Toaru Majutsu no Index:GT Volume1 Chapter1
Chapter 1: Just Like an Amusement Park – Red_Wear,Big_Bag,and_Flying_Sledge.
He so wanted it to be a dream.
But his sleep-deprived mind and aching muscles told him the events of the previous night had been all too real.
“Such misfortune,” muttered Kamijou Touma in his student dorm room.
His phone was propped up on the glass table using a stand and its power cable was plugged in. It was invisibly linked to the room’s TV with a short-range wireless connection, so the phone’s display was transferred to the large LCD screen.
He was in the middle of a video chat.
This month’s data limit was being rapidly chewed through in order to display Tsukuyomi Komoe, a 135cm and pink-haired teacher who was full of mysteries. And given the date, she was wearing a miniskirt Santa outfit. She apparently liked to dress up for special occasions much like the top page of a search engine.
“Okay, it’s time for one of my special makeup lessons since Kamijou-chan here has missed far too many days of class.”
Her voice was as sweet as candy, but there was a hint of poison mixed in. Her perfect smile scared him. The 24th was part of winter break, so this was supposed to be a precious holiday for students and teachers alike. She was giving off an aura. Her anger and resentment over him ruining her holiday seemed to waft from her body like a dark perfume.
“If it was too much trouble to get us both at school for this, why even bother with the makeup lesson?”
“Because without this lesson, you would have to repeat your first year again. But if that is what you want, so be it. So, um, what will it be? If you do go for a second round, you should be able to live the life of an overpowered MC who has seen it all before.”
“Makeup lesson please!! I know full well the ‘overpowered’ life of repeating a year will be nothing so nice! Everyone else in the class is bound to just keep their distance!!”
Thus, he had to spend his holiday studying. Academy City was indeed a city of schools. They did things very differently from an ordinary shopping district where a couple would enter the karaoke box and excitedly discuss whether to choose the fake nose glasses or the cat ears headband for the optional joke product that came with the room rental.
He wanted to live that life. Was he allowed to wish for something like that?
“Academy City’s esper powers have a foundation in quantum physics. Quantum physics is useful in describing the behavior of subatomic particles like protons and electrons as well as the four fundamental forces of the strong force, the weak force, gravity, and electromagnetism, but you will almost certainly never be aware of the changes caused by the observations you make in an ordinary life. You can’t make an apple disappear by willing it to disappear, after all. You can think of those changes like imaginary numbers – they are necessary to explain the way the world works, but you are never really aware of them. Normally, anyway.”
She had complained about having to give this makeup lesson, but once she got going, she proved herself to be a true teacher.
Her words flowed smoothly, but she changed her intonation on the important terms so they would stick out in Kamijou’s mind.
That made it easy to take notes and mark up his text with a highlighter. That provided an odd sense of accomplishment, so it was a lot like working out the structure of a dungeon in an RPG that required manually drawing out the map.
Of course, this was not unique to this special Christmas Eve lesson. Komoe-sensei must have always taught like this in the classroom, so the horrific state of Kamijou Touma’s attendance record could be seen in how he was only really noticing it now.
“Academy City’s espers forcibly alter this to draw out phenomena that cannot be explained with Newtonian physics. In other words, supernatural phenomena. Drugs, electricity, suggestion, and other methods are used to distort how people perceive the world and that forces them to make observations outside of the norm. By bringing that from the microscopic and up to the macro world, we make esper powers a reality. Ksh.”
The footage had grown pixelated for a moment there.
Kamijou had a bad feeling about this and called out to her, but the Santa costumed teacher did not seem to mind. Or had his voice not reached her?
“The filter used to – ksh – distort the esper’s perception is known as their Personal Reality, but those are all unique and no two people have the exact same one. Ksshh. That is one of the tricky aspects of esper development. Ksshh!! But don’t worry! There is no such thing as wasted effort!! You might be ranked as a Level 0 for now, Kamijou-chan – ksshh!? – but if you work at your strong points, you will surely- kssshhh!!”
“Wait, wait, wait! What is going on!? Ahhh!”
Kamijou Touma screamed.
The footage on the TV entirely froze for a few seconds and then it transformed into a bunch of white alphanumeric text on a black background. A bunch of incomprehensible English text was followed by a countdown. He apparently had to select an option and he was given 10 seconds to do so.
But this was new.
Computers were one thing, but he had not known that phone OSs had crash screens. He knew the hardware was fragile, especially the LCD screen that was easily broken, but he had thought the software was fairly robust and it would only reboot quickly if it ran into trouble. It felt like seeing your usually reliable dorm manager laid up in bed after coming down with a cold. It was actually kind of adorable.
Also, the phone’s crash screen was not the well-known blue one. To reiterate, it was black. Why was she trying to be so stylish during an emergency like this? Was she dressing up somewhere she thought no one would ever see? It was a lot like deciding to help out by washing off the dorm manager’s sweat and accidentally seeing some shocking underwear. It was awkward. M-miss manager!! I thought you were more the kind and gentle type!!
Ten seconds passed while Kamijou used those ridiculous thoughts to avoid facing the reality before him. The TV and his phone had both gone dark and refused to do anything.
It felt like some kind of punishment.
Did cutting-edge phone OSs dislike wishy-washy guys? Had that kind and gentle dorm manager (who could not hide the sexy allure hidden below the surface) finally grown fed up with him? If so, his life truly was devoid of hope.
He had no idea what to do.
So he called out to the girl playing with a calico cat in a corner of the room.
“Index, how about we head out for a bit?”
There was a girl known as Index.
Strictly speaking, her name was Index Librorum Prohibitorum.
At first glance, she looked like a small girl with a childish build, long silver hair, and a white nun’s habit, but she was actually a strange person who worked as a grimoire library by memorizing at least 103,001 grimoires. She belonged to Necessarius, the 0th Parish of the Anglican Church. You might be wondering what that is, but that sort of thing apparently existed in the wide world beyond Academy City’s walls.
That is, magic.
That other supernatural power stood opposite of the esper powers that Academy City had introduced to the world using science.
“Christmastime♪ It’s Christmastime♪”
The clear winter sky meant it was cold enough for a lot of the previous day’s snow to remain on the ground, but the girl in question was smiling and singing to herself with the calico cat riding on her white hood. She had come here from England, but this song was in Japanese. Kamijou had no idea where she had picked it up from. Since she had a perfect memory, she could accurately memorize it all by overhearing it for a moment as the in-store music being played in an electronics store shown on TV.
Incidentally, someone who had mastered all forms of magic was known as a Magic God.
And there was apparently a risk of someone turning into one of those if they used all of the grimoires contained in her head.
“Hm, hm, hmm♪ Hydrogen♪ And helium♪”
“Wait, Index. What happened to Christmastime?”
(Damn, I managed to restart my phone by holding down that weird button for a bit, but it won’t connect to Komoe-sensei. What is causing this!? Is one of our devices busted!?)
“Listen, Index. We need to stop by Komoe-sensei’s place first. I need to meet that goddamn teacher in person and figure out what happened to my makeup lesson. Because this is a crucial issue that could get me held back.”
“Touma, let’s buy a turkey!! It’s fascinating how they’re selling them on the roadside!!”
“Are you even listening!? And those aren’t like cakes. I mean, doesn’t it scare you how cheap they are? Are those turkeys they sell at discount stores even real? They can design how meats look in the factory, right!? Convenience stores even sell these mysterious salad chickens that have all the bones removed and are shaped like gold bars. Those supposed turkeys might use some other kind of meat altogether, like how the negitoro at a conveyer belt sushi place might actually be moonfish.”
If Kamijou Touma of all people was afraid of how cheap something was, you knew it had to be bad. After all, this was the king of thrift! When his finances were in dire straits, he would start to have some dangerous thoughts: “If you stick a bunch of eggshells in the blender, could you eat them? Hey, I bet it wouldn’t kill you at least!!” The Christmas sales wars were built from love, desire, and mistrust. Just like the products bought at a global soccer tournament, the items making the city shine so bright would leave you wondering “what is this and why did I buy it?” just one day later.
Some elementary school girls were making a fuss in front of a store.
“Nyah!? They have a Santa catching kit!! Wh-when did Academy City invent this?”
“D-don’t buy that, Fremea-chan. That’s definitely a normal bug-catching net they couldn’t sell during the summer or even autumn.”
“Mister, I want one of these! I’ll pay using my phone – kaching!!”
“Ahh! How are you going to lure Santa in with sap jelly!?”
It was scary how wide a variety of joke products existed (most of which only added the “joke” so they could get away with it not actually working). Some would view it as a standard part of the season, while others would see it as a cruel scam targeted at children. It was similar to temple festival sharpshooting games in that sense.
But now was not the time to indulge in any of that.
Not until he knew what had become of his makeup lesson after his phone had frozen up!! That tiny teacher might as well be a doctor who wandered out of the OR and left on vacation while my stomach is still sliced open for an operation!! groaned Kamijou Touma while gnashing his teeth.
(Damn. My phone rebooted like normal but I still can’t connect, so the trouble has to be on her end. If an error on her part nearly corrupted my phone’s data, I need to get an apology out of her. And I need to avoid being held back. Even if it means blackmailing her!!)
He made a quick search on his still-functioning phone and saw no sign of other people having similar trouble.
The screen on the airship floating in the blue sky said nothing about a widespread communications disruption.
It scared him to think this was happening to him and only him. If he had been infected by something no one else had ever heard of, wouldn’t it slip right past his phone’s security?
(Please let her device be entirely busted!!)
He did not want to spend his Christmas Eve going on the journey of a clean install in order to troubleshoot his phone. Plus, he had no idea how to even do that with a phone as opposed to a computer. The ordinary factory reset mentioned on one corner of the settings screen probably would not cut it there. But what else was there? What was he supposed to do!? A sudden malfunction in the mobile device he always used brought nothing but unease. Please get better soon, you kind and beautiful dorm manager!!
(A-anyway, one thing at a time. I need to start with the solution I can try by just walking there.)
He was pretty sure Komoe-sensei lived in an apartment in Academy City’s District 7.
It was a two-story building with the stairs and passageways on the outside. More than that, the two-part washing machine was kept outside as well. Tsukuyomi Komoe, that 135cm teacher from a fantasy world, lived in that divine realm where only Showa-era manga artists and ronin students were allowed.
Kamijou walked up to the door that looked so thin his fist would break through if he knocked on it and he pressed the doorbell. But he heard no bell. Either the battery or the wiring was out. He had no choice but to rap his fist against the thin door.
“Excuse me, miss!! Would you care for a newspaper!? Buy now and it comes with two boxes of detergent!!” His random choice of words received no response.
He had a bad feeling about this.
The door had a newspaper slot, so he brushed aside the entire concept of privacy by crouching down and opening the wide slot with his fingertips. There was no lucky pervert moment here. Not only was she not changing within, but he only found a dreary space where time seemed to have stopped.
(Don’t tell me.)
The neighbor’s door opened.
The woman who stepped out wore a red track suit, a thick coat that looked like it was made out of a futon, and spiral glasses. Since she was living in this apartment and dressed like that, Kamijou decided she was only allowed to be a manga artist.
“Um, my neighbor left to go somewhere three days ago. She asked me to collect her mail for her.”
He was pretty sure he remained frozen for 5 full seconds.
And then the pointy-haired boy screamed at the top of his lungs.
Tsukuyomi Komoe held his fate in her hands, yet she had gone missing. That teacher had been using her Santa costume and communication device to give him a remote lesson from wherever she had gone. That explained why she had been so reluctant to hold the makeup lesson at school. Plus, her neighbor had said she went “somewhere”. That meant the woman did not know where and he would receive no further hints here. He did not even know if she was still inside Academy City, so this would be far too difficult a search for him.
The woman in a track suit, coat, and spiral glasses was not the type to care about other people’s pain.
“Oh, whoops. I need to get back to day trading. With the big and bizarre wave of Christmastime in full force, I can’t keep my eyes off the screen for a moment. I can rest once I sell off all my stocks and can watch the last trading day of the year end with a smile on my face! Bye!!”
“How dare you dress like that when you’re rich!!”
She ignored him and shut the door. This place had to have incredibly low rent, so did she rent it out as a workplace separate from her actual home?
But now was not the time to be bothered by that unknown woman’s lifestyle.
Winter truly had arrived for Kamijou Touma.
And this winter was as barren as a nuclear winter.
“Touma, I’m hungry.”
“Yeah, probably so.”
He turned around with awfully slow movements.
He had a smile of shadows on his face.
Laughter may have been the last resort of the lonely person who had been abandoned by the world itself.
A great demon king had appeared in the modern world.
“Mwa ha ha ha ha!! I don’t care! Why should I even care anymore!! Fine, let’s spend the 24th enjoying ourselves! Ha ha, ah ha ha! I mean, if the problem is with the adults’ system, then I’m not at fault!!!!!! Hah hah hah! Gwa ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!”
No, pointy-haired one.
That right there is known as crying.
He had a chance.
The error causing that awfully stylish crash screen really had happened, so wherever it was stored and whatever had actually happened, there had to be a record of the error within his phone. He had tried his damnedest to take that makeup lesson, but the infrastructure prepared for him had malfunctioned. The dorm manager’s unseen black underwear was all the proof he needed of that. So there was no conflict here! He was fine!! He wouldn’t be held back!! If the 24th was going to put up anymore of a fight, he would summon the spirit of a middle-aged woman hidden deep within his heart and make a verbal barrage of arguments in his defense. Kamijou Touma had traveled through many a country and region with Japanese as his only language, so he had already proven how strong he was when he gave up.
That was why he had confidence in his voice when he next spoke.
But it was strange. He was super happy on the inside, yet the asphalt ground kept shifting around like it was made of cotton candy.
“Where should we go?”
“Somewhere with lots of lights!!”
It was a miracle that Index had not started listing off different foods. Christmas Eve was a truly devilish time. It was full of unpredictable things which could even be called little miracles. He was pretty sure Christmas was supposed to be the birthday of some important person or another, so was it really okay for it to be such a devilish time of year?
District 6 had been made into one giant amusement park, but visiting any of those crowded tourist destinations without a reservation would be a hellish experience. There was no need to crawl under a rock and hide on a day like this, but it would still be safer to go with a place that did not need tickets and had no lines.
“So instead of going somewhere special, let’s check out the usual places in District 7. Nothing could show off the Christmas spirit more.”
“Because all the lights and decorations will be more noticeable when you know what it usually looks like.”
High schoolers had to keep up appearances and maintain their pride, so when they gave a plausible sounding reason for something, they were oftentimes hiding their real reasons. In this case, he was too afraid to go anywhere near the fashionable shopping district of District 15. Those areas had a high enough difficulty setting already, but go there at Christmas, Halloween, or Valentine’s and there would be a strange event boost to that setting, making it entirely unbalanced. He could already imagine himself being torn to pieces like the poor fool who accidentally ran across the event boss battle in an online game!! But there is nothing to be ashamed of, Kamijou Touma told himself. After all, he was in the right here. The people boldly walking through those areas on Christmas Eve were decked out in the real-life equivalent of pay-to-win equipment (brand-name bags, fur coats, and the like), so he never had a chance! Competing with them was a lost cause!! If only their leather and fur products would all turn to cheap plastic!!
“Touma, why do I see a deep shadow in your smile?”
“No reason. There’s nothing weird about me, Index.”
It was Christmas Eve, so Kamijou did not want to feel like he should never have left the home he had made for himself by chewing through a rotted fallen tree, so he focused on the things he could actually manage. Spending Christmas close to home was fine. Walking around outside with a friend was plenty fun.
They could enjoy themselves seeing how different the city looked with all the decorations.
That told him where they would be going. The ordinary homes decorated with all sorts of lights for this one day only were as laughable as those decotora (←which one is that an insult to?), but the more populated areas would still be the most decorated. They made their way to the train station area for now.
The cables of decorative lights had not been attached to the wind turbine blades. It was pretty cold, but they were going strong and had not frozen. Their surface was glittering from water droplets covering them, so they may have been installed with heating elements to melt the snow. Someone had even placed a bike’s chain lock on the support pillar in place of a Christmas wreath.
A truck passed them by and they looked over to see an advertisement vehicle that was really just a truck carrying a big LCD screen that generally played ads.
This one was playing the news.
“Who wants to try a custom donut decorated with cream!? Here in New York, these sweets are all the rage instead of cakes. With the spread of the nuclear family, an entire cake provides far more than the ideal calories per person, so this practice was started by the doctors who look after the wealthy residents of Beverly Hills. Even US President Roberto Katze joined in on social media by…”
“Go to hell!! Don’t force your fancy private lives on us from across the Pacific! If you’re that worried about calories, then go gnaw on some wax food samples!! You know what happens when you truly cut all the calories out of your food!? You starve to death!!”
“Touma, you’re scaring me. …Evil multitude known as Legion, I cast thee into those beasts and send you running from the cliff!”
Index clasped her hands together and began muttering some kind of ward against evil, but unfortunately, Kamijou was not possessed by anything evil. How unscientific. Let us ignore the fact that behaving like this while in control of himself was far more concerning than any occult explanation.
But once they arrived near the station, they found some strange lines had formed.
They were everywhere.
There had been signs of the fad before winter break, but this was something else entirely.
At some point, a bunch of similar-looking donut stands had multiplied like an amoeba monster. The entire donut was soaked in a sweet and gooey pudding-like substance to soften it up like a bavarois, then cream, colorful chocolate powder, and colorful syrups were used to decorate it however the customer asked for it. And how did the customers ask for it? If you guessed anything related to the flavor, you are truly naïve. They asked for it however would look best on social media!!
Also, something had gone wrong during the game of telephone as the fad crossed the Pacific because these had aspects not seen in the original. This country was quick to adopt new things but never cared much about getting the particulars right.
(Is that really safe? I’ve heard the decorations are based on your birthdate, blood type, lucky color, and so on, so can’t people work out your personal information if you post pictures of that online?)
Also, why did people think luck and colors had anything to do with each other?
If something like that could create a significant shift in the probability and statistical data, then he doubted Academy City’s quantum-based esper powers development would have been necessary in the first place.
Also, could you really call something a donut when you couldn’t carry it around with you?
The donut was placed on a small paper plate and lots of cream was piled on top. They ended up looking like palm-sized wedding cakes and couples were happily gathered around them and using their phones to take plenty of pictures of those donuts colored with a toxic mixture of sky blue and pink. Some even had sparking fireworks sticking into them.
Since the photos were the main point, the couples would flirt with each other over who would eat it and try to push it into each other’s mouth. They had spent so much time waiting in line to buy it, yet eating it was being treated like a punishment. This was making Marie Antoinette look reasonable. At some point, people had entirely forgotten that food should not be wasted. Kamijou Touma wondered why these people were not being struck by lightning. These thoughts of his might be shockingly extreme, but the spirit of a middle-aged woman was rising up within his heart. Instead of the kind dorm manager, this was the restaurant owner who refused to give a discount no matter how hard up a student was.
And Kamijou noticed something off about the scene around him.
But this was not about the girls in red Santa outfits who barely seemed special anymore now that they stood in front of every single store, from the convenience stores and bakeries selling cakes to the karaoke boxes and even the conveyer belt sushi restaurants(!?).
“Ahhh!? Wait, tell me it isn’t so!”
The ramen shop tucked below the elevated railway was gone.
It had not been good enough to make it into the magazines or onto the gourmet sites. When asked if the ramen was made with chicken or seafood, that awful place had answered “I dunno. Some kinda chemicals?” right in front of the customers. But they had sold a serving of ramen the size of a rice bowl, making it even smaller than the usual small size. That had been an irresistible temptation for Kamijou and the others who had wanted some restaurant ramen on the way home from school before having to think about what to do about dinner. And yet…and yet….
This was strange.
It made no sense. It would not have felt so bad if something equally unique had taken its place, but it was nothing but another fad donut shop with no history or personality at all! It would probably be forgotten the day after Christmas and gone by the New Year!! Kamijou Touma was hanging his head and trembling at this point. I don’t want my lucky color. Wh-where are you!? Where are you, old ramen chef!?
He could not fit in.
It just wasn’t possible for him. It was becoming clear that all allies of Christmas were his enemy. He was starting to think he never should have taken a step outside of the metal afro of a bird’s nest he had created by gathering up wire hangers. This winter would be a harsh one. It pained him that he had ever decided to head out on December 24.
He had come to a depressed stop, so perhaps he could not be blamed for not paying attention to his surroundings.
A girl suddenly bumped into him from the side in the area for pedestrians to wait for the crosswalk light.
He apologized on reflex but stopped himself. Yes, he had not been paying attention, but he had not moved a step (because he was rendered motionless below the frigid sky by the shock of losing that ramen shop), so it had clearly been the girl who bumped into him. Also, he felt a sticky sensation on the chest containing his heavy heart. He looked down to see a small paper plate stuck there like a cream pie from a comedy skit. It was one of those gooey things made of cream and honey – one of those blasphemous and indescribable cosmic horror donuts that were more about getting a photo than eating them!
At times, the misfortune could pile on so thick his heart could not take it anymore.
Too many sad things had happened today.
While stained with some stranger’s lucky color, unlucky Kamijou Touma finally snapped.
“Hold it right there, little lady! I’ll have you know this fine article of clothing is made of simple polyester so it can keep the rain out and be washed in a normal washing machine! Have you ever shopped at the year-end sale at Uniclo!? I think not! How do you expect to pay for this luxurious 1980-yen finery!?”
While bragging about his cheap clothing for some reason or another, the sparking firework sticking into the donut caught his jacket on fire. This was his divine punishment for reflexively snapping back at the girl instead of checking on the extent of the damage. He frantically stripped off the jacket and began flapping it around to put out the fire.
And it turned out the trembling girl was one he had seen just yesterday.
It was Misaka Mikoto.
“I thought I detected the stench of death in my Christmas! What are you doing here, Misaka!?”
She was not listening.
She wordlessly dove toward Kamijou Touma’s jacketless chest and clung to his shirt with her small hands.
His mind went blank and the white nun next to him was caught completely off guard.
Then a storm arrived.
“Find the runaway!!”
“Don’t rely on security cameras and robots! She has Level 5 electricity powers!!”
“She is definitely around here somewhere. I can follow the trail left by Onee-sama. Hweh heh heh. Because I can detect the faint scent left behind by her hair!!”
A crowd of people marched by with tremendous speed. What in the world was that? It was a mixture of students and teachers, but since when had Tokiwadai Middle School been an angry mob???
What were Academy City’s security robots doing if they were ignoring that army of monsters?
Or had those drum-shaped devices already been installed with special rules that made them go easy on cute girls?
Kamijou Touma had been flapping his removed jacket around to put out the fire and Misaka Mikoto had moved past the jacket, so it was spread out like a matador’s cape and hid the small girl’s silhouette from the mob’s view.
That might seem like a reasonable demand, but he meant it a little differently. He was not asking her to explain it to him. No, he jerked his chin over toward the person next to him while Mikoto continued holding onto him.
“Explain this to Index!! And fast because she’s already started growling!! I really, really don’t want to spend my Christmas Eve in the hospital with toothmarks on my skull!!”
It was too late.
Her jaws were latched onto his head, yet it was his knees that gave out.
It was an invincible and unassailable middle school girl.
Misaka Mikoto put her hands on her hips and breathed an exasperated sigh.
“I’m pretty sure you were born under an unlucky star or something. But instead of bad luck with women, I think it gave you bad luck with little girls.”
“Misaka-san, you really shouldn’t suggest that in Academy City, headquarters of the science side. …And you might have had my attention if it was a good luck with young women and that it lets me make friends with all the young dorm manager ladies out there, but this I refuse to accept.”
“Science side? What? And…ah!! Come to think of it, what ever happened with that little girl yesterday!?”
“Don’t even ask that! What absolute moron would dig back up that horror story now!? I never want to see her again!!”
Then Mikoto stopped moving.
She looked alternately between Kamijou and Index.
“So should I pry her off of you? Y’know, since she’s a little girl too?”
“To be clear, you fall into that ‘younger’ category too.”
“I try to help and you call me a little girl!?”
Anyway, prestigious Tokiwadai Middle School was apparently very strict about Christmas.
Specifically, they had a gloomy and dreary seasonal event where the students were sent out into the bitter cold while wearing miniskirts (although the shortness of her skirt seemed like it was her own fault for altering it) and had to walk around the city collecting trash for 24 hours, day and night.
They really did exist.
Maybe they were not found under the rocks, inside a rotten fallen tree, or in an afro of wire hangers, but that did not matter. They lived in a different world from Kamijou, but he was not the only one having a miserable Christmas!!
One such girl had gotten fed up with it all, saw an opening, and made a run for it, but her teachers and Judgment had noticed and she was spending Christmas Eve with them hot on her trail. How hot? Hot enough that being caught might as well mean being wrapped in chains and thrown into a blast furnace.
Kamijou grabbed her shoulders and practically hugged her with his eyes shining bright.
He had discovered someone else who would fight by his side against this godawful seasonal event.
He had seen the smoke signals demanding a rebellion.
“We might be making an enemy of the entire world here, but let’s give ourselves a merry Christmas even if we have to fight back against fate itself!! We’re in this together!!”
“Eh? Huh? W-wait, are you forcing your plans onto me or something???”
She blushed and started acting oddly.
Nearby, Index put her hands on her hips and puffed out her cheeks (because biting the back of his spiky-haired head was apparently not enough to calm her anger).
“Ugh, I don’t like this, but if you want to join us, can’t you at least come out and ask directly?”
“Index-san, now is the time for kindness. Remember the Little Match Girl? If just one person out there had reached out to help her, she could have avoided that tragic fate!”
“Hey, wait, I wasn’t looking for pity! Even if I am thankful you saved me from that army’s grasp!!”
Kamijou Touma had no intention of throwing Mikoto out now. He was even moved to emotion. His miserable time could not be blamed on his poor, lower class lifestyle. It happened in the upper class as well. Those rich girls could treat real life like a pay-to-win game, so how badly had this girl mishandled her own life to end up with such a miserable Christmas!? Someone so incompetent clearly needed his help!!
And so Mikoto made a request.
“I want to do some Christmasy things. Because I’ll be killed if I can’t blend in here.”
“Hm? Huh? Did I say something weird???”
“No, you’re fine. Perfectly fine.”
Mikoto sounded worried after seeing the smile frozen on Kamijou’s face, but that wooden response was all he could manage.
Do Christmasy things? As in Christmasy activities?
He had no idea what that could be. He could think of plenty of Christmasy objects like cakes, turkeys, red clothing, and white beards. He could think of plenty of Christmasy places to visit like the main roads lit up by the lights wrapped around the trees or the giant Christmas tree in the train station plaza.
But Christmasy activities?
This wasn’t like trick-or-treating at Halloween. What could you only do at Christmastime???
Of course, the confused boy could think of one thing. You could always take a lesson from that bearded man who broke into people’s homes like it was normal and shoved wrapped boxes in their stockings. You could always just exchange boxes like that.
But you only exchanged presents and said Merry Christmas just the once, and that generally happened on Christmas day. He could not play that card as camouflage every single time a violent girl barged into his life.
So what else was there?
What did people generally do on Christmas Eve?
Growing nervous, he glanced over at Index and Mikoto to see they were both tilting their heads curiously. In fact, so was the cat on the silver-haired girl’s head. They had no plan whatsoever and were counting on him to figure it out. And if he said he had nothing, they were sure to call him useless. In stereo from the right and left.
It would be one thing if a young woman were gently whispering “oh, you useless thing” in his ear along with a sigh of mock exasperation.
But this was different.
These younger girls would have dead serious looks on their face when they said it.
The meaning and the warmth of it were entirely different!!
(Eh? So if the girls form an alliance here, will I be left all alone in a sea of verbal abuse? If that’s how I end up spending my Christmas Eve, I can’t even crawl back under the gravestone!)
He was soaked with sweat despite the December chill and he no longer even saw himself as a bug under a rock. Even his metaphors were veering in a dangerous direction.
He forced a smile and pulled out his phone.
“Ha…ha ha ha. Nothing to worry about. Just leave everything to Kamijou Touma, well-known capable adult.”
“Where are you going?” asked Mikoto.
“Just checking on how crowded some places are. S-so wait just a moment, okay?”
He hid in the shadows and typed “Christmas Activities” into a search engine on his phone’s small screen, but all he saw were social media comments that made him want to vomit, so he quickly abandoned that route. Plus, the voices online were full of lies that exaggerated the romantic side of things about three times over. Or at least he hoped very much those were all lies. The world described there differed so much from his reality that he wanted to send out a curse that made sure they were actually all lonely.
He wanted help from someone he knew in real life.
After finding a male friend’s number in his address book and calling that, he waited a moment and they picked up.
“U-um, Aogami Pierce? I’d like some advice, one classmate to another.”
“Sorry, Kami-yan, but I have my hands full at the moment!!”
“Eh? Don’t tell me your Christmas schedule is jam packed. No! Please don’t leave me behind in this miserable world!!”
“I was so desperate to feel some human warmth I stuck my boobs mousepad in the microwave, but it turned out to be way hotter than I expected! So now I have no feeling in my fingers!! I couldn’t have even answered your call if my phone wasn’t sitting on the table and didn’t have voice-activated commands!!”
“It’s Christmas Eve!! That only comes once a year! What the hell were you doing at 10 in the morning!? Maybe I’d get it if you had poked at them with your fingertip out of curiosity, but did you just full-on grab them with both hands right away? Why couldn’t you direct these impulses in a productive direction, like building rockets or something!!!???”
“But VR is so lonely with just the video. I wanted some tactile feedback to make it more immersive! But I don’t want them to be cold!! I paid good money for all this equipment and it wasn’t so I could virtually touch a corpse!!”
“Let me repeat: it’s Christmas Eve!! What the hell were you doing at 10 in the morning!!!???”
“Hear me out, Kami-yan. You know how sometimes you think you’ve heated your food up, but it’s still cold in the middle? I was afraid of that happening here, so I decided to heat it up a little longer, but it turns out silicone heats up really well! This thing is legit dangerous!!”
Did this awful friend not know that they sold silicone pots for use in the microwave? This was his punishment for taking the easy route and never cooking for himself. Also, there was no point in listening to someone complain because they failed to read the warnings on the box. Kamijou ignored the idiot’s lamentations and hung up.
But giving up on his friend did not improve his own situation any.
Q. What can you only do on Christmas? He was still stuck with that deadly riddle that sounded like it came from the Sphinx (the original one, not the pet cat). If he screwed this up, a Girls Alliance would be established and he would be stuck curled up on the ground sobbing. On Christmas Eve.
The two girls asked an innocent question.
Those teenage girls had no idea how much pressure their expectations were placing on him.
“So what are we going to do?”
You don’t need to think about it too hard.
Put on a red hat and play a Western party game and you have enough for a Japanese Christmas.
“You gave this about two seconds of thought, didn’t you?”
“Shut up. I don’t care what you say.”
Misaka Mikoto gave a scathing review and Kamijou snapped back at her. However, he could not let the middle schooler know how relieved he was to not have his idea actually rejected.
Whether it was decorative or just how it was constructed, the building exterior looked like a few large storage containers joined together. However, the inside had a classic aesthetic of wood floors, wood walls, and ceiling fans twirling overhead.
Index looked all around the place that was dimly lit even during these late morning hours.
“What is this? Darts?”
“This is the most mature thing a high schooler could come up with on short notice, so don’t laugh, okay?”
He made sure to say that part quickly and quietly. He had decided to avoid karaoke since it was too cliché. He sometimes saw darts at all-in-one amusement facilities like bowling alleys or batting cages, but those places would be too bright. He wanted something that made him look a little more mature!!
There was no such thing as a dedicated darts center, so this was probably a bar most of the time. A high school boy felt so out of place inside here that seeing the interior decorating was bad for his heart. But given the time of day, they were only serving an early lunch menu. The excessive amount of bar snacks on the side menu was probably a glimpse of the place’s true form. It was still hiding its claws.
Now, while Kamijou Touma was trying to look mature, he himself knew nothing about darts. After all, high schoolers did not go to bars! He only had a general idea that it was game where you threw small arrows at a pizza-like target board. When he rented a table for them, the employee seemed to assume everyone already knew how to play and did not provide an explanation. If he had come here alone, he might have been entirely lost.
He ended up having to get Mikoto to explain.
“The most popular version is called 01 and the object of the game is to reduce your points, not earn them.”
“Don’t look shocked quite yet. You have 301 points to start with, you throw three darts per round, and you see who can work through their points first.”
Her explanation only confused him more. He was pretty sure you took turns throwing darts, but was it one by one or did you throw all three for your round in a row?
“I didn’t even know this was a competitive game.”
“I have to start there? I guess it might be confusing since there’s only the one board, but yes, it is a competitive game. You wouldn’t go to a tennis court alone unless you were a pro getting a feel for that specific court, right? This is the same.”
So if he had come here alone, he would have been more than just entirely lost. The employee would have treated him like an expert when he in fact was utterly clueless. That illusion would have been shattered with the very first throw and then the lukewarm looks he got would have led him to curl up in shame.
“So it’s best to hit the center, right?”
“Again, no. You play 10 rounds and you can only throw three per round and you win by being the first to ‘check out’ by getting your 301 points to exactly 0. So if you just go for as many points as you can, you’ll go too far and end up with negative points. That’s called ‘going bust’ and your score is reset to the start of that round and you have to try again next round. That means you’ve wasted an entire round. So what part of the board matters changes depending on your current number of points. If you end up with just 1 point left in the third throw of your round, you want to aim for a spot that gets you the minimum value of 1 point, right?”
“But c’mon. You’ve gotta go for the center.”
“Yes, yes! All the idiots like to focus on the bull’s eye in the center since it earns 50 points, but you see that larger ring around the center?”
“The one sliced up like a pizza?”
“Yeah, that. Hit the line in the middle of that and you get three times the normal points. So get the triple score where the normal score is 17 through 20 and you can earn more points than the central bull’s eye. That can be useful at the start of the game when you want to bring down your points by a lot.”
Mikoto grabbed a random dart while explaining. It was 15-16cm long. It was made of metal, but did not feel all that heavy. It was kind of like a somewhat sturdy pen with plastic fletching attached.
“I prefer using coins, so these are really more Kuroko’s thing.”
She casually aimed the point toward the blank board before they had powered on the scoring.
It seemed like a careless action, but she looked right at home doing it, suggesting she had done this a lot.
“You throw it from the elbow, not the shoulder. In that sense, it might be similar to throwing a paper airplane.”
They heard a thunk.
The cat on Index’s head stuck up his tail, perhaps frightened by the sound.
She had thrown from a distance of less than 3m, but instead of a straight path, it had taken a smoothly curved parabolic arc. This was entirely different from the ninja kunais seen in samurai dramas. This was only meant as a game, but did these really work as projectiles?
Mikoto’s dart had hit in the very center.
“I actually just barely missed the center, so that’s 25 points. Although the version most popular in Japan counts that outer area as a full bull’s eye.”
Then why even mention it? wondered Kamijou, but he had a feeling saying it out loud would lead to a further digression. He could tell he had to get the basics down pat or he was in trouble.
“Also, most dart games have the score tracked electronically. This one does. That can be convenient, but don’t forget that we all use the same board.”
“The machine doesn’t set everything up for the next person like in bowling. You have to remove your darts from the board before hitting the switch to end your turn. Hit the switch with the darts still in there and it will use your darts for the next person’s score too, which really messes up the game. Got that?”
Kamijou glanced over at Index who was listening along with him. He was worried that he was the only one who was still confused.
With the cat still on her head, Index grabbed three of the darts lined up there and she threw them all in a row.
5 points, 10 points, 15 points.
That was no coincidence. She had intentionally scored increasing multiples of 5.
Darts was not simply about hitting the center of the board. According to Misaka Mikoto, who was being an oddly grownup middle schooler(?) today, you had to reach exactly 0 points in the end or you would “go bust”. So wouldn’t it be more important to know how to apply the brakes than the gas!?
“Hold on, Index-san. Where did these super skills come from!?”
“I thought I just needed to know my distance from the board and its diameter, but there’s still a margin of error. Maybe I didn’t get enough visual samples. If only there were more customers to observe.”
She was muttering under her breath without even looking his way.
The game had already begun.
“Oh, no. Is she using her perfect memory to memorize people’s motions!? O-oh, I get it. This wouldn’t work for karate or boxing, but body size doesn’t matter in darts since it only uses the elbow. If she understands it intellectually, she can actually pull this one off… Let’s get this game started already, Misaka! If we dillydally, Index is going to evolve too fast for us to catch up!!”
“You’re going to start playing without ordering anything? How stoic are you two? It’s not like you’re pro players. Excuse me, could we get something to eat over here? Oh, you’re doing those donuts here too? Then I’ll have one with my lucky col-”
“You are not bringing any of those trendy things to our table!!”
Kamijou Touma’s shout only made Mikoto tilt her head. She may have thought he was allergic. In truth, he was allergic to those things, but he could not let anyone know it was an allergy of the heart, not the body. If this capable middle school girl hit him with a deadpan “you’re such an idiot” right now, it would petrify him and then shatter him into a million pieces.
“Then we’ll take a party tray of snacks. Do we need to go to that counter for the drinks?”
Fountain drinks were so cheap because you served yourself, so what was the point of having to get an employee to do it for you? But now was not the time to be asking that question.
On the other hand, that kind of distraction might actually be the secret to defeating Index who was continuing to learn like a fearsome supercomputer preparing to conquer the world with its AI society.
In other words…
“I lure her in with food and drinks and move in for the kill while she’s distracted!!”
“You sure are ruthless for Christmas Eve.”
With that, their enjoyable Christmas Eve had begun.
Their voices echoed through the darts bar that was created from a few storage containers joined together.
“Yay! I got the bull’s eye!! How about that?” said Mikoto. “Wait, why didn’t my points go down?”
“Wow, my bad. I forgot to hit the switch to end my turn,” said Kamijou. “Ha ha ha. Sorry about that.”
“You idiot! Is how to cheat the only thing you learned from my lesson!? Stop using the machine scoring to rattle me!!”
“Okay, short hair, that means your bull’s eye didn’t count,” said Index. “There, I pushed the button for you, so you can try again. Don’t worry. You still have a chance to redo it!”
“And why did you just remove my dart, you airheaded nun? If you had just pressed the button and flicked the dart with your finger, I would’ve gotten my rightful points! That was a bull’s eye. W-will no one take my side here!?”
The boy and two girls enjoyed themselves while throwing darts at the board. Things got wilder once they established a local rule that you had to get a bull’s eye to go get a refill for your drink. The greasy fried chicken and fries on the platter in front of them was a tantalizing sight, but eating those without a drink would make them too thirsty to concentrate. And as soon as you started thinking you absolutely had to hit the bull’s eye next time, it became impossible to hit. Kamijou might have hit it out of beginner’s luck under other circumstances, but not when there was something riding on it.
“I’ve already memorized the motion, so now I’m unstoppable,” said Index. “Watch as I bring my score down to 32 points.”
“Oh, look. They have a dessert platter covered in tiny cakes,” said Mikoto.”
“Gotta love how they bring things out the instant you order them here in Japan,” said Kamijou. “Okay, let’s claim all the tastiest-looking ones before Index is finished with her turn. I’ve got my eye on that shortcake and rare cheesecake.”
“Hm, then I’ll go for the Mont Blanc and the caramel pudding.”
“There’s no way I’m letting this Santa sugar sculpture go.”
“Really, I’m more interested in the chocolate plate with a message written on it. Oh, don’t let us bother you, little one. Take as long as you need. Although once you get back here, you might only find the only thing left is the gelatin with canned fruits dumped inside.”
“Let’s not talk ill of canned foods, Miss Fancy. If you don’t want that one, then I’m claiming it. Hey, kitty cat. Looks like they even have a cat cake designed just for you.”
“Wait, where’s mine!?” cut in Index. “Give me time to focus!”
Time passed and they became just another part of the noise, just like everyone else.
“Oh, we’re almost at the end of our 5th game,” said Kamijou. “Then whoever wins this one gets to say the line.”
“Huh!? Wait, why not whoever won the most games!?” said Mikoto. “I held a commanding lead when it comes to wins, right!? Right!?”
“Merry Christmas!!” said Index.
“Hey, don’t just come out and say it without winning first!” said the other two.
That may have been why they did not notice.
While the place was serving a wholesome lunch now, it was normally a bar and thus the windows were made so no one could see in from outside. That was why it only had dim indirect lighting in the middle of the day.
An observer’s eyes were following every movement made by Kamijou’s group.
Between the Lines 2
That was a windowless room.
Simply not being able to see outside was enough to make the place feel cut off from the normal flow of time. No one shown the inside of that room could have guessed it was currently December 24. In fact, they could not have said whether it was summer or winter, day or night.
Yet a monster had chosen to place himself there.
He was the true #1 who overwhelmed even the other Level 5s within Academy City.
Yet he had also claimed the power of Board Chairman as his own.
“Ironic, isn’t it?” scoffed the white monster.
But his scorn was directed not at Yomikawa, but at himself.
Thinking back, he had always been this kind of person. Everyone had looked up to him as the strongest and he had reigned at the top as a target of fear, yet his heart had always been ruled by alienation and self-loathing. That may have been why that small girl had latched onto him like that. The pair could seem strange, but it had probably been the most natural thing in the world for them.
That girl was not here.
There was no airflow in here. Only an oppressive sense of imprisonment.
In other words…
“I really do have the entire world in my grasp, yet I chose to entomb myself here. Maybe humans have a tendency to retreat from freedom the more of it they have.”
Yomikawa Aiho, who had been “allowed” to sit in the seat across from him, had been speaking with that monster for a little bit now. It had not been long, but now was not the time to let that bother her. In fact, it was scary she had been allowed even this. Her expression was far from bright. The words of the Board Chairman would directly influence the fates of Academy City’s 2.3 million people and it would shake the lives of the more than 7 billion people reliant on science and technology.
There were no absolute correct answers in the world of technology.
For example, it was perfectly fine to loathe microplastics that would never decompose, but mass-producing exactly as many paper straws and cups would wipe out the Amazon rainforest in no time at all. Doing what was considered “right” would not necessarily lead to the future you wanted. The world would grow distorted. One careless statement from the new Board Chairman could change the course of history. It could easily redirect the entire world from right to left. And that course might bring them to a sea choked with plastic or continents dried out into deserts. And just as doing what was right would not necessarily lead to the future you wanted, avoiding the mistakes before your eyes would not necessarily lead to a future devoid of mistakes.
Yomikawa Aiho was speaking with someone who controlled the world.
Like it or not, she was participating in a game of the gods.
No more crime, no more disease, no more accidents, no more natural disasters, no more wars, and no more tragedies.
Everyone could come up with those sayings, but if you actually said them here, who would the monster target next and how would it influence the rest of the world out there? She had to consider those matters. Now that she was seated here, she could not claim ignorance.
This was not an issue of selecting a card from a predetermined deck.
If she was going to guide this new Board Chairman, she would have to make him come up with a brand new option not already on the table.
And in that sense…
(His choice is certainly an impressive one.)
“Are you really sure about this?” she asked.
“I really think there had to be other options. This might be the right thing to do, but you’re clearly accepting some tragedy here.”
“Don’t make me laugh.”
“I wasn’t delighted to hear about it, I can tell you that!”
“Then what are you gonna do about it?”
The monster smiled a little.
His lips silently split part and spread into a crescent moon shape.
“Are you going to stop me? As a special kindness, I’m willing to set aside all of my grownup authority. But what can you do after descending to the world of us kids?”
“Do you get it now? I’m sure you did from the beginning. You aren’t afraid of the title of Board Chairman, but you aren’t scared of the Academy City’s #1 moniker either. …You already know that this is the right choice. You know you can’t argue otherwise, so you can’t grab at my collar to lecture at me or whatever. And that’s fine. That puny pride is a virtue. You can’t bring yourself to throw a tantrum in front of a kid, right? You’re far better than those Kiharas and others like them.”
“Let’s get ambitious, shall we?”
These were the juvenile but cruel words of the child created by the adults.
It was almost like losing control of the satellite they had launched and having it fall down on their heads. And since that satellite had been made with the best of humanity’s technology, it was loaded with a dangerous reactor meant for use in outer space that used sodium cooling and deuterium.
Yomikawa felt like “just deserts” may be the best term for this.
But whose just deserts?
“Think through all the annoying little details like you’re a goddamn Board Chairman yourself. You adults have messed with my brain so much for your own purposes, so now that you’ve dumped all this authority in my lap, I hope you’re ready. Because it’s my turn now. You’ve got no right to complain if I use this clever brain you’ve given me to utilize this new power to its fullest.”
“I gave you plenty of time, so I’m sure you’ve got everything set up. I know you wouldn’t have shown your face here otherwise. I’m not here to pester you about your progress, so hurry up and tell me everything is in place. That’s why I called you here. I knew you were the best one for the job.”
Yomikawa Aiho gently clenched her teeth.
“This will change everything.”
“Not just for the kids in this city. This choice you’ve made all on your own will affect the fate of this entire planet of 7 billion people!!”
“It wouldn’t be worth doing otherwise.”
He knew full well what he was doing.
Yomikawa Aiho was part of Anti-Skill, so she was meant to protect the children of Academy City. If dragging that white monster to the floor and putting him in an armlock would stop this snowball from rolling down the hill, she would have done so without hesitation. This was the #1 who was far more powerful than the #3 Railgun who could create and control currents of more than a billion volts or the #5 Mental Out who could control people’s minds. She knew exactly what his fearsome power was, but she still would have grabbed him with her bare hands. But she understood that doing that would not stop what he had started.
That would not protect anyone.
It did not take a genius to understand it, but saving people was not that simple.
“The trigger is ready to be pulled, isn’t it?”
“I’m saying I want you in charge of this. But if you won’t do it, I’ll just get someone else. Will you be a part of the world’s conclusion, or won’t you? Choose. Which will it be?”
When it came down to it, Yomikawa Aiho was only a teacher and this was the new Board Chairman who held authority over them all.
No matter what they had once been for each other, that was now an unavoidable fact.
She felt ashamed
She spat out one last thing while powerless to do anything more.
“And you’re one of the ones who changed me.”
It had already begun below the surface.
The plan of this new era was known as Operation Handcuffs.