Toaru Majutsu no Index:Biohacker Chapter4
“Sorry about the wait.”
The super high school girl was back.
Kumokawa Seria’s smile was shining bright as she opened the front door from within.
“Everything’s fine now, so come on in. No, wait! Everything was fine from the beginning, of course! My apartment was as clean as the perfect model room!!”
“(Hey, what do you think is inside that tightly-shut door right next to the entrance? I see some paper and clear files sticking out from below it.)”
“(That’s probably the sealed-off room where she shoved everything during her rush cleaning job. More rooms will inevitably lead to sloppier work, so let’s ignore it.)”
Night truly had fallen.
Kamijou was somewhat nervous about visiting a girl’s room, but he knew he could not let the room’s owner notice that tension. Otherwise, his adolescence would explode.
“Heh heh. What’s got your shoulders so tense? Do you think something might happen, boy?”
He could not let her notice!!!!!!
They removed their shoes and stepped inside.
Mitsuari neatly lined up her own indoor slippers and then did the same for Kamijou’s shoes. She apparently needed everything to line up nicely.
Kamijou was familiar with living alone in his school dorm, but a luxury apartment was something else entirely. He was grateful enough to have a room to himself since some schools made students share dorm rooms, but this had several different rooms all for just the one person!
“Let’s head to the living room for now,” said Kumokawa. “There’s something I want to discuss.”
“Phew, I’m so tired,” said Mitsuari. “Can’t we just get to sleep already?”
In this case, it was not surprising. Despite her wealthy upbringing – or perhaps because of it – Mitsuari Ayu just came out and said things like that. This rich person space did not bother her and she simply walked along the wooden flooring while the room’s owner showed her the way.
The living room alone felt like it could hold three or four of Kamijou’s entire dorm room.
First of all, the TV was huge. The glass table and leather sofa looked like something from a corporate office instead of a home. Instead of limiting things to the everyday necessities, there was also some workout equipment in a corner of the large room. Kamijou did not think they were meant as interior decorating, but there were a few large unfilled water tanks. He heard a quiet motor and saw a white boxy thing approaching him. It was a robot that looked like a hospital’s minifridge with wheels attached.
It had a door, so Mitsuari (in sweaty gym clothes) bent over to check inside (while sticking out her small butt with shorts clinging to it) and she found it was full of bottles of soda and iced coffee.
According to the room’s owner, “It’s convenient for lazing around with a drink.”
“Then if you will excuse me.”
Mitsuari grabbed a bottle of iced tea and pressed it against her soft cheek while throwing herself into one of the leather sofas surrounding the glass table. Instead of a long and big one, this one was made for a single person. It was like the seat for the birthday girl.
Some other furniture could move around just like the fridge, so that was apparently the Kumokawa-style(?). Even the closet and side table were wandering around with the help of small wheels.
“Hey.” Kumokawa pressed a finger against her temple. “That’s real leather, so don’t jump into it in those sweaty gym clothes. I’m willing to wait, so you go take a shower already!”
“Ehh? Won’t this boost its value?”
The pointy-haired boy clicked his tongue at failing to use his phone to record the line about taking a shower, but they had bigger issues.
Angry but smiling, Kumokawa Seria took her next action.
“Is that so? But an object’s value is dependent on someone who sees that value in it.”
“What are you muttering about, you old-…”
“I will forgive it just this once, so go, pent-up teenage boy! No one sees greater value in a sweaty middle school girl!!”
She shoved him forward.
Mitsuari had been sitting on a one-person sofa, so when she tried to scoot over and out of the way, there was not enough room. The two middle schoolers ended up tangled together and crammed into the space between the armrests.
The fault lay in the design.
Prestigious Tokiwadai Middle School’s gym clothes had adopted a true athletic style, so they were not even short-sleeved. Perhaps because the school existed in a boy-free space, the design cared not for the girls’ shy hearts. Both armpits were left fully open for a focus solely on functionality.
That was not what she wanted to be wearing while sweaty from some hard exercise and with a teenage boy right next to her.
Girls locker rooms were always so fragrant of deodorant because those girls’ pride demanded it!!
Mitsuari Ayu beat on the side of that pointy-haired head with her unopened drink bottle (500mL of iced tea), rolled onto the floor to get away, and waved her hands around while red in the face.
“Ha ha ha. Why are you so embarrassed now? You were all over him and even had him carry you before, sweaty middle school girl. Hmm?”
“Gnyaahh!? I-I will be borrowing your bath!! Excuse me!!”
“You need clothes.”
Mitsuari had tossed aside Kamijou’s limp form, but she was pinned in place by Kumokawa’s words. She quickly threw open the wheeled closet slowly crossing the living room.
“Wh-why do you have uniforms from so many different schools? And in your size?”
Kumokawa Seria cleared her throat in a super suspicious way.
Mitsuari was still confused, but she had no choice in the matter. She grabbed a Tokiwadai summer uniform and finally left on her bath time journey. Hopefully she knew where the bath was in this labyrinthine apartment.
Kumokawa chose one of the longer sofas around the glass table and lay down on it instead of sitting.
“Now, Kamijou boy. If you have nothing better to do then enjoy the girl sweat soaked into that leather, could you join me in conversation instead?”
He apparently needed to straighten up with perfect posture if he was to deflect these false accusations. He was seated in a single-person sofa, but he could not relax.
“She only grabbed a uniform, so I wonder what she expects to do after the shower. That parking garage was like a sauna, so her underwear has to be soaked too.”
“I have no obligation to lend her underwear too. She might be able to buy something basic at the convenience store down below, but this should be more fun if I don’t tell her that. Boy, don’t you want to see what becomes of a willful girl who is forced to hold down her miniskirt at all costs?”
“Not what becomes of her, no.”
“Hm, so are you the type to want some backstory and context in your porn? It takes a true connoisseur to understand the important of Chapter 1, boy.”
“What are we even talking about anymore???”
He wanted to run away and shout for Mitsuari, but he heard the shower running. If he burst in while she was changing, he would upgrade his false accusations to Version 2.0. Yes, to something truly devastating like accusations of being a panty thief only interested in the wet and just-removed variety.
“Let’s use this chance to talk.”
Kumokawa beckoned while lying on the sofa. He just about got up, but that was apparently not what the alluring upperclassman was going for. She had instead activated the sensor to call over the fridgebot and she pulled a bottle of strong carbonated water from the door.
“Y-you’re drinking unflavored carbonated water straight from the bottle?”
“Hm? When I’m in the mood for water, I’m in the mood for water, not for tea. And wouldn’t it scare you if the label called it natural water but it had a flavor?”
Why did people pay money for simple water when they were not even stranded out in the desert?
That was a tough one for a middle school boy.
Kamijou himself removed the cap from the bottle of iced tea since he was not sure what else to do with it.
“So what did you want to talk about?”
The way the shower sounds stimulated his imagination was bad for his heart, but it did not seem to affect Kumokawa in the same way. Could she tune it out as no more than featureless white noise? The genius busty high school girl’s muscles were relaxing like she was swaying in a train seat.
She seemed close to dozing off in the sofa, but she managed to continue speaking.
“I believe I gave you a quick explanation earlier, but this has passed the point where we can simply brush off the embers that have fallen on us. We need to be ready to repel any form of attack around the clock, whereas they only have to keep up the attacks until just one gets through. We only have one life, so a defensive battle would be a poor strategy here.”
Embers, attack, gets through, one life, defensive battle.
Things had been unusual enough already with the winged dinosaur and assassin sisters, but hearing it again felt really strange to him. Lives hung in the balance, like something from a video game. And all for the convenience of someone he had never even met.
He had seen billboards for L.S.S., but when it came to a specific individual, nothing was known.
It was like having a masked serial killer wandering around.
“But won’t the police…no, in this city it would be Anti-Skill. Anyway, won’t they take care of this? Senpai, you said yourself that the cover-up methods used with the dragon and the parking garage would show similarities that could be traced back to the culprit, right?”
“Well, doesn’t that mean we haven’t been bested at every turn? The more they do, the more evidence they leave behind. And L.S.S. is a big company, right? A scandal would be a huge deal for them, so aren’t these failed attacks doing damage to them as well? If Anti-Skill does a household search – or whatever it’s called with a company – and carries out tons of evidence and documents in cardboard boxes, won’t everything they’ve been trying to hide come to light?”
He did not think he could be wrong about this.
He at least thought it was more realistic than a strange action blockbuster where the shirtless and machinegun-toting hero attacks the corporate headquarters all on his own.
He was supposed to be showing Kumokawa Seria a more realistic path, but she did not seem at all troubled. She looked like this was exactly the question she had been expecting.
“I really don’t think that will happen.”
“Even if traces of common cover-up methods are found at the scenes of the dragon attack and the assassin attack, they will lead to something that no public organization can touch. And that means Anti-Skill can’t act on it.”
“What good is a method of covering up evidence that becomes evidence itself? Those methods are only used once finetuned so they can’t be used in court, no matter how suspicious they might seem. For example, everyone will suspect a flesh soup in a bathtub full of powerful acid, but if all of the DNA has been destroyed, it doesn’t ‘count’ as a corpse. That is generally considered hard to actually pull off, but Academy City tech can do it.”
It was unclear how serious she was being about that dark joke, but she followed it up with a gulp of her strong carbonated water. A capable high school girl could apparently inspire a restless feeling from the movement of her throat alone.
“Pwah. To sum up, I’m saying the cover-up method will tell us who to investigate, but it wouldn’t be enough to convince the average person. We have to fight this fight alone. Pointing at L.S.S. and saying ‘officer, they’re up to no good’ would only make people suspect we’d lost our minds.”
“Anti-Skill will not act. And if that public organization won’t act, L.S.S. will forever reserve the right to attack us. Do you get it now? Now is not the time to complain that life isn’t fair. If you want to survive, then you have to put in the work yourself.”
“Are you for real?”
He could not even drink that 140-yen iced tea.
With the giant dragon and the three assassin sisters, they had not exactly escaped unscathed. They had worked hard to survive, but he had no idea how many national laws and Academy City regulations they had violated in the process. He suspected he would go pale in the face if he looked it all up in the Six Codes or whatever.
“Things are different now. They attacked us, so we had no choice to defend ourselves. I feel like we had a clear line we weren’t willing to cross. But you’re talking about something else, Senpai. You’re talking about attacking them ourselves, but we’re not talking about leveling up in an RPG. We might be able to convince ourselves it’s for the best, but everyone else will look at us and only see criminals.”
“Hm? I think you’re confused about something here.”
“If we do things your way, they’ll just keep attacking us. And when we’re only defending ourselves, it only takes one mistake for the axe to fall and lop off our heads.”
“But, um, but.”
“Attacking L.S.S. is the only way to survive this. If you want, you can think of ourselves as trapped in a burning building and the giant L.S.S. building is the only exit.”
“You said Anti-Skill won’t act, but what about those assassins? We saw them handcuffed and loaded into Anti-Skill vehicles!”
“Those professional fighters know all the loopholes, so do you really think they’re going to talk in a simple interrogation room? Keep in mind they probably assassinated an L.S.S. guest researcher so he wouldn’t talk. And by probably, I mean almost certainly. They know all too well what happens if they talk…no, if the monstrous VIPs suspect they might talk.”
Kumokawa Seria was not swayed.
Her slender throat moved alluringly as she stimulated her esophagus with the powerful carbonation.
“To be blunt, we can’t wait around for those two to give in. The odds are extremely low that will ever happen. And even if they build up a laughable friendly relationship in that closed room, another assassin will kill them the instant they show any sign of talking.”
But not because they were at a loss for words. A slight change had come over the pointy-haired boy.
Kumokawa removed her bewitching lips from the drink bottle.
“Something just changed in you. But I doubt this is some kind of awakening. …Hard to believe this is the chicken who ran away from danger, abandoning two girls there.”
“You said I could run away.”
“To be honest, I had to tense my stomach when you came back that night. Because I thought the tears would start flowing if I didn’t.”
High school girls were truly dangerous since they hit you when you least suspected it.
After a blow from that unpredictable side that Mitsuari lacked, Kamijou had to work hard not to choke.
“Anyway, our only escape from this deadly labyrinth is to attack L.S.S. and create an exit. Nothing can change that at this point. Think of it like Russian roulette. The six shooter only has the one bullet, but the odds of death aren’t static. With each round, the cylinder turns and the odds are updated. …With each attack on us, the overall odds of death go up, boy.”
“This will never end until L.S.S. gives up on the entire thing. The question is how far we have to go if we want to end it. At the very least, I can tell you Anti-Skill isn’t up to the task. And we aren’t the ones making the rules; L.S.S. is. So the quickest route to ending this is to adopt their rules and show them hell.”
“So you’re saying we should stoop to their level? That’s like someone who’s afraid of robbers putting a hood over the criminal’s heads and beating the snot out of them!”
He could not let this slide. If he did, he might find himself on a set of rails headed in a very bad direction. He raised his voice to that end, but he never managed to finish his argument.
He was cut off, but by what?
He heard glass shattering.
And he heard an ear-splitting scream from another room.
“What the hell!?”
He immediately stood up from the single-person sofa.
For some reason, Kumokawa moved to a corner of the living room instead of toward the sound. He looked over in confusion and saw her grabbing a metal bar from the workout equipment there. It was the barbell bar used for bench pressing. It looked heavier than a metal pipe or baseball bat.
“Senpai, where’s the bathroom!?”
“On the left of the hallway. All the water pipes head either there or to the kitchen.”
Kumokawa remained calm, but she had been surprisingly careless. That weapon was so long that it caught on the door and in the hallway. A weapon longer than a bamboo sword must have been a poor choice. Kamijou was too impatient to wait for her, so he ran on ahead. As large as the place was, it was still a home. As long as he knew where to go, it would not take him long to arrive.
Now was not the time to hesitate in front of the changing room.
The door was already open and Mitsuari Ayu had slumped to the hallway’s wooden flooring after grabbing only a towel and gathering it around her flat chest. She was leaning against the wall and trembling with her hair still wet.
She did not even turn toward him.
She was pointing weakly inside the bathroom.
She did not seem injured, but he could not perform a careful examination given her state of undress. He decided to leave that job to Kumokawa once she arrived, so he instead looked in the direction she was pointing.
He stepped inside.
Just one step.
She had to have been running the shower, but there was no sauna-like steam. It was escaping somehow.
The changing room contained a sink and a larger washing machine. He made a pointed effort to not look at the gym clothes and underwear in the clothes basket as he walked further in.
She really must have been in a hurry because the smoked glass door into the bath was sitting open.
(What in the world happened?)
He had heard glass breaking along with her scream.
He heard a sound like pouring rain. She must not have turned off the shower. The bath was fairly large, but he felt no desire to set foot inside. But not just because he did not want to get his feet wet.
He saw something other than water that was clear and glittering in the light.
They were glass shards.
While hesitant to walk further, he looked up.
And he saw it.
The bath must have been on the outside wall because it had a window. That was where the glass had come from. Instead of a single point breaking from a jab by the tip of an umbrella, it was more like nothing remained except for the window frame. That explained the lack of steam.
But that was not all.
The water and glass were not the only transparent things in there.
There was a liquid on the window frame, but this was a lot stickier and gooier. It looked awfully biological, which made it all the creepier. He felt no desire to touch that. Why had Mitsuari screamed? What if it had not been due to the glass breaking? If she had seen something, then what exactly had she seen?
A strange living thing.
A Biohacker toy.
“What do you say now, boy?”
He heard a voice from the changing room.
It was Kumokawa who had set down her handmade weapon and started looking after Mitsuari.
“It doesn’t look like we were attacked by anything as big as a dragon, but smaller things have their own unique uses. Such as doing drone work. If they’ve released a bunch of small animals with cameras and transmitters on their backs, they might be able to search us out.”
“Our safe place here was compromised in five minutes. If you don’t want to be attacked, I suggest we move elsewhere.”
They had no other option.
This day had seemed long enough already, but it was not over yet.
They took the elevator down and rushed out into the lobby where the concierge in a tailcoat gave them a puzzled looked, but they did not have time to explain themselves.
“Where do we go now? A business hotel or rental room or something!?”
“Anywhere that leaves no record that we stayed there!” shouted back Kumokawa as she raised a hand to hail a taxi.
That was an expensive means of travel for a middle schooler, but he could not resist when she shoved him into the back seat.
“Ugh,” groaned Mitsuari Ayu uncomfortably.
Without her own change of clothes, she had been forced to wear her sweaty underwear underneath the borrowed uniform. Even in Academy City, a fidgeting and freshly-bathed girl must have seemed unusual because the driver gave them a curious look through the rearview mirror.
“I intended to wait until the value recovered a little more,” said Kumokawa while messing with her phone. “But I need to sell that apartment right away now.”
They came to a surprising place given they were being pursued: District 7’s shopping district. The last train and bus had already left, but there were still a lot of pedestrians and open shops. This was apparently the time for college students.
“You’ll find teachers taking some time to relax at this hour, so don’t let your guard down,” explained Kumokawa after having them leave the taxi at a random point.
They apparently still had some walking to do. She must not have wanted to tell the driver exactly where they were going.
And they arrived at…
“A manga café?”
“It has individual booths, a shower, and snacks. And it isn’t classified as a lodging facility, so it often slips through the cracks in of a variety of networks. Both for public agencies and underground groups.”
They climbed the narrow stairs to the second floor of a multi-tenant building.
Kumokawa got straight to business with the part-timer sitting boredly at the counter.
“Three for the late-night course. Give us neighboring booths if possible.”
“Eh? Uh, right. Um, what internet plan would you like?”
“Do you have a membership or would you like to sign up for one?”
“No. We just need somewhere we can sleep for the night.”
After paying in cash, Kumokawa gestured the other two on with her chin.
A boy and two girls had shown up late at night and they had not used a membership card or credit card so as not to leave any record behind. The mention of sleeping was the clincher. Those three planned to be ‘sleeping’ here and in their uniforms!!
“(D-damn, I wish I was him.)”
What did that trembling college-aged part-timer think they were doing here?
They did not actually use all three booths. It would probably lead to more misunderstandings, but they all gathered in Kumokawa’s booth.
It was only meant for one person, so it only had the one desk and chair.
Still standing, Mitsuari started to lean back against the thin partition, so Kamijou had to stop her. He was afraid she would knock over the plastic wall and fall into the next booth.
“We need to talk, but keep your voices down. These walls might as well not exist.”
“Isn’t this like a library? Why do I smell curry???”
Mitsuari Ayu asked about one of life’s greatest mysteries.
Kamijou sat on the floor and Mitsuari settled on sitting on the desk. That height difference was a little concerning vis-à-vis her skirt, however.
Kumokawa sank down into the chair and sighed.
“We’ve lost them for the time being, but if we assume they found my apartment in a random search, they’re bound to locate us here eventually. Time is on their side. Not to mention that manga cafés aren’t made for multi-day stays.”
“This is a temporary solution. We’re only brushing off the embers, but we haven’t escaped the deadly labyrinth yet. Do you get that now, boy?”
After having to run away like this, he did.
This was more than just the big threats. A single triggered alarm could lead to a dragon or assassin coming for them. It could be triggered by some strange animal, by an L.S.S. employee, or by an unrelated student or worker they had hired.
They could not relax.
While walking down the street after leaving the taxi, it had felt like so many eyes were skewering him.
He pouted his lips.
“But how exactly are we supposed to attack L.S.S.? Grabbing a big hammer and smashing up their HQ building from the outside isn’t going to cut it, right?”
“You mentioned a household search earlier, remember?” Kumokawa gave a snort of laughter. “You were on the right track; it just needed more force behind it. Basically, we have to patch together the broken rails and give Anti-Skill a reason to act. Simply put, evidence of criminality. If everything really is pointing toward L.S.S., there has to be records of it. In L.S.S.”
“You mean we have to sneak in?”
“Yes. A lot of people work for L.S.S., from the president at the top to the bottom-level employees and part-timers. If we don’t figure out who is giving these instructions in the company’s name, we won’t know who our enemy is. Besides, we still don’t actually know why that initial dragon was sent out or who it was meant to attack.”
“Now that you mention it…”
Mitsuari fell silent.
At first, Kumokawa had pretended to abandon her in order to get her to talk, but how correct had her guesses been? Had that been an experiment in which it was intentionally made to attack, or had it escaped on accident? There had to be any number of possibilities. Had it been intentional or accidental? There was no way to accuse anyone when they did not know what had caused it.
Kamijou only looked more puzzled.
“So we’re supposed to sneak into that major company’s server room?”
“Looks that way, yes.”
“That’s bound to have all kinds of security. We’d be caught and roughed up well before sneaking into the ducts like ninjas!”
The attractive upperclassman did not seem bothered by his concerns.
The movement of her shapely nose suggested the smell of cheap curry was inspiring some hunger in her.
“Did you forget? We have a Mental Stinger user, who can directly manipulate people’s minds, and we have me, who can control people without an esper power.”
Mitsuari Ayu ate a surprising amount.
It seemed to have less to do with hunger and more to do with wanting to try out everything at her first manga café, so she walked all around the place in loose leather shoes (borrowed from Kumokawa who even had the shoes in her size for some reason). She made a mixed soda at the soda fountain, she ate not only a light sandwich but some heavy curry rice despite the late hour, and she grabbed Volume 1 of a super-long-running shounen manga with volume numbers reaching the triple digits. Surely she did not intend to read all of it in a single night. She may have thought she was in control, but she was apparently unfamiliar with the weekly manga trap that kept you reading “just one more chapter” forever.
“Do not use the shower.”
She looked puzzled at that warning, so Kumokawa winked and explained.
“These are cheap services, so they don’t have separate showers for guys and girls. Anyone can go in there.”
Kumokawa finally whispered into the dense girl’s ear.
“(Which means they can set up hidden cameras. So be careful.)”
“Senpai, why did she just slap me on reflex???”
They could not stay in the same booth as they slept.
Mitsuari was a little worried (“Because of what you said about cameras in the shower!”), but they were only separated by thin partitions. The others would notice if she screamed and they could even break down those walls to take a shortcut if need be.
There was only a desk and a chair.
That left only two options: sit in the chair and lie down on the desk like someone napping during class, or lie on the floor. Even this late at night, the store kept its lights on and the thin partitions did not really feel like walls. This did not at all feel like being in a private room. It was more like being challenged to sleep in a department store fitting room.
But Kamijou Touma had a powerful will.
He only had to call upon the spirit of a middle-aged woman from deep within his mind.
(It’s just like catching some shuteye in the classroom or on a train.)
Except the neighboring booth was making a lot of noise.
He looked up in confusion and then stood up on the desk to peek over the partition.
“What the hell are you doing, Mitsuari?”
“Eeek!? I-isn’t that a really old-fashioned way to peep!? Are you the kind of gentleman who wears black full-body tights and a cloth over your head while climbing the open-air bath’s partition!?”
“It’s almost midnight, so could you keep it down?”
“I-I would love to, but I can’t tear myself away from this phantom thief’s adventures.”
It was just as he had feared.
At this point, telling her not to read it would do nothing to stop her. A serialized manga had to start its run fighting the label of garbage and come out on top. Only the best of the best survived in that world.
“Stop telling yourself you’ll read just one more chapter. That will keep you going forever. If you’re going to read, then go all out with it. It doesn’t matter if the story moves you or not.”
“If you keep at it, you’ll reach the end of the Gold Bar Arc at Volume 7. That’s a good stopping point, so you can tell yourself to stop there for the day. Because if you don’t stop there, you’re stuck reading all the way through Volume 15 to reach the end of the Grim Reaper Arc.”
“No spoilers, no spoilers!”
“By the way, the Grim Reaper arc honestly isn’t very good. I think the author must have focused too much on the survey results saying the manga had lost is thrill because the character relationship had fallen into a rut. Everything is so tense, so it’s like a desert. And starting from Volume 7, you’re a long way off from the next oasis. The manga does eventually get back on its feet, so don’t worry too much about that.”
Mitsuari left her booth and he heard her the footsteps of her loose shoes from beyond the partition.
She was apparently grabbing up through Volume 7 as per his advice. Just to be safe, he snuck out afterwards and snagged Volume 8 to prevent her from continuing past that.
The sound of flipping pages was fairly loud.
The creaking of the thin partition suggested she was sitting on the floor and leaning against it instead of using the chair.
“Hey,” she said.
“Do you really and truly think we can get back home safely?”
She may have been afraid of tomorrow, so she did not want to go to sleep and “fast forward” to that moment.
He sighed and leaned his own back against the creaking partition. He supported her weight through that thin wall.
“Don’t worry about it.”
He had no proof of anything.
He did not see how they could win and he was also afraid of winning but becoming a criminal.
Nevertheless, he said what he had to say.
“Leave all the dangerous stuff to us. If things really start looking bad, you can run away.”
“So if you focus on returning to your normal life…”
“No! I wasn’t talking about that!!”
He was trying to calm her, but she exploded.
In fact, she opened the booth door without knocking and entered his space.
The most he could manage was to hide the Volume 8 safety measure underneath the desk.
If she found that, she would definitely be up all night.
“Hey, wait! For the time being, this is a boy’s room!”
Before he could back away in the small space, she stepped inside and plopped herself down next to him. Then she slapped the top of his head with her open hand.
“You should have told me not to worry because we all would be fine. If you act like we might not all make it, I’m still going to worry!”
“Yeah, but the exact same scandalous behavior is going to harm someone like you a lot more than a guy who hangs around back alleys like me! So!!”
He just about snapped back at her, but he realized defeating her in this argument would accomplish nothing. He might be able to disprove that they could all make it back safely, but why would he want to do that?
“Hmph. At least you understand now.”
She snorted but showed no sign of moving away.
He could feel her body heat reaching him through their touching shoulders.
“You told me to stop at Volume 7, right? I need you to grab me by the clothes or something to make sure I don’t give into temptation and return to the bookshelf.”
She appeared to be sulking.
And that line was especially horrifying since Volume 8, the gate to a hellish all-nighter, was right there.
Still seated on the floor and leaning against the partition, he looked up at the overhead lights. He was surrounded by the body heat and sweet scent of a girl. Not to mention the breathing sounds he could only make out while in the same space as her.
He had a feeling he was not getting any sleep tonight.
The following morning, the booth door opened and Kumokawa Seria put her hands on her hips in an exasperated way.
“I’m surprised you two can sleep with your mouths hanging open like that.”
Kamijou immediately woke up, but Mitsuari appeared to still be slumbering. She was breathing gently with her head on his shoulder, but his movement shook her awake.
She rubbed her eyes.
“Ugh, I feel all sticky. Not letting me take a shower really isn’t fair.”
“You mean from sweat, right?” he said. “You don’t mean anything more than that, right?”
“Nh, hhh? …I’m all stiff. It was my first time doing that, so my body doesn’t feel quite right. I’m still tingling in places.”
Kumokawa grabbed him by the collar and lifted him up, but there was nothing he could tell her. He did not remember when he had fallen asleep!!
“(I set up this sleepover, so why was I the one left out!?)”
Fortunately, Kumokawa Seria did not seem short on cash. The manga café’s late-night course ended at the same time as the first train, so they left and visited a spa that was open in the early morning. After washing off their sweat, it was time to visit a convenience store for breakfast. 5 in the morning was too early for breakfast at a café.
Mitsuari was surprised by the blessings of a big city while she started eating the corner of the roast beef and sliced onion sandwich she held in both hands.
“We can’t go home, but we can still get by fairly well, can’t we?’
“From toothbrushes to movie tickets, you can buy most anything at convenience stores these days.”
“Do they sell shoes anywhere? Walking around in these is tiring.”
Kumokawa breathed an exasperated sigh at the other two’s casual conversation.
“Have you already forgotten you were attacked in the bathroom yesterday? Like I said, this is a temporary solution – it won’t last long. We need to break into L.S.S.’s fortress before they can corner us.”
As one would expect from a giant corporation, their HQ building was located in tidy District 3. That was an area full of government buildings and corporate headquarters, so students rarely went there. The morning train was fairly empty and they did not have to worry about getting caught in rush hour.
Kumokawa explained why this was.
“They say the poor are always busy and the opposite is true as well. The rich tend not to get into work until after lunch.”
She guided them down a deserted block.
The building they wanted was at a corner between neatly-maintained major roads. It was a distinctive tri-tower with between 30 and 40 stories. Three tall buildings formed the corners of a triangle and were connected by midair walkways. The area around the buildings was covered in greenery, so if not for the sign, they might have mistaken it for a park.
Kamijou looked up at the tri-tower.
“I was expecting something more…I guess you would say biotechnological? Y’know, shelters all over the place and the employees and guards all wearing octopus-like masks.”
“Car companies don’t build their own HQ either. This is where they deal with the business rights and put together projects before actually doing the work.”
Kamijou’s mind filled with question marks when he tried to imagine what a biotechnology project would be, but companies came in all forms. Still, he could guess that cloning humans did not just happen on accident.
In other words, if that dragon came from a company, then someone had approved that project because they saw some apparent profit there. Someone had spent all night creating a proposal and gathering materials for a slideshow, they had made their presentation with a projector in a conference room, and the project had been approved. That made the whole thing seem almost comical.
“How exactly are we going to sneak inside?”
“That’s the easy part.”
Kumokawa Seria pushed something into Kamijou and Mitsuari’s arms.
They were raincoats large enough to cover their entire bodies and dust masks that covered their faces.
“We live in convenient times. You can buy handy things like this at 24/7 discount stores.”
Before Kamijou could say anything, she put on her mask and raincoat.
Congratulations! Your BUSTY HIGH SCHOOL GIRL evolved into OCTOPUS ALIEN!
“Let’s break through the glass front door. No one will notice right now.”
With a loud crash, the deactivated automatic door’s glass shattered.
The culprit was the firehose Kumokawa Seria held. The pressurized water was bad enough on its own, but the destructive force increased considerably when she dropped some pebbles and metal screws into the stream. At the very least, it did more than a commercial air gun would.
“Don’t use the additives when spraying a guard! That’ll tear through their flesh and bone!!”
“There’s something wrong with you!!”
The L.S.S. HQ’s open grounds looked something like a park, but that was a problem for the company here. It was equipped with proper fire hydrants instead of simple fire extinguishers.
While dragging the long, long hoses along, Kamijou and the others entered the first floor lobby through the shattered glass wall.
“I thought for sure you were going to use some kind of hypnotism to slip right past the guards.”
“Why would I use my special abilities when I’m wearing a mask to hide my identity? Not doing what you could do is a good way to muddy the waters.”
The firehose was contained in a reel, but it was still only so long and they could not drag it around forever.
The sound of those loose leather shoes suddenly stopped.
Kamijou heard a weird voice, so he looed back to see Mitsuari had fallen on her butt with the raincoat covering up her summer uniform. Her hose had apparently reached the end of its length, so it had gone taut without warning and she had lost her balance.
“Hurry back to your feet, idiot!!”
“H-how dare you call me an idiot! Who do you think you are!? I am Mitsua-…”
“Why would you use your real name, you absolute dumbass!!”
A firehose must not have been as threatening as a knife or gun because the private guards bravely charged straight toward them and Kamijou was forced to knock them away with the pressurized water.
(If not for the hoses, we wouldn’t have to worry about this single point of entrance. They’ll have a fire hydrant inside the building, right?)
“Senpai, which way to the server room!?”
He turned back and shouted just in time to see Kumokawa Seria throw aside her firehose and leave through the very same automatic door she had destroyed herself.
“It’s fine. I was never planning to break in through the main entrance! Now, you need to follow me or you’ll be trapped in there!!”
She gestured for them to follow, so she must not have simply lost her marbles. He quickly grabbed fallen Mitsuari’s arm, followed after the older girl, and was very nearly hit by something like a guillotine.
Mitsuari practically slid along the floor while face down.
After they had rolled out, metal shutters dropped down to cover up everything.
“This is the same method used by South American banks,” explained Kumokawa who had left ahead of them. “Lure the criminals inside and then trap them in there.”
“But now we can’t get inside.”
“And that’s fine. The point was to seal off the building so no one can get in or out.”
She pulled out a red fire extinguisher that looked a lot weaker than the previous firehoses.
Needless to say, she did not plan to use it to extinguish a fire or to break through the metal shutter.
She popped the cover off of a nearby switchboard and blew a pink powder onto the exposed contacts there. That produced a distinctive electric popping noise different from gunpowder, so Kamijou and Mitsuari ducked down.
“You aren’t intentionally finding every excuse you can to cling to the boy, are you?” The capable high school girl seemed irritated for some reason. “Anyway, that shut off all their communications. No external command can lock down or erase the server’s data now. I don’t know if we’re up against the president, an executive, or a low-level employee borrowing their authority, but the villain can’t interfere physically or digitally. So let’s take our time sneaking in and investigating.”
“But how are we supposed to sneak in!?”
“Using the secret entrance I left open, of course.”
The deafening sound of construction machinery echoed through the dimly-lit tunnel.
Mitsuari Ayu covered her ears with her hands, but the hard mask and the raincoat hood seemed to be getting in the way.
Kumokawa Seria was using something a little different from a drill. The machine seemed to move a thick metal spike in and out at high speed, but it was not something anyone would use at home. It was breaking through concrete, so this was on the level of construction work.
“This is a chipping hammer,” readily answered the high school girl. “Academy City’s underground areas tend to be overcrowded. The city has crammed water pipes, gas, electricity, communication cables, subway tunnels, and even flood-prevention waterways down here. L.S.S. has enough land to mistake it for a park, so they’re bound to overlap some of the underground public infrastructure.”
The surprisingly powerful high school girl was talking through her dust mask and skillfully operating the heavy machinery she had swiped from a construction site for expanding the subway tunnels.
“And server rooms are heavy. Just like you can break the floor in a wooden house by filling a second-story room with bookcases, they are generally built on the lowest floor, whether that is the ground floor or a basement. So if we can determine that ‘depth’, we only need to break through a single wall. See!?”
While making sure they were not crushed by the removed piece of reinforced concrete wall, they stepped inside a server room larger than a school gym.
The room had probably been designed to keep dust out, but it was now so dusty that fluffy-haired Kumokawa began coughing once she removed her dust mask. She must not have liked how the raincoat and thick mask felt on her skin because she stripped those off and looked around with loose shoes clapping on the floor.
“Pwah.” Kumokawa removed her dust mask and raincoat too. “Let’s cover up the door to the rest of the building from our side. That door has to be sturdy to begin with, so the guards won’t be able to get through.”
“Um, what about the hole we used!?”
“The guards and company workers only have the official plans for the building. The walls themselves don’t have sensors to detect breaks, so it should take them a while to think of the subway’s backup power room.”
Computers larger than industrial refrigerators lined the room like bookcases in a library. The machines here were only meant to store and retrieve data, so there were far fewer screens.
Kamijou heard a dull banging sound.
Instead of placing a bar or other obstacle in front of the door, Kumokawa had taken that piece of construction equipment – a chipping hammer? – and bent the thick metal door itself.
After discarding the heavy equipment, she returned to them and pulled out a small folded electronic device.
“Oh, it’s those things businessmen use.”
“It’s called a PDA. Really, I wish they would just use their phones for all this.”
She did something and the wall of giant computers opened up like some kind of puzzle box. She looked inside and inserted a cable directly into a port that looked like it would shock her if she touched it.
She was apparently accessing the data on that small screen.
Kamijou huddled up next to her and her body heat placed a burden on his heart.
Fluffy-haired Mitsuari looked puzzled.
“Are you downloading all the data onto there?”
“This thing’s flash memory is nowhere near big enough. I’m checking through the entire server first and then I’ll pick and choose what data to steal.”
“What are you going to search for, Senpai?”
Her answer to that was simple.
It was a single name.
“I’m not going to accuse you of anything at this point.” She kept her eyes on the PDA’s screen. “But think back to the original dragon attack. The boy and I couldn’t think of any reason we would be targeted. If we hadn’t chosen to see Mitsuari back to the School Garden out of the goodness of our hearts, we never would have encountered it. That means Mitsuari Ayu holds some kind of value to L.S.S. I’m checking to see if it’s an ordinary issue of money or family, or if it’s an Academy City issue of esper powers or genetics.”
“I-I don’t know why they would-…”
“I’m not asking you if you know anything. Besides, we’ll know soon enough if I follow the data.”
But Kamijou tilted his head.
“Senpai, can’t her Mental Stinger control people’s minds?”
“What about it?”
“Umm, would that work on something like that dragon?”
He asked the question while guessing it would not.
If it would, she would have at least tried holding out her phone and using her power while the dragon chased after her. Not doing so when she could would be like not protecting your face from a ball flying your way when you could use your hands just fine.
“And if her power doesn’t work on animals, I don’t see why L.S.S. would be interested.”
“A-and L.S.S. was already controlling the dragon. That man in the lab coat had those arrows covered in some kind of chemical, so they wouldn’t even need my Mental Stinger, right???”
It was possible they did not want two different control methods to exist since it could cause a conflict, but that was not an issue if her power only worked on humans.
“Wait. I’ve found a few files.”
The time for theories had ended.
Kumokawa Seria continued with confidence in her voice.
“These files were linked to the keywords of Mitsuari Ayu and Mental Stinger. Since they’re using her esper name, I doubt it has to do with her money or family.”
“Wh-what does it say? Why are they trying to kill me!?”
Mitsuari was eager to know, but only Kumokawa knew how to access the data. Her device did not look like much more than a handheld game system, but she was spying on the giant industrial server’s data in debug mode. That worked differently than a normal computer OS.
Kumokawa Seria was like a shrine maiden.
She received the giant system’s oracle and relayed it to the other mortals.
“Middle school 1st year. Oh, I thought that was a strange family name, but you’re from the north.”
“Hm, your weight is a little high for your height. I’m betting you have more subcutaneous fat than you let on. Ha ha. Watch your waist and you might do well in the chest department. But based on your pelvic shape, it might all go to your butt instead. You might want to be careful with your clothing’s color coordination.”
“Wh-wh-wh-what are you looking at!? Why do they have this data in there!?”
Mitsuari Ayu blushed and waved her hands around in a panic.
Kamijou could only stare in confusion, but was her flustered attempt to stop Kumokawa proof that this data was accurate?
Kumokawa Seria lightly shook the small device hooked up to the cable.
“This includes your entire life history. Every address you’ve lived at, your academic history – including awards and punishments – your power development data, your health checkup results, and even the places you generally visit.”
“It has…all of it? It doesn’t talk about Ideal, does it???”
Kamijou tilted his head at that unfamiliar term. He had trouble making any sense of it, but Kumokawa must not have considered it important because she moved on.
“Hm, you use the herb mist deodorant instead of the white powder? And you’ve started buying boxes of it online instead of at the drugstore. You also have a light ragweed allergy. Had you noticed you have a red spot below your right shoulder blade? It looks like that isn’t a bug bite.”
The fluffy-haired girl’s flustered behavior came to a complete stop as she grew white in the face.
This was more than embarrassment. That data included personal information she herself was unaware of.
And it continued to be gathered in real time.
Could someone follow this information to learn she had spent the night at a manga café with Kamijou and Kumokawa and that she had used a raincoat and dust mask to get inside this building? It was unclear how many steps behind her pursuers were, but they were sure to catch up if she came to a stop. She had no chance of escaping if she let all this data overwhelm her.
(We have to act first.)
He felt like he had glimpsed what scale this enemy existed on.
(The grim reaper is creeping ever closer, so we have to finish this before it can tap her on the shoulder. But is that even possible?)
As opposed to a simple stalker, this data had the cold intimidation of medical records or a report card. It was calm, thorough, and unerring. A corporation was a giant entity with no personality of its own, so being in its sights was a unique feeling.
Kamijou felt a chill down his spine despite being a boy, an outsider, and not the direct target.
How much greater was the shock to the girl being targeted?
“Um, Senpai? L.S.S. is a company, so they wouldn’t be chasing Mitsuari around just because they’re perverts. What are they trying to do by collecting all this data?”
It may have been difficult for Mitsuari Ayu herself to continue on, so Kamijou chose to do it in her stead.
The high school girl answered while doing something on that small screen.
“The Beginning Child.”
He initially thought that term pointed to Mitsuari, but apparently not.
“That is the oldest modern esper,” continued Kumokawa. “A normal person was trained based on Mifune Chizuko’s data and she became Academy City’s first esper. Modern Academy City was supposedly constructed based on the system used for the Beginning Child.”
“She was an esper from more than half a century ago, but the general public never believed her powers were real. Although I don’t know if that was because the cruel reporters forced her to perform experiments that were set up for her to fail, or if it was misinformation spread by Aleister to hide her existence.”
The few newspaper clippings were in black-and-white and had far less information than modern internet articles.
Still, that provided evidence that it was a true story.
A photo showed her wearing what was not quite a kimono.
It was a student uniform with a very different design from the ones Kamijou and the others wore nowadays. It was more like a hakama than anything. Her waist-length black hair had an evident luster even in the black-and-white photo, and her hands were folded in front of her in a graceful way not seen anymore. If that form of elegance still existed anywhere, it would have to be inside Tokiwadai Middle School.
But at the same time, there was an exhausted or sorrowful light in her eyes.
“In the end, she apparently went missing. She supposedly could not bear living a life of constant attacks from skeptics. The letter she left behind only said ‘but I do have it’.”
“What does she have to do with anything? The data about me is scary enough, but I’ve never heard of that Mifune or Beginning Child. You aren’t going to claim she’s my grandmother or something, are you!?”
“She was preserved.”
That was all Kumokawa said.
Kamijou did not understand at first, but then a crawling feeling gradually moved up from his fingertips.
“The Beginning Child’s physical body was frozen and somehow ended up with this company. She remains unconscious, however.”
“It isn’t clear how her disappearance led to this, but information on her is locked down more strictly than Mitsuari’s personal information. Take a look.”
The colors seemed to stab into Kamijou’s retinas.
He had gotten too used to the black-and-white photo, so the bright digital colors seemed almost toxic.
The photo on the small device showed a thick plastic bag similar to an IV pack, but it was the size of a sleeping bag or body bag. It was sealed shut with something like a zipper and the inside was filled with something like frost, making it white and hard to see through. A few cables and tubes were connected to the top of the long bag, but it was unclear what those were for.
There was no movement since this was a still photograph, but the protrusions pushing the plastic out from within showed it was filled with something solid.
So Kamijou could only see a silhouette.
But he could tell that it was an alluring female silhouette contained beyond that obscuring white frost. It reminded him of a mammoth frozen and preserved in the Arctic.
This was a human.
A human was sealed inside there while still alive.
It almost looked like a display in a museum.
“That date…that date is recent. You’re kidding, right? That’s from this week!!”
“That’s probably the last time the data was updated.”
This was the first esper created in Academy City.
That was no more than a schoolgirl who lived in the time of black-and-white photography, but the flow of time had been greatly twisted. It almost felt like seeing a time traveler.
“But an esper who can control minds might be able to shake her mind from within and resurface her consciousness. L.S.S.’s goal is to resurrect and monopolize the ultimate specimen that is the Beginning Child, Academy City’s first esper. The dragons, griffons, and other creatures were no more than candidates for waking the Beginning Child. Although it appears that fear and threats to her life were ineffective.”
Kamijou recalled seeing a documentary about external stimuli like music or smells being tested as ways to stimulate an unconscious patient. But that must not have been enough in this case. When those bizarre creations were not enough to give them what they wanted, L.S.S. must have finally settled on directly stimulating her mind from within.
In other words…
“Mitsuari Ayu’s Mental Stinger was the perfect candidate.”
“But…why go this far? The first esper certainly sounds impressive, but is this really worth attacking people over!?”
“Aleister couldn’t control her.” Kumokawa inserted her words as if to cut off that line of thinking. “He created the Beginning Child, but not even he could control her. After all, the official records say she ultimately went missing and the technology of the time was not enough to keep her in a cage. The attacks from the newspapers only happened because she could not use her power when and how powerfully they wanted. …So if LS.S. could wake up the Beginning Child and then fully control her, they might be able to reach a level of technology that eluded even the Board Chairman.”
“The average lifetime income of the Japanese is between 200 and 300 million yen, right? If we think of that as a human’s value, then this would bring in more than enough to outweigh the cost of killing someone.”
“So…that’s why they want me?”
That was when they heard a quiet sound from overhead.
They were on their guard since they had snuck in, but this surpassed anything they imagined. Kamijou initially thought it was the sound of rusty screw turning, but that was not it.
The ducts and even the ceiling itself bent like a plastic greenhouse under too much snow and then a black mass avalanched down into the server room as if to crush everything there.
Kumokawa managed to shove Kamijou out of the way, which was a decent result for how suddenly this attack had come.
But even that was not enough.
Kamijou had tried to reach out toward Mitsuari Ayu.
He shouted her name, but it was too late.
It looked like a sea of filthy fur had broken through the thick ceiling and poured down, but it had to actually be a swarm of rats. There had to be thousands or tens of thousands of them.
And a man stood at the center of them all.
He was older than Kamijou and Kumokawa. They were children and he was an adult. They could sense that dividing line very clearly.
The tall young man whore a fancy suit.
“Good day, my friends. From the look of things, I will assume you have already searched out our secret.”
“Matsuo Ryuusuke. A visit from the president of L.S.S. himself? You must be confident to show your face at the scene of a crime like this.”
“Did you not consider that I can simply alter my face? My company shows little restraint when it comes to working in every single field connected to life.”
It sounded more like a groan than a scream.
Mitsuari’s feet had left the floor. The spiraling swarm of rats had captured her torso and she was having trouble breathing. It was hard to believe that was actually a swarm of smaller animals because it looked more like an octopus or squid tentacle.
Kumokawa discarded the handheld device that was useless now that its screen was broken.
“Wouldn’t anyone have worked as long as they could stimulate the Beginning Child? You didn’t have to be so fixated on Mitsuari Ayu that you sent a dragon out into the city streets.”
“That was something of a communication error. The request was to capture her by any means necessary because she was our top priority, but that somehow got twisted into ‘kill her in the cruelest way you can’.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“You already know the answer, don’t you? She is the only key within my reach. She is the only one in the world who fits my needs and is realistically obtainable. To be honest, the other one is far too unapproachable.”
Kamijou looked puzzled, but Kumokawa only clicked her tongue. The man apparently had no intention of giving a more detailed answer.
“She is the key. With Mental Stinger, I can awaken the Beginning Child.”
The entire atmosphere crawled.
The swarm of artificially-modified rats intimidated Kamijou’s group like a strange monster.
“And then Academy City will be ours for the taking. We will rise higher even than the Board Chairman. No more scientific agencies will be necessary. My company will create and use espers for our own profit. That is how valuable the Beginning Child is.”
“We won’t let you!!”
“Did you know, boy, that rats have killed more humans than any other animal save one? After all, they are famous for being carriers of the black death.”
Was it too late once she symptoms presented themselves?
He did not think he had been injured any, so had he absorbed it through hairs too small to see?
All strength left his knees.
Matsuo Ryuusuke had won once he dragged out the conversation long enough for “this” to happen. That was why he had engaged them in conversation even if it meant revealing some of his own information.
“I believe I mentioned that my company shows little restraint when it comes to working in every single field connected to life.”
“A virus… a biological weapon!?”
“Have fun imagining how you will die. It won’t be pleasant, I will tell you that much.”
That was the end of it.
The L.S.S. president had never considered actually fighting them.
The filthy mass of fur that was the swarm of rats leaped straight up. They carried Matsuo Ryuusuke and Mitsuari Ayu up with them. Kamijou tried to reach out, but he could not even stand up right now.
Those two were gone.
Movies and dramas often featured vaccines and cures, but what could they actually do after being infected by something microscopic? Figuring out what had infected them would be hard enough, so how realistic was it to actually create a drug or serum matching the symptoms? And would any solution like that even work on someone who was already infected? Wouldn’t they have needed to take it beforehand like with the flu vaccine???
He heard a distant voice.
Or did it only sound distant because of how out of it he was?
“Hey, boy. Listen carefully. Cough. Look me in the eye!!”
He was lying on the floor and could not stand up, but he looked over to see Kumokawa Seria squirming while collapsed just like him. No, she had not given up yet. The arm extending from her sailor uniform’s short sleeve had something attached to it.
“Senpai, what is that?”
“A patch test. This is reacting to quinine and there’s an abnormality in my red blood cells. I also have a fever and feel chilled.” She sighed. “This is Di003S or something derived from it. That means it’s probably a stun weapon made by modifying malaria. It was designed to be silently disseminated across the battlefield where it would nonlethally knock out all the soldiers. Gh, it’s known for causing a blood infection, a fever of close to 40 degrees, chills, and a feeling of weakness. But if this was derived from that, its lethality may have been revived.”
“And? That means he’s spread some dangerous pathogen and run off, right? That seems reckless even if he has a vaccine for himself.”
“I called it a stun weapon, didn’t I?” Kumokawa was sweating profusely. “Malaria is actually a brutal protozoan that produces fevers of close to 40 degrees and they have killed more people than man-eating sharks. Gasp. But Di003S was modified to provide a weaker fever since they only wanted a stun weapon. In other words, you take yourself out with the heat you create. If a criminal was holed up in a building, this could knock them out but their fever would go down before they died.”
“Specifically, 39.5 degrees is the borderline. If this fever lasts for half an hour, the modified malaria carried by our red blood cells will die on its own.”
“But you don’t know what L.S.S.’s version will do, right?”
“Right. If the fever reaches 42 degrees, that’s it right there. That would modify all the protein in our bodies and we’re the ones that will die. Pant. Which is why we can’t rely on the fever. We need to keep our body temperature up some other way before they can affect us.”
An unexpectedly strong force reached him.
While still lying on the floor, she had grabbed his collar and dragged him toward her.
Almost like she was going to hug him.
“You don’t have to think about anything. Just let it happen. 39.5 degrees. Cough. Think of it like a somewhat hotter-than-usual bath and it isn’t that difficult. Don’t worry. Leave it all to me.”
Kamijou could not move much anyway.
High School Girl Kumokawa Seria held him in her arms and he was surrounded by the beating of her heart.
He might die here.
They had no vaccine or cure and they had not been examined by a doctor. This was a biological weapon created by a professional(?) Biohacker. The situation could hardly be worse. It was like playing a game of Russian roulette with all six chambers loaded and betting your life on it jamming.
“This isn’t over yet,” he said. “Not with Mitsuari captured.”
She spoke softly and her tone suggested she was smiling while holding him in her arms.
“You focus on that.”
How much time had passed?
Kumokawa Seria had said half an hour, but it felt more like hours if not days.
He had passed out a few times.
His mind had been like a dying fluorescent light.
But at some point, his mind had come back on.
He was sluggish, but he managed to place his hands on the floor and slowly get up.
“Sen…pai? Are you okay?”
“Yes. Don’t worry. You kept me alive.”
She still could not get up, but she was thinly smiling with her hair spread out on the floor.
As bad as L.S.S. was, they must have had a limit to what kind of biological weapons they were willing to use in the city. How far would the damage have spread if this had been something deadly like the Ebola virus or the SARS coronavirus?
“Also, I had actually predicted this to an extent. I couldn’t have known the details, but I knew the attack would be biological in some way.”
“By the way, I guided you here in order to resolve this more quickly. I can’t exactly complain to you after doing that to you.”
He grew cautious since he did not like the sound of this and she smiled thinly while still sprawled out on the floor.
“Mitsuari was attacked by a strange creature in my apartment’s bathroom, remember? That came from me. Specifically, it was my pet salamander. Although not a species found in Japan.”
“Something like that dragon was going to be sent after us either way, so I couldn’t afford to give L.S.S. more time to act. We would have been killed if we didn’t act quickly.”
Kamijou seriously started considering having her apologize for this with her body, but unfortunately, he could not move very much either. She had probably taken that into account when choosing this moment to spill the beans.
The L.S.S. dragon, the trio of assassins, and this stun weapon had to have all been accidents for her, yet she had still managed to adlib herself into a way of using those things to her advantage. He had to sigh at that.
“His name was Matsuo Ryuusuke, right?”
“He just spread this stuff around his own company. Isn’t that enough of a reason for Anti-Skill to bring the place down, without even getting into the Beginning Child thing?”
“He may not care what happens to anything else as long as he can revive and monopolize the Beginning Child. If L.S.S. is brought down, he only has to start a new company. And that would be possible. That girl is the ultimate master key, so she might just bring his company above all the rest of Academy City combined. Whether he wants to directly take control of the world or he wants to use her as a threat to negotiate favorable terms with the Board Chairman, her value is incalculable.”
The adults still would not act.
No matter what evidence they provided or how they explained it all, those thinly-smiling grownups were always a step ahead.
He could not except anyone else to rescue Mitsuari Ayu.
His hand had not reached her.
In that final moment, he had distinctly seen her reaching a small hand out toward him.
“Senpai, can I be blunt here?”
“Please help me.”
Kumokawa Seria got up.
She held a hand to her woozy head and answered him.
“You have no obligation to bow your head to me,” she said. “And I honestly want to ask the same of you.”
“Where do you think that asshole went? I don’t care about the resurrection of that original esper or whatever. I just don’t want them putting Mitsuari in danger for their company’s benefit or profit. I want to do whatever it takes to get her back. But if he’s abandoned the L.S.S. HQ, pursuing the company might not get us anywhere.”
“The Board Chairman must be pursuing the Beginning Child too. If his attempts are being eluded, she can’t be listed anywhere we could find.”
“Then what do we do?”
“Academy City is only so big, but I doubt we could find her by searching at random. So we’ll rely on what hints we have.” She sighed. “Those two assassins were brought to an Anti-Skill station, remember? We just have to have a chat with them. Using methods Anti-Skill can’t.”
“Hm? But weren’t those assassins outsiders?”
“Yes, but as outsiders, they will have done some research on their client’s leader from their outside perspective. You wouldn’t want to finish an assassination job only to find the client doesn’t have the money to pay you, right? So underground people like them will hold a detailed investigation of their client’s financial situation beforehand. While making sure not to upset said client, of course.”
“They might be familiar with his secret assets and real estate – in other words, any private hideouts he might possess. And if Matsuo Ryuusuke failed to notice that secret investigation, they might have slipped past his security.”