Toaru Majutsu no Index:Biohacker Chapter3
The parking garage roared with flames.
The three sisters could hardly complain since they had done this themselves to corner and deal with Mitsuari Ayu, but they were still not delighted at the thought of going in there. It was a lot like walking through the minefield you had created yourself.
“Riku-Kai Onee-chans, can I head in?”
“Go ahead. Rikuri Nee-san, you keep an eye on our surroundings with your drones. Be on the lookout for the target making a desperate attempt to jump down from a higher floor. If she’s lucky, she could survive a drop from the third story.”
“Yes, yes. Kaibi-chan, you head in too and support our cute little sister, will you?”
“We don’t need your Measure Heart to keep Anti-Skill away. I will handle it, so you get going.”
Those flames and smoke were like their own minefield.
“Ugh, w-where were you hiding all this time, Kai Onee-chan?”
The girl in a dress breathed a sigh of exasperation at the less-than-130cm Gatling gun girl who did not seem to care how much of her bright thighs were showing off. And about half of that exasperation had to do with the thighness of that younger girl’s thighs.
Kaibi pulled up her own short skirt and drew a small handgun from her own bright thigh.
“You stand out too much. Do you have the distribution memorized?”
“Course I do.”
“Then tell me.”
“I’m not some little kid, Kai Onee-chan! I can run errands without a memo!!”
“Remind me again who it was that bought a pack of eggs at full price even though they were on sale.”
If you had created the minefield, you would know where all the mines were buried. At the very least, you were not going to step barefoot on one of the explosives. The parking garage was filled with flames and smoke, but that did not mean there were no avenues of entrance.,
Those two espers had combat-level powers.
The second and third sisters looked up at the burning prison of reinforced concrete.
“Let’s get started. Let’s go with the usual plan.”
“I chase her down and you finish her off?”
“Just like at Tokiwadai, right?”
“Why do you always get the best part!?”
The youngest child needlessly flipped her short skirt up as she swung her large weapon around while red in the face, but that empty-headed girl failed to notice how her older sister was intentionally taking the jobs that required bloodying one’s hands. She also failed to notice that this made her all the cuter.
It was said that people’s hearts could not be measured by their words or expressions, but being able to alter people’s hearts with Measure Heart had taught her that was an empty ideal.
The girl in a dress, Kaibi, held her gun in one hand and pressed the other to the side of her alluring neck.
“Let’s get this over with and head home. This job kept us from eating those raw oysters, right?”
“Wait, did L.S.S. actually give us some?”
The third sister paid no heed to the girl in a dress’s chiding words.
Unnecessary chatter should be avoided on a job. Especially when it came to their client’s name. If people managed to link this back to the client, it defeated the purpose of hiring someone to do the job for them.
“Hm, it is true the oyster stew we had for lunch wasn’t quite what I wanted, but twice in one day might be a bit much. I love the luxury of it, but I’m afraid I’ll get tired of them.”
They were soaked.
The fire burning below had practically turned the parking garage’s 5th floor into a sauna. At this point, neither sexy high school girl Kumokawa Seria nor small middle school girl Mitsuari Ayu could worry about the fact that a boy was around. Thanks to their thin summer uniform and sleeveless gym clothes, they were giving off a sweet scent and the white or flushed pink color of their skin was showing through.
“You have no idea how much this helped,” said Kamijou while cooling his forehead with an ice cream pack that resembled a drinkable gelatin pack. Mitsuari’s refrigerated bag was not working at 100% in this heat, but somewhat cold was better than nothing. Even room temperature water would be valuable in a situation like this.
Meanwhile, the fluffy-haired girl waved her small hands wildly with her face beet red.
“(O-oh, no. That’s the one I used at Tokiwadai to trap that Gatling gun dummy. By which I mean I held it in my armpit to melt it and then kept the rest around in case I needed to use it for another trick, but how am I supposed to say that now?)”
Kamijou gave her a confused look while also looking so happy to have that cool package against his forehead.
Then a deafening roar reached them from below. This was not the roar of the flames consuming oxygen or of a car blowing up. This was the kind of real, unexaggerated gunfire you could not find even in a movie. And instead of just a shot or two, this was a continuous stream where the individual shots were indistinguishable and it sounded like the single long tone of a broken buzzer.
“That’s the Gatling gun girl!”
“What, did you want half of this?” Super high school girl Kumokawa Seria wrinkled her brow while holding in her mouth a colorful popsicle that came in a tube and could be broken in two. “A Gatling gun, huh? But it sounds like she’s firing from below us instead of from a distance. I can’t see any good reason for entering the sea of flames she created herself. Well, if I had to come up with some kind of benefit, she may be tearing down the walls to create airways that send in oxygen and increase the intensity of the blaze to kill us. Y’know, like how they would blow air into the stove through a bamboo pipe in old kitchens.”
“Not the kind of advice I was looking for,” said Kamijou. “For now, you wait here.”
“Someone’s in here and, according to Mitsuari, this is one of three espers. But with a small number of elites, they can’t surround us perfectly. It at least doesn’t look like we’re surrounded by a group of more than a hundred. You’re the only one who can drive the bike, so I want to keep you around so you can use the bike’s speed to lose them and get Mitsuari to safety.”
The motorcycle’s rear tire had blown when they landed, but that mystery busty high school girl seemed skillful enough to steal any of the cars or motorcycles parked in this garage. She could straight up steal them, or she could remove a tire to fix the busted motorcycle.
However, the black-haired forehead girl breathed an exasperated sigh.
“Justify it however you like, but I’m not greedy enough to demand gender equality while also insisting on a ladies first policy.”
“And I feel like you left something important unsaid back there,” added Mitsuari. “If the gloomy boobs girl is driving and I’m in the back seat, then what about you!?”
Kamijou did not answer that question.
He crouched low in the way he had seen Kumokawa do and approached the downward slope that seemed to symbolize death at the moment. The slope belched heat and black smoke, so it felt like he was sticking his head inside an oven.
He was not doing this out of courage.
When they had been attacked by the giant dragon(?) created by that Biohacker, he had run away, leaving Kumokawa and Mitsuari behind.
He had come back, but that was only an excuse.
He still remembered the look on Kumokawa’s face when she had grabbed his arm and told him to run into the alley. He could picture it so vividly he could make out her eye color.
(To hell with that.)
That was what it came down to.
He was not fighting because he was brave.
Kamijou Touma was a coward. That was the kind of boy he was.
(I’m never letting myself feel that way again. So it’s 100 times better to stand up and face the threat!!)
Alone, he moved down to the 4th floor.
There were no partitions in between. He had only descended the slope one floor, but the air itself seemed to change. It prickled at his skin so much he felt like he was one careless inhalation away from scorching his throat.
The enemy apparently planned on climbing one floor at a time.
He had his doubts about that.
The fourth floor was the same height as a school building’s top floor, and it was already this bad. How much worse of a hell would one find at the source of the fire on the ground floor?
Guns and esper powers were unnecessary.
Simply losing your sense of direction in that black smoke would be enough to lose your life.
He held a hand to his mouth and looked around the area.
Then he made his way to the slope down to the 3rd floor.
The elevators were stopped and the Gatling gun had apparently already blown away the emergency stairs on the outer wall. That left just the one route up and down: the slopes he was using.
He was descending while the enemy was ascending.
He did not know who this assassin was or what they looked like, but he was bound to run into them somewhere.
Another roar of gunfire sounded from below. They must not have cared about preserving ammo, but Kamijou did not know if they were blowing up cars to accelerate the blaze or if they were using a rain of bullets to tear down any cover creating a suspicious hiding spot.
The roar was closer than last time.
And not just because he had descended a floor.
They really were getting closer.
The pointy-haired boy slowly descended the slope to the 3rd floor.
There was more than just heat and smoke this time.
He felt some other kind of pressure.
It was like returning to school at night to collect a forgotten item and spotting someone else there.
He sensed a human presence.
Both sides were approaching the third floor from above or below, so Kamijou Touma finally saw the small grim reaper.
This came as a surprise.
It was a small girl of only about 130cm. Her gaudily bleached blonde hair and her spangle-covered dress seemed a little much for her age, but that alone would never have led him to guess she was an assassin.
The real problem was what he saw right next to her risquély-exposed bright thigh.
She casually held an enormous Gatling gun at her hip.
“You’re not the girl from the photo. Are you some normal person who didn’t get out in time?”
“Are you playing dumb? I flew through the sky on Senpai’s bike and crashed into one of the higher floors. You set this place on fire and have it surrounded, so I know you must have seen that.”
To be blunt, Kamijou Touma did not properly understand the threat of a Gatling gun. If he had, he would have crumbled just like he had when facing the raw power of that dragon. He might have been more afraid against a smaller knife or stun gun.
And that was why he had the “confidence” to immediately dive behind a rectangular concrete pillar as soon as the bundle of barrels began to rotate.
A moment later, the pillar was blown to smithereens.
The stream of bullets swept by horizontally at just above hip height.
If he had not fallen over while diving behind cover, his top half would have been removed from the bottom.
The weapon must have been using a motor.
If not for the one second delay needed for the barrels to begin rotating, the initial shot would have killed him.
The destruction did not end there. All the cars parked along a horizontal line from there were blown away and lifted into the air before the gun swept back the other way to fill the flaming scraps with even more holes and tear them down beyond recognition. The metal became scorched fireballs that rolled every which way like living things. Hiding behind the pillar did not matter at all. A cold sweat poured down Kamijou’s body as those giant distorted dice rolled his way.
He rolled along the bare concrete to avoid what looked a lot liked crumpled balls of aluminum foil. The pointy-haired middle school boy finally realized how destructive this weapon was when he considered those were all that remained of a sports car’s classy streamlined shape reminiscent of polished pumps.
He was dead if that hit him.
And the bullets were not the only thing to be afraid of.
The terrain was crumbling and the cars were exploding and flying through the air. The water spraying from the burst pipes was evaporating and increasing the humidity to the point of a sauna.
While making sure he did not lift his head, he slid behind a light truck that had been smashed into the ground.
And his thoughts did not focus on the Gatling gun that gave a much louder roar than a park lawnmower.
The unique rules of Academy City had shown themselves here.
(This is definitely scary, but a small kid like that couldn’t swing that monstrous thing around.)
He clenched his teeth.
That meant there was a hidden element to this that was bending the laws of physics.
He doubted there was a medical power assistance suit hidden within that thin dress.
This had to be an esper power.
He silently clenched his right hand into a fist.
Whether it was her arm strength or grip strength, if she was using some kind of power to buff her physical body, he could neutralize it by slamming his fist against her body. Then she would either be flipped over by the recoil, or crushed below the Gatling gun’s weight. Even an amateur like Kamijou could tell that was not a weapon meant to be carried around by human hands.
If she was using a trick to bypass that impossibility, he only had to remind her how impossible it really was.
Fear of that terrifying barrage crept up on him and tears welled up in his eyes, but the area was full of smoke and deafening gunfire thanks to the Gatling gun girl blowing up all of the cars. If he stayed low and slowly circled around her, he could approach from a different angle.
The calm voice that reached him from the side made Kamijou Touma’s mind go completely blank.
(Wait…there’s someone else here. There’s someone else in this smoke!? And they found me right away! But how!?)
His thoughts were scattered.
He did not even have time for his throat to dry up.
Dry gunshots flew toward him from the side.
The girl in a dress, Kaibi, used her Measure Heart power.
It allowed her to adjust the emotional distance between herself and a target.
It was a purely psychological power that could not even make a single leaf float up in the air, but there was still some room for more creative uses of it.
She used a handkerchief to wipe the beads of sweat from the side and nape of her alluring neck.
(Knowing the distance between our hearts lets me know where the other person is located without relying on my eyes or ears. Just like the tension is very different depending on whether someone is standing in front of you or behind you. It’s only a vague sense, but it still functions like a cheap bug detector.)
She was not foolish enough to mention her trump card aloud while on a mission.
She adjusted her grip on the automatic handgun and walked forward, as if parting the dark smoke. Approaching this irregular target meant moving within the swiveling Gatling gun’s range. She could contact Amazora via radio, but the third sister would not hear her within the maelstrom of noise caused by that powerful gun.
But that was fine.
Amazora could do as she wished while the older sister made some adjustments.
The girl in a dress softly sighed.
(What would she find it hard to shoot? Yes, the emotional distance to a kitten abandoned in the rain should do it.)
Even if that youngest sister could not see through the smoke or hear over the Gatling gun, that emotional distance would still accurately affect her heart. Just like a suspicious presence approaching from behind in the dark would send a tremor up your spine. If she was implanted with the idea that she did not want to shoot whatever was in that direction, then she would obliterate her own ally with friendly fire.
Kaibi did not even need to duck down while that stream of bullets swept horizontally at a rate of more than 6000 rounds per minute.
This was one of the scientific esper powers developed in Academy City.
She had no interest in arguing with the skeptics who wondered how those powers stacked up to a gun or doubted they were superior to a nuclear bomb. They provided a greater breadth of options and that was enough to give them tactical value. It was like playing a game of rock-paper-scissors while having a fourth move available only to you.
That could tear down the rules of the battlefield.
That was true of any power proven to exist by the researchers.
She confirmed the boy’s presence through the smoke.
She dangerously approached him through the obscuring smoke and did not hesitate to speak.
The flow of time reverted to normal for her.
Dry gunshots flew toward him from the side.
After confirming his general distance and direction with Measure Heart, she had fired thrice for good measure toward the figure curled up beyond the smoke. But she still kept her gun at the ready because this was Academy City. She did not know this person’s name, so she did not know what their power was. Just like she had located him by breaking the rules, he might have some kind of barrier that also broke the rules. That might sound ridiculous, but she had to consider the possibility that he could gather up the air or sprinkler water to create a solid wall or that he could use pure telekinesis to repel anything flying his way.
Not knowing what to expect made things difficult.
If she had a special fourth move in this game of rock-paper-scissors, then he might have a special fifth move.
When she circled behind the scrap metal that looked like a sponge after a dog chewed it up, the person she had supposedly shot was nowhere to be seen.
A car door with broken hinges lay there, but its position could not be explained by the gunfire coming from just the one direction. Someone had likely grabbed the broken door and then throw it away later.
The paint was stripped away by cheap bullet holes different from the youngest sister’s Gatling gun rounds.
It had been used as a shield.
The girl in a dress grimaced.
She lightly poked her slender foot at the damage on the metal panel.
“He blocked it and ran away?”
Not saying the important things out loud was the standard while on the job.
She wished this had taught her something about the power he had used to defend himself, but this could mean he had used magnetism to move the door into place or that he was a powerless Level 0 who had held it in his hands. To reiterate, not knowing what to expect made things difficult. She had revealed her Measure Heart power and her handgun, but her opponent was still a mystery. She might seem to have the upper hand, but he had actually outdone her in the unseen side of the battle. She actually felt ashamed of her miserable performance. This was a lot more troublesome than having received a cut from a blade.
(But in that case.)
An invisible pressure reached her temples and she felt something odd gathering around her brow as she activated her power.
With Measure Heart, she could generally search out her target’s direction in the smoke.
(I don’t know who that boy is, but I have exposed him more than if I knew his name. I have his emotional distance in my hands!!)
He was moving in a large circle around the girl in a dress.
He was slipping between the burning scrap metal.
And he was approaching Amazora’s coordinate while she fired blindly with her Gatling gun???
His top priority was not Kaibi, who had attacked him from the side, but Amazora who was firing wildly from head on.
However, the tracking using Measure Heart was no more than a side effect. It did not give her very detailed information. She had no guarantee she could accurately hit him if she aimed her gun through the smoke. And this would all be meaningless if she hit Amazora instead.
But knowing that did not mean there was anything she could do.
She quickly reached for her earpiece and shouted into the radio while ignoring her slipping shoulder strap.
You were not to say the important things out loud on a mission, but she could not inform her cute younger sister of the threat without shouting loud enough to be heard over the roar of the gun!
“Amazora!! Get away from there!! I don’t know who it is, but they’re headed your way!!”
Really, the assassin girl with a handgun was overthinking things.
Kamijou Touma was only an amateur middle school boy.
When up against gun-wielding criminals with esper powers, he was nowhere near calm enough to cleverly stay a step ahead of them.
“Oh, god! How am I not dead!?”
A tingling pain remained in the bones of both his wrists.
The car door had been lying nearby by pure coincidence. If nothing had been within arm’s reach, a lead bullet would have smashed his skull and killed him.
And that was just the small handgun.
How much worse would it be with the Gatling gun?
(I don’t know if they have special goggles or an esper power, but if they can track me through this smoke, they wouldn’t be using that Gatling gun. They could have snuck up on me and taken off my head. That means their scanning ability isn’t that great.)
That was all he had to work with.
Fortunately, it was not hard to locate the less-than-130cm girl in the smoke. She was constantly producing enough noise that it not only rang in his ears but also seemed to smack him in the face.
(That means a hostage should work! That Gatling gun girl must be on the same side as the scan girl, so if I use her as a shield, the troublesome scan girl can’t attack!!)
For him, 10,000 anti-material rounds thicker than his thumb were no different from a single 9mm handgun round. If any one of them hit him, he was done. If they did not, he would not shed a single drop of blood. It was a binary choice for him.
He was scared.
Scared, but coping.
His opponents must not have been very coordinated because the scan girl had clearly known where he was yet she had not informed the Gatling gun girl.
That meant he did not have to worry about an accurate counterattack.
The cacophony of gunfire told him where the little girl was even with the smoke obstructing his view, but that very same noise would mask the delinquent boy’s footsteps while he approached her.
He tore apart the curtain of black smoke with his fist clenched tight and attacked the left side of the little girl with the gaudy spangle dress.
People were slowest to react when attacked from diagonally behind them on the opposite of their dominant side.
Her too-short skirt flipped up as she frantically turned around and the ammunition hose attached like to a vacuum cleaner wrapped around her slender waist. That clinched it. With a dull click, the gunfire suddenly stopped. The aluminum hose must have twisted past its limit because the belt of bullets got caught within and stopped moving. The motor kept the barrels spinning, but that was it.
Kamijou Touma showed no mercy even against a girl of less than 130cm.
He clenched his fist with all his might.
“Say hi to your big sis for me!!”
“You son of a bitch!!”
The enraged little girl showed no concern for her bright thighs while she grabbed the Gatling gun’s ammo hose with one hand and swung around the drum-like magazine she was dragging around like a vacuum cleaner. It was a lot like a monstrous morning star. How much did that weigh? A hit from that in a cross counter would shatter his skull, so he unclenched his fist and focused on dodging. He quickly ducked his head to let the horizontal attack fly past, but then he heard an odd sound.
It sounded like concrete cracking, but the giant metal magazine had not crashed into a concrete pillar.
It had unnaturally come to a stop in empty air.
And the sound had come from somewhere lower than that – from the ground below his feet. From the concrete shards produced by the merciless gunfire.
“Tch! It’s stuck!?”
(She isn’t boosting her muscles or making the object lighter. If the oddity came from the ground…)
“You aren’t lifting that heavy-ass Gatling gun with your muscles or your esper power. Were you allowing the weight to escape into the ground!?”
A poor student like Kamijou did not know what people pictured in their heads while using telekinesis. There had to be many different control methods – magnets, threads, wind, cranes, arms, etc.
What if this was done by creating something like an “invisible support”?
The concept would be the same as a camera’s tripod. With a support to hold it up, she would not have to worry about the weight of the device on her own arms. With that separate support, the weight could escape into the ground instead.
Also, he was pretty sure Gatling guns were not designed to be mobile.
“In that case…!!”
Before the unnaturally-stuck magazine could fall from the air, the Gatling gun girl let go of the hose and reached her small hand toward the back of her gaudy dress. Did she have a knife hidden there? While the close-to-home fear of something other than the Gatling gun clutched his stomach, Kamijou threw his first toward the little girl.
He felt an electric tingling in the back of his head.
He had meant to show no mercy, but her appearance may have made him hesitate at the last second.
The fist intended to land on her head instead hit her shoulder and slid down from there. Amazingly, that sent his fist straight toward the “line” connecting the giant magazine and the concrete floor.
A moment later, the invisible support shattered and the weight being sent into the ground returned to the device.
The midair drum magazine suddenly crashed into the concrete floor. The hose wrapped all the way around her slender hips squeezed tight and forced an odd sound out the self-bondage girl’s mouth. She was a lot like the anchor when one side lost badly in a game of tug of war. Her feet left the floor and she was tossed forward.
Which sent her right into the chest of today’s lucky bastard, Kamijou Touma.
The girl in a dress clicked her tongue while hiding behind some scorched scrap metal.
(Measure Heart didn’t stop him from immediately swinging his fist at her? Agh, these self-righteous types are the hardest to deal with!!)
The emotional distance between herself and the target boy was that of a dangerous escaped convict. He should normally have been frozen in fear or immediately turned around without worrying about the little girl in front of him, yet he had stuck to the enemy there.
Her power had affected him.
The emotional distance had changed.
Yet his actions had not changed.
That sounded simple, but it was actually the hardest thing to do. Most people would not even try and skip straight to targeting her instead. Especially if their life was on the line and they wanted to escape that pressure as soon as possible. Except that would cause them to rush things, they would fail to unravel the tangled threads, and they would be stopped by the strength of that large tangle.
Yet this boy did not mistake what order to do things in.
As the one using the power, Kaibi knew the emotional distance really had changed and shaken him. It was working, but he did not change. It felt like she was up against a giant insect or an AI weapon.
He was straightforward and unwavering.
To someone from the back alleys, that alone was a threat.
She ignored her slipping shoulder strap while bringing a hand to her ear and speaking over the radio.
“Rikuri Nee-san, Amazora is down. And she’s been captured by the enemy. I will retake her, so you increase the drone surveillance outside. We can’t let our real target get away while we focus on this distraction!”
“No, Kaibi-chan. There is no need for that. You did well, so leave the rest to your big sister.”
She heard a buzzing even louder than an electric shaver.
And it was not alone.
A deadly army flew in like someone had split open a hornet’s nest.
“A distraction? Do not make me laugh. Nothing could be more important for us.”
The girl in a dress felt a chill run along her spine.
This was someone who could inspire uncontrollable emotions in an emotion-controlling expert.
She was a specialist in unmanned weapons and poisons.
She was Gokusai Rikuri, the Potion Lady.
That spider lured you out with a sweet aroma and then captured you in her invisible web.
“I hope he is ready for what is coming to him now that he laid a hand on my little sister. This is a job I am willing to do pro bono.”
Kamijou Touma also noticed the change while carrying the dizzy Gatling gun girl.
The color of the flames changed.
The scorching orange became a blue and purple reminiscent of fireworks.
A rotating yellow light was flashing over by the elevator. That belonged to a device installed specifically because this was a parking garage with a concrete ceiling. The scorched plate said it was a carbon monoxide detector.
Kamijou had heard of people taking their own lives using charcoal grills.
While struggling to untangle the hose from around the less-than-130cm girl’s hips, he half-dragged her over toward the elevator. There was a small metal box below the rotating yellow light. It resembled an AED, but this was different. He checked inside and found a mask that covered the entire face and a small air canister the size of a hair spray can.
That was better than nothing.
He hesitated for a moment, but still placed the mask over the little girl’s face.
That was when he heard a buzzing similar to an electric shaver.
He quickly stood up while holding the unconscious mass shooter.
“Oh, what a gentleman. Or is my older little sister’s power affecting you? …Well, that power is meant to bind herself with others, so she has always had difficulty adjusting the distance between two other people.”
“If you weren’t aware, then I should avoid letting anything else slip. She would probably let me have it if I did.”
An aluminum and plastic unmanned device resembling a large crane fly had skillfully stopped at his eye level. But this looked different from the ordinary drones that were discussed in relation to aerial photography and online shopping.
A reel of wire and a unit resembling a gas-powered tranquilizer gun were carried below it.
This was a lot like the models used to deal with harmful animals like wild boars and bears.
If it could handle a bear, it could easily handle a human.
And there could always be more. He could glimpse a swarm of silhouettes through the flames and smoke and this nonhuman opponent might be able to slip through gaps far too small for a human.
“I will be taking back my littlest sister. No matter what.”
“You picked the fight with us.”
“Street fights begin because you assume you can win. But I never intended to let you stand on equal footing with us. Be devoured like the herbivore you are.”
“You do know I have a hostage, right?”
Kamijou finally said it.
The flames around him glowed with an even brighter bluish-purple hue.
He could not see it, but the levels of carbon monoxide may have been growing. And it would be too late by the time the physical symptoms began to show themselves.
There were at least three of them.
He had previously seen the Gatling gun esper and the mental esper who had a handgun, so this had to be the one who used drones to wield poisoned wires. He still did not know who she was.
Poison and machines were a good combination.
In a fight between humans, you could get hit by your own poison. Poison gas and biological weapons were difficult to use on the battlefield because there was always a risk of being given a taste of your own medicine in retribution. But that was not an issue when using a non-living drone. After scattering it around to cover the designated area, you could hang around without any ill effects.
(Carbon monoxide and chloride gas are easy to get your hands on since the ingredients can be found anywhere. That makes them convenient poisons when you want to disguise it as an accident, right?)
Kamijou’s head was full of pointless trivia from suspense dramas.
His opponent could win simply by keeping him from leaving the parking garage before he ran out of strength. She only had to send multiple drones after him and restrict where he could go. She would not be harmed if he managed to destroy a drone. It was even possible they had a bomb hidden inside.
(For now, I hold onto the hostage and it doesn’t actually matter all that much if I can get outside right away. Carbon monoxide is scary, but it isn’t like a biological weapon that dooms you the instant it’s inside your body. I just need to get some fresh air. I can’t forget I have an entire Gatling gun here. If I destroy a wall, it’s sure to provide better circulation.)
His thoughts were fairly decent for a split-second decision.
Rapidly increasing the amount of oxygen might cause the flames to explosively expand, but he had bigger issues to worry about.
“Hello, blockhead. Let’s not underestimate the Potion Lady, okay?”
He heard something slice through the wind from shockingly close by.
And that female voice had not come through a microphone or speaker. He was clearly hearing it directly. Had she filled the parking garage with carbon monoxide and then walked into the very gas chamber she had created!?
She had already moved right up to him.
He had no choice but to toss away the little girl in his arms.
His enemy swung down something like a pen, but was it a syringe that used gas to inject its contents, or was it a needle launcher?
He did not have the martial arts skills to accurately knock back the approaching assassin’s wrist.
He forcibly suppressed the instinct to protect his face with his hands, looked the sexy blonde woman in the eye to draw her attention, and threw a kick toward her long legs. If he knocked her off balance, it would throw her aim off as well. By doing that and twisting his body around so he fell to the floor, he successfully avoided the needle of that mystery syringe.
He was amazed such similar dresses could look so different on different people. Was the poison hidden in her feather-shaped necklace, her dress’s spangles, or the decoration covering her ring finger? Perhaps it was all of the above.
When he viewed her again, he found her sex appeal had reached almost oppressive levels. This was different from busty high school girl Kumokawa. Instead of a youthful beauty, hers was on the verge of rotting.
“You don’t look like the fist-fighting type, so getting in punching range was not the smartest move,” he said.
The electric shaver sound tormented his ears.
And it came from more than one direction.
The toxic woman smirked while sweat gathered in her cleavage.
“Make sure you take deep breaths to carry the carbon monoxide into your lungs,” she said. “You are sweating and I imagine you are feeling faint. Now, are those real symptoms or merely the placebo effect? Think carefully as you enter that mental labyrinth.”
The situation should have been the same for them both.
At the very least, she did not appear to be using an air tank or mask.
Then why did she not seem more worried?
“Carbon monoxide is so dangerous because it bonds more strongly with the hemoglobin meant to carry the oxygen through your blood. Once the carbon monoxide takes up all the empty seats, there is no room left to carry the oxygen and you die of asphyxiation.”
The sexy blonde woman spun the syringe around in her hand like it was a pen, tapped it against the decoration on her ring finger, and then pretended to jab the needle into the side of her neck.
“But it has no effect on crustaceans like shrimps and crabs. That is because they do not use hemoglobin to carry their oxygen. Instead, they use a completely different substance known as hemocyanin. The toxin functions much like a power plug, so it only works because the plug just so happens to match the outlet. So if you change the shape of the outlet, it no longer works.”
“I am not an esper suited for the battlefield, but I can handle this much, don’t you think? Not that knowing this gives you any way of fighting it.”
The very nature of their blood was different.
When he thought about it, he realized filling the parking garage with carbon monoxide presented a huge risk to her sisters when she was supposedly here to rescue them. But she had a countermeasure. Some of her drones had a unit similar to a gas-powered tranquilizer gun. If she injected her sisters with a special drug that provided a way of transporting blood without hemoglobin, the carbon monoxide would no longer be a threat to them.
This might look like a trickier weapon to wield than shooting fire or electricity from the palm, but altering someone’s oxygen transportation method or oxygen capacity would give them the endurance to run a marathon and allow them to function normally in the deep sea or on a tall mountain. It was tricky to wield, but when wielded well, it would provide absolute victory.
In that case…
“Isn’t it a bit soon to assume I can’t handle this? If I take down one of those drones and steal the drug based on hemocyanin or whatever it was, I might be able to escape this as much as you.”
“If you really believed that, you would have kept it to yourself. If you came down with an unidentified disease and found yourself in a deserted hospital, what could you actually accomplish? You would see all the bottles of drugs lined up on the shelves and despair. A substance can be a life-saving medicine when administered by an expert and a deadly poison when used by an amateur. That is how this field works.”
She hit the bull’s eye there.
She remained as unworried as ever while holding her own body in her arms, squeezing her large breasts from the outside.
Stealing from a poison expert’s collection and injecting it into his body without knowing what it was would be reckless in the extreme. That would be like a game of Russian roulette when working with medicines meant to save lives, so he would have to be insane to rely on luck with the poisons that were designed to kill from the get-go.
And Kamijou Touma was second to none when it came to being unlucky.
That woman, who kept clicking her pent-like syringe against her ring finger decoration, only had to drag out this conversation long enough and she would win. This was already a path to victory for her, so she would be delighted to chat with him over tea.
The time had come to make a decision.
If he did not deal with her, Mitsuari Ayu and Kumokawa Seria on the higher floors would fall victim to her as well.
“So what will you do? Make up your own mind.”
“I’ll go for that.”
Kamijou Touma did not hesitate to point toward the floor.
Specifically, at the Gatling gun girl who was still dizzy and had a small oxygen mask on.
“I’ll take that mask from her.”
“You prepared everything in advance. That other esper – from what you said, I guess she’s an esper – hiding here somewhere may be getting that saving drug injected into her from one of your drone’s tranquilizer gun things, but not that kid. You wouldn’t have had a chance. Without the mask, she’ll die as much as me.”
The atmosphere changed, like powerful microwaves were boiling the moisture in the air, but if that was enough to deter you, you could never walk the back alleys.
“If you frantically pulled out your oxygen carrier, I could just take that, but I have no way of knowing how deep the rabbit hole goes on your tricks. I don’t want to swipe it from you and find it was actually poison. So the mask is my priority. I know that’s safe, so I won’t hold back. And you have a countermeasure ready, right? So she doesn’t even need the mask and I can take it for myself.”
“You really do have a screw loose.”
“What else did you expect from a guy so broken he’ll immediately punch someone in the face if the situation demands it?”
“I can see why my cute little sisters had so much trouble. You might be on the side of good, but your claims of justice change from one moment to the next. You take an all’s well that ends well stance, so everything leading up to that ending can get all twisted around. No one with normal sensibilities could throw aside the very small girl they had just worked to save. Even a professional soldier would get PTSD from that.”
Kamijou was closer to the collapsed Gatling gun girl.
He was 2m away, while the sexy blonde woman was 5m away. He would reach her first, but his opponent would not wait around while he swiped the mask and put it on his own face. That pen-like gas-operated syringe would be coming. And it was hard to predict what the drones would do while they flew all around like a swarm of bees in the flames and smoke.
But if he managed to get that mask, he would at least have a chance.
Then maybe the two girls waiting up above would not have to suffer in the same way.
There was no flaw in his thinking.
Not if you were solely focused on winning and losing.
But was that really acceptable?
That irremovable thorn of doubt may have been the worst poison of all.
The syringe spinning in her hand came to a stop.
The sexy blonde woman gripped it like a stake as she spoke.
“I will kill you, for those cute little sisters of mine.”
“And I’ll survive, also for them.”
Then they both took off running.
Kaibi, second of the three sisters, held a hand to the side of her aching head and gradually stood up.
She slowly pushed back up her dress’s slipping shoulder strap.
Her sluggish movements were enough to imagine how much damage her body had taken.
One of Rikuri’s drones had injected her with a bloodstream oxygen carrier, but that did not mean the carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms would disappear immediately. She would not die, but the pain would continue.
The trembling of her fingertips would not stop and her vision grew blurry from time to time.
She would have a hard time aiming and firing a gun like this. Especially in a wild fight between her target and her family member.
(I can’t leave this with Rikuri Nee-san. She isn’t suited for the battlefield. But my Measure Heart should be able to shake him.
She did not say anything important aloud on the battlefield.
Because you never knew how that would come back to bite you.
She practically rubbed her body up against the side of a rectangular concrete pillar that had broken halfway up to prop herself up on two legs and she focused her mind on both her temples.
She pictured it like moving the electrode between her eyes and releasing sparks from there.
(He’ll know which order to do this in. He’ll defeat his opponent, create a safe zone for himself, and make sure he can keep fighting. I’ve seen how broken he is, so I can’t expect pleas to his good will or decency to stop him.)
Kaibi was part of the science side.
She had a hard time imaging this sort of thing’', so she had never used her power like this. But now was not the time to be picky.
She had to use any method available to her.
She adjusted the emotional distance between herself and the pointy-haired boy.
(A god or something should work. I just need a being of absolute authority. That should drive all other thoughts from his mind. As long as he panics for a second – no, even a split second – Rikuri Nee-san’s poison needles or wires can reach him!!)
She clenched her teeth and glared at her target.
Since the main attack was now the carbon dioxide instead of the flames and heat, the actual fire had lost some of its intensity. The curtain of dark smoke was coming apart in places.
Which was why she saw it.
He never even glanced in collapsed Amazora’s direction.
A certain boy immediately rushed toward Rikuri and swung his right first with all his might.
Rikuri must have been absolutely convinced her cornered prey was going to mercilessly rip the mask from the youngest child’s face. She had started running toward Amazora, so the boy’s attack seemed to catch her entirely off guard. She frantically tried to swing the pen-like syringe around, but she was not used to in-person combat. She had positioned the many drones in the best positions to protect collapsed and unmoving Amazora because she had never imagined the attack would be directed toward herself.
Her initial assumption had been wrong.
She could not keep up with his unexpected action.
It was like playing a game of shogi and having a piece on the edge of the board suddenly warp to the opposite side. Even if you had moved your king to the corner and set up the perfect Anaguma defense, there was no defending against that.
A great sound burst out.
He landed a clean cross counter on Rikuri while she still held the pen-like syringe in hand.
The oldest of the sisters was knocked backwards.
“How?” she asked without moving.
“You were cornered by the invisible carbon monoxide…so how could you ignore my cute little sister there?”
“You really think I would steal that mask from her?” spat out the pointy-haired boy. “I already ran away once.”
In the end, this was the boy’s true nature and his limit.
“I felt this awful bitterness rising from the pit of my stomach then. I had escaped the monster created by that Biohacker and I had saved myself, but that wasn’t good enough. I never want to taste that bitterness again. No matter what.”
No matter how much he hardened his heart, there was a line he could never cross. If the enemy discovered that, they could take advantage of it. That was why he had needed to hide it no matter what.
You did not say anything important aloud on the battlefield.
So he had held his tongue and bit his lip to keep it inside.
“Oh, come on.”
She even smiled a little.
Not even Kaibi had seen this look on her sister’s face before.
She looked satisfied despite being tricked.
“Say things like that and I can’t help but find you a little cute.”
She sank down.
Gokusai Rikuri’s knees gave out and she slowly collapsed.
The girl in a dress grimaced.
The many drones lost control and fell from the air.
First Sister Rikuri and Third Sister Amazora had been defeated. Measure Heart was about trickery and lacked the power needed for a finisher. yet this opponent had the Gatling gun he had stolen from the third sister.
Plus, there were two more people on the upper floors.
The girl who had ridden the motorcycle was an unknown quantity and their original target, Mitsuari Ayu, had a psychological power just like her.
The girl in a dress had deflected Mitsuari’s Mental Stinger before, but the other girl might be able to do the same to her. How much her power would be weakened in a clash against a similar esper was an unknown until she actually tested it out. And an unknown was not good enough to call a trump card.
After all, Second Sister Kaibi was their final chance.
If all three of them were captured, there would be no one left to rescue her family.
That was true whether they were being sent to Anti-Skill or the city’s dark side.
She could control emotional distances.
She could earn the public prosecutor’s trust and have them drop the case, or she could curry the favor of someone with clout in the back alleys. As long as she knew the appropriate “etiquette”, she would have an opportunity to free her precious sisters from their cells.
(In that case!!)
Once she made up her mind, there was no hesitation within her.
Even if it meant turning her back on her sisters while they lay collapsed in front of the enemy. Even if she had no way of striking back at the person who had done that to them.
She had to escape here and resume the fight at a later date.
Still, she was on the third floor.
She climbed over the parking garage’s concrete fence and jumped down.
She lost her balance and her vision whirled.
She fell on her back, but she survived because she landed in the bushes planted around the structure. She could not have done that on purpose, though.
She got up.
She could not hold her shoulders at the same height and she was covered in soot and mud, but she managed to leave the parking garage on unsteady legs.
After practically dragging her legs along and reaching the road, she noticed the sharp heels of her sandals had broken. She removed the unusable footwear and carried them while walking barefoot.
She was separated from the older sister who always spoiled her family and from the younger sister who was always so annoying and got into so much trouble.
She bit her lovely lips.
And she silently wept all alone.
Kamijou Touma wiped the sweat from his brow inside the parking garage filled with flames and smoke.
One of the three sisters(?) was missing. The presence he had felt before was gone, but since she had had a gun and another of them had used drones, that was no guarantee of safety. It was cruel, but he would have to use the two defeated enemies as insurance.
(I hope she wasn’t taken out by the carbon monoxide. She was given that hemo-whatever countermeasure, right?)
He was of course at the most risk. He did not know the exact concentration of carbon monoxide in here, but with the alarm still going off, it would be best not to linger. If he waited here in fear of the enemy he had lost track of, he would eventually collapse.
The poison woman and the Gatling gun girl lay limp on the floor, so he picked them up to use as shields.
He had to get back to the upper floors.
They were girls, but with two of them and with them unconscious, they were very heavy. But he could not drag them along the floor littered with shards of glass and concrete, so he found an all purpose wheeled cart, loaded the tall woman into it, and used a plastic rope to tie the little girl to his back like a baby.
(I can’t last much longer in here!)
He did not have a headache, but thinking so much was making him feel sick. He could not let the real carbon monoxide sneak up on him while he suffered from the placebo effect brought on by his own anxiety and stress.
He had needed a shield against the unseen enemy.
When figuring out which one to carry, that adolescent idiot had wanted to go with the sexy young woman with the big boobs, but she was a poison user who could kill with a single needle. He wanted to avoid close contact with her even while unconscious.
On the other hand, the little girl alone was too small to provide much coverage as a shield.
(But that gun would punch right through my body if it hit me, right?)
So even if the surviving enemy aimed at him through the smoke, he did not have to worry as much about being shot from the front. Unless she was willing to sacrifice her sister in the process.
In the end, there was no such thing as 100% safety.
There could be an unseen fourth enemy, or the survivor might leave the building and then fire a barrage of missiles and rockets to bring down the entire parking garage. After all, he had already seen esper powers and a Gatling gun here. He could not rule out any possibility.
This human shield was really just a good-luck charm to rid him of his anxiety.
(Maybe it’s wrong to calm myself with close physical contact with an unconscious little girl.)
He called out to them because visibility was so poor.
After coming all this way, he did not want them mistaking him for an enemy through the smoke. He could just imagine them stabbing at him with a makeshift spear made by taping a knife to the end of a mop.
“You made it back alive, boy?” asked Kumokawa. “Hm, and with plenty of souvenirs, it would seem.”
“A-are those supposed to be your victory prizes?” asked Mitsuari. “This isn’t ancient Rome.”
Kumokawa grinned and Mitsuari trembled.
At least they seemed to be doing well. Perhaps it was asking a lot for people who had spent their time in relative peace, but he wished they could intuit that he had been dealing with a hellish festival featuring a handgun, a Gatling gun, carbon monoxide, and poison needles.
The genius (←riichi) busty (←ippatsu) high school girl (←dora) crossed her arms.
“What happened with the enemy?”
“They seemed to be a group of three, but I lost track of one. They seemed focused on the hostage I had and she hasn’t attacked since, so I’d like to believe she gave up. Unfortunately, I can’t say for sure. She had a gun, so we might not be safe. Plus there’s carbon monoxide, so we should get out of here if we can.”
“Eh? You mean you defeated them all on your own?” asked Mitsuari.
“I don’t see any other way of explaining these two he has here,” said Kumokawa. “I doubt he paid some money to hire some extras.”
In her gym clothes and indoor slippers, Mitsuari silently watched Kamijou lower the little girl from his back.
Kumokawa Seria sighed.
“Well, good job, I guess. You upheld the promise you made.”
“This is nothing so cool. I only did what it took to survive.”
“You can say that after walking toward near-certain doom when you didn’t have to? You protected lives here. And not just the lives of your allies – of your enemies too.”
In what may have been a sign of her trust, the upperclassman girl smiled a little and started to rest her head on unsteady Kamijou’s shoulder from the side.
An odd sound interrupted.
No, it was Mitsuari Ayu. Just before the super high school girl of his dreams could touch him, the other girl slipped in between them. That meant he only got to feel the bony flatness of a skinny middle school girl.
What was this?
Did his misfortune really need to give him a post-battle bonus?
He clenched his teeth.
“Senpai, when did Mitsuari grow so attached to you?”
“To me? It’s clearly you she is attached to. And there’s nothing weird about a sheltered girl having a thing for a knight in shining armor.”
It was unclear what that meant, but Mitsuari herself clearly did not agree. She squeezed her eyes shut and continued shouting “nhh, nhh!” in protest.
But there was no reclaiming a lost opportunity.
While mentally weeping tears of blood at his inability to rewind reality, he faced the more immediate problem.
“Senpai, how are we going to get out of here?”
“Yeah, the bike blew its tire when we landed.”
“Plus, it couldn’t carry me, you, Mitsuari, the hot one, and the little girl.”
“I adore you for including all five of us. But anyway, the best plan would be to switch to a vehicle capable of carrying all of us.”
Kumokawa got to work picking the lock of a nearby car. She picked up some kind of long wire, but what was this? Instead of inserting it into the keyhole, she appeared to be jabbing it vertically down into the power window.
“Don’t try this at home.”
After unlocking it as smoothly as if she had the key, she opened the door, climbed inside, and broke the plastic cover below the steering wheel. Once she connected the wires within, the engine started right up.
Apparently high school girls these days could drive not just motorcycles but cars too.
That seemed to clash with his basic image of high school girls, but whatever.
“Tie the two unconscious idiots up with packing tape and stuff them in the trunk. That is the most mercy I am willing to show.”
“The fight is over, so can’t we all just get along!?”
Kamijou protested, but he knew they were short on time and had no choice but to obey. He was already well aware that the poison woman had used carbon monoxide.
The tires squealed and Delinquent High School Girl Kumokawa-senpai drove the car down the slope to the next floor. On the way, Kamijou spotted some scrapped cars and the abandoned Gatling gun. He felt like leaving that there was a bad idea. He was afraid it might explode like a firecracker in those flames.
After descending a few of those slopes, he lost track of what floor they were on.
The seatbelt alone must have felt insufficient with how much the car was shaking because Mitsuari was pale in the face and clung to him in the back seat.
“Are we going to drive all the way down? But the ground floor must be engulfed in flames!!”
“Why do you get all the fun when you’re just along for the ride?” asked Kumokawa. “Maybe I should go for another bike ride with that boy seated behind me.”
“Senpai, I don’t like the sound of whatever you’re planning!”
“Anyway, I wanted to get as far down as possible, but this is probably the limit.”
“Um, but what are you planning to do? Wait, Senpai, why are you turning the wheel that way!?”
“Why?” she said casually while stepping on the gas pedal.
The view out the windshield showed the concrete wall meant to keep cars from falling off.
“Cause this is a shortcut.”
Beating on the driver’s seat headrest accomplished nothing.
A moment later, a mass of metal weighing more than a ton flew out into empty air from the second floor.
It had been rough.
Real rough, but Kamijou’s group had escaped from the burning parking garage.
“Are you insane, you amazing busty high school girl!? I really am grabbing those things this time!!”
“I will respect your freedom of speech and accept your complaints about my behavior, but try not to slip your own desires in there.”
He complained, but this was a stolen car. It would have been engulfed in flames with the rest if left where it was, but given how dented up the bumper was, it was highly unlikely the owner would thank them for saving it. It was too dangerous to drive around in, so they decided to get out and escape on foot.
“What about the two in the trunk?”
“Assuming you’re not interested in abducting them and having your way with them, I recommend setting off the car alarm and then leaving them there. It’s a stolen car, so Anti-Skill will secure them for you.”
They would probably be taken into custody as victims instead of criminals in that scenario, but the authorities could apparently figure out who had fired a gun from fingerprints and something called gunshot residue. They would at least figure out the little girl was the mass shooter, which would make it hard for the sexy poison user to claim she was uninvolved.
They could be safely left with the adults.
“Anyway, I’ve never heard of real-life professional assassins before. What happens to them once Anti-Skill arrests them? Will this be a top story on the evening news???”
“Of course not. Academy City as a whole is in the service industry, so they can’t stay in business without showing off how safe everything is and bringing in lots of kids. What happened here will be never be revealed to the public. And if they can’t fully cover it up, they’ll just call it a spontaneous incident with no planning behind it.”
They held that conversation after finally escaping the parking garage.
Kamijou was so soaked with sweat he could probably produce a very gross sight by stripping off a piece of clothing and wringing it out like a rag. Unlike a super high school girl or a high-class middle school girl, nobody was interested in a guy’s sweat.
They peered out around the corner of a building to spy on the flashing lights gathering a short distance away.
Needless to say, they were hiding because they had done a little too much they could not let come to light, starting with Kumokawa Seria’s motorcycle theft. And while Kamijou had clenched his fist to protect a girl, that would go down in the Anti-Skill paperwork as assault and battery.
“Do you really want to get arrested now? One of the assassins got away and L.S.S. management might use some other method. That would only lead to three unnatural suicides in the holding cells before dawn tomorrow.”
After that threatening statement from Kumokawa Seria (who had committed the most criminal acts of the three), Kamijou and Mitsuari could only curl up like small animals and go along with her plan.
“Okay, the straitlaced teacher/guidance counselor combos have arrived. And it looks like they have indeed taken those two into protective custody.”
Those two did not seem to put up much resistance even when they had their hands handcuffed behind their backs.
That was something of an ending, but there had been three enemies.
There was still one out there. It felt like hearing the shark extermination at the beach had been called off before it was complete.
“A-anyway, you really did beat them all yourself, didn’t you?” said Mitsuari.
“Hm? Yeah, but one-against-three is my limit. Any more and I shouldn’t even try to fight.”
Kamijou made it sound so simple, so he seemed unaware of what a tightrope walk he had made. Your own lucky shots tended not to leave much of an impression in your memory.
But more than that…
“Senpai, what is L.S.S.?”
He felt like he had glimpsed that name a few times.
For example, as a TV show sponsor or in ads at the burger shop. He was pretty sure they were a company that worked in some kind of biological field. He was unsure what exactly they specialized in – or rather, they seemed involved in everything from the food business to the pet business, so everyone online claimed they were too unfocused.
“Hm? Did you really think two different criminal groups had targeted Mitsuari Ayu by complete coincidence? Those three sisters were professional assassins, so that means someone must have hired them. Doesn’t it seem most likely that was meant to get back at us for what happened with the dragon?”
The term “Biohacker” had come up, but had they ever determined where exactly that dragon came from? Kamijou had to wonder, so Kumokawa continued in exasperation.
“Did you forget all about that researcher you punched at the end of that night? A single photo is enough to search out all sorts of information these days. It was a little tricky to track down since he was not registered as an employee, but he had influence over a company project as a guest. That link was intentionally made to be indirect. Also, that very same researcher apparently kicked the bucket due to food poisoning while in his holding cell. It was due to the oysters in his lunch, but…hm, don’t we know someone who specializes in animal poisons?”
She stated it so matter-of-factly that Kamijou did not realize what she meant at first.
It felt like watching a news program for some distant country.
And Kumokawa was not done talking.
There was more.
“To look at it from a different angle, part of L.S.S.’s charitable activities includes managing the distribution of the stray cat population.”
“Simply put, they capture the kitties, have them sniff an anesthetic, and then chop off their you-know-whats. It’s done out of love for the animals, but I imagine the cats don’t appreciate it much. It’s not much different from alien abductions and cattle mutilation from their point of view.”
Kamijou Touma shrank down a little.
He knew it was wrong, but that topic felt more real to him than the assassination in the holding cell. L.S.S. apparently sponsored a cat program on TV, so were they using information taken from the program staff?
Mitsuari Ayu still looked confused.
A devilish smile spread on Kumokawa’s face like the scissors in rock-paper-scissors.
“By accepting contract work from the health department, L.S.S. can freely enter areas normal workers could never go. For example, the School Garden and Tokiwadai Middle School.”
Soaked Mitsuari did not seem to quite get it.
“Have you ever seen outside workers entering your school grounds to collect a cat or dog that wandered in? Those were L.S.S. workers.”
“Eh!? You mean those people in work jumpsuits!?”
“There are two ways to earn trust: spend a lot of time somewhere, or call yourself some kind of expert. It’s a pretty basic method.” Kumokawa sighed in extreme exasperation. “Those sisters may have used some kind of esper power or special skill to get into the School Garden, but didn’t they attack Mitsuari and lure her outside a little too smoothly? Someone who knew a lot about things inside must have given them detailed information on the distribution of people and things at different times.”
Also, even if that dragon had been the product of a dangerous experiment combining the DNA of a few different animals, that did not seem possible for an individual to pull off. Wouldn’t it require specialized equipment, personnel, and plenty of funding to keep it all running?
“Well, we know someone used high-level cover-up techniques to erase all trace of the dragon attack. If L.S.S. is involved this time too, that parking garage will probably be handled in the same way. If we check to see what materials and chemicals were used to repair the damage at both sites and then track down where they came from, we can figure out who the Biohacker is.”
Mitsuari Ayu must have had a hard time believing this (or she was embarrassed standing on the roadside in sweaty short-sleeved gym clothes) because she gave them a puzzled look while fidgeting her butt.
“But isn’t L.S.S. a trustworthy company that everyone knows? The girls from the major cliques talk about it a lot. Would a major company with a solid position at the top of the listings really take the risk of messing with life using a Biohacker or whatever?”
“Heh heh. A trustworthy company? Do you actually think those exist?”
“This is no time for dark jokes.”
Mitsuari seemed to mistake that for a joke as she walked along in her loose indoor slippers.
Meanwhile, the busty high school girl gave her the look of someone seeing a small child write “I want to be a wonderful wife when I grow up” on their Tanabata wish card. It was a somewhat maternal look.
“Well, the people behind corporate misdeeds usually lose track of the scope of their actions. So with the Biohacker, it probably started out small. Yes, like modifying genetics to create a thoroughbred in the lab instead of relying on selective breeding. Then they moved on to developing delicious edible earthworms to use for cheap hamburger meat and they eventually reached the point of creating giant dragons without anyone involved noticing anything wrong with what they are doing. That tends to be how these things go.”
Kamijou groaned again at this.
He recalled seeing an L.S.S. ad at a burger shop. That meant there was some form of favorable relationship between those two. He could not help but worry about the burger meal he had eaten there.
“We saw the assassins taken in by Anti-Skill, so there’s no point in staying here. Let’s get moving.”
“Th-there’s more? Can’t we just head home now?”
Mitsuari may have wanted it all to be over so she could strip out of her sweaty gym clothes and take a shower.
Kumokawa Seria breathed an exasperated sigh (which made her large chest rise and fall).
“Have you already forgotten they got assassins inside the strictly-defended Tokiwadai Middle School? Needless to say, L.S.S. is a big company. Go to sleep in the dorm linked to you in the school paperwork and you might as well be leaving the window open and asking them to attack you.”
“Eh? But then what do we do?”
Mitsuari’s exhaustion was quickly making her useless, but Kamijou’s heart had felt the squeeze of fear ever since the discussion about chopping off cat balls.
The mystery super high school girl smiled thinly.
“That just means you have to go somewhere not linked to you in the school paperwork. I will show you to my apartment. It’s too late to turn back now, after all.”
Was that normal for a high school girl, or not?
Kamijou still dreamed of the freedoms found in a high school life, but this was starting to feel like more than that. He doubted you could rent an apartment with the money from an afterschool job.
For now, they had to obey her, but she did not lead them to a train or bus.
But not because her apartment was nearby.
“What a pain. Using public transportation now would like asking for an ambush.”
They were forced to walk for quite a while along deserted roads. That was difficult for Mitsuari in her indoor slippers.
“Hey, quit leaning on me from behind! What, you want me to carry you!? How about using words next time!?”
“(You’re quite something yourself for readily accepting her demand to be carried!!)”
It grew dark while they walked.
They had spent an entire day on this.
If you did not earn any experience points, your level remained at 0. All this fighting had earned them nothing.
“Hm, hm, hm, hmm.”
The fluffy-haired middle school girl was in a good mood now that she was riding on Kamijou’s back. She kicked her feet cheerfully.
“There it is,” said Kumokawa.
This was not just a studio apartment.
It was a huge multi-room apartment meant for families. No, this high-rise apartment building was clearly meant for investors and resellers. It was the kind only seen on soap operas.
“Being invited somewhere this luxurious makes me fear some kind of trap,” said Kamijou.
“Why would you associate fanciness with booby traps?”
Hearing the fluffy middle school girl say “booby” right into his ear just about awoke something inside him, but he decided it was best to keep that to himself. He wanted to avoid putting his foot in his mouth.
“It’s not really a booby trap, but they did find some unexploded ordnance in a park near here, which made the apartments hard to sell and caused their value to plummet,” said Kumokawa. “But rumors fade and I’m sure the value will return to normal eventually.”
The entrance naturally used an automatic locking system.
Once through the thick automatic door, they found a huge air-conditioned lobby.
“C’mon, get down now, Mitsuari. We’re here.”
“Don’t you dare go to sleep. And don’t throw a fit! Just get down!!”
He decided it was for her own good to not spoil her too much, so he forcibly lowered her from his back.
A butler-like old man in a black tailcoat stood at the reception counter. Was that what they called a concierge? This was feeling more like a resort hotel than an apartment. The man said nothing about the sweaty girl in gym clothes.
And Mitsuari did not seem to care either.
He had forgotten, but she had had an upper class upbringing.
“Well, whatever. Which floor is your room on?”
“52. That high up, I’d be worried about power outages if I actually lived here.”
Kumokawa opened the window below the panel and pressed her thumb against the inside. The fingerprint scanner set the elevator to take them straight to their destination floor without any intermediate stops.
They found an insane place where only four rooms took up the entire floor.
“At the very top, they have this ridiculous thing they call the Tenshukaku Room. It takes up two whole stories on its own, but the most expensive room tends to be harder to sell, so resellers won’t touch it.”
Kumokawa Seria did not pull out a key.
Did these fancy luxury apartments for the wealthy not get hit by filthy burglars because they used fingerprint and iris scanners?
At this point, Mitsuari Ayu (still in her gym clothes) tilted her head.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?”
“Don’t tell me you’re afraid of a lecture from your parents when a Biohacker and professional assassins are trying to kill you.”
“No, not that.”
For some reason, the fluffy-haired girl glanced over at Kamijou as he walked alongside her.
Then she got to the point.
“I mean, you’re inviting a boy into your room, right? If it’s a complete mess, won’t you lose all of the ‘capable older girl’ points you’ve earned so far???”
It looked like her heart had stopped.
Kumokawa Seria froze in place, but that did not change the reality around her.
Thump, thump, thump, slam!!
The super high school girl went pale in the face, opened the entranceway door, and rushed inside all on her own.
“Um, senpaiii? If you need some heavy lifting done, I could help out.”
“How dense can you be? Or are you trying to deliver the finishing blow?”
“Fine, fine. I will explain everything. We’re stuck waiting for a while anyway.”
They heard a lot of dull noises as things were moved around inside the room.
They apparently were not receiving their invitation for a while yet.