Magisterus Bad Trip:Volume2 Chapter 4
Chapter 4: The Off-Field Brawl Can Be Found Here – BGM #04 “Team Play”.
Server Name: Alpha Scarlet. Starting Location: Summer City – Peninsula City.
Welcome to Money (Game) Master, Suou Kaname.
“We need my brother’s Inheritance. The whole thing.”
In her black gothic bikini and miniskirt, Hekireki Midori kept her voice low so it was masked by the cheers of 20,000 people. While she was wearing a bikini, it was quite frilly, so the curves of her chest did not stand out much. Of course, you must not call it a kiddy swimsuit. Unless you wanted your face scratched by all her nails like she was an upset cat, that is.
The soccer match being played before their eyes was in the initial excitement of the first half. It looked like the defender tripped the player with the ball, but the referee did not blow the whistle and the ball was taken by the other team.
In Money (Game) Master, the soccer leagues were divided into three different classes: S, R, and the amateur-exclusive N. This game was in the second-rate R class.
“Why isn’t it just ABC? It’s unnecessarily confusing.”
“You can tell some old guy named it. Spelling it out as Super Rare, Rare, and Normal would be easier to understand for kids these days.”
Kaname’s response was cold even with a topic as accessible as talking about the weather or asking about one’s caffeinated beverage of choice. Dealing with a nervous middle school girl was a more delicate job than defusing a time bomb.
The skilled Dealer seated next to her let out a sigh. Midori had chosen the location for their private chat, but watching sports in a stadium felt weird in an online game. It may have been like playing at an arcade inside a video game. Everyone had their own way to make money in Money (Game) Master, but if you wanted to do something you could not in reality, a professional athlete who had been forced to retire after their body declined might create a younger avatar and go wild with it.
And the inheritance the girl had mentioned was not some money her missing family member had saved up.
There were some extraordinary guns in Money (Game) Master that had been so thoroughly customized that they exceeded the set limits of the game world and were known as Over Tricks. They were the Inheritance. Each one was incredibly powerful, but it was predicted that gathering them all would allow one to analyze the special programming language used for Money (Game) Master.
Anyway, Kaname lowered the opera glasses he was using to watch the game.
“Also, don’t talk about that so openly. You never know who might be listening.”
He raised two fingers as Midori gasped.
Needless to say, those fingers indicated #Downpour.err and #FiringLine.err.
One was a shotgun that fired 2000 shots at whatever was hit by its guidelight and the other was an anti-materiel rifle with an unlimited firing range. When used correctly, those cyber economic weapons could bring down real-world countries and they were all the seemingly magical Over Tricks that Takamasa had left behind.
“(If people find out we have those, Dealers will be rushing at us from all over. Not everyone is simply afraid of the Inheritance. Each one has the power to blow away a real-life country or a giant IT company, so don’t forget that some people will be willing to kill to get their hands on one.)”
“I-I know that! I do, so back away! Not so close!!”
The twintail girl grew flustered for some reason.
The blue rose decoration on her hairband wobbled in a way that reminded Kaname of a toy that responded to noise.
Midori quickly placed her ice-filled drink container between the bare skin at the base of her thighs above the black kneesocks. She may have been more interested in cooling her body through the blood vessels than quenching her thirst.
“I mean, weren’t you talking about that yourself? Money (Game) Master is not just an online game. The game’s money can be converted into real money, so the AIs are using the virtual currency to efficiently control people. Weren’t you saying we humans need to hurry up and take back control before something bad happens?”
It was actually even worse than that, but everyone interpreted things differently. The Magisteri were not artificial things designed by humans. They had already existed. In the real world. Of course, Kaname had not simply accepted that everything he was told was true.
This was a game beyond human understanding that was created by demons.
Even Tselika had been tricked by the Will when she had been driven to cause that incident. She had been guided so she would not realize the possibility of learning the programming language by gathering Takamasa’s Inheritance.
Of course they could not see the full extent of this.
“We need a list,” said Midori just as a young woman in an almost nonexistent swimsuit and a sun visor walked by selling fries, frankfurters, and cold drinks. (Based on her movement, she appeared to be human.) “We know we need the entire Inheritance, but the only person who knows how many there are in all is Onii-cha-…ahem, is my brother. We need an accurate list before we can really start.”
“About that. Was there nothing in Takamasa’s room back in the real world? Like a notebook or a card-sized storage device?”
“All I found were the porn sites in his internet history. Ugh, that was not a fun discovery. But maybe it’s what I get for searching his room without permission…even if it was necessary.”
Kaname had nothing to say to that. He knew how your family’s sexuality was always a tough thing to face. He certainly did not want to see that side of his sister or parents.
“There really is a list, though, isn’t there?” she asked.
He had not actually seen it, but he was certain it existed.
When it came to the Inheritance or anything else Takamasa worked on – from a paper airplane to a sportscar – that boy had kept notes on loose leaf paper. He had always laughed and said you never know when something might help solve a problem he was facing. That was similar but still different from his sister who loved analog letters. He was a scientific memo-taker instead of a literary one. The many pieces of the Inheritance had been scattered through the game when Takamasa had Fallen and gone missing, but they were not the only thing to disappear. No matter where they searched, they could not find the mountain of records he had to have left behind.
Midori leaned her undeveloped upper body forward in the plastic seat, placed a hand on her forehead, and glanced over at Kaname.
“What about you? You worked with him in this game a lot, didn’t you?”
“I checked every hideout I could think of, but there was no sign of all that loose leaf paper. …Although it’s possible he had a warehouse or home I wasn’t aware of.”
“It all comes down to that, doesn’t it?”
Since they could not get any information from Criminal AO, they would have to search elsewhere.
They needed an accurate list for the Inheritance.
Even one of those weapons was unfairly strong. Since Money (Game) Master’s virtual currency was used to manipulate the funding of nations and corporations, they had enough influence to bring down an entire country if used right. And they could be used to steal instead of just destroy. Simply put, they might be even more dreadfully convenient than a nuclear weapon.
So what if it was possible to have all of them to yourself?
In addition to the original list, there was a good chance that there were several partial copies out there. A list would be valuable enough to be worth selling off piece by piece.
There just had to be someone out there who had the list but could not undergo the largescale operation needed to recover the weapons.
So who was it that had all that excess information?
Kaname definitely wanted it.
They needed to have an accurate count if they wanted to recover them all. That was true. As long as the list was complete, it did not matter if it was the original or a copy.
Some people might think of it as a treasure map.
But the loose leaf papers that included the list were a piece of the thoughts Takamasa had left behind. Other people might only see designs to a UFO or time machine, but for those who knew him, the writing there was something to be kept private and not released to the public. This was like placing a newly discovered love letter in a glass case at the museum dedicated to a scientist. This was not something that could be shown off for immediate financial gain.
Kaname would not let his friend be tormented like this.
He would not have him exposed to strangers’ eyes.
Takamasa had disappeared, but that did not mean his right to dignity disappeared with him.
“Now, what to do? Midori, make sure you don’t get heatstroke. It can still get you in this game. Had you noticed your drink is already empty?”
“Oh, shut up.”
“By the way, what has you so weirdly intense? Are you a big sports fan or something?”
“You’re distracting me. I refuse to get your help with the debt my brother left us with in the real world, so I need to pay it all back myself. That’s why everything is riding on these tickets.”
“You…bet on the soccer game???”
He glanced over at the small tickets clenched in Midori’s small, black-gloved hand and realized she had in fact tried to predict the results of the next ten games and would only win the jackpot if she got them all right, scores included. The jackpot carried over each time no one won, so it was up to around 700 million Snow.
She was serious.
This honestly went beyond anything he had expected.
…And of all things, she had bet her money and future on a method where her own actions held no sway whatsoever! The next ten games would take around two weeks to complete even at the rapid pace they were being played at the moment. No matter how much she stared at the data and decided which teams she thought would win, there was no way to actually know the answer at the time she bought the tickets. In fact, she could not even know who would be playing in the starting lineup for each game. With horse racing, you could check on the condition of the horse and the lawn just before the race began and people still got it wrong so often, so there was no way you could predict the result of ten games from two weeks in advance. His jaw literally dropped when he learned about this.
“I have a lesson for you to ensure you have a bright future. How about we start with the basics of investment and the average return on investment. Gambling is generally set up so the house always wins. And I would estimate the sports betting you can find in Summer City is about 20% more calculated than what you find with horse racing or-…”
“Ohhh, shut up! Why are they all wearing the same uniform!? They all have the same Skills, so this is so boring!! If each player would personalize their Skills by wearing different clothes and accessories, I could tell what they can do… Ahh, ahh, ahhhhhhhh!? Why would you let them get a goal with that free kick!? There was no way I could have seen that coming!! No way at all!!”
The girl crushed the tickets fanned out in her hand.
Apparently drunk old men at the race track and black twintailed middle school girls reacted to losing a bet in pretty much the same exact way.
When their discussion was over and Kaname had returned to the stadium’s parking garage, Tselika began speaking before he even got in the car.
“I found the information you wanted about that piece of the Inheritance. It’s called #DragonGod.err and it appears to be shaped like a Gatling gun, but this R-class soccer club team, the Leviathans, has it.”
“Show me the evidence,” was all he said.
He had been surprised when Midori chose this as their meetup point, but this was the real task at hand.
He snapped shut the collapsible opera glasses and tossed them into the car’s open window.
He had not been observing the athletes running around the field from the stadium seating.
He had been interested in the owner’s seat that was surrounded by thick bulletproof glass and set up like a suite.
Various windows opened all across the mint green coupe’s polished body. Race Queen Tselika sat on the hood and wagged her long tail while patting gently next to her.
“As I am sure you can see here, the team’s results have been declining fast, but each time the league considers dropping them from the professional R-class to the amateur N-class, a higher-ranked team’s sponsor company is attacked. It’s effectively a threat: give us a win or your sponsor will back out and you’ll go bankrupt.”
“So they’re fixing the games. Well, if they were demoted to the amateur league, they’d lose all the pro players they have and they’d have to remake the club team from the ground up, so I can see why they’re desperate.”
Under Summer City’s rules, a promotion from N to R opened up a path to the pros for all of the amateur players, but a demotion from R to N meant fielding their pro players was against the regulations (so they effectively had no choice but to sell off the players they had worked so hard to gather and for dirt cheap prices at that). Of course, the harsh penalty may have been a way of making the game of musical chairs more exciting.
“That’s all the more reason why betting on the games is never going to work.”
“Hm? Betting on the games???”
The alluring demon crossed her long, boot-wearing leg atop her knee and tilted her head like a child.
This team attacked the sponsors instead of the other teams themselves.
In the TV industry or the sports industry, that would be the biggest Achilles heel. The companies in Money (Game) Master were generally AI-controlled NPCs, but the economic activity of selling products for money was very real. Interference could even drive them out of business.
“And that bizarre Gatling gun always makes an appearance during the attacks that benefit the Leviathans. Since the legality of something is not an issue in Money (Game) Master, attacks on companies are not exactly rare, but these stand out because they are unrelated to the current stock prices or business deals.”
Tselika breathed a sigh with her shapely butt on the hood and that slowly moved her large chest up and down inside the bikini top.
“The Gatling gun’s effect is unknown, but it is not a normal one. According to witness information found on a video site, it can apparently be fired one-handed while riding a small off-road motorcycle. With a box magazine larger than a suitcase strapped to the rear seat.”
“So it either has no recoil or no weight.”
Gatling guns scattered 6000 to 7000 anti-materiel rounds thicker than a thumb every minute, so they were as deadly as could be. A single horizontal sweep through this parking garage would blow away all the cars there with maybe a second sweep back if you wanted to be thorough. That destructive power had a firing range of 2000-3000 meters. That was simply not something you could swing around like a child’s water gun.
“We can’t know for sure without handling it for ourselves, but the appearance in the video makes me think it is almost certainly #DragonGod.err. We were lucky because some old footage from our drive recorder just so happened to show the inside of Takamasa’s garage. Even if this one is a well-made fake, they would need the real one on hand to do such a good job. It wouldn’t hurt to pop in and say hello, don’t you think?”
“Hm,” breathed Kaname.
“If that’s all, then we’re looking at no more than an Inheritance wielder. Tselika, why do you look so thirsty for praise? There must be something more to get your tail wagging like that.”
“I-I do not need your praise!!”
She crossed her arms in a way that lifted her large chest from below and turned the other way, but she still answered his question despite blushing and puffing out her cheeks. Maybe because she was a Magisterus.
“I do not know how the Leviathans got their hands on this piece of the Inheritance. They do not seem to have paid a large sum to buy it or attacked a previous owner. I have tried narrowing down my search, but there is no trace of it in the news.”
“Then did they steal it in secret?”
“Every piece of the Inheritance is an overpowered cyber economic weapon that could bring down an entire country. Anyone who has one must be taking it out of its safe and admiring it with a creepy grin on their face every single day. It is hard to believe that someone would not notice it was missing and thus not make any news about it.”
There was just one exception.
This powerful piece of the Inheritance must have been sitting untouched in an abandoned hideout so no one would notice if it was removed.
“So they directly stole it from one of Criminal AO’s…from one of Takamasa’s hideouts after he Fell and went missing?”
“Now a question: how would an outsider locate one of Criminal AO’s hideouts that not even you, his best friend, knew about?”
“What if they acquired some personal document belonging to that obsessive notetaker? His Fall was as much of a shock as the fall of the Soviet Union and it led to the release of many different things. And that might just have included a valuable list related to the Inheritance.”
There was a soft sound.
It came from a woman in glasses and a light purple party dress stopping the soccer ball rolling her way, kicking it up, and returning it to the children it belonged to. She was wearing party sandals to match her dress, but the ball flew in a perfect parabolic arc with no wobbling.
She was on a beach viewing platform.
Kaname called out to her while holding down his hair against the sea breeze.
“That was nicely done, Laplacian. But doesn’t it hurt with your toes uncovered?”
“I am using my demon, so the spin and trajectory calculations could not be easier.”
Frey(ja), Bloody Dancer, and Criminal AO.
This was another of those especially insane and well-known Dealers.
Her Dealer name was Laplacian.
After all, she specialized in gambling. Guns, cars, and speculative deals. Anything was on the table in Money (Game) Master, so it took a powerful Dealer to focus on just one thing yet reign near the top. This expert had chosen a different direction than Kaname.
She was accompanied by a small Magisterus whose black hair was bunched together on either side of her head. The girl in an extremely loosely-worn kimono must not have liked the strong sunlight because she stood sluggishly below a Japanese-style umbrella she held. She leaned against a payphone that was rusted by the sea breeze and her face was pale despite the sweat on her brow.
She seemed to have developed a similar speaking pattern to Tselika because she spoke with some almost elderly-sounding intonations.
“That is fine and all, but couldn’t you have had the sense to invite us somewhere with a roof?”
“Hey, are you okay? Can Magisteri even get heatstroke?”
“Who knows. She is a vampire, you see.”
Once Laplacian pointed that out, he observed the Magisterus again and noticed her oddly long canine teeth. He had overlooked it because of her black hair, the shoulder kept uncovered by her kimono, and the sarashi wrapped around her large chest.
The glasses woman gave a quick greeting to a child who waved at her.
That child was a 130cm girl with short chestnut hair who was wearing a distinctive school swimsuit and a witch’s hat, but Kaname could not let his guard down because children like that could still be skilled Dealers.
“Anyway, I have noticed a lot more kids playing soccer at these date spots.”
“Are you actually fairly old? None of the parks back in the real world allow people to kick or throw balls around. This world is free to play, so a lot of kids are coming here for that kind of thing.”
“The jab at your age was a joke, but if you glare at me like that, I might start to believe it, Laplacian.”
Also, those children were all Dealers who had chosen to look like children. There was no way of knowing what their actual ages and sexes were, but Kaname did not particularly care.
And sometimes adults wanted to kick a soccer ball around too. For example, those players running around the Leviathan Stadium. Everyone had their way of making money. Real pro players, wannabe pros, pros who had retired, and anyone who failed to become a pro due to any number of reasons were all competing together for dreams and money.
A white contrail was drawn across the clear blue sky.
Summer City had an international airport. Yes, an international one. Only this one city had been modeled in 3D so precisely, but there were areas outside the city that were simplified to the point of only existing as data and numbers. …Of course, humans could only view this game world with their five senses, so they had no way of confirming those outside areas existed.
The glasses woman brushed her hair off her shoulder.
“What do you want today?”
“Gambling is your specialty, isn’t it? I want to hear what you know about betting on soccer games.”
“Um, are you seriously thinking of doing that to earn money?”
“I’ll take that to mean you know about something else going on here. I will buy what information you have, so name your price. I need this to corroborate my own investigation.”
“No, thank you. Have you forgotten what happened in Industrial Float #3’s casino? You lost me a ton of money there.”
“And I’m saying I’ll pay you back for that.”
“Sorry, I was taking around a rookie girl at the time and I wanted to show off in front of her. I’ll admit it was silly of me. I was wrong.”
When Kaname raised his hands and confessed, the glasses woman breathed a sexy sigh.
But she had not changed her mind.
“I have not fallen so far that I must accept your charity.”
“You love gambling enough to call it an addiction, so how about we decide this that way?”
Kaname pulled a large coin from his pocket.
“Let’s keep it simple: heads or tails. You make the call. If you’re right, you can leave without telling me a thing. If you’re wrong, you tell me everything.”
“I told you I am using my demon, didn’t I? Laplace’s Demon.”
Of course, there was not some convenient Skill by the name of Laplace’s Demon. It was probably a dozen Skills mixed together, like D.V.A. to increase dynamic vision and Science Course to forcibly bring scientific thoughts to mind. It was like a secret sauce or curry spice. Anyone could get the individual ingredients, but the exact proportions were an industry secret.
And it was Hekireki Midori, Takamasa’s sister, who could see through all of that at a glance.
“How about it, Laplacian? Are you in or not?”
That soft word earned a sigh from the pale-faced Magisterus sheltered below the Japanese-style umbrella.
She knew all too well that her master could never say no to a gamble and that she would readily risk her life once she got started.
Laplacian continued without noticing the demon’s eyes on her.
“But I can predict simple kinetic energy with 100% accuracy. My words are prophecy. You have no chance of winning this, so are you sure you want to do this?”
“You’ve accepted, so there’s no backing out now.”
Kaname grinned and flicked the coin up with his thumb.
He did not even watch the spinning coin as he turned the back of his hand up as if viewing his watch.
“And I wouldn’t be so confident if I were you. Have you already forgotten what happened after you said something similar at that roulette table, Laplacian?”
“Nope, it’ll be tails.”
She had lost. She had lost.
Oh, how she had lost. She had lost everything☆
They had even used up additional time in the 45-minute second half, but it had not even ended up with an edge-of-your-seat penalty shoot-out.
She had completely lost.
Even if predicting the next ten games had not been possible, there had been a few less-valuable prizes for the result of each individual game, but she had still lost. She had failed so utterly that there was no room for complaint on her part.
Suou Kaname must have been fed up with her because he had left before the game was even over. And now Hekireki Midori, the small girl with long black twintails and a black gothic-style frilly bikini and miniskirt, was tearing up her tickets and throwing the shreds around like confetti.
She gave a suspicious glance toward the voice that snapped at her.
She was not that surprised because it was only a small boy of about 10 who shouted at her. …Although that was no reason to relax because in-game appearance did not necessarily match up to someone’s real age.
The boy kept rudely pointing at her.
“Don’t just throw that trash around! Stop and think about the people who have to clean it up!!”
The twintail girl tilted her head further, shaking her hairband’s blue rose even more.
Midori was not the only one who had bet on the game. The same confetti had to be flying everywhere across the stadium right now. You could even see some specialists known as “trash collectors”. With horse racing, boat racing, or anything else, there was always a certain percentage of people who would throw out their ticket out of habit even though they had won. So based on probability and statistics, you would eventually find a winning ticket if you kept collecting all the discarded ones.
The rest was an issue of cost performance. If you decided this was easier work than a 1000-Snow-an-hour part-time job, you just had to start crawling around picking up those scraps of paper. …Getting into fights with the original owner was just part of the job.
“Aren’t you just saying that because cleaning it up is your job? You’re holding a broom and dustpan.”
Yes. Unlike the cheerleaders and salesgirls in barely-there swimsuits, he looked completely drab despite being a staff member. He was wearing a plain work jumpsuit despite the heat. The nametag on his chest said Umibe Torihiko.
He had no apparent Skills.
The twintail girl’s senses noticed that immediately.
That was unusual for Money (Game) Master where a stray bullet or a weapon on wheels could arrive at any moment. Midori was still a beginner herself, but she had still done her amateur best to work out a combination of Skills with her swimsuit and accessories.
“How can I just watch when you’re littering on the field right in front of me? Grass is actually a delicate plant that gets splotchy colors really easily.”
The boy pouted his lips as he spoke.
He had apparently found an enemy he could snap at, so he was on the attack. It might sound cheap, but only attacking an enemy you knew you could handle was the key to survival in Money (Game) Master and every other online game too. But given she was a customer and he was an employee, some people might have lifted him by his collar for this. Of course, Midori was not that close-minded.
“Also, that’s not real soccer. It’s not about betting or money. When you’re averaging out the win percentages over the past decade and working out the most likely combination of numbers to win, you’re not even watching the ball anymore. They’ve already done that to baseball and basketball, so I don’t want you bringing it here too.”
That’s what I should have done, realized Midori.
Although that option was not on the table for her because knowing the win percentages for the past decade would require buying data with money she did not have and Meiki, her Magisterus, never did what she told her to.
“It’s all their fault.”
“The coach and all the players have been swapped out since they got so close to the primary sponsor AI company and stole the management rights from the original human owner. The Leviathans aren’t supposed to be like this…”
Had he decided to work here because he was a huge fan of the team?
Midori did not really care about soccer itself, so she did not know which club teams belonged to which stadiums.
“Anyway, if you don’t even know the team’s uniform color, then stay away from here. This place is for soccer fans. If you want to make money, do it elsewhere.”
“Yeah, those blue uniforms are a disgrace. Was that team the Leviathans? I think they had D.M.S. to increase dynamic movement and D.V.A. for dynamic vision, but they didn’t have any other players to trade in. They really should have gone with a Skill like Physical Stamina to keep them playing well for longer.”
“…!? Just leave!!”
The Royal Theatre Hotel was the largest in Summer City’s peninsula city.
But the area near the delivery entrance around back did not get much light.
“Is that you, M Scope?”
When Lilikiska, a glasses girl with her long black hair pushed back by a hairband made of intricate metalwork, spoke in surprise, a figure there gave a start.
He had originally been an expert at “lying in wait”. In other words, at using things like traps and mines.
He was inside the bare minimum of a “house” made by cutting up and pasting together the delivery boxes for anime character goods and robot models. In other words, it was a cardboard house. A hunched-over backpack boy sat inside alongside a Magisterus in a light blue kimono. This was not an ordinary scene. After all, he had once been a member of Ag Wolves, making him a top-level Dealer who readily spent sums as large as 1.7 billion Snow.
Some of the boxes clearly had foreign languages written on them. This game only precisely modeled Summer City, but those must have contained products manufactured in the outside areas that were simplified down to data and numbers.
It was said that sturdy cargo ships and airplanes would come apart after crossing the city’s border, but it was hard to believe.
The Yuki Onna Magisterus seated next to the hunched-over boy must have fallen victim to the heat in that non-air-conditioned space because she was a lot smaller than before.
“Kyuhhh… I-I’m at that age where you at least want a freezer…”
“Hold on! That girl is dripping wet! Isn’t she a Yuki Onna!?”
“Don’t worry, Lilikiska. She’s only wet because she uses the free showers at the beach whenever she has some spare time. Ginmi is obsessed with cold things. When I used to buy cakes, she was always more excited by the dried ice in the box than the cake itself.”
“There is something wrong with Summer City. You turn the cold faucet and lukewarm water comes out…”
Lilikiska’s direct gaze must have scared him more than her mobile glasses synced to her phone. The boy was acting even more nervous than before and his eyes wandered to avoid looking his former leader in the eye.
“Y-you seem to be doing well considering the team fell apart after our other Dealers like Titan and Saurus were devoured by Suou Kaname.”
“I don’t hold a grudge. In fact, I’m kind of happy. I’ve heard it can be especially tough for female Dealers after they Fall and lose everything. I don’t know what trick you used to recover, but I’m glad you’re back at the top.”
“What are you doing now?”
The prices of some materials were listed on the Yuki Onna’s kimono.
“Gathering up empty cans and old magazines to sell them, I guess. It’s slow, but I am saving up Snow. Ha ha. Although I’m not sure I even have enough to buy a pair of those mobile glasses you’re wearing. I can’t hope to invest yet. I at least need a gun or a car before I can try anything big like that. If I make too much money, I’ll stand out and become a target. These days, Smash Daughter is looking like a real threat. And with things like that-…”
“Um, I didn’t mean it like that.”
Lilikiska hesitantly spoke up with her leather holster leather holster squeezing her breasts from the sides like a waitress uniform’s suspenders, so M Scope smiled a little with his arms around his knees.
And he spoke.
“I’ve ‘gone AI’. My real life is supported by a data idol management office. Ha ha, maybe it’s because I was a platinum member of Rain-chan’s fan club until last month.”
“Even here in Money (Game) Master, I’m just going to have rival Dealers with a grudge surround me before I can regain any real power. I know that.”
Before all this, they had directly clashed with a powerful Dealer known as Pavilion in order to steal the piece of the Inheritance called #Downpour.err. At the time, they had never dreamed of ending up so deep in debt, so they had not feared making quite a few grudges. And once the security brought by their money was gone, this was the result.
Even in the game, the pain of being shot was real.
Yet M Scope continued clinging to this world.
“But there’s still a lot here I can’t give up on. That includes the collection that was seized when I went into debt. I need to take that back from the pawnshop… Lilikiska, those character goods might seem worthless or even downright creepy to you, but they’re precious treasures to me. Nothing else can replace them and I refuse to give up on them.”
She could not make fun of him for this.
There was something she had kept from the teammates relying on her back then: her personal past and feelings regarding Suou Kaname. Without that, she may have been able to calmly pull the trigger and prevent those teammates from Falling.
Those teammates would have a hard time understanding why she had lost, yet it was a top priority matter that Lilikiska could not have ignored.
M Scope had a different reason from hers. That was all it was. So she would not frown over this.
Instead, she pulled a sidearm pistol from her hip and tossed it into the cardboard house.
It had no Skills.
It was entirely plain.
Maybe that was because the forehead glasses girl was a sniper Dealer. Sometimes support Skills like Auto-Aim could get in the way.
“With a gun or a car, you can try something big, right?”
She had no right to look down on him here.
M Scope had wanted to protect his old life even if it meant crawling back up from rock bottom, but Lilikiska had thrown out her old life for immediate power. It was obvious whose soul was purer.
So she was the one who could not look him in the eye.
“I am no longer with Ag Wolves. I sided with a different plan to make this recovery. It is up to all of you to protect that team. If you are not using your position as an excuse to run away from the challenge and you really did just need a starting foothold, then use that to climb back up.”
In the world of Money (Game) Master, the key to negotiations was to apply pressure to their wallets.
“We’re going to attack the soccer club team?”
Hekireki Midori did not look surprised.
“Hell, yeah! Let’s do this! They call themselves the Leviathans, but they’re nothing but scrawny weaklings who stole my dreams away… So what’ll it be? The stadium? The training center? Some kind of hall of fame? Just tell me the target so we can go blast it to smithereens! Hurry!!”
“Wait, wait, wait.”
Calming down the overly-motivated black-twintailed middle school girl was not easy. She kept mentioning things they could never do back in reality, so he hoped this world had not started poisoning her mind in some weird way.
It was night.
They were inside a holiday apartment in the peninsula city. Needless to say, this was one of the hideouts Kaname had bought around the game world. To be blunt, it was more about distributing his personal possessions in case of trouble than about a comfortable place to live. He never liked places this far off the ground because it distanced him from his car, but that was unavoidable this time.
Because this 48th floor room was necessary to look down on that stadium.
…Also, calling his best friend’s little sister to an apartment in the dead of night was not the best look, but that too was unavoidable. After all, a beginner like Midori did not have her own home yet. When resting in-game, she used a net cafe with her large motorcycle in a coin-operated parking space. In the long run, having your own land was undeniably better, but she had not run the hidden numbers on interest rates, drop rates, and so on.
“We don’t have to attack them head-on like that. What we want is Takamasa’s loose-leaf notes that the club team seems to have. Since they have a piece of the Inheritance, the odds are good they have the list we’re after. I’ve had Tselika look into the Leviathans’ situation, so let’s be smart about it and strike at their Achilles heel.”
Midori was so disappointed she started acting like a chained-up dog. Girls grew up so fast. When had she become so violent?
And she seemed to find fault in everything when she was upset because she looked over at the open closet.
“All your clothes are the same. Is that some kind of weird obsession?”
“It’s for the Skills.”
“The exact same product made in the exact same factory can have different Skills attached, right? So when I find clothes in a design I like, I have to keep buying them until I get a Skill combination I can use. Especially when the one they let you try on is not the one you actually get to buy. But if I really wanted to find an excuse for it, it is logical to have a few different pairs of the same clothing.”
“Hm. Is that Grip? And Auto-Aim?”
“…You can tell what they have? All of them!?”
She looked unsure what to say.
Kaname decided he definitely had to bring Midori with him next time he went shopping. Then he could avoid that wasteful brute force method.
The black-twintailed girl sighed.
“I don’t know why you think this is so unusual. What my brother could do with Skills was a lot more astonishing.”
“It’s wrong to even think about comparing yourself to him.”
Was it a bloodline thing?
It was the same idea when customizing weapons. Every part that came out of the manufacturing plant had a Skill attached, so you had to find the right one and install it in your weapon for the result you wanted. Unlike with clothing, each individual component had its individual Skill, so you could include three or four parts with the same Skill to multiply the effects.
…But on the other hand, that did not seem like enough to explain Takamasa’s Inheritance. You could not reach those levels just by brute-forcing your way to the parts you wanted and installing them in the limited number of slots. Those weapons were incredible enough to suspect he had been creating components with the Skills he wanted all on his own.
“If only there was some way to incorporate your talent into battle…”
“That’s the Leviathans, isn’t it? Isn’t it!?”
By the way, Tselika’s findings had been corroborated by Laplacian.
That glasses woman had actually had tears in her eyes afterwards, but a coin toss was known as the world’s most unfair gamble. By focusing on the weight of the coin and the strength of your fingertip, it was possible to accurately adjust the number of rotations with practice. Plus, heads could be turned to tails and vice-versa just by adjusting the position of your catching hand a few centimeters up or down. When your opponent decided ahead of time whether it was heads or tails, it was possible to adjust the result and win 100% of the time.
What was the trick to rolling the result you wanted with a die or dividing a deck of cards at precisely the 30th card?
The most annoying kind of cheating was the kind that could only be learned through practice.
“Heyyy, master. These rooms we rarely visit are a real problem. We should probably get a robot to keep the floors clean-ish and the snacks in the fridge are bout to go bad, so I’m gonna eat them all.”
“Tselika, explain the situation.”
Some of those snacks were luxury foods shipped by air from the simplified data regions outside of accurately-modeled Summer City, so it would indeed be a waste to let them go bad.
The race queen demon placed a large plate full of things like cheese and salami on the glass table and then lay face up on the table herself. She brought her hands behind her head and kept one knee raised while switching over the pattern on her bikini top and miniskirt like they were an LCD screen.
“Hee hee, let’s get started. Make sure to burn this into your memory.” Tselika elegantly winked while in full feast mode. “This is all about that immoral team operating out of Leviathan Stadium. Some new Dealers apparently took over after kicking out the old owner once the club team started going downhill.”
“Hm? So this isn’t the original owner???”
Midori seemed oddly interested in that fact, so Kaname tilted his head.
“Is that so strange?”
“I mean, um, isn’t the owner the most important person? Like a company president. Doesn’t the AI do that stuff?”
Midori looked like it was not clicking for her.
That may have been the appropriate reaction for a twintailed middle school girl, but she needed to do some more studying if she hoped to survive in Money (Game) Master.
“It’s true an owner or president is at the top on paper, but some are hired onto the team or company and are thus easily replaced. And like you said, normal companies are AI-run in this game, but it’s not that unusual for a sports team to have hired on a human owner. Although they’ll probably be at the mercy of the evaluations run by the primary sponsor AI company.”
“That is the largest sponsor that directly supports the club team. It might be best to think of a club team as the subsidiary or sports division of an AI company.”
“Well, they’re not linked to the company quite as blatantly as the baseball teams are,” said Tselika. “But with the Leviathans, the sponsor company is the majority shareholder of the team management company, so they have almost complete control. It’s easier to think of the sponsor as a parent company.”
Kaname and Tselika summed it all up for Midori.
…Although it was unclear if an ordinary middle schooler would have a good idea of what a sponsor was outside of TV ads.
“Since they’re like a parent company, the AI company coldly judges the team based on their sports results. If dropping results means the company doesn’t get the advertisement effect they expected during the contract period, it’s possible the human president or owner gets fired. In that case, it’s the primary sponsor – and thus the AI board members – who make the call, so it would be possible to take advantage of that to take over the team yourself. In Money (Game) Master, you can get most anything you want with money. Anyway, we’ll answer whatever other questions you have. Tselika.”
“Sure thing. The original owner was Umibe Tatsuo, a 38-year-old man. He and his real-world coworkers apparently started the virtual currency business so they could escape the drudgery of office work. And he had always loved soccer. …Of course, this is all based on the official profile he put out himself.”
“Not an unusual age to be interested in the business angle rather than the online game angle.”
Twintailed Midori tilted her head at what Kaname said.
All the talk of office work and club team management was probably even more unfamiliar to her than the soccer itself.
“But, um, his coworkers? Isn’t the owner at the very top? Wouldn’t he have done it on his own?”
“It depends, but it sounds like they placed Umibe Tatsuo at the top as owner while the others chose positions they wanted to play. The players and coach have young avatars, but they’re all middle-aged men on the inside. Soccer fans come in all sorts, but if you’re talking about the egg-headed data-obsessed type, they might be able to do quite well once they get the body to pull it off.”
Tselika cackled and used the split end of her tail to point at something displayed on her bodylines.
“Their mascot Shark-kun was apparently drawn by his son. I believe he turns 10 this year. His Dealer name here is…”
Before Race Queen Tselika could ask how she knew, Midori had brought a hand to her forehead.
The girl in a frilly black gothic bikini and miniskirt seemed to be recalling something Kaname and Tselika had not seen.
“It’s that boy. He was working as a janitor in the stadium taken over by those immoral Dealers. He must not have been able to abandon his home. Oh, no. That explains why he was so mad. That wasn’t a club team an AI created for money. There were human hopes and dreams behind it. And Shark-kun? That was even printed on the gambling tickets. Saying I didn’t know isn’t enough. I tore it up and threw it away right in front of him…”
“The old owner was weirdly principled and refused to allow any form of gambling. That hurt business, but the real problem was the advertising income. With Summer City’s soccer league, advertising accounts for most of the profit and that includes the stadium billboards, the goods, and the online broadcasts. But when they let their guard own, someone was buying up their sponsors. That Gatling gun was used to threaten the AI companies and Dealers in order to gather them all together.”
Midori frantically interrupted while waiving her hands side to side.
“B-but what about the primary sponsor? Wasn’t a major AI company looking after the soccer team!?”
“They only needed to own a majority of the company. Even if they only owned 50.1% against everyone else’s 49.9%,” explained Kaname. “In fact, owning 80% or 90% wouldn’t give them anything more. And since paying more would not benefit the AI company any, they would keep it at the bare minimum like that.”
“But the club team can’t function with just 50.1%,” added Tselika. “They’ll go out of business without 70% or 80% of their advertisement income coming in.”
“When the time was right, the malicious actors just had to stop paying out in order to starve the club team. It was especially bad since these were long-term contracts of four or five years. All of the stadium billboards were blank. And like Tselika said, the primary sponsor’s support alone is not enough funding for the team. That was the end.”
Midori finally fell silent.
Financial competitions had more cruelty and psychological attacks than pro sports where crude jeers were constantly thrown around, but this was all new to her. Her personality was a poor fit for Money (Game) Master, but Kaname thought that was fine.
“The old Leviathans were fragile once the tap was shut off. It was an obvious acquisition maneuver, but the primary sponsor was coldhearted. The AI company demanded they take responsibility, Umibe Tatsuo was replaced, and the current immoral club team was brought in as new management. The old players and trainers were also driven out.”
“In other words, the homey former-salaryman team created to pursue forgotten childhood dreams has been replaced by a group of professionals with the cold eyes of hitmen,” said Tselika. “Everything but the team’s name has changed. Talk about false advertising.”
That summed up the history.
It was a lot for those involved, but it was all common enough in Money (Game) Master.
So it was time to talk about the present.
“The immoral Dealers operating out of Leviathan Stadium are currently focused on something other than their team’s ranking. They are more interested in Biondetta Dome, a new indoor stadium scheduled to be built on the coast.”
“Sorry, sorry. I’ll focus on this. I know there are a lot of rich people in this city, but aren’t there already like four or five stadiums? Is one more that big a deal???”
The frilly gothic-style black bikini and miniskirt girl sounded exasperated and tossed a cheese cube into her mouth.
“They were evenly arranged with the population distribution before, but not this time. This one is blatantly encroaching on Leviathan Stadium’s territory.”
Kaname pointed out the window with his thumb.
It was obvious when you looked down from here, but the locations of the two stadiums were quite close. They would obviously hurt each other’s business like two convenience stores across an intersection from each other.
And Biondetta Dome’s construction site looked quite tense within the temporary silver walls surrounding it.
“Huh? Those are PMC soldiers instead of construction workers, aren’t they? Wow, they all have anti-materiel rifles and I think those are turret-equipped armored trucks parked around there.”
“They even have attack helicopters on the heliports in this area. Throwing a rock in that general direction would be suicide.”
That was all Kaname said.
He was not the type to say it would be impossible.
But more importantly…
“You felt how hot it was with the direct sunlight during the day, right? Leviathan Stadium is an old-style outdoor stadium. That isn’t well suited for Summer City where it’s midsummer year-round and there’s exhaust everywhere. Then there’s the territory issue. If perfectly temperature-controlled Biondetta Dome is completed, everyone will go there instead.”
“And the number of teams in a league changes every few years, so Biondetta will mean a new club team,” added Tselika.
“When you look at the data on the dome’s development process, you find they suddenly announced the construction project with no advance warning, so it was a complete surprise for Leviathan Stadium.”
“Oh, yeah. I think I’ve heard that two teams in the same prefecture can lead to competition over the fans.”
Midori was still struggling to understand it all, but Kaname moved on all the same.
“Now, old-fashioned Leviathan Stadium quickly tried to install a bunch of outdoor spot coolers, but it doesn’t look like they’re going to make it in time. They have plenty of reason for a personal grudge against Biondetta.”
“Hm? However it worked in the past, the Leviathans are an immoral team now, right? Do they really care that much? The players and coach are human, but the facility maintenance and inspection is done by AI-controlled NPCs, right? …The simple cleaning appears to be done by human part-timers, but can’t they just go play in that dome run by different NPCs?”
“The costs are very different between home and away games. Also, 70% of the profit from sports games comes from the TV, radio, and online broadcast advertising handled through direct contracts with sponsors. All of that is based on the assumption of home games, so away games eat away at their profits.”
“…I see. I was wondering why a single city needed so many stadiums.”
“Also, a stadium is used for more than your own games. Third parties will rent it out for various events. Drive away your sponsors and you’re done. You won’t be able to bring in customers or even fill your monthly schedule with events.”
When a club team was linked to a stadium, both were managed by the same group, so they could not underestimate a failing facility. When the stadium went under, so did the team.
This was an open world game where you could do anything, but the city had limited space. Having such a large structure there cost a lot in maintenance fees. It was literally hundreds of millions of yen a month. That was why they had to constantly seek customers and profit and fill in their monthly schedule with events. It may have been like an airplane that needed to constantly burn fuel to keep its speed up or it would fall.
“In other words, the club team wants to prevent Biondetta Dome from being completed so their Leviathan Stadium can stay in business,” said Tselika.
“No matter what dirty tricks they have to use? All while dragging the stolen Leviathan name through the mud?”
“That’s how Money (Game) Master works,” said Kaname. “If you don’t like it, then use money or force to solve it yourself.”
While still lying on the glass table with the relevant data displayed on her bodylines, Tselika twisted her hips and adjusted the position of her tail before explaining further.
“You can actually see a fair amount of confusion in the material procurement department. Mostly about the special air-conditioning units they need. Someone is interfering with the industrial air conditioner manufacturer to keep the units from arriving, so the dome’s construction must stop. The dome is designed so the roof is actually supported by the expanding air within, so the construction and wiring cannot begin without those units.”
“Um, is it like not letting the starting card be played in a game of Sevens?”
“Do they really have to stare at the blueprints and arrange all the metal parts just right to create the finished product? It’d be a lot easier if they could just shove ingredients in a large pot and have the finished product pop out.”
“Money (Game) Master is a very realistic virtual reality. Although if there was a technology to freely rearrange atomic structures in the real world, it would probably work here too.”
“It’s all so unnecessarily complicated for a game.”
“Start down that route and you’ll drain all the fun out of the open world format.”
Kaname was thankful it did not us the “n% chance of a successful mixture” paradigm because this meant they could sneak explosives into a factory if they ever needed to hinder an AI company’s activities.
After an exasperated sigh, he used a silver fork to poke at some data near Tselika’s armpit.
“Biondetta Dome is set to be the home of a new club team, but that isn’t enough to fund it. The project is being run alongside the Misaka World Fair being held two years from now. To put it another way, if construction is not complete by then, they won’t have enough funding and they’ll have to halt construction or withdraw altogether.”
That was a long time period for a normal game, but in Money (Game) Master where money solved everything, there were ways of making money even during construction. For example, the construction workers’ lunches could be a source of income.
“Once they start working in earnest, it will take a year and a half to complete, so the Leviathans only have to delay them by six months. And that rundown old stadium wants to make sure that happens no matter what.”
“We interfere with their interference.”
“Kyu kee hee. Master, that tickles. It is the same idea as ECCM used against ECM. We are after a set of documents inside the club team’s strictly guarded safe, so we just have to make our move here. That should shake them to the core.”
While lying on her back and explaining, Tselika grabbed an olive form her snack plate and ate it before displaying the next data on her skimpy outfit.
“The construction site is a lot like a game of Sevens where all the starting cards are being held onto, but there is one difference from the card game,” she said. “In a real battle, stopping that starting card will not necessary stop someone forever. They can always overturn the table by force or trickery.”
Kaname nodded in agreement.
He stated his conclusion while viewing the big picture.
“The Leviathans are stopping the special air-conditioning units, so let’s prepare some identical units and prepare to deliver them to Biondetta Dome. That should shake everyone from the old stadium.”
“Ah ha ha! Are you going to have them come to you so they can tearfully hand over their secret list?”
“Without even using hostile takeovers as an example, it should be obvious that harassment is the best way to get what you want in the economic world. If we want to make friends with an immoral team that starts waving a Gatling gun around when some soccer games aren’t going their way, let’s start by becoming someone they can’t ignore.”
“What signature should we use?”
“Making direct demands can wait. Let’s start by raising the internal pressure until they’ve become a remote-controlled toy that will do anything we say. Yes, I know. Tselika, you can calculate out the recipe, but let’s create an arbitrary new cocktail and make it popular at the bars around here. We can call it Targeting the List.”
“Spreading blatant malice through the city without showing yourself? That is certainly bold.”
He did not say the rest out loud.
Those loose-leaf notes were more than just a treasure map. They were a piece of the precious thoughts left behind by Takamasa. That was not something he could let people stare all over in their pursuit of money.
Showing it off was pointless.
When saving people, it was best to keep your mouth shut and simply do it.
But just then, twintailed Midori spoke up while her mind was in some other dimension entirely.
“Hey, if that works, the Leviathans will do whatever we ask, right? I mean, the point is to get them to hand over my brother’s list and that’s their greatest treasure.”
“Yeah, what about it?”
“I’ll tell you everything I saw. I don’t know all that much about finances and gunfights, so I want your help.”
Tselika started to say something, but Kaname held out a hand to stop her.
When this girl – Takamasa’s sister – said she was going to do something, he would help.
That was Suou Kaname’s #1 rule.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Correct a mistake. Rid this city of all the unfairness plaguing it.”
Server Name: Gamma Orange. Ending Location: Summer City – Peninsula City.
Goodbye, Suou Kaname.
The boy realized he had been playing the game quite a lot today.
He looked away from his phone that was no longer displaying symbol markers at 120 frames per second and then he blinked a few times. His vision was blurry without his contacts, but he groped across his desk to find the eye drop bottle and gave some moisture to his painfully dry eyes.
(Oops, what do I do about my contacts now?)
He realized it only after using the eye drops.
He had no choice but to put on the cheap glasses stuck in his pen holder. The text “April 19” grew clearer on the desk’s digital calendar. There were no Skills to amplify one’s vision in the real world. He wanted to leave his room, so he decided to head for the convenience store more to have something to do than because he was hungry.
(Where did my outdoors duffle coat go?)
It was late April, but early spring sometimes brought a chill to remind you of winter. The chilly air creeping in from the window was real, but there was only a hanger on the wall hook. He used his phone to send his sister a message.
(I should also buy a few colors of pen while I’m at it.)
He could see Hekireki Midori inside Money (Game) Master whenever he wanted, but that did not mean her letter-writing hobby went away. …Although he was unsure how to handle how much closer they had gotten in that world, so his writing had gotten awkward. But if she was going to keep doing it, he had decided it would go along with it.
Anyway, there was no response on his phone.
That gave him a bad feeling. His sister would respond to any message in less than three minutes, so he doubted she would fail to respond to a message from him like this.
He opened the living room door and then groaned.
His sister slowly sat up from where she had been watching late-night TV on the sofa.
“So you’re heading out at this hour? It can’t be for much if you’re dressed like that. Buy me a few ice cream cups.”
“Hmweh? It was pretty faded and torn in places, so I thought you were done with it. The heating in this room is pretty bad for how big it is…”
His small sister with shoulder-length black hair must have gotten drowsy from the warmth because her eyes were somewhat unfocused.
This was one of her bad habits. When he was in the virtual world, she would sneak into his room and take any button-up shirts or track suits she saw even though they did not fit her. She was so picky about her pajamas while in the dressing room, but in the mornings, he often found her yawning and stretching in her bed while wearing one of his baggy T-shirts. She might be fine with that, but he really needed her to understand how bad it was for his heart when he casually wrapped a scarf around his face only to receive a surprise attack from a strangely sweet aroma.
“Anyway, buy me those ice cream cups, okay?”
“You’re pretty demanding for someone who lies around at home staying warm with someone else’s coat.”
Her request seemed to be testing his tastes, but he more or less knew what his sister liked. Chocolate mint or strawberry were safe options. But in this case, it was best to avoid a seasonal flavor that added in something extra like banana chocolate parfait flavor or four berry blend flavor.
“Onii-chan, I know Money (Game) Master is hard work, but don’t neglect real life. Having money and having only money are two very different things.”
“I know that.”
The boy grew somewhat hesitant at that point.
This was how that skilled Dealer was in real life.
“Have you, um, given any thought to returning?”
“No.” His sister softly shook her head on the sofa. “I already retired. And even if I did make a new account, my Magisterus wouldn’t be her. So I’m fine like this.”
“I see,” said the boy.
People’s psychological scars were invisible. If she had a way of overcoming this that worked for her, it would be wrong to force her back. The Will of the Magisteri might be frightening, but that did not necessarily apply to the individuals. In fact, the boy had been happy that he could face the world’s unfair side with Tselika by his side once more. Digging up the past here would not help, so he dropped the matter.
“I’ll be going.”
“Sure. Bring me that ice cream before I get so desperate I drink some lukewarm tap water.”
Once outside the apartment, his mind grew sharper like he had just swallowed a cold carbonated beverage. It was not cold enough to see his breaths, but he did wish he had taken his coat back.
He wanted to go to a convenience store, so he walked to the nearby shopping district that had most everything.
It was already pretty dark, but there were a lot of people out at this time.
However, that did not mean a lot of people were working.
The security personnel meant to guide people around construction had been replaced by conversational robots and the practice of hiring people to stand out on the roadside and draw people into your store had died out. No one even looked at the store signs these days. Nor were there any warnings about the dangers of looking at your phone while you walked. Everyone had their eyes down on their phones while they only focused on their map apps or the number of stars on a gourmet site. Even the shadier type had realized they could find suckers more cheaply if they used AI advertisement.
“Introducing the No More Multi-Accounts Campaign!! The world is running out of addresses, so combining your computer, phone, and game system’s profiles into one qualifies as a social service!”
He walked past an LCD sign with brightly-colored flashing lights.
He passed by a police officer pedaling an electrically assisted bicycle while wearing a backpack containing communication devices and a 360-degree camera like those used for a major search engine’s panorama photography. Was that one of the few jobs where people still saw the value of flexible, on-site responses, or did government jobs simply lag behind the modern times?
This short walk was enough to get him out of breath and he felt a vague fear of the dark night past the streetlights. He really was quite different from the Dealer in the game.
This shopping district was not far from his home, but it felt like a cold labyrinth. And the convenience store’s automatic door did not open at one corner of that nightscape.
He nearly ran into the glass door and then slowly reached out his hand. Perhaps because it was so late, it had switched over to a system where he had to press a button to open it.
“Ready…go! Good evening! This is the Three Goddess Sisters! It’s time for the nighttime portion of our chat, which is exclusive to Seven E-Raven. I am Alecto and this is Tisiphone-chan and Megaera-chan! I hope you enjoy this glimpse into our secret girl’s talk time!!”
The bright store was filled with an idol program similar to a radio show, but there was no one inside. The register counter was empty and the LCD screen there said:
“We are currently in unmanned store mode. Please use the self-checkout.”
The warmth he had felt in the lights here had apparently been an illusion like a desert mirage.
The LCD screen looked far too bright while displaying a dancing anime-style character in the convenience store’s uniform. It was one of those virtual something-or-others that were all the rage lately.
He grabbed a basket, walked past the magazine section that was half empty, and arrived in the drink section. He put a can of energy drink and a plastic bottle of sports drink in his basket, walked to the bento section, decided against it, and chose a few vegetable sandwiches instead.
“Don’t you hate having different email addresses for your computer and phone, not to mention your many game systems and digital cameras and whatnot? There are just too many addresses with all your different appliances!”
“I knowwww, right? It’s all the same facial recognition and fingerprint scanning, so what’s the point of all the different accounts? It’s not like we’re still typing in passwords using a keyboard all yellowed from cigarette grime.”
“So why not find a convenient way to combine them all? No More Multi-Accounts! Useful at home and at work!!”
The in-store broadcast was probably a pseudo-automatic script where a human wrote a general outline and an AI fleshed it out. It could not have been more obvious how they tried to manipulate people’s emotions by drawing a line between those who did what they said and those who did not. But did the 2 Support 1 unit (a combined unit with a single human girl and two data idols) realize the true purpose behind the script they were reading?
Perhaps because Golden Week was approaching, there were a few types of Kashiwa Mochi in the dessert section. Some of them apparently had chocolate or custard cream inside.
(Oh, right. The pens.)
He turned back toward the stationery section and grabbed a three-color set. The ice cream was the last thing he looked at. He doubted the rest would take long enough for it to melt, but he did not want it getting damp at room temperature.
Made in Japan. Automatic.
Every product would have that on the label. Cheap, mass-produced foreign brands had disappeared. The personnel costs could be reduced to zero by using AI-controlled unmanned factories and the quality was the same no matter what country the product came from as long as it was made in the same sort of factory.
He did not even need to walk up to the empty register counter. He could walk right out the door. The many cameras watching him would automatically take the payment from his phone.
…That system sounded like it would lead to lots of shoplifting and unpaid purchases, but thorough product tag management and high-speed security cameras dealt with that. And if the checkout reading failed, the automatic doors would not open…or so he had heard. He had never actually seen it happen himself. The phone receiver icon at one corner of the register was an emergency contact button in case the door malfunctioned and refused to open like with an elevator. Just like with auto-locking apartment doors and door-to-door salesmen, it had become a game of cat-and-mouse between loopholes and countermeasures, but it was hard for a national chain to resist the siren’s song of 24-hour service with limited personnel costs. Although one problem was how this meant they had to put all the products out on the shelves in the early morning.
The AI society made no demands or threats.
It was all about making things more convenient and self-indulgent.
And that had led the people to throw out what they had of their own free will. Because their rivals would get ahead of them if they did not.
Even this self-checkout had to have taken late-night jobs from a lot of people, leaving them high and dry. There were even tragic news stories about an electrical short in an unmanned store starting a fire that cooked everyone inside to death. It might be inefficient, but more flexible human beings could take care of things like that. It was like the rolled-up balls of newspaper that cushioned your coffee cups when you moved. The AI society had stripped away all of those softer parts and made society so excessively efficient that there was no longer a margin of error to take care of unpredictable misfortune and tragedy. Human and machine, corporation and individual, government and citizen. Because blame could not be laid squarely on anyone’s shoulders, it got passed around and no one was punished. Even as more lives were lost.
The world is running out of addresses.
Introducing the No More Multi-Accounts Campaign!!
That too was the result of financial deals being performed so unbelievably quickly between two machines instead of between two people or between a person and a machine. It was not the humans who had hogged up all the addresses and caused this problem; it was the bodiless programs. Fully freelance machine-to-machine deals with no human user registered on either side had grown to cover 48% of all financial deals in the world. Once that passed the 50% mark, it would be the machines ruling the money and efficiently manipulating humans instead of the humans operating the machines.
And at the same time.
If every single person was given just a single address linked with biometrics, it would surely be quite convenient for the Will of the AIs that wanted to manage those 7 billion individuals. People’s online shopping history and social media posts could be used to analyze their thoughts and tapping the dot on a map app could be used to crash their self-driving car in what looked like no more than an accident. That was one future they would be able to create.
The boy completed the checkout and left the convenience store.
He was not cooked to the death in a fire and he was not trapped in the store by a checkout error.
He did not encounter that margin of error today.
But what about tomorrow?
Server Name: Psi Indigo. Starting Location: Summer City – Peninsula City.
Welcome to Money (Game) Master, Hekireki Midori.
She had not actually exchanged addresses with him.
She had only one guess as to where to find him. The black-twintailed girl rode her large red leaf-patterned motorcycle slowly around Leviathan Stadium. It was nighttime. The illuminated stadium and the surrounding area apparently functioned as a date spot, but for the people who simply wanted to enjoy the sport, that may have looked like additives and artificial colors in their food.
After driving all the way around the circular route with no real destination in mind, she spotted a familiar face. In her black gothic bikini and miniskirt, Midori slowed her motorcycle and pulled over to the curb.
“Oh, thank goodness. So are you always out here staring up at the stadium?”
It was a small boy.
He was right next the kind of payphone that had been completely forgotten in the modern day.
He was sitting on a graffiti-covered bench and stroking the head of a faded stuffed animal. Midori could tell that shark character provided no Skills whatsoever. The building in front of him was a garishly illuminated castle of greed. It was the stadium hijacked by the immoral team. But it was still an important place for the 10-year-old boy.
“I know money is everything. Even my dad and his friends were being clever with money when they gathered their retirement money to register themselves as owners of the club team. There may have been people who suffered because of that. It all comes down to money here in Money (Game) Master. I know that…”
Those office workers had pooled their retirement money to start a virtual currency business.
Umibe Tatsuo had been made the owner and his friends had been made the players and trainers. They had followed soccer as fans for so long, so they had wanted to see how far their fan’s perspective and logic could take them.
…And since this was the result, what had become of their relationships in the real world? They may have found a hell different again from the one Midori was living.
Black-twintailed Midori did not deny any of that.
“If it all comes down to money, then the other side can’t complain when their luck turns either.”
“Forget I said anything.” Midori focused on the throttle lever on her motorcycle’s handlebars. “I’m relieved just to have seen your face. I know you must be worried, but don’t do anything reckless. Waiting is an option too. And sometimes luck will take your side given enough time.”
“How…how could luck possibly take our side after all this!? Dad lost everything: his money, his confidence, and his friends’ trust! Even though he didn’t do anything wrong and it was all those people’s fault!! I understand that, yet I can’t do anything for him! Nothing at all!!”
He was cut off by a staticky noise.
At some point, someone had appeared on the motorcycle’s back seat. It was a Magisterus in a mini-China dress that was wide open on both sides and had soft fur decorating the back of the neck. She had short black hair and two horns and a charm on her forehead. Her chest was fairly flat for how tall she was and her expressionless face looked down at the object she held.
It was a small keyholder.
It had a shark mascot attached. This specific product was from the old management’s club team, not the current Leviathans.
“Meiki, don’t pop out without permission. And you don’t have to show that off right now.”
“Wait, is that…?”
It was a used product she had acquired at a pawnshop run by the team called Treasure Hermit Crab, but her ability to analyze any outfit at a glance told her it had no Skills or added value of any kind. She had bought it because something else about it drew her to it.
“You asked how luck could possibly take your side after all this.”
She opened the throttle and prepared to drive off.
But just before she did, the twintail girl said one last thing.
“Wait a little longer. You’ll soon see how much is possible in this game.”
Server Name: Theta Yellow. Starting Location: Summer City – Northern Peninsula Outskirts.
Welcome to Money (Game) Master, Suou Kaname.
“Midori> Martini Air Conditioning? Are you sure that one company is handling it all?”
“Kaname> We’re talking about the special equipment used to keep an entire domed stadium inflated. They aren’t going to be using a normal company, you cute little thing.”
“Midori> Cute little thing?”
“Kaname> Dammit, Tselika.”
It was a lot chillier once they were outside the peninsula city. That was because the land took a gentle bowl shape as it approached the sea. The temperature went down as the altitude increased, so this area was valuable for things like summer resorts and golf courses. Unlike the central city with its fine sand beaches, this area was covered by rolling green hills. It had originally been a wasteland, but it had been developed for agriculture thanks to an absorbent material that used the stickiness of natto or something.
The most notable trait were the giant seesaw-like silhouettes visible here and there. Those were pumpjacks. They were used to extract oil from the ground.
Kaname had gotten some rest in the real world, so it was the middle of the night now.
He got out of his mint green coupe in a spot where a high-voltage power line and a wide road intersected.
But one hand was tugging on the demon’s tail.
“How many times do I have to tell you not to post under my name?”
“Hnyaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!? I-I-I didn’t mean anything by it! I-I was just operating it with my eyes from the passenger seat because switching to my account is such a pain. Wait, you’re tying me up? Don’t tell me you’re going to tie my tail to that power tower and then drive off in the coupe, leaving me out here all alone!”
Before too long, Midori drove up with her small butt seated on her large red leaf-patterned motorcycle. She lowered the kickstand and swung her leg wide to climb down. …She was probably not careless enough to claim it did not bother her since she was wearing a swimsuit, but he still felt it would be best not to mention that pose was a lot like a peeing dog.
“Hyah, it’s really chilly out here. And being the middle of the night probably doesn’t help.”
“You’re riding a motorcycle with most of your skin exposed. That’s why I told you to stick a hoodie or raincoat in the helmet space below the seat.”
“Ahh, ahh, ahh! Are you my mom!?”
The black-twintailed girl’s rebellious phase showed no sign of ending. This was a bad sign and he feared for her future.
The starry sky was much brighter here than in the city center. Although this area of land was buried below a square of smooth plastic for some reason, so they could not fully enjoy the wonders of nature. Meanwhile, Kaname spoke to the tearfully sulking demon.
“Tselika, one last time: are you absolutely sure that air conditioner manufacturer is an ‘outside’ company?”
Money (Game) Master had companies inside the city which were faithfully reproduced down to each individual NPC employee, but it also had companies outside the city that were created from the transaction records (meaning they were simplified and not modeled). Everyone was familiar with the weapon shops, armor shops, item shops, and inns in RPGs, but the game did not actually keep track of how many people would have to work to keep those in business. This was the same.
The Magisterus woman blew on her tail and displayed the relevant documents on the coupe’s body and on her race queen outfit.
“Based on the videos of the previous attacks, Martini Air Conditioning forms something like a caravan of several trucks and escort vehicles to carry the products into the city along a land route. They’re basically asking to be destroyed by the Leviathans at this point.”
The sturdy but slowly-moving trucks would likely be blown up again this time if nothing was done.
Kaname’s group would protect them from the shadows so they could reach Biondetta Dome. They needed to rattle the Leviathans that badly if they were to draw out the list that team was keeping hidden.
They would keep it up until the team handed it over in tears.
Even if their methods would get the police called on them in reality, they were free to do it in the game.
Midori softly sighed.
“This is honestly pretty incredible. Attacking those trucks means blowing through AI-controlled PMC macho men who have unlimited reinforcements. That would normally be suicide.”
“That’s where the Inheritance comes in handy,” said Tselika.
The look in Midori’s eyes sharpened.
She had told Kaname and Tselika what she had seen and heard. Her missing brother’s Inheritance had been used to take over that stadium and torment the boy and his father. The twintail girl saw this as unforgivable for two different reasons.
Kaname glanced at Tselika’s bodylines and thought for a moment.
“Can you really not work out the exact appearance point of the trucks?”
“That would be difficult. If it was possible, the Leviathans would only need to place a single landmine at the city’s border. It’s limited to NPCs, but any vehicles moving in or out of the area within 2km of the city border seem to suddenly warp into place. That said, this is provincial land. We are lucky that the only land routes connecting outside are on the north end of the shark tooth of a peninsula, but that is not enough to know exactly which road they will use.”
“Come to think of it, what happens if we try to leave the city?” asked Midori.
“We crash into an invisible wall. Midori, if you want to try it, do it on foot. You’ll be killed instantly on your bike.”
“I’m not a kitten crashing into the window!” roared the black gothic bikini and miniskirt girl who would probably look really cute in cat ears and a cat tail.
At any rate…
“Once the trucks enter the city, we have to protect them and ensure they reach Biondetta Dome. If we encounter the Leviathans out here, we eliminate them.”
“I see, I see.”
Tselika nodded while attaching priority tags on a few of the documents crawling across her bodylines via the bikini and miniskirt.
“The appearance point might be random, but you can still lie in wait at this major road needed to reach the city center from the north. That means here. There’s no reaching the city center without passing through Amatsu Tunnel.”
“Oh, that thing. All the exhaust in there was no fun on my motorcycle.”
“Don’t complain,” said the demon. “This reduces the overall area in which you are at risk of being shot by the Gatling gun from the wasteland. Once inside Amatsu Tunnel, the Leviathans can’t use their long-range attacks. They will be forced to enter the same tunnel. You only really have to worry during the first half of the trip in the outskirts area.”
“We begin once we can see the headlights of the trucks,” said Kaname.
“Okay…but what about those escort vehicles? I mean, I doubt they’re weak since they’re from an AI company.”
“The videos show Martini Air Conditioning primarily using thick bulletproof black luxury cars and they are armed with carbines made by shortening assault rifles for ease of use,” explained Tselika. “The cars themselves look sleek, but they’re powerful four-wheel drive vehicles on the inside. They stay ahead of and behind the trucks.”
Her race queen outfit must not have been enough space because she lined up the video footage on the mint green coupe instead.
“Meanwhile, the Leviathans use around 10 light off-road motorcycles. For the most part, it looks like human drivers and Magisterus gunners.”
“Oh, yeah. Your Meiki is fairly capricious, isn’t she? If you raise them right, they’ll do that for you. Skills are shared by human and Magisterus alike, so the humans can provide support with their equipment. For example, my sister’s Magisterus was a dark elf named Cindy.”
“She could drive and shoot, but she was hopeless when it came to financial deals.”
“Um, even though Magisteri are AI-controlled?”
“She was the kind of girl who can’t even do the 7s row of the times table, so my sister always did the calculations herself. Anyway, it looks like they also have a large four-wheel-drive buggy to act as a command tower for the motorcycles.”
“You mean it’s a team of eleven just like in soccer?”
“Who knows,” said Tselika. “Normally, you couldn’t win a head-on shootout with a PMC even with a piece of the Inheritance. Especially with motorcycles. They have no armor, so those exposed exhibitionists would be killed from even a single bullet hit. Even if they put together a decent outfit that gave them the Bulletproof Skill, a hit would knock them off balance and their bike would fall over.”
Motorcycle-lover Midori pouted her lips and complained, but now was not the time to argue over which kind of vehicle was better.
“Basically, the Leviathans are cleverly using the freedom their off-road motorcycles give them,” said Kaname. “They can move far away from the asphalt road, allowing them to attack from outside the range of the PMC’s carbines. And that includes with the Gatling gun we’re interested in. And since they don’t need the road, they can also set up traps there. They can blow up bridges, collapse tunnels, set up wires, and place off-route mines… For the most part, Dealers don’t worry about what happens to a route they’re not using.”
“Ugh, this sounds even nastier than the usual firefights. …Although I’m not sure what I expected with these immoral Dealers.”
“Those unseen traps scare me more than the obvious Inheritance. We’ve failed our mission once even one of those goes off, so eliminating them takes top priority.”
“Basically, we drive out ahead of the trucks, find all the traps they’re liable to hit, and get rid of them. And we don’t need to bother with a precise defusing process. We can just fire a bullet at them from a distance to safely detonate them.”
“I doubt they can destroy those sturdy trucks even with an Inheritance Gatling gun,” added Tselika. “The traps stop the trucks and the Inheritance finishes them off, so we do not allow them to do that. If they aren’t stopped, the trucks can reach their destination.”
Also, those road-ignoring off-road tactics only worked in the open outskirts area. In the city center full of buildings, the Leviathans would have to follow the asphalt roads and would have too much in the way to get a line of fire from a distance. And with too much traffic, their traps might not activate properly. Because unrelated people and vehicles would set them off early.
“This isn’t all that difficult if we do things right.” Kaname reached for the driver’s side door of the mint green coupe. “I see some lights. It’s the trucks’ headlights. We need to get started too, Midori.”
“Understood.” Midori hopped back onto her large motorcycle. “Let’s end this unfairness here. Let’s take back everything tonight: my brother’s Inheritance, the list of its pieces, and the Umibe family’s stadium!!”
The mint green coupe finally began to move.
That said, it did not start out at top speed with engine roaring.
First, it waited for the large trucks and escort vehicles slowly approaching from behind.
When they started to pass him by, Kaname opened the driver’s side window and fired his short-range sniper rifle once against the side of a container.
The pain of his Lion’s Nose rapidly grew.
“Okay, let’s get out of here.”
“Surely there was a better way of doing this!”
Now the coupe’s engine really did give a roar.
An extra window appeared at the edge of the windshield.
The many black bulletproof vehicles responded with tires squealing, but he did not bother with them. He chose to lose them at top speed.
A direct firefight with the PMC would never end well. He had prepared a meter to tell him if he had safely escaped them and the number was visibly dropping from its starting point at above 20. This was a makeshift program that used the front and rear drive recorders combined with facial and eyeline recognition algorithms. It counted up how many of the PMC soldiers were focused on him, so he would know he had escaped once it reached 0.
It did not take long for that to happen.
Even while such great speed, it was surprising how quickly he lost their focus.
“The AIs must only pursue for 500m. That’s surprisingly short. Maybe they don’t want to thin out their forces by pursuing a decoy.”
“That was too close… I make sure to polish up my temple on a daily basis and you nearly got it filled with holes again.”
“More importantly, what does the GPS say?”
“I’m not going to forget that ‘more importantly’, you know? While you poked the hornet’s nest and gathered their attention, Midori threw the security buzzer plus sticky tape combo as planned. It’s on the top of the container where no one can see it. That means we can check their location on our map.”
“Is the PMC focused on her?”
“We lost them while they were entirely focused on you, so that is not a problem. They have not locked onto Midori, so worry about your car more! By which I mean my temple!!”
If the bodyguards had been more persistent, they might have had to eliminate some of them, but that did not look necessary when the soldiers turned back after a certain distance. He only had to regroup with the motorcycle up ahead.
Meanwhile, Midori kept looking back while riding her large leaf pattern motorcycle next to the coupe.
“Midori> Are you sure we can stay this far away? We don’t know when the Leviathans will attack and we can’t respond immediately from here!”
“Kaname> Those trucks belong to an AI company and company PMCs are quite powerful. I doubt they can be defeated with no more than a brute force attack from #DragonGod.err. The Leviathans will lay traps first, so we need to stay ahead of the trucks and take out the traps meant to stop them.”
Of course, being traps, these would not be readily visible. This was not a threat meant to bring the trucks to a stop; they were meant to blow the trucks away altogether.
“Kaname> Midori, circle to my other side.”
“Midori> Why? You’re in the passing lane, aren’t you???”
“Kaname> If you don’t shut up and do it in the next five seconds, you’ll be caught in the blast.”
“Midori> Then just say so, i-i-i-idiot!!”
Just as the large red leaf-pattern motorcycle quickly moved to use the mint green coupe as a shield, Tselika removed her seatbelt and reached for the reclining lever. Kaname aimed his short-range sniper rifle out the opened passenger side window. He targeted one of the plastic containers on the side of the road. These were normally filled with water to cushion the impact of crashes, but this one exploded quite spectacularly. It was also filled with small metal balls and screws.
“One trap destroyed.”
“What’s wrong, Tselika? Try not to use that four-letter word. It might not be banned in this game, but not around Midori, okay?”
“I was going to say, ‘for the last time, stop tearing up my temple’! Did you hear all that shrapnel scraping against it!?”
Tselika snapped back at him while raising the passenger seat again, but he unfortunately did not have time to deal with the wild-tailed Magisterus.
“Kaname> Midori, circle behind me.”
“Kaname> To the right this time.”
“Midori> Whoa, are you serious!?
“Kaname> There’s more. Keep using my car as a shield.”
“Ohhhhh, hold it, master! And is there any reason for Midori to stick with us? Aren’t you only using my precious temple as a shield to protect her!?”
“She doesn’t want to be a princess who needs to be carried everywhere, but if she’s going to become a Dealer who can take care of herself, she needs to build up some experience first. The Umibe family? Taking back their stolen stadium and club team? Ha ha. Sounds like a perfect tutorial mission. And if it fits right along with what we need to take that list, I’m willing to help out.”
“Why do you treat her so much more sweetly than someone with a sexy body like this? Are you actually into flat-chested younger girls, master!?”
Tselika was holding her horns in her hands and incessantly headbanging, but she was actually providing plenty of fanservice since her large breasts were also incessantly jiggling.
“Midori> How do you know where the traps are?”
“Kaname> I see where the line of fire is open. Whether the trap uses its explosive blast or throws the explosives first, it has to be within lethal range of the target. Fortunately, you can’t bury a mine on the road like you can in the dirt ground. The only options are to throw the explosive from above or stab into the target’s side. The ballistic path for the explosive is camouflaged so it’s like passing through the head of a needle, but that ends up standing out unnaturally. Like that trash bag over there.”
Bullets flew from the barrel with a uniquely muffled sound.
He did not even need his Lion’s Nose for something like this.
Another fiery flower blossomed to show he had safely “defused” a trap.
“Kaname> Then again, they can be placed behind thin walls and just use their blast to break through that and the target vehicle, but I have Transmit equipped in case they try that. …I really don’t like supporting my shooting with Skills like this, but I’m viewing this as a mine detector and forcing myself to do it.”
“Kaname> It’s a Skill that lets me see through things like walls.”
Midori’s large motorcycle made an odd noise and began to swerve. For some reason, she was holding her slender shoulders with her arms to hide her flat chest.
The boy sounded exasperated.
“Kaname> Midori, keep your hands on the handlebars while driving. What are you, a bored middle schooler experimenting with their bicycle?”
“Midori> I-I-I really am a middle schooler!! And, wait, hold on, does that mean you can see th-through my swi-swi-swimsuit!?”
The blushing girl was apparently at the age where she wanted to keep her defenses up in a number of ways. Could a Rarity Level 8 Skill be used to see through a swimsuit? This all felt too ridiculous to take seriously, so he ignored her question.
That Skill detected the faint and normally-unnoticed light that reflected off of walls and escaped through the gaps below doors and pieced it together into an accurate image to give the illusion of being able to see around corners and through doors. That meant it could not peek into a truly sealed box.
“Then again, the curves of the body mean a swimsuit leaves gaps open around the chest and hips,” said Tselika. “Especially with a bikini.”
“Are you still talking about that? Pursuing this issue will not make anyone happy.”
“And I won’t be satisfied until I get to the bottom of your apparent love of baggy bikini tops over flat chests, master!!”
The hidden bombs could be easily destroyed with a gunshot, but that was likely because the Leviathans did not want to worry about unexploded ordnance. If someone else entirely was caught in one of their traps, it would create an unnecessary antagonism, so they wanted to be able to shoot them if the fuse did not activate.
At any rate, getting rid of the mines gave the trucks a safe route through.
If the mines were the only threat, that is.
“Tselika, check the drive recorder. Are you analyzing the footage?”
“I am. Hmph. I guess! Hmph!!”
A few windows opened on the windshield in positions that did not obstruct his view and displayed the locations of the explosives they had taken out so far.
The results mostly matched Kaname’s instincts.
“I’ve more or less figured out the precision of their traps.”
It was easy once he knew how they were laid out and how to deal with them. He had glowing dots displayed over the real scenery on the windshield and easily shot the off-route mines through the windows.
Hacking, sniping, and bombing.
An individual’s idiosyncrasies tended to show in those special actions. It was the same as viewing someone’s room to analyze their psychology. Once you had the solution, you could predict their next move.
“Is it H.A.S., the hide-and-seek Skill?” asked Tselika.
“Yeah. Whether you’re a hider or a seeker, that Skill lets you locate blind spots people don’t focus on. I believe slight stains on the ground or scrapes on railings are used to determine the locations. But once you figure it out, it’s easy to tell where the bombs will be.”
Skills had their pros and their cons. They provided convenient functions, but those functions could be used against you once someone figured out what you were using.
They were different from inborn talents like Kaname’s Lion’s Nose or Midori’s outfit analysis.
The skilled Dealer spoke calmly.
“I was afraid they would have double traps where destroying the first triggers the second, but it doesn’t look like they went for anything that tricky. Let’s keep it up like this. In another 15 minutes, the Martini Air Conditioning trucks will enter Amatsu Tunnel. Then the Leviathans won’t be able to move around like-…”
He trailed off when he saw some light reflected in the rearview mirror.
A giant explosion blossomed far behind them.
“Wait, hold on, what?”
The tires screeched as Kaname brought the mint green coupe to a rapid stop.
After making a sharp turn with her large leaf-pattern racing motorcycle to come up alongside the car, the frilly black gothic bikini and miniskirt girl knocked lightly on the driver’s side window with the back of her black-gloved hand.
Black-twintailed Midori spoke with her physical voice now.
“Wasn’t that an explosion? From the trucks!?”
“It can’t be…”
“One of the GPS dots has disappeared from the map,” helpfully pointed out Tselika.
“Was that the power of #DragonGod.err from my brother’s Inheritance? You’re kidding! We can’t take the stadium back if those special air conditioning units don’t arrive safely!”
Looking at their stats, the AI-controlled PMC units that directly protected the companies were far stronger than normal Dealers. They had no Skills, but their base parameters were absurdly high. They seemed more like killer robots in human form. With their thick bulletproof equipment, their extreme firepower, and their high-level military coordination, they barely seemed human. And since they could call in an unlimited supply of reinforcements, trying to fight them was generally a bad idea.
That was why the Leviathans had previously only been able to attack the trucks by setting traps to stop the trucks and then using the #DragonGod.err Gatling gun in the resultant confusion. Kaname had not thought they could do it with any of the puzzle pieces missing.
But did #DragonGod.err destroy the game balance that badly?
Had he overlooked one of the traps through simple human error?
“…Don’t tell me”
He did not care if it meant going back he way he had come.
After a quick honk of the horn as a warning to Midori, he swung the back of the mint green coupe around in something like a roundhouse kick. He made a 180-degree turn around the twintailed girl on her large motorcycle and then floored the accelerator to reach the scene of the blast.
“Tselika, do a new online search for information on Martini Air Conditioning! Especially anything related to insurance!!”
“I’ll do it, but I seriously doubt I’ll find their contract sitting out there on the open net!”
“Midori> What’s this about?”
He could not answer the black-twintailed girl’s question as she drove alongside him.
Once they arrived at the attack site, the stench of smoke was overwhelming even inside the car. It was the distinctive smell of burning diesel. He could see what looked like the frames of several trucks inside the sinister glowing vortex of red and black.
The special air-conditioning units meant for the indoor stadium had been destroyed.
“Midori> Looks like the Leviathans are gone. I just hope they didn’t leave a sniper or a bomb as a present for us.”
“Kaname> I doubt it.”
Something was missing. Yes, the only wreckage here was of the trucks. The only stench was of diesel fuel smoke; there was no burning gasoline. There was no wreckage of the black bulletproof vehicles that should have been protecting the trucks. They had simply disappeared.
“About your insurance-related search, I found evidence of Martini Air Conditioning working with Tokime Life. The details of the contract are still unknown, of course.”
“That’s good enough. So how many times have the Leviathans attacked their trucks? As far as we know anyway?”
“Based on what I can find on online news and video sites, eight times.”
“And what did Martini Air Conditioning do afterwards? Did they change their delivery plan at all?”
“That special equipment can’t be mass-produced, so it is quite expensive. Biondetta Dome is working on a time limit, so after an attack, they should be working on countermeasures like strengthening security or altering the delivery route. They could even dangle the containers from large helicopters. At an altitude of 4000m, the Leviathans would need surface-launched missiles, an AA gun, or an equivalent aircraft to attack them.”
“And yet…they have done nothing of the sort?”
“That is very strange for the AI. That means the attacks are not a problem for Martini Air Conditioning.” Kaname tapped his fingers on the steering wheel in irritation. “They get a juicy insurance payout each time and Biondetta Dome can’t cancel the contract because Martini Air Conditioning is the only place that offers the air-conditioning units they need to complete their stadium. Just because they’re both AI companies doesn’t mean they’re working together. Martini Air Conditioning just wants to make money off of Biondetta Dome. They don’t actually care about completing the stadium, so they’ll help out if that makes them the most. But if they find something that pays better, they’ll shift to that.”
“I see. I thought the timing of the shipments seemed a bit random, but it does match when Martini Air Conditioning’s business is in a slump. Whenever they need an influx of cash, they send out some trucks so they’ll be attacked and they can get out of the red with the insurance money.”
“There may not be any actual collusion going on, but the human Leviathans and the AI-controlled Martini Air Conditioning are essentially working together on this. The AI side always chooses the greatest profit without questioning the ethics of it and the clever humans realized they could use that to set up an infinite loop of profit for themselves. Repeatedly failing the delivery and raking in the insurance money is far more profitable than simply selling the air conditioning units the one time, so why would they properly protect the shipment. Goddammit!!”
“So if we can’t rattle the Leviathans this way…?”
“We have to rethink things. If we don’t find some way to bring them to tears, we can’t drag out their hidden list!!”
The monstrous 4-wheel-drive vehicle drove directly across the wasteland with tires taller than a person. It appeared to be a large buggy. It was so big it was actually a two-seater. It was highly impractical and looked more like something used for circus tricks, but the person riding inside looked entirely out of place there. A young woman wearing a white and pink tight skirt suit had her long legs crossed in the passenger seat while she left the driving to her Magisterus girl. Since the Magisteri could handle high-level financial deals in a ten-thousandth of a second, there was little use for a smartphone in Money (Game) Master, but she held one in a hand, stretched out her arm, and photographed her own face from a variety of angles.
Her Dealer name was Strawberry Garter.
She was the current owner of the Leviathans R-class soccer club team.
“This too is part of advertisement.”
She had made sure the coach and all the trainers were beautiful women like herself. When their skill was the same, she would choose the person who stood out more. TV ads were the same. Their time in front of the camera was limited, so she made sure to use someone who could make the most of that time. Entertaining guests and attracting customers could always be left to the Magisteri, but humans were better received.
(After all, we live in a world where an entire body can be made in CG yet plastic surgery idols are still a thing.)
Of course, she was not about to indiscriminately snap photos and post images of her seedier dealings on social media.
Light intensity, chroma, and brightness.
She had a tester app that displayed values like that in numerical form. Even with the same person, the best possible photo changed a lot depending on time, location, clothing, and makeup. You could not gather the attention of the masses just by looking up, doing a duck face, and eliminating your pores and wrinkles with bright light.
Labor, both physical and intellectual, was all about repetition.
Whether or not she was actually going to take and post a photo, it was crucial that she was always conscious of how to take the best possible photo in any situation.
For Strawberry Garter, everything came down to influence.
And if you wanted to gather attention, nothing was better than sports.
That was a better base for building your own castle than doing charitable work with a fake smile on your lips or building yet another video broadcasting station in an already overcrowded market. It was a lot easier to get a start using an existing genre – in other words, something that had already been made into an independent video game. If she was being honest, she had relied a lot on the soccer game strategy guide sitting in a corner of her room back in reality. Using the non-primary sponsor slots to take over a weak team, strengthening and poaching players, working with the sponsor company, and making broadcast right deals had all been part of her management style where she worked to control the game within the game. And inside Money (Game) Master, she could use some bolder strategies than would be possible in reality.
She had created a world where every billboard in the field and stands was worth millions of Snow and where the media made sure to catch every move the players made. She had created connections with many AI companies while the human Dealers gathered around the profits and constructed a powerful connection with the video broadcast stations inside the game.
Strawberry Garter aimed her phone’s camera toward her fingers which were neatly decorated with nail polish and practiced bending her fingers in different ways like a hand model.
(But if you simply want influence in this game, you don’t need to reach for the S-class league at the top. They demand a world-class level of play, so the player management costs are absurd. Once you get there, the balance between income and expenses collapses and you end up in the red. …My position is best. R-class is enough. This is the perfect level of effort. Going bankrupt for a speaker with a nice body is meaningless. It’s important to know your limits and always do the cost performance calculations.)
She wanted to be famous as an individual owner, not as an entire club team, so a second-rate R-class team was enough. She did not want to control an old TV broadcast network. She wanted to increase her standing on social media where anyone could sign up.
Money (Game) Master was an online game with a focus on earning the most money, but everyone had their own way of doing that. She was sick of using math and economics to predict the trends and ride them. It was simpler to create the trends herself and build a world that was convenient for her.
Information created money and money created information.
The only winners of the modern age were those who could create and monopolize that loop themselves.
Once she reached the values she wanted on the tester app, Strawberry Garter looked away from her phone. She released a snort from her shapely nose as she looked out the window. Or maybe she was actually looking at her own reflected face in the glass.
Beautiful women were created.
Or so Strawberry Garter believed from the bottom of her heart.
Two eyes, two ears, one nose, and one mouth. That was all the human face was. Everyone’s face looked flat and dull on their straight-ahead passport photo, but that was why you could not grow lazy. You had to work at it. Once someone lost their desire to show off their beauty to the masses, they lost their shine and were reduced to nothing more than “two eyes, two ears, one nose, and one mouth”.
The tight suit woman saw the real world’s mass media as the stereotypical example of that. They were hopeless. They knew they had become an outdated fossil, but the obligations forced upon the newspapers and TV news placed a limit on how far their information could spread. There were plenty of new ways to photograph yourself, yet they stuck to the flat and dull straight-ahead photo. They could not inspire any excitement like that and even potentially viral stories would not spread.
Money (Game) Master was the perfect solution for that.
If she was going to have influence, it would be here.
The ripples from a single stone thrown in the water spread very differently here. When information spread, it quickly reached the Dealers who were manipulating the Snow virtual currency and influencing the entire world.
(It feels a little weird messing with a phone in the game, though.)
That said, she had not lived a life so permeated in information to begin with.
Back in the real world, she had run a bento shop in the lower city. It had been small but she had inherited it from her parents and it had been in her family for generations. She had gotten up early, worked hard stirring the large pots herself, and set the prices as low as she could possibly afford. After being called old-fashioned, she had gone to the effort of setting up a website that had received less than 20 visitors per month.
She had gone out of business almost immediately after a hamburger shop opened across the street.
After that, she had given up on old-fashioned hard work.
(I’m sick of accusations of worm meat burgers and fake ingredients.)
On the day her shop went under, who was it that had showed up in a disgustingly fancy suit, rubbed their hands together in supposed sympathy, and yet whispered “information is everything” in her ear?
So she simply had to wield the same sword herself.
Once she had made up her mind, it had pissed her off to see that club team being run in such a carefree and wholesome way. They were only two eyes, two ears, one nose, and one mouth. They were not even trying. When she had crushed that father and son below her feet and stripped them of the club management rights while the primary sponsor AI company watched on, she had been aware that there was a screw loose inside her. Rather than guilty, she had felt relieved. She had used the game to destroy a real family.
There was no backing out now.
She was now one of those who stole and indulged in the pleasure of it all.
(This time, I need something they can’t escape just by hostilely rejecting me. …Yes, maybe I should spread some money around to start up a diet fad. Or I could introduce some home cooking that people can show off on social media so fewer people are eating burgers. The information I spread can be anything really. As long as it drives that restaurant out of business and applies pressure to the entire corporate group. This game world is a scary thing. Influence on the spread of information here has more power in the real world than the dying TV news and newspapers.)
“Sister> Nice work.”
“Pipe Wrench> Man, this is a lot. Maybe we really should go shake hands with a major gun shop and make a contract for unlimited ammo for a flat monthly fee.”
“Coming> Now, now. We just have to stick with it for a few more months. Don’t those things have an extra fee you have to pay if you end the contract in less than two years? I recommend checking all the fine print first.”
“Hattori> Hold on. Aren’t we getting a request? Garter, check with Martini Air Conditioning.”
Something felt off, like the needle skipping on an old record. Strawberry Garter controlled information. She was the queen who had created a billboard and broadcast station out of a club team instead of using the TV stations, social media sites, and other frameworks created by others. It was limited to the Leviathans’ territory, she insisted on being aware of everything.”
“Marron, check on that.”
“U-understood, Madam Strawberry Garter.”
The Empusa – a small girl with large drooping dog ears and a dog tail – holding the giant steering wheel responded in a needlessly nervous way.
“You have a message from Martini Air Conditioning. Let’s see, they say they have decided to deliver the Hurricane III to the Biondetta Dome construction site at 2:19 this morning. That appears to be the name of the special air-conditioning equipment.”
“2:19!? That’s less than 7 minutes from now! And we only just finished destroying their cargo!!”
“Eek!? But that is what it says! I thoroughly checked through the entire message, but there was no sign of any codes or symbols hidden in it!!”
“Um, should I break the font down into numbers and check for any hidden meaning there? Or I could check for any implanted words embedded in it by reading vertically or removing specific letters.”
“Don’t waste your resources on that nonsense, Marron! Just pipe down!!”
Unnecessarily high specs could be a bad thing too. After reading the entire message in an instant, the nervous puppy girl had started scanning through it with strange forms of text analysis, which would only lead to an endless loop of anxiety and doubt. It was like making a DDoS attack on your own computer.
(But what is the meaning of this?)
Until now, Martini Air Conditioning had only made a delivery of that special air-conditioning equipment once or twice a month, so Strawberry Garter’s team had had time to put together a perfect attack plan. They had a give-and-take relationship set up, but there were no promises made in official documents and those were real bullets whizzing through the air. There was always the possibility of Falling if one hit you by mistake. The preparations took time.
“What is going on?”
Then it hit her.
Since the traps had been detonated well before the trucks arrived, there must have been an enemy Dealer trying to stop the attack plan. She had no idea how they hoped to make money from that, but their goal was probably the completion of Biondetta Dome. In that case, what was their Plan B once they failed to stop the attack? How did they hope to rewind the situation and recover?
Strawberry Garter twirled the phone in her hand as she thought.
When she reached out and snapped a selfie, she found the light in her face had dimmed. That seemed like an omen of a major coming loss. She needed to put in her greatest effort to wipe that shadow from her face.
“Marron, do another search regarding Martini Air Conditioning.”
“L-looking for what?”
“Stock prices, business results, enterprise value, and whatever else you can find! Just check for a Dealer with their jaws latched onto Martini Air Conditioning’s Achilles’ heel!!”
The action Kaname’s team had taken was simple.
“Every time Martini Air Conditioning experiences a setback in their business results, they use the massive insurance payout to keep themselves out of the red. Then the answer is obvious: we just have to attack Martini Air Conditioning and hurt their bottom line. We can redo this escort mission as many times as we like.”
Midori responded with an exasperated look from her stopped racing motorcycle.
“That’s just mean. And you’re insane.”
“Got any other ideas?”
“Well, no. Sigh. I’m just trying to help someone in need, so how did it turn into something so largescale?”
It sounded like Midori had already set aside the Inheritance and the list in her mind. The Umibe family’s undeserved suffering was her top priority. And Kaname thought that was fine.
That said, Martini Air Conditioning itself existed outside the city, meaning it only existed as data and was not 3D modeled. They could not go barging into the HQ. Any actions they took had to be within the fully-modeled field of Summer City.
“Tselika, what is the temperature and humidity in the center of the peninsula city tonight?”
“Check on your mobile watch, master. It is 34 degrees Celsius with 70% humidity. Thanks to the heat island and the squall this evening, it’s a sweltering night…”
“Why do you sound so down?”
“Have you seen my poor battered car! I wax my precious temple to a shine every single day, but look at it now! I’m going to have nightmares about this!!”
“What kind of support center does Martini Air Conditioning have?”
“Is shouting from 5cm away not enough to shake your soul, master? It is open 24/7. Only an AI company can pull that off.”
“Then we just need one trick.”
Kaname said it.
Still leaning against his mint green coupe’s door, he aimed his short-range sniper rifle straight up. Then he only had to pull the trigger like the starting pistol for a race.
A high-voltage line supported by several power towers ran by overhead.
With the sharp sound of sparks, about half the peninsula city fell into darkness.
This was far worse than pressing the fire alarm button in the school hallway. Do this in real life and you were bound to get viciously flamed in the online news.
This was the kind of crazy thing you could only do in a game.
Of course, that one line did not carry the power supply for the entire city and a lot of the better prepared Dealers would have their own backup power supplies. This would not bring down the exchanges. However.
“The cause of a power outage…no, of why your A/C just went out isn’t obvious at first glance. Did you trip a breaker, is it the wiring, or is it the equipment? Keeping cool is secondary compared to data-related tasks, but this is a hot night. A ton of Dealers are going to call their A/C maker demanding their machine gets fixed.”
“How can they call when the power’s out? Cellphones don’t work with the towers are down, right?”
“Did you never notice the rusty old payphones scattered across the city? If they’re disaster relief models, they won’t use the normal power supply. You can make calls using just the electricity coming in through the phone line.”
Midori did not seem to get it, so she tilted her head. But that may have been normal for someone too young to have ever used an old-fashioned black dial phone.
“So with their support center overwhelmed, dissatisfaction will explode and their corporate value will drop?”
“It wouldn’t be that extreme in the real world, but there’s nothing but Dealers in this world. It’s not uncommon for people here to buy or sell stocks out of spite. By the way, Midori, were you aware you can buy and sell stocks by phone?”
And however it happened, once the alarm went off, warning them of a slump in business, Martini Air Conditioning would automatically send out more trucks.
“But does that mean we have to try that escort mission again? It’ll probably be a little easier than last time since we’ve already destroyed some of the traps, but won’t it end the same?”
“Why would we trust them again when they clearly have no intention of protecting the trucks?” spat out Kaname. “This time, we’ll attack the trucks and steal a full set of equipment. If we get that to Biondetta Dome, we can solve all these pain-in-the-ass problems.”
“Eh? The AI company is protected by a legit PMC, right?” said Tselika. “And there’s no guarantee they’ll go easy on an attacker who isn’t the Leviathans. I mean, those black bulletproof vehicles chased after us when we threw that GPS-tracking security buzzer on one of the trucks!”
“Tselika, the car is probably going to get a fair bit more damaged than it already is, but that’s fine, right? I mean, at this point, what’s a little more?”
“Ghbhbhlrk! Y-y-…but you were the one who got it so damaged in the first place!! I worked hard looking after this adorable temple and that’s all you have to say!? And that excuse is as bad as some sleazy guy saying ‘c’mon, baby, you’re not a virgin anymore, so what’s the harm’!”
Midori tilted her head on her large motorcycle.
“I know we have to do something about the AI group working with the immoral club team…but can we actually defeat that PMC? They’re like an army of killer robots!”
“Normally, no. Midori, bring out your Magisterus, Meiki. Controlling the motorcycle takes up both your hands, so you’ll have a tough time of it on your own from here on. You should have an assistant in the back.”
“Okay, but what exactly am I supposed to do?”
Kaname circled to the back of the coupe and reached for the trunk.
He popped it open.
“It’s time we used some cheats of our own. Let’s force our way through with two pieces of Takamasa’s Inheritance: the #Downpour.err shotgun and the #FiringLine.err anti-materiel rifle.”
The screech of tires rang out for a while.
Perhaps because they had secured their safety, the tingling pain of the Lion’s Nose gradually receded.
The AI soldier meter on the windshield dropped from its max at around 30 and eventually the window vanished altogether. 0 people were focused on him. They had all been wiped out. It was an unusual situation even in the anything-goes world of Money (Game) Master, but if you fully eliminated a PMC unit, you were safe until reinforcements arrived.
“Here. Don’t touch the barrel if you don’t want to get burned.”
Kaname opened the coupe’s driver’s side door, tossed the race queen the #Downpour.err shotgun which resembled a revolving grenade launcher, and spoke without looking back.
“Tselika, you look after the Inheritance. And you’re in charge of driving the car for a while.”
“Hmph. Stupid unfaithful master. You have a perfectly good car right here…mutter, mutter. You know what, I don’t care! Go sit your ass in someone else’s seat and place your hands on their steering wheel!! But say goodbye to your promising subway construction investments!!”
“Shut up! Now I get to control my temple, so it’s safe from your dangerous driving!!”
Tselika’s tail stood straight up. Kaname was not quite sure what her complaints were about, but he made his way to the large truck stopped nearby. This was standard in shootout games, but even when you knew you had ensured your safety, getting out of your vehicle and walking out in the open was nerve-racking. Since the ground was made from an absorbent material using the stickiness of natto, walking on the grass felt like walking on a waterbed. Then he opened the driver’s side door. The AI-controlled driver rolled out, so he dumped them on the side of the road and took the key before moving to the back of the truck. He opened the double doors on the connected container.
More than air conditioners, it looked more like giant silver turbines or exposed passenger plane engines. Normal air pumps just were not going to cut it when they had to inflate a domed facility measuring hundreds of meters across.
“Does it look like it’ll work?”
The large red leaf-pattern racing motorcycle slowly drove up with its engine rumbling. It was Midori holding the handlebars in her frilly black gothic bikini and miniskirt, but a woman in a red mini-China dress sat in the back seat. Her shoulder-length glossy black hair was split by two horns growing from her forehead and a charm was pasted at the center. That was Magisterus Meiki. The expressionless beauty was in charge of sniping with the #FiringLine.err anti-materiel rifle which was so large she had it resting on her shoulder. Midori had wanted to try out having her Magisterus handle the shooting after hearing that was an option.
Kaname used both hands to shut the metal doors.
“Midori, I will drive this truck to the Biondetta Dome construction site. Don’t get caught in the middle.”
“Wait! What’s my job!?”
“A veritable storm of bullets is coming. To be honest, I can’t protect you if you’re wandering around on that unarmored motorcycle. I know justice is burning in your heart, but what good is that if you Fall here?”
“But! Isn’t that AI-controlled PMC unit going to be desperately fighting to take back the truck? They’ll send in tons of those fast and powerful bulletproof vehicles and maybe even some unmanned attack helicopters.”
“I am aware of that. We’ve essentially poked at the hornet’s nest here, so stay away once it begins. Use the safe parking lots and service stations as bases and support me from there. And always target the human Dealers of the Leviathans. The PMCs have infinite reinforcements, so shooting them is pointless. Just ignore them.”
“This really will reclaim that family’s future, right?”
He did not need to think about his answer.
Hearing it seemed to fill Midori with relief, but then something else occurred to her.
“That’s all well and good, but what about you!? You’ll be trapped between the Leviathans and the AI company’s PMC. You really will end up looking like Swiss cheese!”
“My best bet is to get them to take each other out, so I’ll dangle the carrot in front of them to lead them around. Don’t worry. These large trucks are the most durable things you can find outside of exceptions like tanks and armored trucks. A few hits won’t make me crash.”
Hekireki Midori looked like she wanted to say something with her small butt seated on her motorcycle. She probably wanted to point out that Kaname himself had driven one of those supposedly impregnable trucks off the road and taken it for himself. It was true he had gone the brute force route using the Inheritance, but the Leviathans had the #DragonGod.err Gatling gun. As usual, there were no absolutes in Money (Game) Master.
Even Takamasa had Fallen.
In order to protect Kaname’s sister from a brutal enemy Dealer’s bullet.
“Yes, I get it! …I really do. I’m just a rookie and you’re going to win any argument we have about this game. And I was the one that threw a fit and demanded we return the stadium and club team to that family, so it would be wrong of me to tell you not to fight now. I get that.”
Kaname was not stupid. He knew what Midori was feeling here. People would feel anxiety at a level beyond right and wrong, differences in experience, and probability calculations. No, this meant Hekireki Midori was the kind of girl who worried for others at a time like this. Even though she could have framed it as how lonely she would feel if her leader went on a suicide mission here.
Kaname kindly narrowed his eyes.
This girl definitely had that boy’s blood in her veins. That core of their being was not something someone could gain from training or experience. Inborn talent was not about your memory or reflexes that could be augmented with your clothing’s Skills or parameters. Even in the ultimate virtual reality where you could remake yourself however you liked, this was a part of yourself you could not throw out. For Midori and Takamasa, that part of them was hopelessly beautiful and fragile, but that was why Kaname found it too dangerous to leave something like that in this world of money and greed.
He silently renewed his resolve to protect her.
He could not ignore these people who were using Takamasa’s Inheritance for their own purposes and he could not allow Midori to be swallowed up by Money (Game) Master after leaping into this freeing but immoral world in pursuit of her brother’s Inheritance.
He would make sure those siblings never again had to bear with something, hold in the tears, and bite their lip.
He did not need to force this onto the girl.
He only had to make the decision on his own and take action without showing it off.
“Time to begin.”
“I’ll get this to Biondetta Dome to rattle the Leviathans. That way I can get back Takamasa’s personal documents they’re holding onto and you can return the stadium and club team to their original owners. …If Takamasa’s loose-leaf notes include a list related to the Inheritance, we’ll be a lot closer to gathering the entire Inheritance and ending all this chaos. That isn’t just a treasure map. It’s a piece of the thoughts Takamasa left in this game. I can’t let some strangers mess with it. And this will mean fewer suffering people. Maybe not a lot, but this will prevent some people from suffering at the hands of those immoral Dealers.”
“That isn’t good enough.”
Midori was blunt about this.
This had nothing to do with experience or skill.
“We need to save all of them. I won’t let anyone fall victim to my brother’s Inheritance.”
“That’s what I like to hear.”
Suou Kaname smiled a little.
As someone who was fighting to repay Takamasa by protecting this girl, he greatly appreciated this side of Midori.
It was finally time for them to really get moving.
“Help me out, okay? Do not approach the truck, though. All I want is support.”
“I already said I get that!”
“That is the best way to damage the Leviathans. You want to return the stadium and club team to their original owners, right? Then help me.”
“I’m the one that should be asking you for help. And don’t do anything reckless!!”
The boy climbed through the open door into the large truck’s driver’s seat and drove away from the mint green coupe and the red leaf-pattern racing motorcycle.
He was doing this without any tricks. His viewpoint was a lot higher and the steering wheel bigger than in the two-seater sportscar. That was going to take some getting used to, but he grabbed and turned the steering wheel which reminded him of a circus’s ring of fire. He moved it as gently as setting down a record needle and merged onto the highway leading to the center of the peninsula city.
As he struggled with the fairly stiff clutch pedal and shift lever to gain speed, the response was swift. With the big container behind it, the truck’s rearview mirror was useless. Instead, a portion of the windshield displayed a small window showing footage from a rearview camera. He glimpsed several headlight beams there. All of those lights moved independently instead of in pairs. These were motorcycles, not cars.
(So they’re not bothering to hide it now.)
That unique tingling sensation ran through the tip of his nose.
The Lion’s Nose.
The Dealer smiled as he sensed his prey.
While he operated the giant steering wheel, a social media message chat request appeared in a corner of the windshield. A direct connection between the vehicles worked just fine even with the city’s power out. The truck was so wide he had difficulty keeping them in the corner of his vision.
“Strawberry Garter> Are you aware who you have picked a fight with? Have you run the risk and return calculations?”
“PMC Truck 01> Whoa, whoa. You were avoiding any direct collusion with the AI company, weren’t you? Are you sure you want to leave any evidence behind here?”
Kaname frowned after sending his message. It took him a second to remember he was responding with the stolen truck. This was bound to be a one-night fling, so it was not worth changing the setting.
“Strawberry Garter> So you really are a human Dealer.”
“PMC Truck 01> I wasn’t really trying to hide it.”
“Strawberry Garter> The Leviathans will kill you in 5 minutes. I hope you don’t mind.”
“PMC Truck 01> Let’s see if you can actually pull it off. …And are you kidding me, you villain? That title isn’t for you to use.”
“Strawberry Garter> Do you think you are untouchable in that sturdy truck? You have no decoy trucks and no bulletproof escorts. Our elites are strengthened with off-roading Skills. We will fill you with holes from long range, meaning between 600 and 2000 meters. Using a combination of assault rifles and a Gatling gun. It’s time you Fell and experienced a life of debt.”
“PMC Truck 01> I’m enjoying the game, so I won’t spoil it for you. Try it and you’re in for a surprise.”
The off-road motorcycle headlights had been approaching from directly behind, but now they parted to the left and right. Those killer bees moved to surround him on their queen’s command. As claimed, they intended to ignore the road and drive across the grassy field to blow away the truck from a safe distance.
“Strawberry Garter> Your Fall here will be entirely meaningless. Welcome to a hell of debt where you must lick an AI company’s feet.”
“PMC Truck 01> I wouldn’t be so sure.”
Just then, a tremor shook the ground, but not because he had slammed on the large truck’s gas or because the off-road motorcyclists had pulled the trigger on their assault rifles.
“Strawberry Garter> What was that?”
“PMC Truck 01> Figure it out yourself.”
“Strawberry Garter> That was not an anti-materiel round. Nor was it a grenade or rocket. In fact, it was quite muffled. Did you detonate a bunker buster underground!?”
“PMC Truck 01> You have a Magisterus, don’t you? I’m not hiding anything here. Do another search and you’ll find the proper location.”
The following silence did not last even five seconds.
How many tens of thousands of complex autonomous calculations had she had her Magisterus perform in that time?
The giant seesaw silhouette of a pumpjack passed by right next to the truck.
“Strawberry Garter> The oil extraction facilities are being expanded? They’re receiving a rush of large purchases?”
“PMC Truck 01> Oh, you figured it out already?”
“Strawberry Garter> Are you trying to destabilize the ground in this area using soil liquefaction!?”
The coupe was vulnerable after the damage it had taken and the motorcycle left its driver exposed to begin with, so he could not ask Tselika or Midori to fight a harsh gunfight. That was why he had them leave him partway down the highway at the safe service station that combined a gas station with a restaurant. They were using the rusty phone there to focus on the financial dealings. Tselika would be leading that, but even watching on would be a good lesson for Midori.
“PMC Truck 01> The city center is still experiencing a blackout. And when electrical power is looking iffy, the price of backup power sources like gas goes up. So when something like this happens, the AIs will use past precedent to prepare for further drilling. From there, you just need to use investment to give them the final push. Just distribute that investment in a pattern that reminds them of past periods of major sales.”
The vibration in the ground stimulated the underground water and liquefied the soft ground, which could make it difficult to travel on a motorcycle. On the unpaved dirt and grass, anyway.
Water welled up with a bubbling sound and the dirt ground wobbled unnaturally.
“Strawberry Garter> Not good enough.”
His opponent was not defeated yet.
He had bought some time with the confusion, but Amatsu Tunnel was still a few kilometers off. If he could not make it to there, the Inheritance’s Gatling gun would join the many assault rifles. He was stuck on this single straight path, so he could not fight back or dodge a unilateral long-range sweep of bullets in this open area.
“Strawberry Garter> Our bikes were made for off-roading. They’re set up for circus tricks and we have several off-roading Skills. We aren’t the kind of hounds who slam on the brakes just because the terrain’s a little bumpy!”
“PMC Truck 01> I wasn’t expecting you to. I have a different method for crushing an immoral club team that snatches up dirty money and only plays rough.”
Kaname was not shaken either.
Those two-person killer bees were in attack formation, but the further away they were from the single asphalt road, the better for him.
“PMC Truck 01> Did you forget? I cut the high-voltage line when applying pressure to Martini Air Conditioning. And that city’s power outages are shockingly short. It should be back up before long.”
No, she may have been quickly giving instructions on another channel.
To reiterate, he had sent Midori and Tselika to the “safe” service station.
“PMC Truck 01> What we’re looking at here is a combination of a ground soaked with water and a high-voltage line dangling from the power tower. So what happens when they forcibly bring the power back up? I know I wouldn’t want to be anywhere as exposed as a motorcycle right now.”
Bluish-white sparks filled the night field at just about the same time as the large truck entered Amatsu Tunnel. Thanks to the chaos he had caused, he was not fired on during those devilish last few kilometers. He was now surrounded only by the distinctive series of orange lights.
“PMC Truck 01> This area was a wasteland which was later artificially developed into farmland. Remember that absorbent material that’s as sticky as natto? When the underground water mixes with that, its traits as a liquid change, so the high-voltage current can’t travel underground like you would expect. And if it can’t go down, it can only spread out across the surface.”
The hemispherical tunnel was three lanes in this one direction. That was plenty of room for a car chase.
“PMC Truck 01> Was that about half of them taken out? A real waste of ‘elites’ if you ask me.”
“Strawberry Garter> I’ll kill you.”
“PMC Truck 01> That wasn’t already your plan? You stole a peek at a piece of my Fallen friend’s thoughts, took one of his toys, and now you’re acting like it’s yours. And you used it to rob a blameless family of their future and steal a stadium for your own personal greed. I was going for the kill from the very beginning. Believe me.”
The static electricity feeling on his nose grew stronger.
The roar of an engine echoed through the tunnel. It was a fair bit higher pitched than Kaname’s truck. The two-person off-road motorcycles had finally gone in for a close-range battle. Infighting was not their specialty, but they must have wisely decided this was better than letting him clear Amatsu Tunnel and reach the city center.
Of course, the 20-ton truck weighed far more than the light off-road motorcycles. They could easily defeat themselves simply by clipping the corner of the container.
Instead of the motorcycles themselves, Kaname was focused on the weapons held by the Magisteri in the back seats.
(They can’t think simple assault rifles can take out such a large truck. The humans and Magisteri share their Skills, so they must be boosting their abilities with something.)
But that weight worked against Kaname too. Weaving to hit the off-road motorcycles without losing his own balance would be extremely difficult. And he was up against multiple opponents here. If he swerved to hit one and allowed another to slip past him on the opposite side, he could never swerve back in the other direction fast enough. The truck was large, but it could only aim for one target at a time.
And his opponents were armed with at least assault rifles. In the worst case, they would have an Inheritance-class Gatling gun. If they moved ahead of or to the side of the cabin, the door or glass would never survive and he would be Swiss cheese.
He could not fire back with his Short Spear short-range sniper rifle either. The truck’s steering wheel was too big to operate with a single hand, so it was all over if he allowed them past the cabin.
He had planned all of this out.
He been aware of the risks when he challenged them.
“This is where the real battle begins.”
The pre-established harmony had broken down.
Now the Leviathans were risking their lives as well. Even the slightest contact with the weaving truck would mean an instant Fall for those exposed bikers.
“Striker 1> Are you kidding me? That makeshift attack took out all the more experienced members. Asking them for advice was a waste of time if they can’t protect us common folk when it matters!”
“Hattori> We cannot withdraw. If we fail the quest we set up ourselves, we lose the castle. And we’re living it pretty nice using Leviathan Stadium.”
“Loli Pop> Then you make a diversion, Onii-chan. Maybe that old hag will give you the time of day if you risk your life.”
The roar of several engines passed by the giant mass of steel. With this many blind spots, they doubted their target would fight back with a gun. After hijacking the AI company’s truck, the enemy Dealer would be using the giant truck itself as a weapon.
They had a few off-roading Skills.
They also had the Anti-Vehicle Skill. The human Dealers were holding the handlebars, but their Skills were shared with their contracted Magisteri. It was worth choosing equipment that would help the demons wielding assault rifles from the back seats.
“Hattori> Okay, here goes. I’ll go left and the rest of you go right. Target the cabin from the side. I’m counting on you all to get a critical hit.”
“Striker 1> Wait, are you serious!? You really are a masochist, aren’t you!?”
“Loli Pop> You’re so dumb, Onii-chan. Don’t you know online romances only bring pain and misunderstandings?”
Regardless, one of the two-person off-road motorcycles moved out ahead. Hattori refused to waste the opportunity given him by the teammate who kept insulting him.
He controlled the bike while leaving the assault rifle with the demon in the back seat. The truck could only crush an approaching motorcycle on the left or the right, not both. Whether or not the truck reacted to this diversion, someone would make it past and could fire on the cabin.
Below the orange lights, Striker 1’s lightweight motorcycle cut between the container and the outer wall and moved up right alongside the driver’s side door. He was close enough to reach out and grab the door handle. Before the enemy Dealer could turn the large steering wheel, he gathered all his strength and commanded his brown mummy girl Magisterus.
“Bustier! Shoot him!!”
The first shot hit the driver’s side door.
And that was used as a basis for the Anti-Vehicle targeting correction. To increase the damage done to vehicles, the shots were clustered around a single hit point to tear into the existing wound and quickly break through the steel door. That might sound tricky, but throwing a bunch of bullets at the same spot to do more damage was the same basic concept behind a Gatling gun.
They really were a team.
It all led back to the #DragonGod.err that their boss, Strawberry Garter, had.
“This is not a problem, so focus on driving. You could use a higher courage stat, my adorable master.”
When the many bullets hit the door, bright sparks sprayed out right next to them and fine cracks ran through the reinforced glass window. Striker 1 felt something graze his nose, but was that a ricocheting bullet or a fragment of the door’s metal?
It really was Swiss cheese now.
No matter how much the enemy Dealer had curled up behind the door, he could not have escaped that thorough barrage.
The mangled door separated from the truck and fell onto the road flowing by so quickly below. The exposed cabin was the same as ever. The synthetic leather seat had some of its stuffing coming out, but that was all. It was all quite clean. There was no blood splattered across the interior and there was no gore torn from a corpse.
He was not there.
But where had he gone!?
Striker 1 looked up without thinking. Having his Magisterus fire on full-auto without considering how much ammo would be left over afterwards had increased his risk of death.
Had he used Acrobat, a Skill that boosted the workings of the inner ear, or Grip, a Skill that increased your grip strength? He had jammed a simple prop into the steering wheel and gas pedal to maintain the current speed while he left the cabin. He had climbed up. Up onto the roof. Because if he let go of the truck’s steering wheel, he could instead hold his short-range sniper rifle.
The thick barrel had a silencer built in and its open muzzle was silently staring at Striker 1.
The metallic clicking that replaced a gunshot sounded precisely twice.
Kaname did not even bother watching as the off-road motorcycle noisily tumbled backwards. With his tie flipping in the wind, he calmly climbed from the cabin’s roof and on top of the long container.
The Leviathans had assumed they could win this if they avoided being hit by the giant truck itself, but they were no match for him. It was like he was using a cutting-edge tank against some cavemen used to hunting down mammoths with spears.
Two shots to the right. One to the left.
(That should do it.)
His Lion’s Nose informed him of danger, but that inborn sense was fading away.
Kaname might use support Skills that provided bulletproofing or stress reduction, but he would not use ones that interfered with his shooting or driving that were directly linked to the fight. He found it more accurate to aim all on his own than using Auto-Aim.
Meanwhile, his enemy had been using the Anti-Vehicle Skill.
That was not a bad idea when targeting a large vehicle, but while using the Skill, any shot made after the first one would be automatically corrected to that location. When Kaname left the cabin like that, they had to remove the Skill and re-aim before they could fire on him.
The faster among them could correct for that in less than a second, but an opening was still an opening.
For one thing, they were living in a world of financial deals that went down in a ten thousandth of a second. A single second could easily be a life or death difference for a skilled Dealer.
(Skills are special powers that only exist in the game, but if you rely on them too much, you forget to work on the fundamentals and get taken advantage of. Your movements tend to get really predictable.)
It was all about balance.
Using tools was fine, but you could not let the tools use you.
After firing headshots on each driver in turn, the off-road motorcycles collapsed. The Magisteri in the back seats finally aimed their assault rifles up, but Kaname only had to get down. They were looking up at him, so the giant container functioned as a shield.
The Leviathans were using 10 off-road motorcycles and a single four-wheel-drive command vehicle to create an 11-vehicle team. The high-voltage current had taken out half of those and this gunfight had defeated another four.
When a human was shot to death, they had Fallen and were forcibly logged out for 24 hours. During that time, the other Dealers could devour their assets and send them into a hell of debt. When a Magisterus was shot to death, they were Downed and froze up like a stone statue. How long it took them to recover depended on the severity of their wounds, but it was an hour at the longest. But in such a high-speed and on-the-move battle, he could safely ignore them.
“One more bike.”
Using a bullet on them would be a waste. While still lying down on the container, Kaname tossed aside the empty magazine. Then he heard the loud crash of the off-road motorcycle falling over at high speed. It must have run over something odd on the road and slipped.
His Lion’s Nose sense returned slightly.
This was more about the truck than the motorcycles.
It was driving straight thanks to how he had set up the steering wheel and gas pedal, but the tunnel was not as straight as a runway the whole way through. He used a combination of Skills like Acrobat and Grip to easily hop back into the cabin before the truck crashed into a gradual curve.
The door was gone, the seat’s stuffing was coming out, the windshield was full of cracks, and its displays were dead. He shifted to using the support settings on the small screen of the car navigation system that was rarely used these days.
“Strawberry Garter> This isn’t over. We still have the Dragon God.”
“PMC Truck 01> I’m using a tiny screen now, so don’t fill it up with meaningless chatter.”
“Strawberry Garter> #DragonGod.err will kill you. You will die at the hands of the Leviathans!!”
“PMC Truck 01> Will I? Are you new at this? Nothing is certain in the world of Dealers. But anyway, I’ll take you out too. I can return the Leviathans to their rightful owners after that.”
Getting your opponent to lose their cool was an important strategy in one-on-one battles. Of course, anyone who specializes in sports, where heckling is common, should already know that, thought Kaname with a sigh.
The roar of an engine deeper than a motorcycle arrived from behind, but he honestly did not have time to worry about that.
Amatsu Tunnel’s exit was up ahead.
And several black bulletproof vehicles were parked there.
“I had a feeling Martini Air Conditioning’s soldiers would be lying in wait to pay us back!!”
He used the 20-ton weight of the truck to break through the bulletproof vehicle barricade.
He forced his way out of the tunnel.
A flood of light awaited him. He saw tall buildings towering into the sky and complexly intersecting elevated roads in between. This was a melting pot of every race and profession. A beautiful woman with enough wealth to boss entire nations around in the real world might come to this ideal world disguised in a cardboard home. A national idol might hide her identity here to enjoy a grand adventure of reckless promiscuity.
This was the center of the peninsula city.
As soon as they saw the truck, the bulletproof vehicles charged toward its container from the side. That was of course not enough to crash the truck, but it told Kaname that these were not the actions of humans who feared…no, who understood death. This was an AI-controlled PMC unit that decided what to do based entirely on work efficiency.
There were plenty of normal vehicles driving around here. In fact, he nearly ran into a small girl in a school swimsuit and witch hat who was riding a collapsible electric scooter. That skilled Dealer with short chestnut hair was known as Smash Daughter and she flipped him off while deftly avoiding a collision, which actually scared Kaname all the more.
“I’m gonna shove my *** up your *** until *** shoots out your asshole, you ***!!”
She looked like an elementary school girl, yet she let loose an obscene tirade. Nothing could be assumed safe in Money (Game) Master. Her skill with nonlethal stun equipment was the real deal, so he seriously hoped he had not earned an unnecessary grudge here.
Just then, the danger sense reached his Lion’s Nose.
It came from directly behind him. Calling it an explosive noise was not enough to describe what slammed into the city night and blew away the bulletproof PMC cavalry like they were made of tissue paper.
It was a fierce spray of gunfire.
A Gatling gun was firing 6000-7000 rounds a minute.
He finally saw his real enemy in the truck’s rearview camera. That large acrobatic buggy looked horribly out of place in the city center. It was in fact a four-wheel-drive automobile, but its silhouette was all wrong. The tires alone were taller than Kaname. The suspension looked like thick pillars and they held the actual buggy up higher than the truck.
“Strawberry Garter> If it’s not one thing, it’s another!”
“PMC Truck 01> If you’re going to try something, I’d hurry it up if I were you. Those shiny drone beetles aren’t going to stop this truck. I’m going to reach Biondetta Dome if you don’t hurry.”
“Strawberry Garter> You son of a bitch!!”
“PMC Truck 01> Oh, such a filthy mouth. Are you an old man back in reality?”
The corporate PMC units had different ranks, but the ones protecting corporate property were the highest level. Since the Leviathans had not directly attacked the construction site yet, Strawberry Garter must have known they could not bring down that castle in a head-on attack.
Leviathan Stadium would have its own PMCs, but they answered to the AI company and would do nothing outside of their contract. That meant they could not be deployed to attack Biondetta Dome. The Leviathans were aware of how frightening those PMCs were, but they could not use them themselves.
A real three-way battle had begun.
If this truck had the anti-PMC meter installed, it would likely be showing more than 100 gazes focused on him. But with his nose, Kaname did not need a machine to tell him the mechanical killer intent of the AI-controlled soldiers was directed his way.
The Martini Air Conditioning PMC knew they were under attack, so they aimed carbines from their armored vehicles’ windows, Strawberry Garter reduced their numbers with her Gatling gun, and the giant tires of the large buggy crushed and drove over the bulletproof vehicles she had failed to blow away already. Explosive flames blossomed after a short delay and idiots hoping to shoot a viral video aimed their cameras toward it all while driving around on modified single-person carts designed solely for handling.
If they were going to tag along, they had to look after themselves.
Kaname was just as vulnerable to a stray bullet with the windshield and driver’s side door missing, so he did not have the leeway to look after those onlookers.
“Here, I’ll give you something bound to get some views!!”
When a black bulletproof vehicle got carelessly close, he pushed it into a plaza fountain and then floored the large truck’s gas pedal.
The Biondetta Dome construction site was in sight.
“Strawberry Garter> The AIs are only the opening act. It’s always the humans who put on the real show.”
“Strawberry Garter> Lock. I’ll blow you away, you dumb Dealer!!”
Not even the large truck could protect him from that spray of Gatling gun bullets that seemed to tear through space itself. Or rather, even if he survived, the cargo would be destroyed. If he could not rattle the Leviathans, he could not retrieve Takamasa’s personal documents from them and he would have trouble searching for the Inheritance.
He made a decision.
Just as the Gatling gun opened fire from behind, he obeyed the tingling feeling of his Lion’s Nose by clenching his teeth and turning the steering wheel hard.
The rear container could not withstand the pull of this reckless act, so it slid perpendicular to the road and lifted up on one wheel. Then its own weight swung it around and the cabin in the front was lifted up.
There was no controlling the truck now.
But that was not a problem.
As long as #DragonGod.err’s lead rain severed the joint between cabin and container.
Once the container was freed from the excess weight, it flew. It scraped across the asphalt and flying sparks trailed after it like a shooting star’s tail. It knocked down several palm trees along the side of the road, broke through the stainless steel soundproofing wall surrounding the construction site and entered the area beyond.
It entered Biondetta Dome’s construction site.
“Strawberry Garter> Wha-!?”
“PMC Truck 01> Mission complete.”
Kaname had already lost control, but he still slammed on the brake pedal. With a scream like the tires being burned away, the unshapely back end of the cabin jerked up and tore through the bumper of Strawberry Garter’s large buggy.
The driver’s side door and windshield were already gone. Kaname had also not been wearing a seatbelt.
The force of the crash must have thrown him out of the truck. He felt the roughness of asphalt on his cheek and his vision was tilted on its side. Everything smelled like burning diesel. Nevertheless, his right hand still held the short-range sniper rifle like it had a life of its own.
He was all too aware of death.
And of the rules of this world where a bullet had so easily killed Criminal AO, his good friend Takamasa.
He used a trembling hand to grab and remove his tie and put on another tie with an identical design but a different Skill. That kind of effort was useful in preventing people from determining his Skills based on his appearance. Of course, he had to be careful to ensure he did not confuse himself in the process. If he threw them all in the washing machine together, he could never tell them apart.
That Skill had the highest rarity level of 10 and it was so convenient it had become a target of speculation.
By placing an upper cap on the amplitude of your pain signals, it literally halved the pain your entire body could feel.
The pain faded away like he had turned down a dial, but should he rejoice at that fact or somewhat fear it? He was aware how much he was growing accustomed to these game-only effects. You never knew where these devilish traps were laid.
But it was not over yet.
He may have gotten the special air conditioning equipment onto Biondetta Dome’s grounds, but the Dealer vs. Dealer conflict had yet to be settled.
He felt an explosive pain in his Lion’s Nose.
A figure moved in the corner of his vision.
It was Strawberry Garter, the person who had stolen a piece of Takamasa’s Inheritance. The woman wore a tight skirt suit colored pink and white and just one of her slender hands wielded a multi-barrel Gatling gun like it was made of styrofoam. That had to be #DragonGod.err. Her other hand held a large boxy object larger than a suitcase with a belt-shaped tube attached. She held it like it too had no weight, but it was definitely a humongous box magazine.
He was not Midori, so he could not read all the Skills her clothing and accessories gave her.
He did not have time to listen for the individual gunshots.
It sounded like a single deep boom extended endlessly. Anti-materiel rounds thicker than his thumb were sprayed out at a rate of 6000 or 7000 a minute with enough force to tear through bulletproof vehicles and asphalt. Rolling or hiding behind cover would not save Kaname at this point. Any shield would only be torn apart like a sponge along with him.
And yet the Dealer boy survived. Because…
“Tch!! Pay parking!?”
The woman shouted in a way that defied her intellectual appearance.
A parking meter stood next to the car on the side of the road. And any vehicle in a parking lot could not be stolen or destroyed, even if it was a light car or scooter. That Gatling gun’s horizontal storm of bullets could tear through an armored truck or attack helicopter like they were tissue paper, but its attack was deflected by a barrier-like wall of light. Not a single window was broken.
Kaname did not have time to check her face.
That thing was far different from the many Skills.
Just one piece of the Inheritance was enough to control the scene and change the rules or the win conditions of the game.
In order to drive him out from behind cover, a dog-eared Magisterus carelessly tried to circle behind him, so he shot her with his short-range sniper rifle. She held a sawed-off shotgun and she appeared to be an Empusa. His silenced .45 caliber round hit the demon in the very center of her chest, but he was not about to relax yet.
(The Magisterus will recover within an hour even if she’s Downed, so she was disposable. Was she checking my accuracy?)
This meant he had revealed information about himself without getting any in return. The human and the Magisterus shared Skills. If he had waited longer to kill her, he may have been able to figure out what Skills Strawberry Garter had equipped.
Kaname was ducked low to stay behind the sports car, but to reiterate, he could not steal it. He glanced around and spotted another vehicle protected in the same way.
His opponent had stopped firing.
She must have decided continuing to shoot would not help. Gatling guns were definitely destructive, but they were known for their poor “fuel efficiency” since even 6000 or 7000 rounds would be used up in a minute. Keeping track of your remaining ammo was standard for Dealers, but he doubted she was counting that stream of bullets on her own. She had to have a digital counter on a smart watch linked to her phone, but that number would double as her remaining life. Once she had fired them all, Kaname’s counterattack would begin. Even the most famous Dealer would Fall if they took a bullet between the eyes. And she had already revealed Kaname’s reaction speed when he had instantly killed the nervous puppy of a Magisterus.
Thus, they were both in search of a different method.
After climbing into a large special vehicle, Kaname smashed the plastic cover below the steering wheel and connected a few wires there.
The engine had the deep roar of diesel, so this was no racing vehicle. It was a crane truck colored entirely yellow.
After turning onto a wide runway-like road, he passed by a similarly large vehicle. Strawberry Garter was driving a firetruck. The driver’s seat was positioned differently from a normal vehicle, so he lost his chance to pull the trigger and blow her brains out while passing by. And without her Magisterus, she must not have been able to use both the large steering wheel and the Gatling gun at the same time. After he drove about 100m down the long straight road, he yanked on the hand brake and made a 180-degree turn as if making a roundhouse kick. This was very different from his usual coupe, so that alone just about tilted him up on one side.
They were facing each other once more.
The crane had its arm and the firetruck its ladder.
When they re-engaged the clutch and slammed down the gas pedal, those 10-ton horses raced toward each other. In this case, the arm and ladder functioned as a knight’s lance. The AI-controlled PMCs in their black bulletproof vehicles continued to swarm the battlefield, but the two large trucks knocked those out of the way like they were cardboard boxes. Kaname muttered to himself while struggling with the large steering wheel.
“Time for the world’s largest joust.”
This took more than just hitting each other with the crane arm or firetruck ladder. If they tried hitting from the side, the steal beam of an arm would readily break and the truck itself would lose its balance and roll over. Plus, arms and ladders like this were not meant to be extended while the truck was moving. Normally, supporting legs would be used to lift the truck itself above the asphalt so it would not lose its balance and roll.
They had to carefully control the wheel to essentially pierce the end of the arm straight into the driver’s seat.
Whichever side failed to do that would be the one to Fall.
The risk was great, but he could not back down. He had to retrieve the entire Inheritance to save Tselika, Takamasa, his sister, Midori, and other people he knew from the clutches of the AI society. Also, Strawberry Garter’s group had the list made from the stolen loose-leaf notes full of Takamasa’s thoughts. He also could not ignore the Umibe family who had fallen into despair after having the stadium and club team taken from them. Midori had said she wanted to rid the world of the unfairness plaguing it.
After falling into debt, she had “gone AI” and left all her living expenses to the machines, but she had delayed dealing with that pain in order to help someone else who was crying.
If she said she was doing that, then Kaname would do it too.
He would protect his friend’s sister just as that friend had once protected his sister.
He had sworn to himself he would.
So he did not hesitate to view the quickly approaching clash.
He did not have to show it off. He just had to do it.
He turned the giant steering wheel, but not to control the weaving truck. The two jousters pushed and pulled their arm and ladder and moved the tip around. Kaname and Strawberry Garter even included feints in their movements as they floored the gas pedals. They were locked in a battle to the death, yet they gave a roar in complete unison here.
A ridiculously powerful impact followed.
Kaname’s vision shook up and down and he nearly forgot about the real flow of time for a moment.
But he clenched his teeth.
It was too soon to pass out.
The windshield in front of him had gone pure white from all the cracks, but that was because it was made to shatter into small pieces if it was hit. The firetruck ladder had not broken through it.
He had avoided the end of the ladder at the last second and used the corner of the crane truck’s boxy cabin to deflect the duralumin ladder to the side.
The large firetruck’s windshield was indeed shattered. The end of the crane’s arm had pierced straight through it.
His cross counter had worked.
But the pain in his nose remained.
(Did I miss her!?)
Strawberry Garter had swung her head to the side and avoided the crane arm at the last second. The metal arm had pierced diagonally through the windshield, so it had blown away the passenger seat with torn stuffing flying.
Kaname focused on the new tie he had put on. Its Reduce Pain Skill had the highest rarity level of 10. It was so convenient that it was a target of speculative dealings for the Dealers, but that had led him to be slow in handling the steering wheel.
The slow motion of the world around him returned to normal speed.
The entire crane truck twisted. It was rising up with the arm still grabbed. This was due to the abnormal head-on collision. He had avoided having his head crushed by the firetruck ladder, but his truck still could not endure the impact. To reiterate, the arm was not made to be extended while the truck was in motion. The truck was already in an unstable state, so what happened when the end of the arm was caught on an obstacle?
A second accident occurred.
Both the crane truck and firetruck rose up, left their straight path, and charged toward the sidewalk. The crane arm bent into a shallow V-shape while the firetruck ladder broke off halfway up and flew away. Kaname’s crane truck was deflected by the barrier surrounding someone’s car in a pay parking spot on the side of the road, so it was pushed back into the road while rolling onto its side.
Day or night, it did not matter.
There was no place for him in the real world either. An AI company was supposed to maintain your normal life even if you went bankrupt, but that was all a lie. When he went to school, he was surrounded by mocking looks. At home, he never knew when one of his father’s former friends would storm in and yell at them all.
Since he had no place there, he had fled to the virtual world.
But there was no freedom in Money (Game) Master either.
He could only sit on a graffiti-covered bench next to a rusty old payphone and looked up at toxically illuminated Leviathan Stadium. No matter how hard he worked as a janitor there, he could not rid it of the filth covering it.
But then he heard the roar of a large motorcycle engine.
“You’re a weird person. What’s so fun about coming to see some indebted kid with no future?”
Hekireki Midori had stopped by Leviathan Stadium instead of Biondetta Dome. There was no more support she could provide, so she had no reason to remain in that service station on the outskirts.
“Since you’re here, you have a Magisterus, don’t you? If not, a phone works too.”
A beautiful woman approached from the behind the bench after seemingly blending into the background until now. Her movement was not quite the same as bipedal walking.
“You called for me, master?”
“I have failed to read your oral command. Please speak in a simpler fashion in the future.”
…She spoke politely enough, but she did not seem like the type he could have a frank discussion with. Midori was a rookie herself, but she began to wonder what caused these differences between Magisteri. Did they have different personalities to begin with, or was it all in how they were trained?
She tried holding up her smartphone but was shocked to see some weird word written in the alphabet. It did not look like English spelling.
“She’s a Vouivre. Never heard of them? She looks almost human, but she’s technically a French dragon.”
Midori had not expected for an elementary school boy to know more than her.
Did they appear in a video game or card game?
This Vouivre(?) Magisterus’s upper body was almost identical to an adult woman’s, but her lower body was that of a giant serpent covered in scales and she had bat-like wings growing from her back. She wore a blue outfit reminiscent of a cheerleader, but that might have been the cheer uniform for the old Leviathans.
“My name is Chandeletta. It is a pleasure to meet you.”
“Hi. I have my reasons, so just think of me as Miss Anonymous.”
“I have failed to read your oral command.”
“She greets me and then rejects me!? I think she’s more broken than my Meiki!”
Anyway, Money (Game) Master’s more gamey side could be seen in how someone looking like her could blend into the background. No one was surprised to see what looked like a monster walking around.
“There’s nothing I can use her for. Cause I don’t know how to make money.”
“Are you sure about that?”
A light electronic tone sounded.
The patterns on the Magisterus’s cheer uniform suddenly changed. A series of numbers scrolled rapidly by. Even if you did not know the specifics, you would be able to tell she had connected to the network and displayed the news on her clothes.
“Breaking!! New Management for the Leviathans Soccer Club Team?
“Multiple sources have confirmed that the new Biondetta Dome has entered the final stage of its troubled construction. This will negatively affect the Leviathans, so their primary sponsor AI company has decided to replace the current management, including the current owner, Strawberry Garter. Details of the new management are unknown at this time, but it is possible the previous owner, Umibe Tatsuo, will be brought back to help regain stability.”
For a while, the boy was so taken aback he seemed to forget the reality around him.
“It is more than just possible,” said Midori in her frilly black gothic bikini and miniskirt atop her large red leaf-pattern motorcycle. This information was already confirmed. “That will happen. That much I can guarantee you. You need to give the old players a call because you’re about to be very busy.”
The boy’s mouth flapped wordlessly.
He looked like he had no idea how to accept this good fortune that had suddenly fallen upon him. That was how it was with people who felt so cornered and had become permeated with misfortune. Hekireki Midori knew the feeling herself. When she had boarded that cruise ship and started fighting all on her own, she had gone as far as firing on the boy who had come to save her.
“B-but Leviathan Stadium doesn’t have long once Biondetta Dome is completed, right? Then what’s the point of getting the team back?”
“That won’t happen.” She responded so quickly it was obvious she had expected this question. “We only helped out Biondetta Dome to apply pressure to the immoral team. Now that this decision has been made, we have no need for them. If the construction won’t be complete in time for the Misaka World Fair in two years, they’ll back out because it isn’t worth the cost, right? The ground in this area is already full of tunnels and weak to vibrations. Vibrations like the cheers and stomping feet of tens of thousands of fans. If someone pretends to get involved in the subway development and alters the route of construction just a bit, it will all fall apart. And that group isn’t powerful enough to mess with the traffic infrastructure. Not without their Gatling gun anyway.”
“You helped us? Using the subway? Then…all this was you!?”
“No.” Black-twintailed Midori denied it with a smile. “I’ve ‘gone AI’ just like you. I don’t have the money for something like that.”
“He says saving people isn’t something you show off to others.”
Nothing more was needed.
She twisted the large motorcycle’s throttle lever and spoke her parting words.
“But not everyone agrees with that. That was my brother’s reasoning, not mine, so on occasion, I’ll make an appearance. Without telling them, of course☆”
Kaname was inside the rolled crane truck.
He felt so much pain his vision was going dark, but he still grabbed his Short Spear short-range sniper rifle.
“This isn’t over yet. I need to end it.”
The windshield was white with cracks, but it still maintained its original shape. It was a piece of construction equipment, after all. He doubted a small bullet would be enough to open a hole large enough to crawl through.
He gave up on that pointless effort and instead climbed out of the driver’s side door that was opening and closing directly above him. The many black bulletproof vehicles were just driving away. Their objective was the stolen truck loaded with their cargo. Whether they had succeeded or failed, their job was over once their objective was gone. Even if the culprit was right in front of them, they would ignore him if he was not set as their target.
But the tingling feeling on his nose remained. His Lion’s Nose was telling him of danger.
This was stronger than before.
The one who blocked his way with the flames of several exploding vehicles behind her was another human Dealer.
The intellectual woman wore a white and pink suit, but she carried herself as unnaturally as Kaname right now. She could barely support her own weight, yet she easily lifted the multi-barreled Gatling gun with a single hand. Her other hand held the giant box magazine with belt-shaped hose attached. You would have thought they were both plastic toys with the way she held them.
That was a piece of the Inheritance left by Criminal AO, Takamasa.
No matter how much money you spent to deck yourself out in all the best Skills, you could not hope to match the true magic of those Over Tricks.
Kaname responded by aiming his Short Spear short-range sniper rifle at her. At this range and with no armor, the type of gun and the caliber were irrelevant. Whoever hit the other first would kill their opponent.
“Martini Air Conditioning’s special equipment has safely reached Biondetta Dome’s construction site. Nothing you do here can stop the completion of the new dome.”
“No, I suppose not.”
“I wonder what your primary sponsor AI company thinks of this. Why not check the online news displayed on that wall over there? Is there any reason to continue fighting here? You cannot protect your castle – that stadium – and all your elites have Fallen. Were they your players? Or your trainers? Either way, you can’t maintain your team made by gathering people with the eyes of hitmen. You have no choice but to return the Leviathans to their original owner.”
“I no longer care about that.”
Her voice sounded like a curse.
She threw the suitcase-sized box magazine to the ground, pulled out a phone with a cracked screen, viewed her own face in the reflection like it was a mirror, and then tossed the useless mobile device aside. She had given up on some kind of ritual. Glaring at Kaname took precedence over some belief of hers.
But Kaname smiled a little.
“This is the first I’ve actually seen you, but you’re not half bad looking.”
“People like you are always taking things from me. You use the power of money to take away the things I innocently believed were indestructible!!”
Kaname did not know exactly who or what she was referring to, but most of the people who got hooked on Money (Game) Master would have a painful encounter with the unfair side of this world of complete freedom. Just like the Umibe family had lost their club team and Kaname had lost his irreplaceable friend.
“I won’t make any excuses.”
“You claim to have a righteous cause, but you took from others too. …I stole back the club team from your filthy hands because that belongs to the Umibe family. But I’m not done yet. Give it all back. I will be taking back Takamasa’s Inheritance too. As well as all the personal documents you must have used to acquire it. You don’t get to use that by claiming he’s a thing of the past!!”
It was a tense situation.
One side was going to kill the other. They would Fall.
Or maybe the most likely possibility was mutual destruction.
Nevertheless, neither Kaname nor Strawberry Garter stopped.
Helping people was not something you showed off to others.
It was possible this woman secretly carried something in her heart that made it worth leading that immoral team and protecting that stadium she viewed as a castle.
But it was too late to think on that now.
The sea breeze blew in.
If the blazing fires around them burst just a little, a deadly shootout would begin.
Maybe it was inappropriate, but that tingling feeling on the tip of his nose felt somehow pleasant.
Kaname breathed in an out.
Strawberry Garter had not blinked for a while now.
A small blue dot of light danced at the center of Strawberry Garter’s chest.
This felt different from before.
His Lion’s Nose sense twisted unnaturally.
For the first time, Strawberry Garter did not seem to understand what was happening. She reacted like she had found a meat sauce stain on her white blouse, but then she finally looked back up at Kaname.
“A sniper, hm? It seems you were a step ahead of me here. And I hate you for it. How far head did you predict my actions?
“No, this isn’t me. I didn’t place anyone in this area!”
“It doesn’t matter.”
She did not let it stop her.
Strawberry Garter’s right hand hopped up with the Gatling gun in its grasp.
A sizzling danger sense burned at the tip of Kaname’s nose.
This time it was really happening.
A dry gunshot rang out.
Kaname immediately leaped behind the rolled crane truck. As for Strawberry Garter…
(She didn’t make it.)
The danger sense in his nose quietly faded.
A gruesome wound gaped at the center of her luxury suit’s chest. He had not actually recovered the crushed bullet and checked, but it had to have been quite heavy. He doubted it was a normal 7.62mm. It was probably tungsten steel and maybe something even heavier. In the worst case, it could even be depleted uranium. That way it would punch through someone’s vitals even if they were wearing a bulletproof vest or had equipped a bulletproofing Skill.
The collapsed body had stopped even convulsing in death. A merciless amount of blood was spreading across the road. With her chest obliterated, he could not even attempt CPR. The toy-like Gatling gun, #DragonGod.err, lay next to the corpse. He had to retrieve at least that.
That had not been Midori or Tselika. They had been prepared to do some sniping if necessary, but the weapon used here had to have been derived from an assault rifle. The bullet velocity had been too slow for a specialized sniper rifle like #FiringLine.err. Although that may have been why whoever-it-was relied on such a heavy bullet.
They had fired down from a height of 30m at a point 250m to the west-northwest.
That was close range for sniping.
They had apparently relied on a laser pointer, but that suggested they were not also using the crosshairs of a scope. That would mean overlapping functions and, as convenient as a laser pointer was, it could inform the target in advance and allow them to dodge out of the way. And even if they could not manage anything as valiant as that, they could still panic and trip, causing the sniper shot to miss. The scope was the better option if you wanted to remain stealthy, but this person had gone out of their way to use a laser pointer. That did not seem like a logical decision to Kaname. Perhaps using a fancy scope or specialized sniper rifle at such close range would have hurt their pride as a sniper.
But when Kaname checked from behind cover, he did not just see a single rooftop; he saw a row of countless windows. It was the kind of resort apartment found everywhere in Summer City. And since it was in the perfect position to view both Leviathan Stadium and Biondetta Dome…
(Isn’t that the same building I had a hideout in!?)
He had no idea who this was, but the sniper had arrived surprisingly “close”.
And a quick look through his short-range sniper rifle’s scope was not enough to tell which window they had used. Even if he risked his life and rushed to the building now, the sniper could disguise themselves as a guest at a noisy late-night party and walk right past him.
His Lion’s Nose had already gone silent.
Had they left?
Or did they have some kind of concealment ability that could fool even his nose? If so, he doubted it was reliant on simple Skills. They would have to polish up their fundamentals to accomplish that.
Unsure of anything, he could not move from behind cover for a while.
(Who was that?)
His goal had been to rattle Strawberry Garter who led the Leviathans. He could not negotiate with or threaten her if she was dead. He probably would have ended up killing her regardless in that quickdraw shootout, but he could not help but look at things differently now.
If he had the Umibe family open their recovered club team’s office safe, he might be able to get the list. No, he could not think about it as a reward. He would have to force his way in there and take it.
Because a new threat had shown itself.
What if every new owner of the list turned up dead?
He could not force that risk onto the father and son he had supposedly saved.
So his group would bear the risk instead.
(Who was that weird mismatched sniper!?)
(Operation Dark Web – Lady Ghost <This region is being randomly camouflaged>)
“Lilikiska> I did what you asked, but he is not going to be happy.”
“Criminal AO> Good work. Sorry I keep forcing such dangerous jobs onto you. It was a lot different from the #FiringLine.err anti-materiel rifle, wasn’t it? Although not even the #SoaringSwallow.err assault rifle can handle every situation.”
“Lilikiska> You’re trying to gather your Inheritance, aren’t you?”
“Criminal AO> Yes, although I would prefer you called them my Magic.”
“Lilikiska> Then wouldn’t it be easier to leave him be for a while and attack him after he had gathered your Inheritance himself?”
“Criminal AO> Make no mistake here. I have no intention of harming Kaname or Midori. In fact, my Magic is quite dangerous. I made them, so I would know. And that danger is why I want to take them from the people I care for. Before they get burned.”
“Criminal AO> After being driven from the entirety of the AI society, I know best of all just how much danger my Magic carries. You know the cliché: I’d make an enemy of the entire world for you! But take it from me: it isn’t that exciting when you actually do it. I can’t let my friend or sister experience that same suffering.”
“Lilikiska> How devoted of you. But it sounds like you have an idealized vision of your friend and sister.”
“Criminal AO> What are you trying to say?”
“Lilikiska> Suou Kaname and Hekireki Midori are human beings, not AI-controlled Magisteri. If they do something that betrays your expectations, how are you going to feel after all this self-sacrifice no one ever asked for?”
“Criminal AO> …”
“Lilikiska> I just hope your feelings don’t transform into selfish hatred, O – ni – i – sa – ma.”
|Back to Prologue||Return to Main Page||Forward to Chapter 5|