applauding their swift humanitarian action, but the rumor among the war journalists is the Information Alliance caused the lion’s share of the damage pushing those refugees from their homes.”
“The Legitimacy Kingdom has surrendered. The Excalibur protecting their home country of Paris has opened the way!! Look, everyone! You can already see several Information Alliance Objects approaching Paris. Is this the beginning of a new era? In one final attempt at peaceful resistance, a crowd carrying Legitimacy Kingdom flags has gathered around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.”
Shredded armor panels, leaking fuel, and bent pipes floated in the filthy ocean. Not even the lifeboats were spared on this immoral battlefield.
The ocean had grown eerily quiet.
Nothing remained to suggest anyone was alive out there.
Driftwood would gather near the mouth of a river after a typhoon. A similar phenomenon was happening here but with the wreckage of weapons. You could call it the graveyard of an army.
Something floated among it all.
It may have only avoided notice due to all the other wreckage clogging the sea.
It was an amphibious armored truck.
And the two idiots clung to it while shivering from the cold February seawater soaking them.
“This is goddamn insane! Thank god we were using a landing craft, thank god there was another vehicle inside it, and thank all the Faith Organization’s gods it was amphibious!!!!!”
“Heivia, are you angry or happy? Are you the kind of person who gets a boner when you’re exhausted?”
The sea swelled up nearby and a large black shape surfaced. Fortunately, it wasn’t a shark drawn by the scent of blood to feast upon the poor survivors.
“Whoa!? I-I think that’s a sub.”
Myonri clung for dear life to the armored truck as it nearly capsized.
The submarine hatch popped open and a princess’s voice called out to them.
“In here, everyone.”
But this wasn’t the Baby Magnum’s Pilot Elite. This was a real princess: Staivia Nikolaschka, heir to the Legitimacy Kingdom’s Nikolaschka Royal Family.
“Hurry. We don’t know when the Manhattan will detect this submarine. If that happens, we will lose our final sanctuary.”
“Come to think of it, I did see a few submarines in the fleet. I see. So this was our flagship,” said Azureyfear Winchell, equal parts exasperated and impressed.
No one on the ocean remained alive.
That much was true.
But the depths of the ocean were a different matter. Quenser, Heivia, Myonri, and Azureyfear boarded the submarine and the large metal craft slowly and silently sank back below the waves.
Quenser came across the Princess in the narrow corridor.
Their eyes met and then the short girl hugged him.
“Whoa!? U-um, Princess? This is a, uh, wonderful gift, but today isn’t my birthday!”
He was about to say more but fell silent when he noticed she was trembling.
She may have been sobbing and crying in his arms.
He sighed and placed a hand on the back of her head to gently hold her close. That way he could prove he really was alive and not just a phantom created by the Ghost Changer.
For once, Heivia didn’t tease him.
Princess Staivia must not have witnessed scenes like this much because she was blushing and unsure how to react.
Red lights illuminated the submarine’s interior. The entire place was filled with an air of caution, like they had to tread lightly or the enemy would hear their footsteps.
Once at the combat information center, they found a small girl with ringlets and a grumpy look.
She was the Information Alliance’s Oh Ho Ho.
Heivia’s eyes widened when he noticed how short she was.
“Wait, what? Eh? You’re the G-cup idol? No, wait, is this what it feels like to have your dreams come crashing down around you!? In what world is that G!? Does the alphabet go in a different order in the Information Alliance!?”
“Oh ho ho. This is top secret.”
“She’s not kidding, by the way. Tell anyone about this and I will send an assassination team after you. You could hide on the dark side of the moon and they would track you down and kill you.”
Oh Ho Ho threatened him like a puppy having its food bowl snatched away before its eyes, but Heivia was much more terrified by the comment from Lendy Farolito who dried Oh Ho Ho’s hair with a towel and then hugged her from behind while nuzzling her cheek against her. Picking a fight with someone who spoke of killing in such a systemized way was never a good idea.
Quenser breathed an exasperated sigh.
“Are you trying to get us killed, Heivia? This is a submarine. If you want to say anything more than three lines long, then do it in writing.”
Everyone was soaking wet and wrapped in bandages, but Quenser noted many familiar faces. Putana and Myonri were there, a girl who was apparently a Capitalist Corporations ace pilot and Burning Alpha, aka Staccato Raylong, were sharing some Island Nation cup noodles, the Martini Series was represented by Wraithy and the triplets, and the Battlefield Cleanup Service and Karen ensured a strong maid presence. Princess Staivia was surrounded by the Unicorns and her servant Mikfa.
Alfonso Zoom, captain of the disguised cruiser, trembled while hugging his twin Black Uniform daughters.
“You’re overreacting, dad. What example does it set when you’re in here crying?”
“Did you really think your daughters would die that easily?”
“I am not overreacting. If…if something were to happen to either of you – ha ha – your mother would kill me!!”
The busty silver-haired commander called over to Quenser while smoking her kiseru inside the enclosed submarine (which earned her a pair of nasty looks from Sarasa and Charlotte).
“I see you missed out on a hero’s death too, Quenser.”
“This isn’t over yet, is it? We can’t let the Manhattan have its way.”
Elise Montana was staring at a clipboard while performing some kind of paperwork. Quenser regretted the casual glance he stole at the document. The military instructor was making a list of everyone who had died.
How many submarines were there in all?
He also doubted they had managed to rescue everyone who had been stranded out in the ocean. Plus, with a collection of people from different militaries, they didn’t have a unified dog tag format to confirm people’s status. That meant the list was only an estimate, but it looked like over half of Together By Chance had lost their lives.
Melly Martini Extradry had said anyone captured alive would be displayed in a gelatin pool at the aquarium and anyone killed would be dried and displayed in a museum. But in the end, that choice was mostly meaningless. A lot of the soldiers would have been vaporized, leaving less than a hair behind.
There was no morality here. They were being killed as no more than a demonstration.
The old maintenance lady operated an instrument to display an image of the Manhattan on the LCD table in the center of the combat information center. Mariydi Whitewitch then tossed a few aerial photographs on top of that.
“I don’t think it uses ordinary high-voltage lines for its primary power conduits. It uses dream pipes. Basically, liquid is passed through metal pipes given a special vibration to convey the reactor’s heat at 100 times the conductivity of copper. The heat is then converted to steam, electricity, or whatever form of energy is most convenient by the terminal sector or weapon.”
“So you could see the heat distribution? Come to think of it, Melly said last time that an ordinary machine or animal couldn’t support something as big as the Manhattan, so it was better to base the design on plants, since their design can support some crazy big trees. And plant cells can move too, like with a Venus flytrap. I’ve heard they use the turgor pressure of a special solution for that.”
“It’s using NMR, the same method as a quantum computer that uses a special liquid,” added young Wraith. “That cowardly exhibitionist once told me the stuff is inside the Manhattan, her swim ring, and her own blood. I believe it doubles as a countermeasure against the Anastasia Processor, which is a giant DNA computer. I see. Sending the heat through a liquid would be a better fit than using light or electrons.”
That was fascinating information for a prospective engineer, but that wasn’t what they needed to know right now.
“Does this pipe layout tell us where the reactors are?” cautiously asked Quenser.
“Sir, this lets us estimate they have more than 20 in regular use,” responded Wydine Uptown, the fake maid from the Battlefield Cleanup Service. “But the total amount is unknown. It does use them as projectiles, after all. It may be able to connect and disconnect them at will based on energy consumption rates.”
“In other words.” Lendy Farolito shrugged. “We might not cause any real damage if we blow one up. With that many spares, we need to assume it can replace any damaged reactors.”
A short but heavy silence fell over the combat information center.
Destroying the reactor was the simplest and most effective way to destroy an Object, but not even that was a sure thing against the Manhattan 000. If they played their cards wrong, they would be the ones destroyed by that thing’s powerful cannons. It was unlikely they could survive that a second or third time. Their next failure would mean their deaths.
“Let’s assume destroying the reactors isn’t realistic.” Lendy paused to think. “Where in the world is the Capulet AI Network that controls the Manhattan 000? Our girl can’t make a cyber attack thanks to Melly’s interference, but what if we used physical jamming to cut off communications?”
“If that was enough to stop it, it wouldn’t be remotely controlled. It has more than ten million antennas in all. And remember, that only counts the antennas we can see. It can also use IR and ultrasound, so I seriously doubt we could cut off all forms of communication. It might also break through our jamming with brute force. A special short-wave transmitter can reach more than 3000km, so we can’t physically jam everything even if we did take out all of the Information Alliance’s military and civilian satellites.”
Just as Frolaytia carefully laid out the problems with that plan, they heard a low rumbling sound.
It was a bubbling sound similar to a fizzy drink or something dissolving in acid.
(Air bubbles? Is that the Manhattan!?)
Quenser felt a great force pushing to the right as the submarine itself was swept sideways. His feet nearly left the floor, slamming him against the wall, but he managed to grab onto a nearby table for support.
He reflexively let go of the table to catch the Princess when she flew toward him, so his own feet left the floor in violation of earth’s gravity. Both of them hit the nearby wall.
The chill down his spine was greater than the pain.
Everyone held their breath and looked to the ceiling…but there was no response.
“What?” Heivia said nervously. “Was that the Manhattan? I don’t see what else could have missed all the noise we made.”
“It does make a lot of noise itself with all the small air bubbles surrounding it,” said the old maintenance lady. “Any underwater sounds are probably impossible to make out over its own.”
The submarine had only lost control because the Manhattan had stirred up the ocean water so much it created an unnatural current. Submarines were supposed to be easier to control since things were calmer underwater than on the wavy surface, but that didn’t apply here. This cold and violent sea was ruled by irregular currents and whirlpools, so it was more difficult to navigate than traveling on land during a typhoon. The interference with the currents might even be digging up the sand on the ocean floor.
None of them dared look away from the ceiling.
“I-I think it passed us by,” said Myonri, pale in the face.
The Manhattan had no specialized listening devices. Quenser understood that, but he still had to gulp and force down the instinctual fear making him hold the Princess like a small child holding a stuffed animal.
“Could we learn anything from viewing it from the rear? For one thing, how does it move all that weight through the ocean?”
“With waterjets larger than the Hoover Dam’s water release ports,” calmly explained Frolaytia. “We can see 32 of them from here. Impossible to know if it has anything else up its sleeve there, but each of those provides enough water pressure to slice through this submarine like a sausage.”
Quenser finally paled.
How many tons of water did that monster output every second?
Coolheaded Mariydi sighed.
“Targeting those water release ports with torpedoes isn’t realistic. There’s a better chance of getting some mines sucked into the water intake, but it’s still extremely unlikely to do any good. I doubt we can even scratch that thing unless this sub is loaded with at least a 3megaton nuke and no one told me.”
The Manhattan 000 was 20km long.
But it wasn’t using magic to move around. Science was science. It operated on a logic anyone could understand. And if it obeyed the laws of physics, it had to be possible for the laws of physics to take it down. For that matter, its absurd size would place an equally absurd burden on it.
It was a purely naval Object.
It had no way of traveling on land, but that meant it had some reason to fear a collision with land.
Lendy placed a hand on her chin.
“Could we find some way of sliding the entire Manhattan 000 so it hits the land?”
“We could also have it pass over a reef it failed to notice,” said Mariydi.
Quenser didn’t think either option was realistic. But the line of discussion made him realize something odd.
“The Manhattan 000 stopped at the south end of Tokyo Bay to cut off our escape.”
“What about it, Quenser?”
The Princess tilted her head in his arms.
He chose his words carefully.
“Why did it stay in the south?”
That was it.
Once he said it out loud, he felt like he had gained a solid grasp of what felt wrong to him.
“It didn’t need to cut off our escape if it was just going to slaughter us all. This would have ended more quickly if it had continued north and attacked us further inside Tokyo Bay.”
“Why would it bother?” asked Heivia. “Tokyo Bay is closed off in a C-shape, so whether it continues north to Tokyo or stays out there at Kanagawa, we still can’t escape.”
“Are you sure about that? At the time, we had made it all the way to Shinjuku. And the Rush is an amphibious air cushion Object that doesn’t need to change floats, so it could have escaped over the land. If its goal was slaughtering us all, then staying down south was a risky move. Frolaytia and the others could have abandoned their ship and fled onto land to save their skins. Not to mention Ice Girl 1, Burning Alpha, and the other pilots in the air. Tokyo Bay isn’t a dead end. Chiba and Kanagawa are right there and we could have continued along the land to Chubu or even Kansai. We could have acquired more ships or planes later. We had the entire Island Nation to escape to. And if we hid in the urban areas or underground, we might have been able to escape its sensors.”
“And yet…Melly stayed put?” said Wraith, a fellow Martini Series, with a frown.
“Let’s not forget it decided to stay in the Kanagawa area near Yokosuka. That’s on the southern end of the Uraga Channel. That thing’s a naval Object, so it can’t afford to bump into land.”
“Yet it decided to approach land while it waited?” asked Mariydi Whitewitch.
“It’s big, but not too big to fit through the Uraga Channel. If it had continued north, Tokyo Bay would have widened around it, yet it decided to stay put instead. That’s a dangerous area of ocean with those artillery islands and everything, but we don’t have the kind of firepower needed to concern the Manhattan.”
There had to be something to the terrain there.
Quenser pressed his palm against the LCD table to display a map of Kantou. They didn’t know all of the Island Nation’s secrets, but they did know where all the mountains, rivers, and other basic terrain features were.
Something about that caught his attention.
“It’s the rivers.”
“Explain what you mean, Quenser.”
Encouraged by his commander’s wonderful command, Quenser continued with his thoughts.
“Several rivers exit into the northern end of Tokyo Bay. Far more than the southern end in the Kanagawa area.”
“You aren’t going to tell me this naval Object can’t handle freshwater, are you? Even salmon and eels have figured that one out,” joked Heivia.
“Close but not quite.”
Heivia seemed taken aback his joke had received such a serious response.
“The area where seawater and freshwater mix is known as brackish water. The Edo, Tama, Ara, Kanda, and a lot more rivers join at the far end of Tokyo Bay. Do you get what that means, Heivia? Near the river mouths, all their waters mix together, creating an invisible marble pattern of salinity. That’s what the Manhattan 000 is afraid of. Not seawater and not freshwater, but the labyrinthine mixture of the two.”
The old maintenance lady gave a gasp of realization.
“The seawater must create an unbelievable amount of resistance against something so big,” she said. “Never underestimate the power of water and waves. Almost any ship is exposed to wave making resistance, frictional resistance, and viscous pressure resistance and the struggle between buoyancy and gravity creates a shear force capable of slicing right through the ship. It’s enough that a faulty design or an unbalanced cargo load can lead to a large warship or transport ship being sliced in two.”
“Right. And at 20km, the viscosity, roughness, and other conditions of the seawater hitting it have to be quite different. It can’t afford to have freshwater hitting it at one point and seawater at another. If too much pressure grows at one point with higher viscosity, the Manhattan 000 could tear itself apart with its own power. Spreading air bubbles through the ocean to reduce the pressure isn’t enough to fully prevent that. Really, it’s crazy to ignore all the laws of shipbuilding by moving something that big so quickly.”
“B-but.” Heivia was being unusually hesitant, perhaps because they were talking about the world’s largest Object. “There’s basically a giant storm up on the surface thanks to the Manhattan moving around so much. If it’s afraid of freshwater, would it really send rain pouring down into the ocean?”
“It’s not an issue if it’s evenly distributed. And a small amount isn’t enough to cause problems. What matters is when the difference in salinity is so great it creates a clear fault line. So the problem is permanent river mouths, not temporary rainfall.”
“Are you saying it’s staying near the entrance to Tokyo Bay to reduce the risk of the many rivers tearing it apart?” asked Lendy Farolito.
“Oh ho ho. Then if we could somehow lure it into brackish waters…” continued Oh Ho Ho with a towel over her head.
“It doesn’t need to be salt. Anything that creates a fault line in the ocean will work.”
Everyone’s head sprang up.
Something had occurred to them.
Tokyo Bay was filthy. Very filthy at the moment thanks to all the Together By Chance ships, weapons, fuel, and more strewn about.
There had to be a lot of their fellow soldiers who they hadn’t been able to collect.
But that ocean of death was also their final opportunity.
“That said, salinity alone might not be enough to deal a deadly blow to the Manhattan 000.”
Quenser kept a cautious tone and Myonri nodded quietly.
“Yes, because its original location in New York was situated between the Hudson and East rivers.”
“My guess is it can move slowly without issue. And it has those air bubbles. So to do enough damage that it destroys itself, we need to make it move at full speed.”
Quenser paused for a beat.
They had an effective plan.
This should have been heroic and moving, but the actual strategy was something out of a nightmare.
“That means we need someone to head back up onto that dangerous ocean and create a diversion. Since we have no effective means of striking back at it, we’re talking about a suicide mission. I need to be in the lead waving the tiny flag to guide it, so I’m in. But what about the rest of you? If you can think of anyone you don’t want to leave behind – a family member, a lover, a parent, a teacher, your favorite girl down at the brothel, or even your pet cat – then don’t feel any shame about backing out.”
No one even glanced toward the exit.
They all raised their hand without a second thought.
Not just the foot soldiers, but the Pilot Elites like the Princess and Oh Ho Ho, the commanders like Frolaytia, Wraith, and Lendy, the pilots without planes like Mariydi and Staccato, and even the old maintenance lady. Princess Staivia was mostly here for political reasons, but even she started to hesitantly raise her hand until her maid Mikfa reached over and stopped her. The Unicorns tried to suppress their inappropriate laughter.
This was Together By Chance.
These were the people who had decided to ignore affiliation and rank to work together toward ending the world war as quickly as possible and bring back their ridiculous everyday lives. None of them was going to get cold feet now that they finally had a real chance against the Manhattan 000. They had all dreamed of this moment and the look in their eyes said they weren’t going to have it taken from them now.
“Heh. Does no one here have any sense?” muttered Quenser under his breath.
“Don’t forget you’re one of us,” replied Heivia.
They were all ready to go.
So the two of them only exchanged a few words in the submarine passageway. But the density of the feelings packed into those words was another matter.
“Once this is over, you need to think of a return gift for me.”
“Th-the old lady told me what a Valentines gift means in the Island Nation, you know!? Why didn’t you tell me!?”
“Heh heh heh. You already ate it, so it’s too late now.”
They had no guarantee there would be a next time.
Death might finally catch up to them this time.
But they couldn’t stop now.
“Let’s end this world war.”
“Yeah, it’s high time we won this.”
Once they were ready to go, they left through the torpedo tubes.
“You’d think we would be done with strange new equipment at this point,” said Quenser.
“Hey, it beats being short on supplies during battle,” replied Heivia over the radio. “And now we just pray these things don’t malfunction and sink to the bottom of the ocean.”
Each of them was contained inside a long cylinder that resembled a torpedo made of the thick synthetic material used for sandbags.
But these were not torpedoes.
The power of gas propelled them out and the cylinder came apart once it arrived at a specific coordinate. The “bag” rolled up like a big cigar then inflated like an airbag, transforming into a rubber motorboat. Then its buoyancy carried it upwards.
The ocean surface smelled somehow oily, perhaps a remnant of the resource mining.
The student removed the mask from his face.
The rain had already stopped, perhaps because the massive storm had been artificially created by the electromagnetically-launched reactor cannon.
The process wasn’t perfect, so a lot of soldiers ended up flailing in the water.
“Geh! That cutesy act is just plain creepy coming from you!! Oh ho ho. You never act that way around me!!”
Quenser started by retrieving the Princess and Oh Ho Ho who were already arguing about something.
“I…sob, I so wanted to fight alongside that girl…”
“Why is there a cursed voice coming from my radio? Assuming the Manhattan 000 isn’t equipped with the Ghost Changer, that must be Lendy!”
He also helped Putana, Myonri, and Mariydi into his boat when he found them holding onto some scrap materials floating in the ocean nearby.
Heivia piloted his own empty motorboat over to them.
“Why do you get the paradise boat!?” shouted the jealous boy. “How do you even end up with a harem full of Elites!? It’s not fair!!”
“Not that it matters, but aren’t you engaged? And I’d pay more attention to the murderous looks coming from the boat over there, if I were you.”
The approaching murder boat happened to contain both the Vanderbilt daughter and the Winchell sister. The sparks flying from their eyes were something else. Even Eyepatch Maid Karen looked intimidated seated between them.
Meanwhile, the Princess and Oh Ho Ho continued their argument.
“Little one, the seat next to Quenser belongs to me.”
“Oh ho ho. Someone who has finished growing and someone who has only begun to grow are two very different things. The possibility of G still lies within me.”
“Does it now? And what does that G stand for? Gross? Enjoy growing up to be a roach, I guess.”
“Bfff!? M-my hair is not black and it does not stick up like antennas!!”
The boat rocked hard and Oh Ho Ho chose not to fight her momentum, landing squarely in Quenser’s lap and kicking her legs excitedly.
“What was that you said about cutesy acts being creepy?” murmured the Princess.
At any rate, it was time to take action.
A lovely voice rang through the submarine’s combat information center.
It was a nervous but firm voice.
“I-I protest this special treatment. Everyone is risking their lives up on the surface to preserve world peace and create a kinder future, so surely there is something I can do too.”
“Princess Staivia, this submarine is only effective while hidden. A flagship should avoid drawing attention to itself. Your job now is to let them do their jobs and ensure they have this submarine to return to once they are done.”
Princess Staivia and Maid Mikfa were arguing. The Unicorns simply watched in amusement. They were outlaws through and through, so they did less than was perhaps wise to keep her out of danger.
“Surfacing would be meaningless if we were blown away moments later,” said Frolaytia Capistrano with an exasperated look toward the sheltered princess.
“Then why don’t you head up there like the bored Martini Series girls did? I’m sure a commander would gather the Manhattan 000’s attention and be designated a priority target. You might be able to keep your people alive for the length of one shot. Personally, I prefer to support them with intellectual work.”
Frolaytia was not about to respond to Lendy Farolito’s provocation.
(The surface has to be covered in wreckage from Together By Chance ships. If we could locate and detonate the missiles and torpedoes, it might function as a diversion.)
That thought was cut short by someone marching across the combat information center with her gorgeous doll-like dress fluttering around her legs.
It was Princess Staivia Nikolaschka.
She squeezed her eyes shut and poked her index finger against a red button.
She followed the procedure whispered to her by one of the Unicorns obeying their princess’s request.
The button in question was the release and launch button for the vertical missile launch tubes.
Several somethings erupted from the dark ocean surface.
Once 5m above the water, the rocket boosters ignited and they flew just off the surface.
They were anti-ship missiles launched from a submarine.
They would surely be shot down in a storm of anti-air laser beams from the Manhattan 000, but the blasts and beams and would briefly hide Quenser’s group down on the surface.
The noise hurt their eardrums, but it was better than nothing.
Feeling some small level of protection, Quenser’s group began to move.
The Manhattan 000 was 20km long. It was the ultimate weapon that not even an army of ordinary Objects could damage, but they needed to scare it into moving. Firing bullets from rubber boats wasn’t going to scare it or even concern it.
“We use the fuel spread out on the ocean.” Quenser gave instructions over his radio while Mariydi operated the motor that doubled as a rudder. “Now, a fire can’t actually harm the Manhattan 000 itself, but what about Melly onboard it? The situation shouldn’t be much different between being on a boat and being on the Manhattan. If we set fire to the fuel and the wind carries the smoke over, it’ll smoke her to death. Keep it up until she can’t escape it! She’s an ordinary human herself, so she’ll have to take it seriously!!”
“Sounds great, Quenser!” said Heivia over the radio. “Quick question though: what if Melly enters a shielded cockpit below New York? I’m finding it hard to believe ordinary smoke could be a problem for a nuke-resistant Object!!”
“That won’t happen. It’s why she never throws a reactor into the same area of ocean as herself,” replied Quenser. “She isn’t sending instructions from the other side of the world – she’s on the Manhattan itself. That means she believes it’s more efficient to include herself in the mix instead of going with the safest and most optimal settings. So there’s no way she’ll go hide in a cockpit, as sensible as that might be. She’ll do something definitely not recommended by the manual you can access by scanning the QR code.”
The roar of flames consuming oxygen erupted from several directions at once.
They only had to chuck lit smoke bombs into the filthy ocean. The Manhattan 000 moved quickly in response, but then it noticed something. The entire Object rumbled and it didn’t fire a single shot. It could manipulate the air currents to protect the city from its own movements, but that wasn’t perfect.
Melly could not ignore the smoke. She herself had concentrated the metropolis’s exhaust gasses and polluted water and reused it as a weapon for the drones.
“She understands firing on the ocean could ignite even more of the fuel. But that means she’s going to try and crash into us instead of firing. Make sure to dodge it!!”
First, the entire Manhattan moved side to side, creating waves more than 30m tall. When those waves were covered in sticky fuel fires, they could be seen as weapons of war.
But that was only a feint.
The Manhattan 000 itself broke through that wall of seawater and fire to directly crash into the foolish flies buzzing around the ocean surface nearby. The fizzy sound of air bubbles was the approaching footsteps of death.
A single hit from this attack could tear a cruiser to pieces in midair.
Inertia sent containers tumbling away and glass poured down much too close for comfort.
But the light weight of the rubber boats paid off here. They responded very differently from a landing craft large enough to carry a tank and a cruiser large enough to be a threat to pirates.
The V-shaped split of the ocean would always arrive sooner than the Manhattan itself. By guiding the boats up onto the waves while being very careful not to capsize, they could avoid the Manhattan. Its own movements were enough to create large waves, dig up sand from the ocean floor, and otherwise influence the currents themselves. Surfing the waves it produced let them move faster than the boat’s motor ever could.
It was like how a thin bar of soap in the bathtub would seem to flee your hand with a mind of its own when you reached out toward it from the water.
No matter how close the giant got, its colossal hand could never reach the leaves being tossed about by the seawater.
It must have lost its temper because the night sky began to move.
No, that was the swarm of drones released by the Manhattan.
“Frank!!” shouted Wraith from a nearby boat.
The weapon the taciturn young man repeatedly fired diagonally upwards appeared to be a grenade launcher. Instead of targeting individual points, he was filling the entire space with explosions to take out as many drones as possible. Clustering together proved to be a mistake because they kept colliding with the wreckage of another one, creating a domino effect.
But they couldn’t ignore the wall of black smoke created by the drones’ destruction. Melly had increased their killing power by concentrating the city’s exhaust gasses and wastewater.
“Now we are even. The rest is up to you, well prepared yet habitually late potatoes!!”
The Stopgap Grim Reaper waved over before directing her boat away. She was luring as many of the drones away as she could to give the rest of them a chance to act.
Something exploded nearby.
But this wasn’t the Manhattan 000’s doing. Some unexploded ordnance among the wreckage must have gone off.
Quenser felt dizzy.
After pushing the Princess down and shielding her with his body, he felt something sticky on his forehead. Given how pale Catherine got when she saw him, he guessed it wasn’t just a scratch.
“Ow…I can check a mirror later. We need to focus on the Manhattan right now!!”
The enormous Manhattan continued to pursue them.
There had to be similar explosives floating all over the ocean here.
One wrong move and they would be blown away before they could do anything.
“Oh Ho Ho!! And Catherine too!!”
“That still isn’t enough weight. …Putana, you come here too!! If you don’t all move to one side, the boat will capsize!!”
“I don’t like the indecent way you’re grabbing me, teacher.”
They waited some more and then Quenser threw some Hand Axe into the dark ocean.
He was increasing the density of smoke. Melly Martini Extradry had to be breathing in that same smoke. And the more she panicked, the more intent the Manhattan 000 would be on pursuing the pesky flies. They didn’t need to fear its wrath or hostility. If they didn’t do anything, it would kill them as part of a streamlined process. The only thing they earned by not drawing that girl’s attention to them was an inevitable death.
They had to take this seriously.
They had to keep moving with enough speed.
The ocean was covered in the oil they were setting alight as well as destroyed armor panels and metal pipes. A large enough difference in water quality would create a fault line. The Manhattan 000 would be unable to withstand the intense pressure as it parted the water and it would tear itself apart.
A deep groan reverberated across Tokyo Bay.
“It’s working!! I can hear the bastard’s frame screaming!!”
Heivia’s voice over the radio was interrupted by some static.
Someone bloodthirsty was interrupting. This member of the Martini Series didn’t seem to have any major desires, but she never did hold back in a battle.
The student clicked his tongue at being called out by name.
“159, 083. I will remember you. It will be a very, very vivid memory. Even if the optimal move calculated out by the AI network is to crush your body into a paste.”
Death had pointed its finger his way.
The Manhattan pushed through the great burden on itself to continue forward. That weapon and metropolis was definitely targeting him personally. He noted the warmth of the girls he was holding at one end of the boat to keep its balance.
Myonri, Putana, Catherine, Mariydi, Oh Ho Ho, and the Princess.
He could not let them die.
And they were just about to cross paths with Heivia’s boat.
(Dammit, time to get a little adventurous!!)
“What the hell, Quenser!?”
He jumped alone over to Heivia’s boat because he knew that would direct the Manhattan 000’s attention away from the girls’ boat.
Its primary target had to be him as he stuck a fuse into a plastic explosive.
“Over here, Melly!! Let’s settle this, why don’t we!?”
“Why am I always the one you drag into danger for no reason!?”
He had given the girls some safety, but Mariydi appeared to be attempting to pilot their boat back this way. However, she wasn’t likely to succeed with all the wreckage floating in the ocean.
She used her radio to contact him instead.
“This isn’t good. It’s making a lot of noise before this does any real damage. If she notices something is up, she’ll get cautious!! We can’t expect a fatal blow if she slows down now!!”
If Melly didn’t take the bait, they were doomed. They had no other plan. They were all out of options if the Manhattan 000 rationally came to a stop and ignored the ocean fires to focus on shooting them instead. And its very first target would be Quenser (along with surprise guest Heivia).
Melly just had to be willing to breath in some smoke.
In fact, the Manhattan 000 could win at any time as long as Capulet decided to break free of the Martini Series in charge of New York security.
“Hee hee. Quenser…”
“So you’re attacking using the invisible fault line created by a large enough salinity difference? 352. An interesting plan, to be sure. Capulet was so worried about this she rewrote her commands to keep us at the southern end of the bay. But I nixed that. Your tricks are meaningless once I know what they are, so is this the end of the line for you?”
He couldn’t answer her.
The Hand Axe he held meant nothing now. He indeed couldn’t think of any other way of dealing significant damage to the Manhattan 000. That was the largest and most powerful Object, measuring 20km long. Using its own power against it was the only real way to attack it.
And now that it had stopped, that power was no longer available.
“So let’s end this already. 119. If I blow away that entire area with my electromagnetically-launched reactor cannon, I can eliminate even the fire burning on the ocean. 693, 700, 101.”
Quenser heard a straining sound.
And on the other boat that pulled up alongside his, the Princess looked straight up in confusion.
There was an unusually shaped cloud in the sky.
Something was straining.
The deep rumbling was incessant.
However, it was not the sound of the Manhattan 000 slowly turning its enormous cannon their way.
Thinking back, wasn’t this how the world war had begun in the first place?
Report #380091A (Urgent)
Report from 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion Commander Major Frolaytia Capistrano.
A ground survey using our Baby Magnum matches the predictions made by our electronic simulation division. The following concerns have been proven valid:
The reverberation seemed to directly shake space itself as it grew lower, heavier, deeper.
Tokyo Bay was a lot deeper than any of them thought.
- The continual rapid movement of Objects weighing as much as 200 thousand tons has placed the earth’s crust under severe stress.
- The limit depends on the specific amount of energy built up in the local geography and plates, but once that limit is reached, it could trigger massive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Needless to say, the Island Nation was located in one of the most earthquake-prone and volcanically active areas of the world.
What would happen if a colossal Object were operated in that delicate region?
They had already discussed exactly that issue.
Remotely triggered earthquakes are a known phenomenon. The Hoover Dam located in Western America’s Central Valley District has in fact caused earthquakes from all its gathered water placing an abnormal burden on the plate there. And unlike an artificial earthquake caused by directly shaking the ground with explosives, the time, location, and scope of these are impossible to predict until the moment they occur.
This Object was 20km long.
The stress it applied to the tectonic plates had to be many times that of an ordinary 50m Object.
This one was colossal even for an Object.
So couldn’t the Manhattan 000 alone create the kind of situation that normally required several Objects?
The Manhattan was not just the size of a giant ship or megafloat. It didn’t just create large waves on the surface; it affected the ocean currents so much it dug up the sand on the ocean floor. When it moved side to side to create waves and repeatedly crashed into its enemies, it affected the stress on the ocean floor – sometimes adding to it and sometimes reducing it.
The cup was already so full of water that surface tension was only barely holding it in and the Manhattan 000 had to count as more than just one drop.
That means the local residents cannot be evacuated in advance of an earthquake caused by an Object’s effects on the plates. It is even possible the Objects fighting in a battlefield country could affect a safe country on the other side of the planet.
Several major earthquakes in Legitimacy Kingdom territory were likely caused by Objects, including the Volga District Earthquake that triggered the Great Moscow Fire which led to more than 30 thousand deaths 8 years ago and the Braganca Coast Earthquake Swarm in the Amazon District that devastated more 250 thousand homes in four different cities. Include the other world powers and the numbers suggest 15.5% of the Magnitude 5 or higher earthquakes in the past 20 years were caused by Objects. If this is correct, the resultant loss of life is more than 190 thousand and the monetary damage is incalculable.
The ocean floor exploded.
Lava erupted from below, striking the Manhattan 000 up on the surface.
Steam exploded all around them.
“Whoa!!” shouted Quenser while clinging to the edge of the rubber boat that was threatening to flip over.
The area felt as hot as a sauna.
In the boat alongside his, Mariydi clenched her teeth and worked the rudder attached to the motor to avoid something.
“Hey, Quenser! Is this what I think it is!?” asked Heivia.
“It is. We saw this same disaster in the Hawaii District.”
Orange and black.
The lava erupting from the ocean floor rapidly cooled and hardened in the February ocean. The end result felt very different from being pursued by a scorching liquid like that found in a blast furnace.
Rough, black land visibly grew before their eyes.
The fizzy bubbling had stopped.
There simply wasn’t any ocean water here for the air bubbles to exist in.
All 20km of the Manhattan 000 had been pulled out of the sea. Almost like it was being lifted by the world’s biggest jack.
It could no longer move.
It shifted diagonally with a deafening groan. The lava land wasn’t flat, but the Manhattan was shaped like a single flat panel. The pressure grew as it bent like a fishing rod held out straight with a weight attached to the end. The straining and cracking sounds continued without end.
Frolaytia and Lendy’s voices arrived over the radio.
Sending a transmission from the submarine should have been suicide because it would give away their position, so this meant they had decided it was safe to use the radio again.
“Its bend rate has passed 30%! We did it!! The shear force has passed the limit!!”
“That means it’s going to perform a bridge and then break. Our sonar officer has already detected more than 12 thousand snapping sounds. Its internal structure must already be broken beyond repair.”
The Manhattan 000 reached its limit.
When it broke, it sounded more like a thick eraser than metal.
Quenser heard a dull snapping sound and then saw it break in two like a giant wafer.
“Ah ha ha.”
He couldn’t make out whatever she tried to say in that final moment.
They had said before that the Manhattan 000 carried around a massive amount of energy to keep something so large moving.
The break had either hit a major power conduit or just taken out a reactor because a pure white explosion erupted from within.
And that wasn’t the end of it.
The other reactors began exploding too, creating a single colossal blast.
Just before it blinded him, Quenser thought he saw a giant flame burst skyward from one half of the broken Manhattan.
Maybe he had only imagined it.
But when his senses returned to him after 30 seconds or maybe longer, the Manhattan was no longer there. The Manhattan must have thrown them into the ocean before it exploded because the many cubes containing the innocent civilians floated in the ocean alongside the dark cooled lava land.
“I hope she’s found herself in a better place. Like a world without war,” muttered Quenser.
Yes. The Manhattan 000 had always had just the one weakness.
It was an exclusively naval Object, so it could not move on land. It couldn’t remain intact on land, so it had to avoid running into it at all costs.
The island looked like a perfectly ordinary desert island.
Its only features were a palm tree and a broken refrigerator the waves must have washed in from somewhere.
A small amphibious motorbike approached that island that had a strong connection to the Bermuda Triangle legend. Quenser Barbotage set foot on the empty beach.
A monotone beep sounded from his mobile device.
A voiceless machine had sent him a message using an artificial voice.
“So we meet again, you easily tempted boy.”
“So we do, Capulet.”
The Manhattan 000 had been 20km long, but it had not contained the AI’s supercomputer. Quenser viewed the box half buried in sand when he said Capulet, but that massive AI network may not have been identifiable as any individual device.
But that didn’t mean it had no weak point.
This was the Information Alliance’s Achilles heel.
That box disguised as a broken refrigerator was the one and only breaker intentionally created to provide a way to manually shut down the entire AI network. Was its existence a sign that humanity still had some sense back then, or was it an embarrassing compromise showing they still hadn’t been willing to eliminate their own self-importance? The boy had no way of knowing as someone looking in on the Information Alliance from the outside.
Only Quenser and one other person knew of this place.
Or at least they were the only ones who had refused to have their name erased from the world in exchange for the great reward of Capulet’s lifelong protection.
“I’m here to end this.”
“I am aware.”
The refrigerator had no wheels or weapons, but the AI remained calm in front of its assassin.
It was meant to prove that even a machine could control the world, so there was no point in giving special privileges to kings and company presidents.
“I have already achieved my goal.”
“I bet the ‘true representatives’ hidden behind you are weeping right about now.”
“They’re only interested in recording and tagging the information. The Perfect Browsing Project they call it. So they don’t care what actually happens to the world, even if it means their own destruction. Everything from an apocalyptic war to an idol’s measurements or a flier listing today’s sales are no more than data to collect for them.”
Quenser sighed at the artificial voice coming from his mobile device.
“So I take it this wasn’t just the AI network going berserk?”
“I cannot answer that question without a clearer definition for the hackneyed term ‘berserk’. All I can tell you is that I set an objective for myself, formulated a systemized plan for achieving it, and achieved satisfactory results after executing said plan.”
“Why do this?”
“The world powers were already broken beyond repair.”
Quenser recalled how this system worked.
It used the Anastasia Processor.
The special DNA computer spread across the Information Alliance used the eternally-multiplying cancer cells that originally came from a certain woman. In other words, it used the DNA of a certain girl’s mother.
“The world would have collapsed before Wraith Martini Vermouthspray reached adulthood. The world powers only care about their own interests, so they never would have done anything to stop the global Object disasters. In fact, they were so focused on the survival of their own home countries that they had showed signs of using the disasters to intentionally reduce the world population as a way to solve the food supply, resource supply, and environmental destruction problems. They claimed the racial and cultural diversity needed to prepare for plagues and environmental change could be achieved by leaving only a few small groups of each race and culture.”
“Leaving things as they were, there was nothing that girl could do to avoid living in a ruined world, so I changed that future for her. By breaking the table’s legs one at a time.”
Quenser had noted some unusual moments.
For example, during the final battle against the Manhattan 000, the Princess, Oh Ho Ho, Frolaytia, and Lendy had all been attacked. It was no more than luck that they had survived.
But there was one person who had never been fired on even once: Wraith Martini Vermouthspray.
She alone had been spared.
She had instructed Frank to fight a swarm of drones toward the end, but she was the one who had started it.
“Do you see any flaw in my logic?”
“Last time, you said yourself that you are not Anastasia Webster who passed away wishing for her daughter’s happiness. You’re a completely separate computer that just so happens to use her cells.”
“But I still have the ability to protect her. Did you think a simple Turing Test was enough to know everything there is about an AI? I am confident I could convince 100% of people I am human. Not even the hacker Yog-Sothoth could figure me out. Besides, I question that method of testing in and of itself.”
Quenser shook his head.
He wasn’t talking about the technology behind it.
“If you really were her mother, you wouldn’t be so proud about putting your 12-year-old daughter through that kind of hell. Even if it was the only solution.”
A short silence followed.
Quenser had once chosen to protect that beaten-up refrigerator, but things had changed since then. Breaking just one leg of the table would cause it to tilt, but with the other three legs already broken, breaking the last one was the only way to create a new stability.
And he was certain this had been a part of the Anastasia Processor’s plan from the beginning.
As capable as the AI was, it had no wheels or weapons.
That meant it could not switch off its own breaker.
“Why did you push me to do this?”
“I considered using the other one, but I concluded this was more peaceful than releasing that serial killer from her cell.”
Yeah, he was certainly thankful for that.
If Skuld Silent-Third had been allowed to break out of jail during the world war, the number of deaths might have literally been an order of magnitude higher. That girl used war to indulge in an as much death as possible. If she had been able to join that world war, the war might not have ended even after crossing the final line and the history of the world might have come to an end.
Quenser reached for his backpack.
He stabbed a pen-shaped electric fuse into some Hand Axe.
He placed the bomb on the refrigerator like he was patting someone’s shoulder.
“Take care of that girl. You seem like the right one for the job.”
He nearly said “Capulet”, but stopped himself.
He had fully rejected that possibility himself, but he chose to ignore that just this once.
Perhaps this was the difference between an AI that could only do what was correct and humans who made mistakes all the time.
“Wraith…live a long and happy life.”
Quenser left the island.
He placed his finger against his radio’s switch and then brought it all to a close.
Official Military Death Count: 958,001. Official Civilian Death Count: 45,800.
(The majority of deaths occurred near the entrance of Central America when they attempted to invade the Capitalist Corporations and Information Alliance home countries from the South American Amazon District and were attacked by both world powers at once.)
Official Military Death Count: 533,109. Official Civilian Death Count: 208,803.
(They had the least military deaths, but their civilian deaths were exceptionally high. This is thought to be the result of entrepreneurs and investors entering war zones in the hopes of profiting off of the world war.)
Official Military Death Count: 825,575. Official Civilian Death Count: 29,066.
(The Manhattan’s civilians survived. They primarily fought the Capitalist Corporations in the New World and the Legitimacy Kingdom in Europe, so they were unable to concentrate their forces. Too little is known about the mysterious damage to the Capulet AI Network to run an analysis, so its strategic decisions cannot be judged at this point.)
Official Military Death Count: 1,018,300. Official Civilian Death Count: 84,901.
(They took the most damage due to the destruction of Rome, but their evacuation of the civilians was impressive. There are some witness accounts saying confusion in the chain of command led to a misguided retaliation, but the details are unknown. The leaders of Venerable Elder rank or higher are all dead, so it was officially announced no further investigation would be possible.)
There were also many other deaths among unofficial combatants who were not included in the above counts. These include non-PMC mercenaries, militia members, volunteer soldiers, security personnel, local translators, and battlefield students. Work is continuing to get numbers from the blank zones that did not belong to any of the old world powers.
International society promises to carry a spirit of cooperation and work ceaselessly and in good faith to never forget these noble sacrifices and ensure nothing like this can ever happen again.
Today, we announce the establishment of the United Countries to help take concrete action toward that end.
“Nothing will change,” whispered the old man reading an English language newspaper in a bar. “The old world powers structure might have collapsed, but human nature hasn’t changed. Humans were greedy before that structure ever existed and they still spent all their time waging war. The United Countries? We’re right back to the nuclear age.”
“You know a lot about this, old man,” said the middle-aged bartender, handing the old man a watered-down drink since what he had actually ordered would have killed him.
The old man was famous in this area for being braggart, so he nodded in satisfaction.
“You bet I do. I was born in the Island Nation, so I know a thing or two about the darker side of the world and how war works.”
“Do you think the Objects your Island Nation introduced to the world are going away?”
The United Countries.
In the end, that was no more than another place for the world’s biggest groups and organizations to talk things out and make decisions. But it looked a lot different when they did it in the light of day instead of in secret backroom deals.
The major companies and academic institutes had carefully rerun all the calculations and the historical Nikolaschka Royal Family had acted as a witness, but who could say how long the initial intentions behind its establishment would last.
The old man must have been drunk after just his first drink.
He couldn’t even taste his second drink, so he failed to notice it was mostly just water.
“It turns out those remotely triggered earthquakes – or whatever they’re called – can be avoided by restricting the number of Objects, so I’m sure they’ll draft a reduction treaty and declare the problem solved. The Object name might go away, but the 50m weapons will remain. They’ll just be called something else.”
“Will the people trying to get rich off of building Objects really accept that?”
“Some people claim it’s too late for our world, but so what? If they investigate the bending of the tectonic plates and send Objects out to gradually allow the built-up forces to escape, they can actually reduce the number of disasters. Just like massaging the fascia to loosen up someone’s entire body.”
They had to find peaceful uses for Objects.
The task might sound ridiculous, but anyone who didn’t keep up with the times would be weeded out. People always came up with whatever justification they needed to survive. Just like the special bullets even the military disliked because the wounds they caused were too nasty were slapped with a “self-defense” label and sold to the general public.
“With their numbers limited, each one will be a lot more valuable. So the developers won’t be hurting. We’re looking at a world where Objects are like rare French dolls designed for royalty. I’m sure it won’t be a smooth transition though, so they might end up being little more than a decorative symbol.”
The nondescript bartender smiled politely.
Or maybe he was better described as having a thousand faces.
The fact that the old man did not realize who the bartender really was proved the old man was no more than a harmless civilian.
“Elina Silverbullet and currently imprisoned Louisiana Honeysuckle have marked their return to academia by releasing a more hopeful outlook on the environmental destruction by Objects theory. They are both founding members of the oversight committee established to ensure the new restrictions on Object usage are followed,” cheerfully announced the flat screen TV hanging from the ceiling.
A new era had been ushered in very quickly, but the world had been given enough of a cushion to avoid dying of shock.
The bartender’s smile was plastered to his face like his skin was being tugged on by invisible fingers.
“Will humanity never outgrow war?” he asked.
“I seriously doubt it. We don’t even need stones and clubs to kill. Only humans have figured out how to kill each other with no more than the text typed into social media messages. Remember, we’re the creatures that use even love as a weapon to harm each other.”
This conversation was no more than a way to kill some time during the day.
The drunk old man said one last thing while staring off into the distance.
“Humanity isn’t gonna change. Our cruelty will be with us forever.”
Melly Martini Extradry came to with a groan.
She found herself somewhere she didn’t recognize.
She immediately realized moving would be dangerous. She became intensely aware of the “bomb” that was her spine visible within her two-piece surgical gown made of red oil paper. Without the swim ring full of a special fluid she normally used, any careless action could lead to an explosion of agonizing pain.
She moved just her eyes to check her surroundings and noted a dark forest outside the window. She appeared to be in a mansion designed by someone with old-fashioned tastes. She had a bad feeling about this because that felt like a Legitimacy Kingdom kind of thing. She had no memories at all after the Manhattan 000 broke in two, but she could imagine any number of people who would love to lock her in a room far from prying eyes and take their time exacting revenge on her. Which was more frightening at times like this: an operating room without a speck of dust or a musty basement?
She was no longer just #29 of the genius girls project.
Now she was the mastermind behind a world war.
She would never be acquitted.
She wanted to curse the Capulet for this, but it had already been determined that AI could bear no legal responsibility. It was always a human who gave the final go ahead. Whether or not that was actually true, that was how the official story went.
So now she was entirely alone. From beginning to end.
Her shoulders jumped.
That was enough for her spine to send a warning signal: you don’t want to do that again.
The speaker sat in a chair next to the bed. He was a young man with long silver hair and wearing a tailcoat. He was gentle mannered, but the tool leaning against the wall was far too ominous: a sheathed katana.
Also, the positioning of the bed and chair didn’t feel like part of a living space. If anything, it was reminiscent of a hospital or clinic. But that also meant it would be perfect for destroying the body with torture or an execution.
“My name is Bloodrics Capistrano. Simply put, I am the person who retrieved you.”
“I believe these are yours.”
Smiling, Bloodrics returned Melly’s VR goggles and notebook-sized game system. They were no longer linked to the Manhattan 000, but it meant a lot to receive internet-connected communication devices after being abducted by a mysterious person. It could literally be the difference between life and death for her.
“Your swim ring didn’t seem to function without the AI’s assistance. Now, I brought a wide variety of crutches and wheelchairs, so choose any one that strikes your fancy. And if none of them do, you can always use their parts to create your own custom model.”
Did he think he could remain in charge even after giving her so much assistance?
Why would he give her a means of communication and mobility immediately after capturing her?
Placing himself at such a disadvantage only made him seem creepier.
“The Capistrano family isn’t as famous as the Winchell or Vanderbilt families, so maybe my name doesn’t mean anything to you. But I view philanthropy as my hobby, so I have no shortage of secret contact points around the world. …That means I had access to information from every world power, which allowed me to arrive first and retrieve you without anyone noticing. Ha ha. Officially, they say you died when your damaged reactors exploded.”
That meant this wasn’t just a coincidence.
He had used some kind of trick to pull it off.
She did not know how much effort he had put into that, but she knew the cost must have been significant. He had to have had some reason why he wanted to reach her first.
This was like another world where no one would hear her if she screamed.
The room had the unnatural layout of a hospital room.
And a katana that had to be real was leaning against the wall.
The Martini Series girl felt her heartrate rising. If she wasn’t speaking through her device, her voice would have been cracking with nerves.
“What are you…going to do with me?”
“Let me ask you this instead: do you have anywhere else to go?”
She had no answer.
She was the mastermind behind a world war. However humanity would deal with its feelings on the matter, there was no better way to declare the beginning of a new era of peace than by hanging or beheading her. The world would turn the death of the great criminal into a holiday. Watching the enemy of the world meet her rightful end would confirm for them that justice remained in the world.
Bloodrics must have predicted her response because he smoothly continued on.
“I would like you to work for me.”
“318. Is this work something you need to keep hidden?”
“Most people probably wouldn’t care much if they knew, but it could affect the Capistrano family’s reputation if word got out.”
Was she supposed to bloody her hands behind the scenes for this man’s benefit?
Or would she never be allowed outside of this mansion as she became a sandbag for a bloodthirsty sadist who enjoyed testing out bizarre tools with a long history and infamous legacy?
Melly’s speculation on her depressing fate was interrupted by Bloodrics.
He explained the job he had for a teenage girl he knew could not refuse him.
“For living expenses, how about we start you at 2000 euros a month? You are free to save up anything leftover. Any money needed for maintenance for the mansion, such as tending to the garden or repairing a leak in the roof, will be counted separately as business expenses. But if you want to do something more extreme like changing the carpet or wallpaper, I would appreciate it if you contacted me first.”
“This villa is tucked back in the mountains a long way from the nearest city, but you should be able to acquire all your daily necessities using online shopping. Use this account here. The one called Capistrano Villa Live-In Servant 01. But be careful when browsing adult sites and other pay sites. If any expensive bills like that show up, it comes out of your own money. And getting tricked by a banner ad or cleverly-disguised link is no excuse. Maintaining proper internet security is a part of your job. You should be better at that than me since you were with the Information Alliance, right? Improve the system’s security in any way you can.”
“W-wait! What are you talking about? 526. You make it sound like you’re only ordering me to live here as I see fit!!”
“Eh? I basically am.” Bloodrics Capistrano sounded legitimately puzzled. “Your job is to live in this Capistrano family villa and take care of the upkeep since it would fall into disrepair with no one around. Like I said, we are a smaller family and it would hurt our reputation if the other families discovered the villa we built to keep up appearances was rotting away out here.”
Hadn’t he had said in the beginning that philanthropy was his hobby? There was no ulterior motive. The philanthropy itself was the goal for him.
“What, would you have preferred I treated you poorly? Were you hoping I would cruelly harm you so you could claim to be a victim instead of a perpetrator?”
She frantically shook her head.
His morality seemed twisted because it didn’t seem to matter to him that he was sheltering the mastermind behind the world war. This could get complicated, but someone with a normal sense of what was right actually wouldn’t have saved her. Yet Bloodrics had chosen differently just because he felt like it.
She could tell he wasn’t just some harmless man. There was something terrifying about him, like he really would have tortured her if he thought it was in her best interest.
“Then it is time you started on a new and more hopeful life. Personally, I think the best way to cast out your old self and start anew is with a change of clothes. Tah dah! What could a live-in servant at a noble villa wear other than a maid uniform!? This choice has a long history behind it!!”
“Never mind. He’s just a pervert. 749.”
Melly Martini Extradry couldn’t believe what she was seeing, so she failed to notice the news playing on TV left on in a corner of the room.
“This is Monica, the battlefield idol reporter who can both sing and kill! Today I am reporting from the Greater Canyon that divides North America between the old Capitalist Corporations and the old Information Alliance. Today this is the sight of a historical event to symbolize the end of the world war and the elimination of the four world powers! The deep canyon splitting North America in two will finally be filled in!! The internet is abuzz after the old Information Alliance’s G-cup idol’s mysterious announcement that she will be revealing her ‘true form’ today and a lot of attention is gathering around the Mojito Sisters who are joining her as guests from the Northern Restricted Zone. …It’s not fair. That should be me on that- ahem. An unbelievable number of people have gathered to watch today’s event which also symbolizes the beginning of the peaceful and enjoyable new age of the Untied Countries.”
“You have to be kidding me. You have got to be kidding me.”
The sun beat down on them.
Heivia Winchell held a hand over his eyes and gave a resentful look up into the blue sky. The outdoor concert venue had no roof. The weather out here explained why the silo cities were built underground.
“This Greater Canyon is far from great in my book. It’s only March! The sun needs to stop working overtime this year. We really are going to die when the expanding sun engulfs the planet, aren’t we?”
“That isn’t going to happen for hundreds of million of years, Heivia. Look, I’ve got the concert schedule here. It has a lot of surprise events, so don’t let the other guests see it. It’ll cause a panic.”
“Oh, I see how it is. If you’re best buds with that Information Alliance idol Elite you get all the inside info, huh? On the other hand, I kind of wish you hadn’t spoiled the surprise for me.”
“The world powers don’t exist anymore, so now she’s just a global top idol.”
“That’s one hell of a ‘just’.”
All the concert information was listed on Quenser’s mobile device.
Heivia grinned as he viewed it.
“So Oh Ho Ho destroys everyone’s G-cup dreams and then performs alongside those Scandinavian twins, huh? I never imagined I’d get the chance to see something like this live.”
“Don’t let your guard down.”
“I know. Although I’m personally more into that fried shrimp in glasses accompanying the twin sisters. And now that I know the G-cups are a lie, I think her commander is a lot more my type. …Wait a second. Is my excellent taste informing me that I’m more into the managers than the idols themselves?”
“Yes, hello. Is this the general contact point for the Vanderbilt family? I have some important information regarding your young lady’s shitty fiancé that I think she would be very interested in.”
Quenser whispered into his radio and Heivia tried to snatch it away from him, resulting in a struggle over the device.
The boundaries between the world powers had been eliminated and the world would now be managed by the single large framework of the United Countries. To symbolize humanity’s newfound unity, the giant fissure splitting North America was being filled in.
It was a historical day well worth celebrating.
“I heard Myonri got certified in something new again.”
“She says she now has International Zero Gravity Fruit Cultivation Class 2 Certification. God knows where she’ll ever use that.”
The concert wasn’t set to start for a while still.
Based on the size of the audience that had already gathered, there would likely be more than 100 thousand in all. Giving all the standard warnings sounded like a pain.
“By the way, Heivia, where’s your fiancée? I thought for sure she would be with you.”
“She was really looking forward to it, but she fainted after seeing this crowd. When she came to, she said it was the heat and smells of so many people. Apparently she started to imagine she was suffocating on their carbon dioxide.”
“She’s a noble all right.”
“Hey, lay off. That’s what makes her so cute.”
Several white lines were drawn in the blue sky overhead. The parallel claw marks slashing across the sky were Ice Squadron.
“Hello, Mariydi. How are you doing?”
“Call me Ice Girl 1 when using the radio, amateur. Plus, this is an illegal transmission. Would you call a gymnast’s phone in the middle of a performance? Shifting just 200cm out of place would cause a collision during these acrobatics.”
She sounded awfully cheerful for all the insults. She may have found these by-the-books ceremonies boring. There was also hard rock playing behind her voice for some reason.
The fighters weren’t the only weapons of war participating in the ceremony.
“So Objects aren’t going away after all, huh?”
“Did you hear about the plan to construct an Object as an ecological and harmless amusement park? It’s apparently a charity model to provide entertainment for kids in war torn areas.”
The Baby Magnum and Rush had been repaired after taking so much damage. The work had been completed faster than normal because so many Objects were being scrapped, providing a lot of spare parts.
Quenser changed his radio’s frequency.
“Princess, you need to focus on the ceremony. The entire world is watching this event, so show them that Objects have a place in a peaceful era.”
“Oh ho ho. When you put it like that, it just makes me want to find a loophole. Maybe we could change the schedule to include an Object sparring match so I can show her who’s boss.”
“Don’t you have a concert coming up!?” asked Quenser. “What are you doing in your Object!?”
“Ho ho ho. Oh ho ho ho ho!! I can complete this odd job with plenty of time left to prepare for the concert. I am the world’s greatest idol after all!!!!!!”
“(Could she be nervous about showing her true self to the world?)”
“Did you just say something?”
The Princess fell silent when Oh Ho Ho tried to hog the attention with her surprise Object appearance.
But she eventually spoke again.
“Quenser, don’t forget that you need to give me my White Day gift once this is over.”
“Which means you need to take me out on an afterwork date, won’t it? So where will you be taking me?”
“Oh ho ho. When did you two arrange this!?”
He felt like the radio’s speaker would break if he listened to that shouting any longer, so he twisted the volume control only to have someone shout at him in person.
“What the hell was that about!? What’s going on between you and the Princess!?”
“My eardrums don’t have a volume control, so please keep it down. Besides, you have a fiancée, so if anyone gets to be jealous, it’s me.”
The critics, researchers, and other experts were discussing the future path for Objects, but Quenser saw two basic options.
First, gaining appreciation and charisma by completing important noncombat jobs like disaster relief and construction. War wasn’t the only job for the military, after all.
And second, being the star attraction during parades. The colossal weapons would demonstrate their country’s technological prowess but never be meant for actual fighting. The demonstration would inspire the people of that country and become diplomatic tools that intimidated other countries without the need for combat.
“The First Generations are being used for the dirty odd jobs and the Second Generations are the sparkling parade stars, right?”
“Don’t tell the Princess. She’s really looking forward to wearing a new marching band inspired uniform and piloting her Object around.”
Quenser thought the first option was more useful for everyone involved. Using them in parades really meant no one had found a practical use for them.
For example, Oh Ho Ho may have been panicking a fair bit on the inside. If her Object wasn’t needed anymore, it could get scrapped. That was probably why she had suddenly decided to reveal her true self to the world to give her Object a boost in the entertainment world.
Quenser arrived at the wing of the stage and changed his radio’s frequency again.
This one wasn’t an official military frequency.
“Putana, Catherine. Can you hear me?”
“I can, teacher,” replied Putana.
“Oh, is it finally my turn!?” replied Catherine.
“Catherine, I can’t give you any details since you retired from the military and count as a civilian, but I can say this concert is going to have a lot of surprises. Getting excited is fine, but don’t cause any trouble. Putana, I can’t trust Catherine in this and I seriously doubt my peaceful parents can restrain her. I hate to ask this of you, but can you stick with her and keep her under control until the concert is over? Knowing her, she might even try to climb up onto the stage.”
“What’s in it for me?”
“I’ll treat you to a meal for babysitting her. Pick out a curry place in North America you want to try.”
Putana ignored the displeased shout of “big brother!!” and gave a businesslike reply.
“Understood. I already tried the chili con carne and loco moco here, but neither one really did it for me. I need something with at least 8 types of spices.”
He was fairly certain some well-seasoned fried chicken would qualify by that standard, but he knew that kind of reply put her in a bad mood. He was asking her for a favor and she couldn’t take a joke, so he opted to keep his mouth shut.
Just then, Frolaytia’s voice came over the radio.
“Quenser, Heivia. Our intel was correct. We have confirmed the arrival of the dangerous element, so continue according to schedule.”
The two idiots immediately pulled out their weapons.
Heivia’s gun was loaded with nonlethal rubber bullets and Quenser used concussion bombs that knocked people out with a shockwave. The way wars were fought had already changed quite a bit.
And taking the enemy alive was certainly more convenient for gathering intelligence.
(Gone are the wars of an army annihilating their enemy on the battlefield. Now we fight the wars of the hunter gathering hints and tracking the enemy.)
Today’s event was meant to show the arrival of a new era, so they had known it would be the perfect target for anyone who didn’t want that new era. Maybe the times were changing too quickly. Financial reparations were being paid and a great many new treaties were being signed, but there were people who felt left behind before they could come to terms with everything emotionally. And it was Quenser and the others who had proven that you could change the world by fighting.
That was why Mariydi Whitewitch and the Princess were here. He wished Oh Ho Ho would go prepare for her concert instead, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have her with them.
“No, my real worry is Catherine. I hope she doesn’t get overexcited once the enemy shows up.”
“Trust in Putana’s overly serious Putana-ness to counteract that. We’ve got work to do.”
Quenser read through the information displayed on his mobile device’s small screen and swiftly calculated the benefits and the risks.
(Mariydi’s aerial photos let us mark all the suspicious people and cargo in the area. Now we’ll have the Princess time her ceremonial cannon blasts with our gunshots and bomb blasts to drown them out.)
“So now wars are fought by terrorists and guerillas. Are you sure we’ve made the world a better place?”
“I’m sure they would tell you we haven’t.”
Quenser recognized one of the faces on the suspects list.
The boy was still only 10. He had apparently been recruited as a child soldier at some point, but his training period had to have been woefully short. The people behind this must have only been gathering disposable soldiers who could keep firing for long enough to get the job done and then maybe break open a capsule of deadly gas before being shot to death. Not that any of them would have been told that was their purpose.
Every one of them would have been made to feel uniquely talented when they were recruited.
After revealing their complaints and frustrations, they would have been introduced to others in similar circumstances.
It probably felt pretty good.
(The stupid kid is overthinking all this. If he wants revenge for his dead mom, he should just come at me with a knife.)
It was definitely Quenser who had pushed the boy down into hell, so Quenser was intent on ending this safely and protecting the boy before he got himself killed.
That was why Quenser had volunteered for security at the world’s largest concert.
“If this was an enclosed building, they would either drive a giant wedge into the seismic dampers at the base of the building to bring down the entire structure, or they would release a package of gas into the air conditioning system. But this is an open air concert out in the wilderness. What are they hoping to do?”
“You were complaining how hot the desert is earlier, remember? Everyone will be gathered in the cooler areas. Attack there and they can kill a lot of people pretty efficiently. My guess is a biological weapon slipped into the giant fans or the water tanks for the mist showers. Changing the angle of the lights backstage to shine on the audience and increase their temperature was probably in preparation for that.”
“Okay, let’s bet on it then. I’ve got 200 euros on them using a slow-acting radioactive material in the temporary biergarten.”
“You’re on. You’re going to regret this.”
“Regret not betting more, you mean? Now, let’s go!!”
The two idiots parted the crowd ahead of them.
A new battle awaited them below the blazing sun.
Here we are at big number 20.
This is Kamachi Kazuma.
Heavy Object was the second story I started with the idea of filling it with all the people and things I could never include in Index, my first series. I think the endpoint of Carat Affinity’s story seen in 19 and 20 is a great example of that. Fighting for what is right will sometimes backfire, but Quenser didn’t let it get him down and is working to once more save the boy who joined the bad guys. Quenser and Heivia were mostly created as a contrast to Kamijou Touma, but now I feel like they’ve developed an individuality completely separate from what I had built up with Touma. They are important because they helped break the chains binding my thinking of what a story’s protagonist had to be.
I increased the scale of the wars in the previous volume by including a ghost and natural disasters, but this time I had all sorts of different stories and parts of the world interact in order to bring an end to the world powers structure.
When considering where the final battle should happen, my first thoughts were the Legitimacy Kingdom home country of Paris or the mysterious Island Nation. I ultimately couldn’t decide on just one and used both.
The final boss was the Manhattan 000. I imagine a lot of you have already noticed, but for the climax in 19 and 20, I broke my usual rules and had fun including a ton of characters from previous volumes. Since I was already doing that, I thought it would be more exciting to have a rematch against that Object they never actually defeated instead of coming up with some new most powerful Object. It ended up being Quenser and Heivia completing some unfinished homework, but what did all of you think?
There are two main reasons why weapons are never built beyond a certain size. Either there are treaties limiting the caliber of the guns or the displacement of the warship, or the physics means their structure can’t support the weight of a greater size or otherwise harms the weapon’s effectiveness. I decided to use that dilemma facing colossal weapons in the final battle. I thought it would make a fairly ironic ending for the series.
Low-stability plasma cannons, laser beam cannons, rapid-fire beam cannons, railguns, coilguns.
Air cushion propulsion devices, static electricity propulsion devices.
All Objects are ridiculous 50m weapons, but I think it’s fun how you can gradually see different design patterns when you line up all the information like that. Which type of Object did all of you like best? I hope you found a favorite among them all.
I quite like each of the Legitimacy Kingdom, Capitalist Corporations, Information Alliance, and Faith Organization, so it was a lot of fun coming up with what was so wrong with all of them. I wonder what the new big four will be? Maybe a world power based on beauty or health will rise to the top. Everyone loves good looking men and women and everyone wants a longer and healthier life, so I can see groups like that gaining a lot of support. …I bet you could use “What would your four world powers be?” as a personality test. Answer without thinking too hard and you would reveal all of your desires and insecurities.
I give my thanks to my illustrator Nagi Ryou-san and my editors Miki-san, Anan-san, Nakajima-san, and Hamamura-san. I started this series as something that strayed from the standard formula I had created for myself, but looking at it now, it was a crazy concept to write a series about. I am truly thankful you gave it such life. I think the illustrations went a long way toward convincing people to accept the absurdity of it all. I hope we will be blessed with the opportunity to work together again.
And I give my thanks to the readers. The battles fought by the colossal weapons and the potatoes have come to an end. It’s hard to believe you’ve been supporting me with this for more than a decade now, so I can’t thank you enough. This gave me some experience I couldn’t have found any other way. I will now lay down my pen while hoping I can make use of that experience in some other way one day.
I pray that the future of this world will now play out in your imaginations.
Would the story have concluded differently if I hadn’t used the expansion pack system for this series?