Toaru Majutsu no Index:GT Volume1 Chapter3
Chapter 3: A Dark Conspiracy and a Barrier Gone — Enemy_Use_XXX.
Kamijou’s vision spun wildly around.
If he slammed into the ground, he was dead. The special knife stabbed into his side would shred his organs and blood vessels if he did. He knew that, but he could not just sprout wings and fly. Once his feet left the ground, he could not recover.
However, that did not happen.
“Are you okay? asks Misaka to confirm your condition while catching you.”
A gentle sensation saved his life.
This was not just the soft skin of a girl. Not only had she caught him without touching the knife, she had used her body like a spring to eliminate the impact.
But he did not have it in him to thank her right now.
He ignored his aching body and pointed straight up while the young girl held him in her arms. This should have been a flat asphalt road, yet there was now a two or three story cliff there.
“Please! Help Last Order!!”
Misaka Imouto did not respond.
In fact, she gently lowered him to the ground and began checking over his wound.
“By grazing your liver, it threaded the needle between several different blood vessels. This location may have been intentionally chosen to make it difficult to remove, says Misaka while grimacing at the cruelty.”
“What are you doing? Forget about me! You need to pursue her or we’ll lose them!!”
“Misaka cannot do that.” The girl shook her head with no emotion in her eyes. “Misaka will respect our higher unit’s free will and let her do as she wishes, but her opinion still reaches Misaka through the Misaka Network, explains Misaka.”
“What are you talking about?”
“She does not want to reward your kindness by abandoning you. And this Misaka agrees, says Misaka to establish her own opinion.”
He clenched his teeth so hard he thought they would break.
He reached for his own side and grabbed the handle of the knife.
More than a burning pain, he felt an iciness along his spine form the slight tremor passing into his body through the weapon. This told him all too well that a foreign object had torn into his body and the sharp metal remained there. That unrealistic sensation caused his vision to darken as if with static and his breathing picked up pace. His mind was off balance. Before long, he would collapse backwards and the force would cause him to gut himself.
But instead, he tightly gripped the knife’s handle and gave a merciless tug.
He felt a slippery sensation, but was that blood? To be blunt, any other possibility would be even worse. Removing the blade plugging the wound caused him to start bleeding a lot more, but he had to ignore that now. He tossed aside the unnecessary blade.
Breathing deeply would only harm him here.
He held his breath for a bit and the illusionary static slowly faded from his vision. He had apparently started hyperventilating.
He was soaked with sweat despite the chilly air and he glared over at Misaka Imouto.
The world was wobbling around him.
If he lost any focus, he would pass out almost immediately.
He had to say this.
“Kah, ah… I-is that good enough? Now you don’t have to look after this useless SOB.”
“That is not even remotely-”
“Shut up!! I wasn’t looking after all of you because I wanted anything in return! I’m just doing whatever the hell I want, so quit attaching price tags to it and trying to manage it all!! Who made you the good deeds police? You might as well be nitpicking every little thing people do!!”
All his shouting accomplished nothing.
He wobbled and nearly collapsed, so she gently supported him.
“Misaka shall sew up your wound. A bandage is not enough to stop this level of bleeding, says Misaka to state the objective facts.”
“Misaka would really like to administer painkillers or provide a transfusion first, but are you willing to go through with this as is? asks Misaka to receive your final confirmation.”
“Go for it. I just need to keep this goddamn body moving for another minute or even ten seconds. As long as it lets me save that kid.”
The goggles girl pulled something like a sewing kit from her skirt pocket. The actual tools may not have been all that different, but it was sealed up in plastic. This was a disposable first aid kit.
“We do not have time to prepare a sterile environment in a sealed-off operating room, so Misaka will provide field medicine sterilization. This will hurt like hell, warns Misaka.”
“Just do it.”
“Then enjoy this big-old splash of ethanol.”
He screamed and his vision filled with firework-like afterimages.
This was more than just pain, but she calmly restrained his arms and legs to make sure he did not further tear open the wound in his side.
“Misaka will sew up the wound once the convulsions have stopped. That means Misaka will be passing a needle through the already sensitive wound and sewing it shut with thread, explains Misaka. Doing this without anesthetic will be a living hell, so consider yourself warned.”
“A-and if you do use anesthetic?”
“You will likely wake up around this time tomorrow in a sterile hospital.”
He was having trouble breathing, but he still moved one trembling finger.
Raising that particular finger formed a gesture one should never direct toward a girl like this.
“You’re so cool, says Misaka while grasping the needle between tweezers.”
Again, he screamed.
Feeling an explosion of pain atop an already excruciating injury was a rare experience. His teeth chattered as he tried to clench them and bear with what felt like having all five senses shattered into a million pieces. He came close to accidentally biting his tongue.
“Do not worry, says Misaka to state her conclusion.”
“What do you mean?”
“Misaka is not about to unconditionally accept every part of Academy City, but she knows that the depth of its dark side is matched by the warmth of its soft side. So do not worry. We can catch up to them without you carrying all the weight yourself, states Misaka. This city contains that sort of opportunity as well.”
In other words…
“You are not the only hero. That is what I am trying to say, explains Misaka with a wink.”
The Santa costume girl stood on a relatively gently-sloped part of the asphalt cliff that rose up at an angle.
As powerless as this hostage was, she did not want the girl struggling.
(My head is so hot in this hat and wig. But I have to keep them on for a while longer still.)
The girl of 15 or 16 tossed out a bandage roll that spread out all on its own before hitting the ground. This was a controlled rope that could bind, constrict, and kill on its own. It had originally been serpentine duct tape that could safely wrap around and seal off leaks in gas or steam pipes at accident sites that would be too dangerous for a person to approach. As she watched the rope automatically bind Last Order’s limbs and mouth, the girl pulled a handkerchief-like cloth from the chest of her Santa costume. She spread it out to reveal the kind of large white bag often seen at Christmas scenes.
It took her less than two minutes to pack up her poor “gift”.
The cosplay girl reached for the side of her miniskirt and pulled a smartphone from the top of her white kneesock.
“Maidono here. Things have taken a turn for the better, so I was hoping I could meet you directly and explain the result. Is now a good time for you?”
The words from her mouth and the violence surrounding her were like polar opposites.
The asphalt ground had risen up, the structure below the concrete was flooded, and the nearby buildings were shaking like willow branches in the wind. All of this had of course been noticed, so sirens were blaring as Anti-Skill vehicles rushed in from all directions.
(That sounds like a V10 with hydrogen explosions, but those Fugaku sports sedans don’t generally have E-chargers installed. These are custom models for those civil servants, not for civilian use. These must be those unmanned pursuer vehicles that were introduced lately. Weren’t they called Hammerhead Sharks?)
They looked like slim sports cars built low to reduce air resistance as much as possible, but they actually had the engine in the rear and the hood was stuffed full of composite armor. Those weapons on wheels were meant to stop rampaging drivers and otherwise dangerous drivers by safely and swiftly catching up to them with no one onboard and then crashing into the target vehicle to stop it. After the press conference announcing them, they had been mocked as an “eye for an eye” policy.
With several of them linked via high-speed wireless internet, those weapons could force even a 20-ton truck off the road.
They were not meant to be used against an unprotected person.
But the girl going by the name Maidono tossed the bag over her back and used her other hand to stick her phone between her cheek and shoulder. With that hand now free, she simply pulled the index finger in towards herself as if telling them to come at her.
That was all she did.
A moment later, the asphalt ground rose up along with the dark soil and concrete structure below. Unable to respond to the makeshift ramp in time, the Hammerhead Sharks flew by over her head, crashed into the third-floor windows of a nearby building, and stopped moving.
These were unmanned machines, so had they only been meant to get an idea of how powerful she was?
A manned unit would be coming next.
“Yes, yes. You probably just heard an explosion, but it’s nothing to worry about. Just cleaning some things up afterwards. I have safely secured the gift. To be honest, if we just want to get Accelerator to self-destruct, wouldn’t it be easier to just wring her neck and kill her? Eh? We can’t? I had a feeling you’d say that. I will send the gift to the designated point.”
They must have originally planned to attack from the safety of the sky after using the unmanned Hammerhead Sharks to secure the ground. She looked up at the noisy helicopter rotors and saw a total of four fully-equipped powered suits attached to a round observation helicopter, two on each side.
With the faces fully covered, she could not judge their age or gender, but she could easily imagine the looks on their faces. The emotions of fear and confusion were oozing from the gaps in their armor.
She did not care if they could see her.
She had altered her color sample with the wig and colored contact lenses.
Her makeup was thick for being seen with the naked eye, but she had applied a noticeable pattern to be seen through cameras and sensors, much like a kabuki actor. She only had to ensure they could not use facial recognition or photo sharing to locate her official data. The surveillance society of the digital age had eliminated crime? No, it had only created a new dilemma where crimes that left no electronic record could not be proven to legal standards. If a convenience store was robbed in broad daylight, what would happen if the security cameras were not running? People would simply suspect the poor clerk was behind the whole thing.
“Yes, I’m dealing with it now.”
With a wave of her finger, Maidono tore a wagon-shaped window washing robot from the side of a building and threw it. The observation helicopter had to be fairly maneuverable, but it was flying between buildings and its exposed companions were clinging to either side. It could not make any sharp movements that might shake them off. But that hesitation prevented it from dodging the mass of steel, allowing a direct hit that sent them all tumbling to the surface as a giant fireball.
“When will I be done? I already am.”
(These are post-Denmark models, so that much of a crash and explosion shouldn’t be enough to kill them. I can’t say the same for the helicopter pilot, though.)
“We can handle Anti-Skill and Judgment in the usual way. If you send enough violence their way, the confusion causes their chain of command to break down. The internet will go a little nuts over it, but there are plenty of crooked ‘experts’ out there. Those filthy adults will lie and claim none of what happened was possible, all so they can cover up their mistakes in the initial investigation. If we get them to make enough of a fuss, it will create the perfect camouflage to hide our own involvement. No one will see through to the truth.”
She was a natural at cleaning up messes.
Peace of mind was no more than a prey lured out using destruction as bait.
“Yes. Given what we’re dealing with here, the amount of attention needed is going to be pretty high, but that is not a problem. It is still within acceptable bounds.”
She earned points by thoroughly eliminating the people and things that got in her master’s way. She reached for unease to search out, snatch up, and offer peace of mind to that master. She would use concerts, festivals, parades, and other events with abnormal security routines and where a lot of outsiders would be present and then she would choose a conspicuous costume that actually helped her blend into the background.
“I am aware of that,” she said cheerfully.
She was the kind of person who would walk right past a dying old person while preoccupied with her phone.
“I agree that we cannot have the dark side eliminated on some idiot’s whim. Not everyone in the world hopes for a world without crime. Academy City has only kept such a massive lead over the rest of the world by constructing and preserving an isolated space where the rules need not apply. You have seen that in the world of money and me in the world of fists. Neither of us can survive without the dark side, can we? …Oh, please. I at least know it’s true for me since you remade me to be that way.”
She could be as noticeable as she liked.
In fact, it only worked as camouflage if it was noticeable.
It had to feel like stepping beyond the bounds of reality and wandering into a nightmare. By creating such a grotesque and psychedelic world, she could ensure that boring reality could not keep up.
The festival of doom was already beginning.
Today was a day to kick back and enjoy the festivities.
(By destroying those specific pipes, the water department will close a few floodgates to prevent the filthy water from leaking out. I have control of the waterflow, so after confirming the bag is watertight, I can toss it in the river and let the collection team fish the trash out downstream. But the scenario says I need to hold their attention on the surface so they don’t notice that.)
Had she used the word trash because she was reminded of herself?
The ground was far from clean. It was littered with glass shards and metal fragments, as well as the bags and phones dropped by fleeing students. Cracks ran through the asphalt and it rose up in some places. But when she saw some chopsticks fallen at her feet, she quietly clicked her tongue.
Her long blonde hair swayed as she looked overhead with the phone still held between cheek and shoulder.
But she was not viewing another helicopter.
“I can ignore the invisible power balance this time, right? If someone tries to obstruct my work, I can eliminate them by force without calculating out the necessary expenses?”
She looked up at one of the skyscrapers swaying in the wind like a bamboo thicket exposed to a crosswind.
Instead of the roof, she looked to the girl clinging to the wall and staring quietly down at her.
“For example, I can go ahead and kill anyone who opposes me, even if they’re one of the Level 5s?”
Academy City’s #3 was the strongest girl when it came to pure electricity generation.
In other words, this was Misaka Mikoto.
“You stabbed him.”
She used magnetic power to cling to the wall at the 44th floor of a building that included office space on the lower levels and apartments on the upper levels, but magnetism was not the only thing she could do. Traveling along the ground would have taken too much time given the extreme confusion and damage there, so she had chosen this other path. A Level 5 could reach for this level of freedom for no other reason than that.
“And on Christmas Eve when we were enjoying ourselves!! You’re a natural when it comes to ruining the mood, aren’t you!?”
The situation here was exactly what Kamijou Touma had predicted earlier.
Splitting up into two teams gave them an advantage. While the villain pursued the boy, Mikoto’s team had managed to track them down and move in from behind.
Misaka Imouto had been sent to support the boy on the surface, but she did not need to deliver a finishing blow to the villain. Once she got the boy out of the way, Mikoto could handle the rest.
She moved from that 44th floor to another building’s 38th floor and from that 38th floor to yet another building’s 52nd floor.
She was even holding a certain girl while moving freely between buildings in midair.
The small calico cat in that silver-haired girl’s arms was struggling, perhaps because of the EM waves.
Unlike the well-trained Sisters, it would have been too risky to let her move along the ground while it littered with glass and rubble.
“Short hair!! That monster Santa turned the corner, but that’s not the biggest problem. Do you see that plaza across the bridge? What is with this country!? It looks like it’s full of red Santas! She’ll blend in with them at this rate!!”
(No, if she only wanted to hide from our elevated vantage point, she would only have to move indoors or underground. Is she intentionally staying visible to distract us from something else?)
Mikoto realized something and ran full speed along the vertical wall while holding Index in both hands. A deadly attack burst through the thick reinforced glass just below them. The brand-new sports cars lined up in the well-polished display area were crashing out through the window one after another.
There was no rumble from their engines.
The squealing of thick rubber would be from forcibly pulling the cars out with some kind of power while their tires were not turning.
The #3 was not about to be hit by an attack like that, but it did destroy the glass she was using as footing, making it hard to continue clinging to the wall here. She used magnetism to jump to the opposite building’s wall while clicking her tongue.
She was a powerful esper who could use the Lorentz force to launch an arcade coin at more than thrice the speed of sound.
Her magnetism was powerful enough to stop a car plowing toward her.
And yet even she was forced to stay on the run. Her power had the upper hand when things like its breadth of application were included, but when came to the simple power to move objects, she could not compete in this game of tug of war. Their enemy had the greater power output. So if she was still not considered a Level 5…
(Is she the kind of genius that can only use her power for spying or stalking or something? Where has such a powerful esper been lurking in the shadows all this time!?)
That girl was a threat, but Mikoto could not lose sight of what really mattered.
That blonde Santa did not have to defeat her in a fight. In fact, wearing herself down in this fight had to have been an unexpected expense for the girl. Combat was a risky choice that unavoidably scattered material evidence all over the place and increased the number of witness accounts. Not fighting had to be the best option if available.
Win or lose, this fight would only work against her.
So for this girl in the world’s most conspicuous camouflage, what was the ideal result and what was her win condition?
Mikoto only knew one thing for now.
(She’s definitely after Last Order.)
Mikoto hated how coldly she could work through the calculations at times like this.
The #3 always stood on the borderline.
She was one of the few people who could get involved in both the sunny and dark sides of Academy City. Of course, just like all the people who had peered into the dark side, she had not ended up in that position out of choice.
(She has such a powerful ability, but she made sure not to harm that girl. That means killing her isn’t her goal. She won’t want us rescuing Last Order or a stray shot accidentally killing her. That means she will be taking Last Order somewhere safe no matter what it takes. That’s her goal! So where is Last Order!?)
All of those conspicuous actions were camouflage. When a stage magician made some large sweeping motion, they were actually drawing the audience’s eye while they performed some trick under the table.
This was where a girl with a perfect memory came in handy.
“The bag is gone.”
“The monster Santa was carrying a white bag before, but it’s gone!”
(Did she throw it in that river!? But that water has to be freezing!)
Mikoto started to look downstream of the concrete-banked river that intersected at a right angle with the bridge the Santa-costumed assailant had used, but she stopped her head.
The Santa girl put away the phone she had been using to speak with someone, freeing up her hands as she turned toward Mikoto. Her long blonde hair spread out behind her like something from a shampoo commercial. She placed her miniskirted butt on a drum-shaped cleaning robot located nearby and crossed her legs while aiming her hands toward the sky.
She made finger guns.
Both index fingers were aimed high up at the building where Mikoto was and she winked.
That alone might have looked like a playful gesture, but…
“Here it comes,” said Mikoto.
Stage magicians did not train just for when things went well.
If so, their shows would be little different from clockwork doll performances.
The pros would have several recovery scenarios prepared in case their attempt to draw the audience’s eye failed and their trick was about to be revealed. If it looked like an audience member had seen through the trick, they would call out to that person, draw them into the scenario, and remake the near failure into fuel for a new surprise.
In other words, the enemy would now be contacting them in earnest.
“Here it comes!!!!!!”
“Not bad. It’s been a while since someone dodged three of my attacks in a row,” whispered the girl seated on a random cleaning robot.
She was enjoying the situation.
She wanted the dark side to continue because she could not live without this sort of excitement.
She tore objects from the buildings and threw them at her opponent: first a crane atop a building under construction, then a giant broadcasting parabolic antenna, and lastly a clear glass pool jutting out partway up a building. But none of them hit. She would have won right away if her opponent had acted out of pride and attempted a direct competition of strength, but once that opponent grew concerned she might be no match for this girl in pure power output, she had focused solely on dodging. That was the only reason she was still alive.
Maidono noticed the #3 briefly turn her head in a different direction while soaring through the air. They were currently engaged in a deadly battle, so that girl’s life was at risk. No one could look aside when they suddenly found a dump truck charging toward them.
So she must have spotted something important.
Something she thought she should prioritize over the death fast approaching her.
(So did she notice?)
If so, rushing into the crowded plaza and vanishing into the sea of Santas would not be enough. She had to kill that girl to fully cut off that line of investigation.
But more importantly…
“How should I spend my Christmas Eve?”
(I really want to get this all done with by 7 tonight. My school life might be built on lies, but I have made some promises. I do want to cut up those donuts with cheap plastic forks so we can all share them together.)
Light flashed up in the sky.
She could not avoid lightning by starting to run after seeing the light. Or she shouldn’t have been able to. But she was even humming as she slammed the heel of her boot against the side of the cleaning robot she was riding, causing a malfunction in the robot’s obstacle avoidance routine and making it move to the side. It only moved the length of a single human step to the side, but that was enough to cause an unnatural change in the lightning dropping vertically toward her. It instead split apart a Christmas tree located nearby. To intentionally use the tree as a lightning rod, she only had to picture a right triangle formed by the ground, the top of the tree, and her own position and adjust the angles to work out a safe distance for herself.
She even seemed to hear a tongue click from far overhead.
And now it was her turn.
For fire safety purposes, some large wooden boxes were being carried to the rooftop using a window washing gondola instead of the indoor stairs or elevator. She “grabbed” at them and launched them to the side. Those containers were the size of a slender girl, so the #3 had to launch high-voltage spears from her bangs to blast them into pieces.
But did the #3 realize those boxes contained someone’s work tools?
A Japanese Christmas was far removed from the solemn atmosphere of a holy night.
Those electric attacks had triggered the professional fireworks meant for a countdown event during the night.
The Santa girl whistled while watching the tremendous explosion.
With a deafening boom, the midday sky was obscured by a whitish smokescreen. That might not be enough to kill the other girl, but fireworks used the principle behind a flame test, where specific materials would create flames of certain colors when ignited. And the materials used for fireworks were generally powdered copper, lithium, tin, or other metals.
(After the initial blast and flash of light, she has to contend with the smokescreen. That will blind her in the ordinary sense and it will also function as metal chaff that will mess with any microwave radar she might be using! And at that height, a single second’s delay can be deadly!!)
The explosive blast also destroyed a rooftop sign, but the girl only raised her index finger overhead. The metal sign had to weigh more than 20kg, but that was enough for it to come to a complete stop in midair. When she lightly swung her finger to the side, the sign sharply stabbed into a nearby concrete wall. She did it all as casually as operating a smartphone’s touchscreen.
Her Telekinesis was powerful enough to directly grab the underground structure spreading across the entire city and shake it hard enough to create a new fault line, so this actually qualified as delicate work for her. Stopping it was not the impressive part, holding it in place without crushing it was.
Telekinesis, aka psychokinesis.
That was such a popular ability that it was counted as one of the two major categories of esper power: PK and ESP. If someone was making a site or pamphlet meant for outside audiences, their primary examples would likely be using PK to bend spoons and ESP to read a face-down card. In fact, some academics even used telekinesis as a catch-all term for all powers that had physical effects, including teleportation and thoughtography. In the simplest form, it was the power to move objects with your mind.
Of those that could produce force out of nothing, hers was probably the strongest.
The only reason she had not been given the title of Level 5 was because the adults saw no alternate uses or economic value in her power.
That power was too specialized for killing and destruction.
To the point that announcing her existence to the world could lead to as many international risks as announcing their possession of NBC weapons.
The blonde Santa looked over.
A portion of the polished glass was broken, so the target girl (who carried a silver-haired nun) had given up on clinging to the delicate wall and had apparently jumped inside a random room instead. It was not a bad adlib, but it was sorely underestimating the Santa girl’s power.
Who ever said she could not destroy an entire 50-story building?
“The estimated number of deaths would be just under 2000. I do so love being freed from my usual restrictions about such things☆”
Maidono grinned and aimed her right index finger toward the entire building. And she pulled that finger straight down.
The skyscraper shrank to about half its height.
The destruction was much like crushing an empty can under the heel of your shoe.
But that was not her true attack. She was only setting the stage by bending all the doors and windows to seal her target within a giant cage. The humans within would not be dead. Not yet, anyway. Skyscrapers had a lot more gaps than the people walking through them thought. There were ducts, base isolation structures, cable pathways, and plumbing. Halving the height was not enough to crush the people within. Of course, they would be unable to stand and forced to crawl and the metal doors would be crushed and stuck in place, so it would certainly feel cramped.
(No sign of the target forcing open an exit and emerging. Well, she can’t rely on the original plans anymore. I’m sure she could blast through a concrete wall, but I bet she’s afraid of frying the people buried alive in there. Of course, that hesitation is only going to get everyone in the building crushed soon enough. Life is full of ironies, isn’t it?)
She only had to point her left index finger toward the building as well.
Maidono Hoshimi’s Telekinesis could crush that 50-story skyscraper to the size of a softball. The intense heat caused by the compression would make it glow like lava, but it would not even be allowed to drip down as a liquid. Just like the core of the earth was supposedly made of molten iron and nickel, yet it still managed to remain a solid.
But a moment later, she swung her left hand to the side in the exact same pose. The finger gun looked silly, but that was an absolute weapon coming from Maidono. Something had happened that forced her to aim that second trigger elsewhere. The Santa girl whispered a question while aiming at two targets at once like she was wielding dual handguns.
Her butt rose up from the cleaning robot and her boots touched the ground.
Playtime was over.
This irregularity was beyond what the stage magician’s recovery scenarios could handle.
“What brings you here?”
The threat took the form of a boy.
Bloody Kamijou Touma went ahead and answered her.
He used a word that did not at all suit Christmas Eve, when everyone was meant to be smiling together.
How was he supposed to remain calm?
Kamijou Touma’s heart was racing wildly and his throat felt so dry he could have sworn there was an invisible film coating it. He felt like his voice would crack if he was not careful.
Plus, nothing he could do would erase the fact that he had been stabbed.
His opponent was the kind of person who would do that sort of thing without batting an eye.
The wound in his side had only been roughly disinfected and sewn up. His lost blood had not been replaced and the throbbing pain continued to plague his mind. In fact, if the blood loss had not left him feeling so woozy, he might have been writhing around from the pain.
Nevertheless, he had made it here.
He was here to reward the good will of the girls who had taken over while he was out of the fight.
He was here to reclaim Last Order from this absurd cruelty.
It could all be a bluff, but he had to gather every ounce of willpower and courage he had.
Revealing his weakness would do nothing to improve things here. And if things got any worse, something he could not afford to lose would be shattered. Things had fallen to a point that even an amateur could tell that. It was painfully obvious.
He had to make sure that did not happen.
“Are you sure you don’t have your priorities backwards here?”
The Santa girl smiled quietly while aiming her index fingers at two different locations.
The boy’s breathing really did catch in his throat.
She had not hesitated to target him with a weapon far more frightening than a knife.
“You have to choose between defeating your enemy and saving your friends, so are you sure you want to waste time playing with me here?”
“If that were true, you wouldn’t be so chatty,” he said while taking a page out of the girl’s book.
He formed a finger gun with his right hand and pointed it at the drum-shaped cleaning robot that Santa Claus had been sitting on before. With its freedom returned, that machine was slowly moving off again.
Don’t look away.
Simply making the effort to keep his words flowing smoothly could turn the tide. He could grab at what was slipping from his grasp and lift it back up. From his opponent’s perspective, this had to be an eerie sight. It looked like the enemy soldier she had utterly defeated and even stabbed in the gut had returned like nothing had ever happened to him.
He had to make himself look like something illogical.
If his presence here made no sense, then he could throw her off balance.
This was Academy City, where people either refused to accept the unscientific or could only accept it by restating it with scientific terminology.
But at the same time, Kamijou Touma did believe in luck.
Although it primarily hit him in the form of cruel misfortune.
“That bag you threw in the river was a bluff. When you’ve got something to hide, you aren’t going to transport it in a way someone could track down so easily. That was why you needed to create at least two different escape routes. Your recovery scenario was to gather attention on the river while you let the robot containing Last Order escape to safety. Right?”
His voice did not crack.
He could still do this.
Willpower was not enough to overcome blood loss, so he honestly felt a cold sweat on his brow and was overcome by intense dizziness with every breath he took.
He heard the crackling of sparks.
The cleaning robot had changed direction.
No, it had been hijacked. A girl with short chestnut hair stood not far away. She looked just like Misaka Mikoto but was not. Even the mass-produced military clones known as the Sisters could hijack control of a cleaning robot.
The Santa girl slowly moved her finger.
She moved her right index finger from the distant building and pointed it at him. That put both finger guns on him. She apparently saw him as enough of a threat to require everything she had.
“My name is Maidono Hoshimi. Nice to meet you.”
Don’t let her draw you in.
He pictured their exchange of words like waves crashing together. He had to draw her in. So even if it was not like him, he had to grin and respond with the look of an absolute know-it-all.
Kamijou Touma kept his mind from falling into darkness and recited the magic words.
“A criminal would never use her real name at the scene of the crime. But adding on more camouflage here must mean you’re even more scared than I thought.”
The deadly battle began with what sounded like the city itself being destroyed.
He could guess her power was Telekinesis.
She had demonstrated enough power to slice apart buildings, lift up the road and the ground below it, and freely tear apart water and gas pipes.
Right and left.
Having two points from which to wield her power gave that power a much wider breadth of applications.
What had happened just now?
A station wagon parked on the curb was lifted up overhead and then it was torn down the center like someone slicing through soft bread. The diesel fuel within its gas tank splashed everywhere. Sparks from the battery ignited that and fire poured down. Kamijou managed to roll out of the way, but then the remaining scraps rushed in from the left and right like a giant’s boxing gloves.
Imagine Breaker in his right hand could suppress the supernatural power, but then the uncontrolled wreckage would crush him.
So he kept his momentum going and slipped below the guardrail dividing road from sidewalk. He twisted his body to keep rolling so he could use one of the thick supports as a shield instead of the long horizontal metal panel.
The shock-absorbing metal structure stopped the front half of the station wagon, but he did not have time for a sigh of relief.
With a dull sound, his vision blurred and he found himself tossed more than five meters into the air. The ground below him had explosively risen up to function like a ramp.
Five meters might not seem like much, but as seen in the Ippon Seoi Nage of judo, even a single meter could knock someone out if they were not ready to hit the ground. Worse, this was an asphalt ground covered in glass shards and heavy metal scraps.
He immediately reached out and grabbed at the trunk of one of the Christmas-decorated roadside trees. The thick light cable tore and swung around like a whip and, once he blocked that, the tree snapped off at its trunk. But it did not simply fall over like normal. It unnaturally rotated vertically like it was flipping 180 degrees upside down.
If that continued, he would have been squashed like a bug hit by a hammer, but that did not happen.
By letting go of the tree trunk instead of trying to hold on, he was not caught in the vertical rotation and was flung away instead. Specifically, he crashed back-first into the center of a giant polyurethane Christmas present decoration in front of a candy shop.
With her right finger gun still at the ready, the Santa girl going by Maidono twirled that slender index finger in a small circle.
She could indicate the same target with both fingers.
By pulling the fingers apart, she could tear the target apart. By pushing them together, she could compress it. But by shifting the points of force a bit out of alignment, she could provide rotation. Her power would be dangerous enough if she could only set a target with her fingertip and indicate movements with a flicking motion, but by using both hands, she could also alter the vector.
Her long blonde hair swayed as she quietly assessed his performance.
“You never stay still, do you?”
“You sure do. Are you a stationary cannon?”
He could do this.
The veil was still functioning. For better or for worse, the Santa-costumed assailant had shown too much of her power. That had to be a sign of her fear. She was afraid of an esper with an unknown power.
So she wanted to believe showing off her power would cause her enemy to reveal their own, or that her pure brute strength could end it without needing to solve that mystery.
That ridiculous violence was of course frightening.
But once he saw her fear there, even that violence felt like a mask.
The more powerful the attack she used, the more her fear showed through.
(I can still win this. I’m the one making enough waves to draw her in.)
The girl pointed her index fingers high in the sky. It almost looked like she was posing for a photo, but that was actually the sign of a coming aerial bombing. She “grabbed” something in the sky and swung both hands down to slam it toward him.
He could not think of that as empty space above him.
There was air there.
(She isn’t limited to solids?)
Kamijou felt the gears of his mind jam. This was bad. The unknown always swallowed people up and blanked their mind.
She had shaken him.
His body was already in bad shape, so if the same happened to his mind, he had no chance of winning.
He had to figure this out and fast.
He could not stop here. He had to grease the wheels of his thoughts.
Otherwise, he would be swallowed up and crushed.
(This is not a freaking joke!!)
He quickly removed his belt and wrapped it around a nearby roadside tree as a lifeline. The mass of air crashing down from above might be enough to give him a light concussion, but after the wind slammed into the ground, it would scatter in all 360 degrees in search of a way out. If he only prepared for the impact from above, his feet would be scooped out from under him and he would be sent tumbling for dozens of meters.
Plus, the road was littered with small pieces of asphalt and glass shards.
What if the wind gathered those up and chucked them toward him?
The road was enveloped in an explosion even more gruesome than a directional mine that scattered countless metal balls in a fan shape to instantly negate a charge made by 50 enemy troops. This was like cleaning out the bath’s water pipes.
He could only cling to the back of the thick tree and bear with it.
The hard bark was stripped away as if by a giant file and the Christmas light cables and small branches were torn away into the wind. If he took just one step from behind that trunk, his flesh and blood body would not last even a single second.
But that was not what really mattered.
He raised his voice while sounding on the verge of coughing up blood.
“Misaka Imouto!! You’re okay, right!? Then don’t lose sight of that cleaning robot and chase after it!!”
The girl using the pseudonym of Maidono was not really trying to kill Kamijou here. She was only trying to get away with that container carrying Last Order. And she had to cut off all pursuit. This flashy attack was no more than a stage magician preparing to do something below the table.
That was the entire purpose of this indiscriminate explosion of wind.
He did not know if she assumed the cleaning robot could move through the storm of glass and metal since it did not feel pain or if she had intended to launch the robot away with the wind, but he had to do more than simply endure this immediate threat. Defeating this girl was meaningless if the robot got away.
And he had figured something out from this.
(This whole time, she has never “grabbed” and thrown around an actual person with her Telekinesis.)
If she only needed to remove Last Order from the scene, that would have been fastest method. Either by throwing the hostage or by using her power on herself to fly. Even when she had launched Kamijou into the air, she had done so indirectly, by lifting up the ground below him when it would have been easier to directly grab and throw him.
Yet she had not done that.
Once the storm died down, he let go of the belt wrapped around the tree and rushed out from behind the tree trunk.
He began a charge along the shortest route toward the blonde Santa.
She of course aimed both index fingers at him, but…
“You can’t do it,” he immediately announced.
This mostly seemed like an attempt to convince himself of that fact to put himself at ease.
He had to understand this or he would be swallowed up. He had to tell himself he was the one making the waves and attacking her. He was not the only one who would want the upper hand psychologically and who would be willing to lie to hold onto that. But once he considered why he wanted to make that kind of bluff, he could actually see through to her fear.
He forced himself to bare his fangs while going for a psychological cross counter.
“At the very least, you can’t ‘grab’ living humans!! Maybe it’s about the material, like protein or something, and maybe the other person’s mind jams your power, but it’s something!!”
If that was true, she would be unable to directly stop his charge.
Her power may have been similar to a poltergeist that caused furniture to move around on its own in an old mansion. It was said those cases were often the work of an undiscovered naturally-occurring esper known as a Gemstone, especially a small child whose power spontaneously erupted during a period of high stress. This girl may have been able to consciously wield that same power.
She could grab things and move them around.
She had to stop him with an indirect attack and that would create a moment’s delay.
So he only had to arrive before that happened.
In close quarters, a knife was stronger than a gun. Similarly, he did not have to fear her power once he was right in front of her!!
That was when she separated her index fingers.
She moved them far to the right and left.
She had been just a bit faster. She had “grabbed” something and then she directed those two fingers toward him again.
Much like jaws snapping shut.
“Why should that matter?”
A dull tremor followed.
The two giant buildings on either side of them were torn from their foundations and mercilessly crashed together with Kamijou Touma in between, erasing him from the scene altogether.
(I miiiight have overdone that. I can smell gas leaking out.)
Maidono Hoshimi sighed.
She had no limitations this time, meaning she could kill as many people as necessary to achieve her objective. But that attack had clearly been excessive and meaningless. From a stage magic perspective, it was like the magician shouting at an audience member in anger when they were about to discover the trick.
She had slid two skyscrapers two building-widths to the side from the left and right. Those buildings were too heavy for cranes to move and too unstable for workers to enter them, so they would have to be demolished to clear this major road. And since she had torn them from their foundations, she had also torn through the electric, gas, and water lines. The gas line was especially problematic. Since she could sense the artificially added odor, she was at risk of being blown up if the conditions were right.
Nothing would be more foolish than performing a “cutting yourself in half” magic trick and accidentally doing it for real.
It was crucial to always ensure your own safety first.
In that sense, the Santa girl was a second-rate illusionist for failing to immediately confirm her own safety.
After a short silence, she looked away.
Her blonde wig spread out as she turned 180 degrees away from the seam between the two buildings that were smashed together so tightly not even a sheet of paper could fit between them.
(Those two should manage to crawl out of that half-crushed building before long. It would probably be safer to wait for them to come out and make sure I kill them than crush the building and assume I got them. If I’m not absolutely certain they’re dead, it might worry my client.)
But more than that, she could not keep her thoughts off of something else.
There was no direct cause and effect there. It annoyed her to still feel fear of someone she had supposedly defeated, but she had to listen to what her own subconscious was telling her.
(That boy gave that ordinary clone some instructions. I need to deal with her, retrieve the cleaning robot, and finish transporting Last Order. Is that all? That should end it. This is looking more and more like a lonely Christmas for me.)
“I need to go eat one of those cream-covered donuts somewhere. Using a knife and fork to break apart the reddish-purple chocolate and the tower of matcha cream will rid me of this bad mood.”
While somewhat grumpily going over her plans, she noticed something else.
Her phone had been going off for a bit now.
She grabbed the vibrating mobile device and it was exactly who she expected.
“That was unnecessary,” said the person on the phone.
“You think I don’t know that?” she responded.
“Then why did you do it?”
“Shut up. It was you adults who made me like this.”
She was burning with a quiet anger.
But quiet did not make it any less dangerous.
“I can’t use chopsticks.”
That was an odd thing for a high school girl to say.
And it was accompanied by a tone of deep, deep resentment.
“Does that not sound like much to you? It probably doesn’t to those of you who took it from me, but when you can’t do something that everyone else can, it binds your heart far more than any of your calculations could have told you! I can only manipulate things with my index fingers. Because you made me that way. You sprung it on me without warning, calling it nothing more than an ‘optimization’ for my power!!”
She had been the class rep who could do anything.
She had not been all that much smarter than anyone else and she was certainly not the most athletic person. But when it came to trivia or manners, she was always the easiest one to come to. She had found a place for herself there.
So she could never allow herself to stumble in those ordinary things. And yet…
“It’s like I’m a small child. Whenever we’re chatting at school or eating out after school, I’m always reaching for the fork or spoon while curling up in fear that they’ll realize the truth!!”
She noticed the person on the phone had gone quiet.
But that was not someone who could be overpowered into silence. This silence almost certainly came from exasperation. They were not foolish enough to get rid of useful personnel for purely emotional reasons, but this had still been a mistake on her part.
She intentionally regulated her breathing before continuing.
“I will do as instructed because I too need the dark side. But please stop expecting anything more than that from me. Conforming to society? Adapting to the situation? I can’t. You should know that as one of the ones who removed that ability from me so you could manipulate me more easily. So I will do this the simplest way I can. Just as you so selfishly hoped I would.”
She could tell some lengthy orders were still coming, but a puzzled look appeared on her face as she held her phone.
Then she quietly clicked her tongue.
“Excuse me,” said the blonde Santa.
She loathed that person, but she also could not leave her work undone. Grades and family background were useless in the dark side. It was all about results. She could not let those slip if she wanted to survive.
“I still have more to tell you, but I must return to my job.”
She had enough of a reason to hang up now.
“I’ll tell you why that should matter.”
She heard a voice.
An unbelievably simple male voice came from behind her.
But how? How in the world???
During their previous fighting, she had known the boy was covered in sweat and bluffing every step of the way. It had partially been to apply psychological pressure to her, but it must have also been to keep himself going after getting stabbed and beaten up so much. That method could certainly be effective, especially in Academy City where battles were often based on esper powers. And as a standard method, it had been easy for Maidono, a master of underhanded tricks, to see through it.
But what was this?
Was there some further trick she had not seen?
Or had the situation really and truly moved beyond her tactics?
Someone other than herself spoke so smoothly and loquaciously it was hard to think it was entirely calculated or entirely uncalculated.
Which one was it!?
“If your Telekinesis can only move inanimate objects, then it all makes sense. I was wondering why you weren’t counted as a Level 5 with that much power, but I think I get it now. I certainly wouldn’t want your power. Misaka’s highly adaptable powers and the psychological powers of the #5 who I’ve heard rumors of sound like a lot more interesting options if I could trade powers with someone for a day. There’s just no way I could see your power being on that same highest rank.”
The gears in Maidono Hoshimi’s mind ground to a halt.
Her planned timetable truly did fall apart here.
“You can’t save anyone and you can’t make anyone smile. All you can do is destroy.”
He sounded almost regretful, like he had seen someone else horribly wounded.
“How did you end up like that? …I did hear you say something about being unable to use chopsticks.”
With the stiff movements of a rusty doll, she turned 180 degrees again. She was supposed to have the initiative here, yet someone else had forced her to turn around.
And there he was.
That completely ordinary boy stood there like normal.
With blood soaking his side.
He was sweating a disturbing amount for the December weather and his face was haggard and pale.
Yet he refused to collapse.
Plus, not even his bones should still be intact. That attack had not been something you could overcome through the psychological boost of some bluffing.
“How did you do that?”
“How do you think?”
“I used two skyscrapers standing more than 50 floors tall! Was my maximum weight limit of 100 thousand tons not enough, or are you saying you can hold back nuclear aircraft carriers with your arms!?”
“I wasn’t caught in the clockwork traps of some ancient ruins. The buildings had windows and doors on their ground floors. Tackle through one of those and there was a whole hollow floor for me there. If you were going to do that, you should have kept going until both buildings were squished flat, like metalworking with gold leaf.”
And besides that.
Or because of that.
He had heard her mention the chopsticks.
She only had herself to blame for not checking on the corpse, but still.
She had lied to her friends and deceived everyone in her everyday life to keep that secret, yet it had slipped out so easily here.
A psychological boost?
This was beyond anything words like that could influence.
“I’ll kill you.”
“You can try.”
“I’ll kill you!!!!!!”
Most likely, these emotions were not really directed at the pointy-haired high school boy in front of her. He was just getting caught in the crossfire. But she could not hold it in any longer. She had soaked in the dark side to the point of no return. She knew that so well that it almost made her laugh, but this was something she could not stand.
She felt like it had all been a waste of time.
Even that twinge of pain she always felt in her heart.
Even that patchwork school life she had held together by deceiving those ignorant people.
She could feel an unidentifiable noise rising from the depths of her mind. She could feel it, but she could not stop it. This was the annoying part of the human psyche. Things had derailed further than even she had ever imagined.
“Yes!! Yes, it’s true!! I can’t do something everyone else takes for granted. I can’t manipulate those two little sticks in one hand and I can’t pick up food with them! I can’t use chopsticks!! All I can do is hold them in my fist and stab the food like a small child!! But you wouldn’t understand what it’s like to have the adults steal from you what no else ever has to even think about!!”
“Stole from you?”
“Modern technology can erase specific information from the brain without harming the brain cells themselves. There is, technically speaking, a chance of recovery, but I imagine the only person who could truly do that would be Academy City’s #5.”
It felt like her head was swelling.
Her temperature kept rising from within, which threw off the rhythm of her breathing.
Tears welled up in the corners of her eyes as she yelled at him.
“But if you send a massive amount of information to a specific part of the brain to rewrite it and then repeat the process over and over, you can leave it truly beyond recovery. It’s known as the signal slide method. My mind was optimized for using this power. By removing what wasn’t necessary!!”
So she could not use them.
All so she could fully focus her nerves on her two index fingers.
She could no longer perform a task she had managed with ease before – and that even kindergartners could do.
“Makes you want to laugh, doesn’t it?”
Her lips had grown loose.
But not because she was smiling.
There were children out there who could not write or do their times table. And after hitting a roadblock at a point everyone else passed without issue, they could make no further progress and fell off the rails of their school life.
She had been the same.
And terrified of what people would say if they found out, she had kept it a secret.
“All I want is to enjoy eating with my friends without having to worry about all this. All I want is to eat at a restaurant without hunching over and fearing everyone is watching me. That’s all I want, but the next thing I knew, my feet were caught in the quicksand I couldn’t escape!!”
Something could be heard slicing through the air.
She had pointed her finger at one of the glass shards at her feet and launched it at her target with a flick of her finger.
Her maximum weight limit was more than 100,000 tons.
After using two entire skyscrapers, she now used a clear needle of only a few millimeters.
Human senses would adapt to stimuli and make corrections without the person being consciously aware of it. The average person would have been stabbed through the forehead before they could adjust to this sudden change in scale.
This was odd.
The boy was not shaken.
All of a sudden, his right hand was raised with its perfectly ordinary palm directed her way. That was all it took for it to fall apart. The glass shard that should have shot through her target from only a few meters away fell powerlessly to the ground.
He had broken it.
He had torn through it.
He had destroyed Maidono Hoshimi’s power itself, which was something like an invisible ropeway.
Yet he said nothing about that.
But not because he was interested in hiding his trump card.
It was more like he had something more important to say.
“Then do you feel a little better now?”
She did not understand.
But his words seemed to force their way into the blank in her mind.
“I mean, you haven’t been able to tell anyone about all this, but you just got it all off your chest. So how was it? Maybe it was painful and embarrassing and maybe it made you want to stomp and writhe round, but do you feel some relief in getting it all out there?”
Why did he sound like he knew what he was talking about?
People acting like they understood should have been the most infuriating thing, yet his words hit home.
After some thought, she fell silent for a bit.
She had no objective proof of this, but could it be?
“Did you lose something too? No, did you have something stolen from you too!?”
She could guess that there was something special about this boy’s right hand. And that was what he used now.
He formed a finger gun with it and aimed at his own temple.
“I’m missing everything before this past summer. A full 15 years’ worth.”
He was not speaking particularly loudly.
He did not make any grand gestures and he did not add any dramatic tone to his voice. If he had played it up in that way, a pro like her would have seen through it right away. But she saw none of that. Which was why she felt the weight of his words.
That realistic sound seemed to make the air itself harden.
The truth was not a kind thing.
She knew that all too well as someone who protected herself by soaking in the dark side. In fact, she knew the unvarnished truth could be used as a weapon to scar people’s psyches.
“Although it was apparently just the episodic memories, so unlike you, it doesn’t really affect my day to day life. I can’t objectively prove it, much like your chopsticks thing.”
Was that possible?
How was that allowed?
She had had things to cling to for support. Even when she had killed people while working for the dark side, she had still been focused on protecting her connections to other people. It was those very connections that had made her so ashamed of what she could not do, made her lie to hide those things, and made her sink ever further into the quicksand.
Did she want to quit just because it was hard? No.
No matter how much it had torn her heart to pieces, she never wanted to lose those memories she had made with those people. It was those very connections that had given her the strength to keep going in the darkness. She had wanted to keep that small light within her.
Yet that was what had been taken from him?
The words spilled from her.
She had been avoiding it from beginning to end, but now she found herself seeking the answer.
“How can you possibly keep going!? Your case is far worse and you can’t reclaim what you lost no matter how hard you try, so wouldn’t it be easier to just resent whoever did this to you!? How!?”
He was a normal boy.
He might be accustomed to fighting abnormal battles, but he was still far too naïve deep down.
As someone soaked in the dark side, she could tell that all too well. Simply having another place to live made him fundamentally different from her.
Who had done that to him?
The answer honestly did not matter. When you lost something, it was like being given an excuse to resent the entire world around you. After all, no one noticed what was happening, no one protected you, and now it was too late. You could shout those things to excuse whatever you were doing. He had essentially been handed the absolute privilege of being the victim.
The boy shook his head.
“That wouldn’t be easier.”
He lived in a different world.
“That path is one of pain. I don’t think I could bear it. That’s why I’ve hidden my memory loss for so long. Although it was a terrible act and full of holes, so some people still figured it out. But that’s why I won’t rely on intangible things like memories anymore. I mean, we’ve got a whole world out there. I’d be missing out if I didn’t enjoy that along with everyone else. Smiling and running around together is the much easier path.”
His values were fundamentally different.
Which was why they could not reach an understanding.
“So how about you?”
Yet his voice would not leave her ears.
She could not drive those words out of her mind even though they made no sense to her.
“We lost different things and in different ways, so I’ll ask you what it’s like. Is it really that comfortable being forever bound by what you lost? You can’t use chopsticks and there is no changing that. But don’t you want to become someone who can look at that and say ‘so what’?”
“It’s not that easy!! You can’t just add in something new to fill in the gaps!! This isn’t a simple case of one plus one equals two!! The same amount of data doesn’t mean the same contents. This must have taken a lot out of you too, so stop trying to force it. I mean, I can’t imagine how hard it would be to lose your memories. That’s way worse than not being able to use chopsticks! You have to be way more dead inside than me!!!!!”
“I lost my memories and they’re never coming back. So what? I’ve made it this far, although I’ll admit it took me a while. But where are you right now? What part of this long path is most comfortable for you?”
Then what explained this?
Where had the two of them differed?
These were not the words of some outsider who did not understand her pain.
There really was someone worse off than her.
So how had that boy managed to make this decision?
“I don’t think I really had a reason.”
“I lost something. I had something taken from me. Yeah, it hurts, but that doesn’t give me the right to do whatever I want. Actually, it’s not even about what’s fun or what’s painful. I just don’t want to be that kind of person.”
The ground more than the air gave a roar. Then the asphalt rose up right next to Maidono Hoshimi. And it did not end there. That was merely the catapult. A tunnel was pushed up from below. An entire subway track was tossed up to the surface.
There was no warning whistle.
Based on all the lenses and sensors added to the front, it was probably an unmanned train. It may have been a freight train carrying Christmas products, but it would not have mattered even if it was manned.
The 8-car mass of metal bent and tore through the air while mercilessly charging toward Kamijou Touma. In terms of pure physical destructive force and nothing more, this was more powerful than Academy City’s #3 Railgun. And this was not based on her power. The train itself was only moving with its electric motor.
“I’ve seen a lot of people, even after losing my memories.”
He moved a meter to the right.
That slight movement of his feet was all he did.
He simply sidestepped the range of those predetermined rails.
He ignored the deafening roar of destruction as he kept his eyes on her.
“I’ve seen elite Level 5s and I’ve seen dropouts who couldn’t make any progress no matter how much they struggled. I’ve seen a smoker magician who couldn’t protect the person he cared for most and I’ve seen a Saint who was always followed by tragedy due to no fault of her own. …It’s not just us. Everyone is carrying pain no one else will ever understand, but they clench their teeth and continue to fight. This isn’t a small enough world to warrant tearing it to pieces just because of our own personal reasons!!”
Then what was she supposed to do?
Changing how she felt would not cause the world to take her side.
The cruel reality would remain unchanged.
After everything she had done, she could never leave the dark side. Looking back at the bloody path she had taken made her feel queasy. She needed that resentment that told her she had been justified in her actions. By only ever looking ahead, she had been able to believe she could reach that ridiculous future where she would one day laugh with her friends without any of these worries.
Even though, deep down, she had known that was never possible after she had killed her first person.
Deep down, she had given up at that point, making it easier to kill the second and the third.
She heard an odd sound.
This did not come from her power. She had not done anything at all.
“So if you’re going to agonize over this all on your own and if you’re going to waste the opportunities you’re given because you let those intangible things bind you…”
Then what had made the sound?
She looked up and saw that boy quietly but strongly clenching his right hand.
She saw him form a fist.
And she heard his words.
“Then I’ll destroy that goddamn illusion until not a scrap remains.”
Kamijou Touma only needed the courage to take that one step and he could end his battle.
He had been stabbed in the side and Misaka Imouto’s quick sew-up job was far from perfect. Then he had forcibly twisted his body around to dodge and defend against Maidono’s attacks. He could not even imagine what things were like below his clothes right now. The wound might even be worse than when he was originally stabbed.
(I will end this.)
He had to save Last Order no matter what.
His lack of memories and Maidono’s inability to use chopsticks were not Last Order’s fault.
He had to stop Maidono Hoshimi.
Adding onto her crimes would not return the thing she wanted. All that would await her after this battle was more of the same harsh reality. But if she did not stop here, she could never go back. He could not allow her to move even further from the world she dreamed of.
There was no more room for tricks.
They both knew where the other stood. Trying to draw each other in with further words would accomplish nothing. He only had to bring this to an all-out head-on collision.
He understood her and she understood him.
That understanding was more than sufficient.
They did not need a final signal.
“I swear I will end this! Here and now!!”
She aimed her two finger guns at him.
This was a hopeless enemy.
They lived in two different worlds.
But for some reason, it looked like she was smiling. Her face was crumpled up on the verge of tears, but he still could not help but see a smile on her lips.
For the first time.
It was like she had found a friend she could reveal her ugly and violent truth to.
They both roared.
Kamijou Touma clenched his right fist and ran forward while Maidono Hoshimi wielded her two Telekinetic fingers that could move an entire nuclear aircraft carrier.
The ground rose up and broken pipes were exposed.
Flames and shockwaves erupted around him, but the boy ducked low and clenched his teeth to charge through while the large screen installed on a building wall dropped down like a guillotine. Glass and metal shards scattered in all directions and red cuts appeared on Maidono’s own cheeks. She had not expected this herself, but that no longer mattered to her. The screen crashed into the ground, shattered, bent, and bounced back up while she once more “grabbed” it with her two index fingers. She separated the two fingers and that LCD device larger than a tour bus was torn more easily than toast and the two halves were raised up like a giant’s fists.
A cloud of gray dust filled the air.
It threatened to hide everything, but that did not happen.
Kamijou Touma ran full speed toward the Santa girl who was vanishing behind the gray curtain.
She would be enveloped by the intangible dark side and be taken beyond anyone’s grasp.
He refused to let that happen.
He moved as if to give his thoughts a tangible form.
“Are you immortal!?” she shouted, despite likely realizing otherwise.
She threw a right straight and a left hook. Those arms could have knocked the average car up to a skyscraper rooftop, but Kamijou dodged them just by swinging his body.
This was not some special ability. He was not entrusting this to luck or the divine.
He would protect.
He would save.
And that applied not just to kidnapped Last Order but to Maidono Hoshimi as well. If all he had to do was reach out to the person in front of him, he could suppress the shaking of his legs. When you got down to it, that right fist was all he had. If he was going to end this, he had to get close. So he would do it. The powerful explosions and sharp glass and metal shards flying about were irrelevant. If he could not save her without reaching her, then he would make sure he got close enough to do so. He clenched his teeth and swallowed the pain.
Needless to say, he was soaked with blood.
He was not escaping this unscathed. The wound in his side was not the end of it. He was being pummeled by shockwaves and pierced by blade-like fragments. Dark red blood was leaking from all over his body, but he had decided from the beginning that he would take this one step here. That decision allowed him to move. That was all there was to it.
It did not matter if it was only for 10 seconds, 5 seconds, or 1 second.
He just had to keep his body moving a little longer.
If he managed that, he could tear apart the chain of tragedy that had trapped Maidono Hoshimi in the spider’s web!!
“You might never again use chopsticks, you might have everything taken from you, and you might end up behind bars, but I will never abandon you!!”
An intensely dull sound – a more violent one than expected – reverberated through the broken streets.
His right fist slammed into her.
What was on that dark side assassin’s mind when that dull strike hit her cheek?
She did not scream even once.
That girl, who had wanted to be normal more than anyone else, dropped to the ground.
How far you had to go to properly restrain a powerful esper was an extremely tricky question, but it was obvious enough in this case that the trigger was her index fingers. Kamijou borrowed some duct tape that must have rolled in from a nearby construction site, folded unconscious Maidono Hoshimi’s hands into fists, and wrapped duct tape all around them up to the wrists. Then he put her hands behind her back and bound them there.
He peered at her face while still crouched down.
That girl could not do what most anyone else could.
If Kamijou had remained fixated on his lost memories, he could have ended up much like her.
(What can a normal high school boy like me even do for her?)
“Whoa! That’s not a Santa costume, so why are your clothes so red!?”
Meanwhile, the other girls gathered around.
Misaka Mikoto descended a building wall while carrying Index.
“I’m more impressed that you got through that without a scratch on you. And that you got outside at all while the elevators weren’t working.”
“Ugh, my hair and coat are so dirty. I so hope that place didn’t use asbestos. We couldn’t do anything about the half-collapsed concrete and the combination of broken gas pipes and power cables was absolutely terrifying! It took some doing hacking the smart tower and shutting the gas off. Without that, I would’ve been here a little sooner.”
Misaka Imouto also returned while dragging along a cleaning robot with some yellow and black construction rope.
“Is Last Order in there?” asked Mikoto.
“Presumably, but we cannot carelessly open it before checking for nonelectronic traps using a glass fuse, says Misaka to show off how useful she is.”
At some point, that clone had learned the same rhetorical tricks as an office worker who wanted to get out of doing any real work.
“Take care of this, will you?”
Kamijou tossed over the phone he had found on Maidono, but for some reason, the two girls with the same face began fighting over it.
“This is a delicate task where max power output is irrelevant, so you wound Misaka by implying she would be no help here, says Misaka while making sure to show off that she is nothing like the ill-mannered Original.”
“Then how about we hold a cyber-attack benchmark competition? You can hook yourself up to the entire Misaka Network if you like. Also, who are you calling ill-mannered?”
“Then the prize can be one of those fashionable donuts. Misaka will order one via a bike delivery boy and we can see who has it unlocked before they arrive, suggests Misaka.”
“Deal. But isn’t the point of those to be decorated in your own lucky color?”
They continued bickering while pressing their cheeks together and staring at the phone’s screen. They may have been competing to see who could crack the passcode first, but they looked more like two friendly sisters.
Then Index cut in from the side.
“Isn’t it 58051?”
“You can’t just guess a random number and hope it’s- ehh!? You’re kidding! Why does my analysis say it’s 58051 too!?”
“Leave it to the occult girl to show off an occult power, says Misaka while trembling at this paranormal phenomenon. Misaka has heard that astrology and fortunetelling use math and statistics, but what exactly happened here?”
“Yay, a donut for me☆” shouted Index.
The toxic-looking item covered in whipped cream was delivered by bicycle and was inside Index’s stomach in short order. This put her on their side too. Their happy Christmastime was too blindingly bright for the pointy-haired boy to watch from his position in the shadows.
Phones were treasure troves of information.
They knew nothing about Maidono Hoshimi, including her real name.
If she had been acting alone, this would be the end of it, but if she had been working with someone else, the threat to Last Order was not yet over. Could they turn this girl in to Anti-Skill, breathe a sigh of relief, and get back to enjoying Christmas Eve, or did they have to remain on their guard? Even if they were amateurs and they were wasting their brainpower thinking about this, they could not rest easy without figuring that out first.
Mikoto tossed the phone to him without even looking at the screen.
“I don’t know what happened, but you’re the only one with any right to look in here.”
Was that true?
He liked to think so, but he was honestly not sure.
Spying on someone else’s phone was a scummy thing to do. The links to ebooks and videos about etiquette stood out the most. Those likely had to do with using chopsticks. She seemed to be avoiding books meant for little children, probably because it would have wounded her pride too much.
He could sense raw adolescent humanity oozing from those lines of ordinary digital text.
The album contained quite a few photos, but strangely the blonde girl was in none of them. He initially thought these were all photos she had taken of her friends, but he finally realized she had been hiding her identity with a wig and color contact lenses.
When he crouched down and removed the wig from the unconscious girl, he found a surprisingly innocent-looking girl with a bob cut.
That same girl was the most common person seen in the album.
The phone did not seem to contain her real name anywhere, but it might be possible to reveal her identity by analyzing the people and background objects in the photos. He could not think of any reason to do that, though.
All the girls in the photos were smiling.
But those scenes were all something she had created to cover up and hide her complex.
Maidono Hoshimi had to be a false name.
She had been living a life much like someone who always had to choose the clothes that would cover up the tattoo they had gotten long ago. Except in her case, someone else had forced her into that situation.
(This is all stuff you can’t communicate with nothing but your fists.)
“I’ve looked through most of it, but it’s too normal. She didn’t seem to have another phone either. I don’t really know what kind of world the dark side is, but you need some tool to let people contact you if you work there, right? This phone must have a secret space hidden in it.”
“I’ll look, but is there anywhere I should check first?”
“There’s nothing in the call logs or address book, so I just want to know who she was contacting.”
“Got it,” said the middle school girl as she casually accepted the phone and the task.
And before long…
“There really is nothing.”
It seemed unusual to him for Mikoto to so readily throw in the towel.
But for some reason, she was grinning.
“Basically, this phone is only used to connect to a dedicated server that acts as a remote digital lockbox for all her work documents and contacts. So even if she does drop her phone or have it stolen, she only has to sever that one line to prevent any sensitive information from leaking out.”
“So we’ve hit a dead end? It looked like she was sending Last Order somewhere, so there must be someone else who was to pick her up.”
“Yes, normally anyway.”
Mikoto winked and shook the borrowed phone.
It gave off a monotone beep.
“And we’re in. Okay, you’re up again.”
“No, I doubt there’s anything from her private life in there. And if it’s work info, we can all see it.”
The phone displayed a screen he did not recognize and it contained a list of filenames. Even the file extensions at the end were unfamiliar to him. He tried tapping a few, but the text within was incomprehensible to him. It was not the same as the legal contracts adults would sign, but the level of confusion he felt was about the same. It was filled with so much jargon and roundabout phrasings that he could not get any of it into his head in a sensible form.
“Shall Misaka summarize it for you?”
“Basically, this is related to the Board Chairman, says Misaka to keep it short.”
Kamijou sounded confused.
The “him” here was not the human known as Aleister. It was the person who had taken over that position after Aleister.
That person had a strong connection to both Misaka Mikoto and Misaka Imouto.
And more importantly, to Last Order.
“Yes, assuming this file is accurate.” Mikoto gently nodded. “This says the new Board Chairman has begun eliminating Academy City’s dark side, but the people who are more comfortable in the dark side or cannot escape it oppose that decision. So they want an effective bargaining chip.”
The Board Chairman’s plan had to be much easier said than done.
Even if you announced that ideal, the people trembling in fear might not come forward to testify and others might be opposed to the very ideal itself. And once everything fell apart and the attempt failed, the first target of retribution would be the one who had hoisted the flag and led the charge.
And he had immediately shown how far he was willing to take this.
“First, he will reveal his own crimes,” continued Mikoto.
“It looks like he means it. He’s going to reveal everything he’s done, primarily the more than 10,000 clones he killed in that experiment. That way he can show there are no exceptions. He seems to think that’s the only way to drag the fearful skeptics out into the sunlight. …And he has in fact turned himself in at an Anti-Skill station.”
“He turned himself in!?”
“He certainly doesn’t strike me as the type to do that, but apparently it’s true.”
His punishment would not be altered by the conditions and timing of this act. Once his crimes came to light, he would have to pay for them. And it seemed unlikely he would ever again emerge from behind bars.
Misaka Imouto tilted her head while looking through the files.
“Does this mean the new Board Chairman is resigning the position before the year is even out? asks Misaka. And what good is this effort if the next Board Chairman brings back the dark side?”
“The Board Chairman has the right to resign and choose his replacement, but the system is not made for anyone below him to remove him from that position. Just like teachers casting votes in the faculty room can’t get the principal or the school’s board chairman fired.”
Academy City was a giant educational system Aleister had created to achieve his own goal, so he would not have constructed it in a way that let others interfere with his actions.
“So does he think he can pull it off if he uses his authority as Board Chairman to run the city from behind bars?” wondered Kamijou.
“He must intend on seeing this through to the end. What is it with the people at the top of this city closing themselves up behind thick walls?”
Anyway, they now knew why someone would want Last Order.
One side wanted to destroy Academy City’s dark side and the other side wanted to stop that.
It was a lot like a direct clash between the light side and dark side of the city. That meant an entire half of the city would be after Last Order. Maidono Hoshimi had only been the vanguard. Pulling back now was not a fundamental solution.
“Isn’t there something more?”
Without even thinking, Kamijou Touma began searching for an enemy.
“Isn’t there someone else? Like an obvious mastermind behind it all!? If this is only a sporadic wave of lone wolf villains attacking, then we can never rest again!”
Error messages suddenly flooded the screen.
Someone had noticed them.
But instead of cutting off the connection, it looked more like the data itself was being erased.
“There is one person managing all that frustration. And I’m betting they’re the one supplying the money and weapons needed to take action.”
But that did not stop Mikoto.
They were not interested in evidence they could use in court.
They only needed to know the name of the mastermind behind this incident. And this rushed erasure of the server’s data only seemed to confirm that the data there was legit.
So Misaka Mikoto read the data out loud even as it was erased.
“Neoka Norito. One of the twelve on the Board of Directors.”
With a heavy pop, Misaka Imouto managed to remove the round lid at the top of the drum-shaped cleaning robot she had captured. She must not have detected any of the traps she was concerned about. Kamijou was surprised to see they opened up like that. It looked like they would normally require a special screwdriver other than a Phillips or flathead, but she had apparently directly turned the screws using magnetism.
The inside was almost entirely hollow, providing enough space for a small child to fit while curled up. But since there was no garbage inside, this must have been one Maidono had prepared (i.e. stolen) to transport Last Order.
Last Order was unconscious, but she seemed unharmed when Misaka Imouto reached under her arms and pulled her out.
Her limbs and mouth were bound by a special controlled rope, but it did not appear to be a trap. And an electronic device like that was no match for Mikoto.
“Hm? But if a clone like her couldn’t get this electronically-controlled rope off of her, does that mean I really am superior when it comes to cyber-attacks???”
“Why must the higher unit’s failure cast doubt on the quality of the Misakas as a whole? wonders Misaka while trembling at this unwelcome speculation. The command tower had better learn her lesson.”
Fortunately, Last Order must have been a valuable hostage because she had no noticeable injuries. Even if that was to use her for malicious purposes, it was still a stroke of good luck considering the massive damage that Maidono Hoshimi had done to the Christmas Eve city around them.
Index asked a question with the calico cat still on her head.
She asked about the definitive crossroads they were approaching.
“Touma, what do we do now?”
If he was being honest, a simple high school boy like him could not see the big picture here.
He imagined it had something to do with what the grownups wanted and the overall power balance within the city, but that did not mean he could see any of the specifics. You could not perform surgery or disarm a bomb based on a vague sense of “I think I kinda, sorta understand”. It was probably impossible for him to reach the right answer using pure logic at this point.
“First, I’d like to know what kind of person this Neoka is.”
Kamijou Touma was not the type to remember who ran the city or even who his own school’s principal was. This had nothing to do with his memory loss; he simply never interacted with them. He knew of those twelve ultra VIPs at the top of Academy City. They may have been something like a head of state’s cabinet, but that was exactly why he had no idea who they were. People tended not to remember much beyond the actual president or prime minister at the very top.
He never would have needed to know who they were if he lived a normal life.
“The officially released info says he’s a big name in the security industry,” explained Mikoto. “With bigshots like the Board of Directors, they’re mostly pretty old, but he’s actually quite young for the group. That said, he’s still not a child like us.”
“I see. Do important people like that have a list of achievements on the government website or something?”
“Hell, he’s got his own social media account.”
Kamijou was having trouble following along already. Weren’t these criminal masterminds supposed to be veiled in mystery in the depths of a subterranean secret base or something?
But when he took a look at Mikoto’s phone, he saw a very official looking page. It was all so neat, tidy, and squeaky clean that it had no real human warmth to it. Even the sign in front of a corporate headquarters building would feel a bit warmer than this.
The young man looked good in a suit, but he did not have the look of a businessman.
He was more like a high-profile entrepreneur or film actor. Maybe it was how he looked too young to be one of those executives in suits and maybe it was the muscle tone visible even through his suit. Then again, who could say how edited the photos on his social media page were. It was even possible the man in the photos was a body double.
“What do you mean by the security industry? Is that another way of saying he sells weapons? asks Misaka while cutely tilting her head.”
“Pipe down, you flirt,” snapped Mikoto. “And no, it isn’t that. It looks like his work is in the fields of firefighting and disaster prevention. He donates a lot of money to charity and volunteer programs. …Of course, that might all be camouflage to hide his true colors.”
This was not a case of good suppressing evil.
Nor was it a case of creating an evil more powerful than justice so they could rest easy.
The truly hopeless people would ally themselves with good and justice. They would manipulate those things to their own benefit and, when that was not enough, they would rewrite those systems altogether.
“Firefighting and disaster prevention don’t sound particularly dangerous at first glance, but you could do scary things by abusing those systems,” said Mikoto. “Disaster rescue robots could be converted into weapons, or you could even artificially create your own disaster.”
Whatever the case, he was one of the twelve VIPs who ran Academy City.
Maidono Hoshimi had only been the vanguard.
He had to have something of his own. He stood at the top of Academy City which ruled over all the world’s science and technology, so he was bound to have all sorts of bizarre tech all to himself.
He sat on the Board of Directors.
In truth, they were only pretending they knew what he was like based on rumors and online information. Because fighting against an unknown entity was too frightening. In the worst case, this could be a fight that never ended no matter how much they struggled.
They could not challenge him on a whim.
They should have tried to avoid making contact with him at all costs.
“If he’s cheating the system, he must be in a position that makes that necessary.”
“We can’t ‘see’ any of the political power, hierarchy, or power balance of the adults and there’s no way we can get a feel for it right away. But we do know that Neoka Norito has been living the good life by throwing that unseen power around. He’s sure to use that unseen power before clenching his fist. He used dirty tricks, threw money around, abused his authority, and set so many people in motion, but it wasn’t enough. That is why he finally resorted to violence.”
It was obvious.
It was the most basic of facts, but using violence came with risks. Director Neoka could use violence to protect his position, but that would be meaningless to him if his use of violence was exposed and he was placed under social pressure. That villain was clearly fighting for himself, so he would not want to bring peace to Academy City by sacrificing himself.
“We fight.” That was Kamijou Touma’s decision. “If we let things keep going like this, who knows when it’ll end. The enemy will try attacking over and over and we’re dead as soon as we let our guard down for even a moment. We can’t leave this in a situation where a single mistake spells our doom. So now is our only chance. We can’t see the power balance of the adults, so none of us can say if the conditions providing us this chance will still be around tomorrow or the day after that.”
They could not let this happen to Last Order. Or to Maidono Hoshimi for that matter. And the same could probably be said for the still-unseen enemy who would attack next, and the one after that.
That piece of garbage had remade charity and volunteer work into his own bullets and allied himself with good and justice so he could create countless tragedies without dirtying his own hands. His twisted form of cleanliness had robbed so many people of their possibility and distorted their lives.
The dark side.
If he really wanted to protect that shadowy utopia, he should stand in the line of fire himself.
Maidono could not use chopsticks.
Kamijou pictured her face as she bit her lip and held back the tears over that pain no one else understood.
Just like Accelerator had Last Order, Maidono Hoshimi had her chopsticks complex.
That godawful adult had used those things as a shield to manipulate children to his will. He did not clench his fist, pit his will against his enemy’s, or join any kind of battle at all. He stole people’s lives and used them for his own purposes, but he considered that a sign of his own intelligence and did not see the need to bother interacting with them.
The tragedies would not end unless he was stopped.
No matter what.
“Let’s end this.”
The enemy was currently weakened.
The rules of the adults had failed here, so he had been forced to stoop to the juvenile and violent rules of the children. Meaning he had chosen to abduct young Last Order and use her as a hostage.
But if he had descended from his unreachable ivory tower and he was now within reach…
“We need to grab him by the collar before he can ascend out of reach once more.” That was Kamijou’s answer and conclusion. “This will probably only be an option today. He’s been weakened because someone else was fighting back out there, but we can’t say when he’ll recover from that. So we should use this chance and finish what someone else started. Otherwise, we’re right back to square one. Last Order will be captured, Accelerator’s plan will fail, and someone will have their life stolen from them so they’ll act as a new pawn in Maidono’s place. The only person laughing then will be that crazy clean freak Neoka!!”
“Misaka is fine with that, says Misaka to express her agreement.” The expressionless goggles girl had more to say. “Setting aside how you intend to locate and attack Neoka, it is frankly miraculous that this has been simplified to the point that it can be resolved through fighting. Forcibly settling things today would likely be a much more effective and optimal choice than letting this chance go and retrying it when the conditions are tangled with politics and economics, says Misaka to further explain her reasoning.”
“So is this the extent of the cavalry?” asked Mikoto. “Counting Last Order sleeping here, that’s only 5. Oh, I guess it’s 6 if we include the kitty on your head there. He’s sure to be a huge help.”
“Eh? I’m just glad to not be alone this time,” said Touma. “I’m not used to having so much help.”
For some reason, Index and Mikoto both glared at him. The pressure was intense.
Being alone was so sad.
“About that.” Misaka Imouto raised her hand. “Since Neoka Norito was trying to capture the command tower, wouldn’t it be suicidal to bring her with us? Whatever form the fight takes, Misaka thinks we should keep Last Order away from it, suggests Misaka.”
“But wouldn’t it also be dangerous to leave her alone?” responded Mikoto. “We don’t know how many people Neoka has hidden out here, so she could always be abducted again while we’re fighting.”
“Which is why Misaka will list off what we need. First, we need fighters to defeat Director Neoka Norito. But if we let the command tower escape, we cannot leave her alone. That means we also need fighters to protect her, explains Misaka while raising two fingers. So wouldn’t it be best to split into two teams?”
She made it sound simple, but who would be on each team?
Kamijou could negate all forms of the supernatural and Index had an unbeatable interception ability when it came to magic, but they were both weak to normal firearms. Misaka Imouto was strong against guns and knives, but she could not deal with extreme supernatural powers. Mikoto had a seemingly almighty power, but removing her from the front line would reduce their odds of defeating Neoka Norito. They were a well-varied team when together, but their pros and cons stood out once they were separated.
However, Misaka Imouto had an idea about this.
“Misaka thinks it would be best to use her as the command tower’s bodyguard, says Misaka while pointing at her own face.”
“Eh? You?” said Kamijou.
“Your skepticism bothers Misaka, so she will remind you of her skill with all firearms and her ability to use the city’s security with her electrical power.”
“But can you beat someone on Maidono’s level like that?” asked Mikoto. “You can’t, can you?”
“Wake that scum up right this instant. This Misaka will kick her ass in short order, says Misaka while rolling up her sleeves to show how eager she is.”
She was being a little too motivated here, so Kamijou quickly restrained her. Fists that would not protect anyone’s smile were entirely meaningless.
The mass-produced girl expressionlessly struggled (while still being hugged from behind), but she also continued speaking.
“More importantly, Neoka Norito does not want the new Board Chairman’s crimes – that is, the past project that the Misakas were a part of – to come to light, correct? Misaka can fight by using herself as a hostage. We are both clones, the command tower and an ordinary serial number, so if Misaka fights while drawing attention using her gunfire and Radio Noise power, it should give them some trouble, says Misaka to list off the expected conditions of the battle.”
She had a point.
Kamijou certainly agreed that they could not bring Last Order with them to the front line. Dangling that treat in front of the kidnapper’s eyes would be foolish in the extreme.
But it still was not enough.
Misaka Imouto’s logic only worked on the assumption that Neoka Norito’s side was trying to resolve this in secret and thus their attacker would withdraw rather than risk revealing their actions to society at large. For example, they would end their attack if they saw a live broadcast of the scene from a TV station’s camera or a livestream from a phone.
(He gave so much freedom to Maidono Hoshimi.)
Yes, they could not trust in that assumption.
No matter how big this got, you could still cover it all up if you had enough power. So if Neoka decided he only had to get through today, no matter what it took, Misaka Imouto’s plan would not work. Even in front of a TV camera or a livestreaming phone, he or his troops would move in to kill or abduct the fleeing girls.
So they needed something more.
They had to play some other powerful card to deter their enemy.
“This might be a complete rejection of his work and efforts, but we’re under no obligation to play along.”
“Misaka Imouto, we’ll leave Last Order with you, but can I suggest a destination to escape to?”
“Misaka may not use it, but you are free to make suggestions.”
Kamijou Touma breathed in and out.
And he ruined someone’s plans with a smile.
“Accelerator is holed up in an Anti-Skill station, right? Take Last Order there and fortify yourselves there too. Then Academy City’s strongest will fight off Neoka’s troops for you.”
The #1 could not leave himself.
He would trust in Academy City’s ability to purify itself.
That was all well and good, but it only meant they had to set up a situation where Accelerator could protect Last Order while still behind bars. He could remain there in the same building and fight to protect himself from the attackers. And if he happened to save some civilian who happened to be here? Well, that was just a coincidence.
Kamijou Touma did not understand all the tricky grownup politics and whatnot.
He thought the Board Chairman was incredible for leaving the world of pure violence and fighting in that more complex world.
Accelerator was the one who should be protecting that kid. Not even counting issues of efficiency and logic, that was just how it was meant to be. Kamijou Touma was temporarily looking after Last Order, but there was another world in which she was meant to spread her arms and run free. He had to make sure that rule was followed. No matter what.
“Uh,” groaned Last Order with her eyes still shut.
Thinking back, this had been strange from the beginning.
Had she left her usual place and searched out her original, Misaka Mikoto, because she had realized what was happening and come for help? Had there been something only she could see using the sharp eyes of a young child that Kamijou, Mikoto, and the others had already lost? Maybe so and maybe not. It was also possible she had sensed some vague fear and just ran around with no destination in mind. Just like a child pacing around with their pillow after having a nightmare.
But so what?
What did it matter if this came from cruel reality or a baseless dream?
Kamijou did not want to abandon people who were afraid and suffering. He and the others had found her, so they had to notice what was going on with her and they had to act on that knowledge. They might not be able to save the entire world right away, but they could save the people they saw right in front of them, one by one.
A human out there had bet on the fact that the scales of the entire world would be tilted just a little if everyone attempted to do the things even they could accomplish. When all the good parts and the bad parts of the world were weighed against each other, he had bet it would tilt ever so slightly toward the bright side.
So they would show him that the world he hoped for did indeed exist.
In the world Academy City’s #1 dreamed of, perhaps no one would ever again be led astray for someone else’s purposes like Maidono Hoshimi had. And even if they were, perhaps they could create a kind enough society to give them a second chance. They could not just hope someone else would do it. Kamijou and the others had to become some of the small gears within Academy City who would help make it happen.
They had to believe.
They had to make their own bets, just like he had.
Kamijou Touma looked to each of their faces in turn: Index, Misaka Mikoto, Misaka Imouto, and Last Order. And then he made a blunt declaration of war.
“Let’s give ‘em hell.”
There was a lot of noise all of a sudden.
Yomikawa Aiho had been speaking with Accelerator in the Anti-Skill station’s secret interrogation room, but she was now contacting someone else.
He lightly clicked his tongue while seated across from her with his feet up on the clear table.
“So what’s all this about?”
“A girl just arrived at the main entrance with Last Order. And while carrying one of Neoka’s protegees, who is unconscious.”
He just about fell back onto the floor in his cheap chair.
Yomikawa’s custom tablet was displaying the security camera footage, so he could tell this was not a joke. Instead of a stationary camera installed near the ceiling, this was a body camera attached to an officer’s chest.
An expressionless girl stated her purpose here while making double peace signs for some reason.
“Boom. Misaka is submitting an individual and electronic evidence related to illegal activity by Director Neoka Norito. The server itself was wiped clean and this phone only holds some slight traces of the data, but looking through it should reveal information on his home base, explains Misaka in a thorough enough way to ensure even an idiot would understand. Hooray.”
“You just said everything Misaka wanted to say! says Misaka as Misaka stares in shock at the line thief!”
“The Misakas are all one giant Misaka, after all. But make no mistake. This Misaka is on Team Level 0, says Misaka while winking and striking a pose with her right hand. Kerpow☆”
The #1 groaned while clenching his teeth so hard he was afraid he would break them.
“Have those clones never even heard of reading the atmosphere?”
“But they have set things in motion.” Yomikawa must have gotten sick of the excess formality because she stripped off her black jacket. “Anti-Skill can’t throw out people seeking protection and we would be very grateful to receive some conclusive evidence on Neoka. This will let us head out and attack instead of passively fortifying our defenses.”
“It won’t be that easy. We’re talking about the biggest shithead of them all with deep roots in the dark side. He will have something up his sleeve.”
“Are you suggesting he has more espers like the one just brought to us?”
“If so, I will remind you that saving those kids is part of our job. We can’t just ignore this.”
Accelerator breathed from his nose.
“You’re a dumbass,” he grumbled.
“What are you even talking about? You’re the one that bet on this kind of power existing alongside all the darkness in Academy City. And I refuse to disappoint you there.”
With her removed jacket in her left hand, Yomikawa Aiho brought her feet together, stood straight, and saluted with her right hand.
“Anti-Skill Chief Yomikawa Aiho reporting for duty. I will now leave on an emergency deployment to bring this all to an end.”
Evening had fallen.
Based on the information they had taken from Maidono Hoshimi’s phone, Neoka Norito had his base in a giant building in District 15, which acted as Academy City’s largest shopping district. With a shopping mall and movie theater on the lower floors, fancy corporate offices on the middle floors, and luxury apartments on the upper floors, the skyscraper was a symbol of wealth and power. The topmost floors acted as the Director’s mansion.
“Just like the powerful people of old.” Misaka Mikoto put her hands on her hips while looking up at the 70-story building from below. “The foolish lord looking down at the city from the top of his towering castle. Or maybe he wishes he could live in those older times.”
“I’m not quite sure what you mean, but I always thought the corrupt and rich were really cautious about their own life,” said Kamijou. “How do you protect that place? With a building that tall, isn’t he afraid of being trapped during a fire or attack?”
“He’ll have a personal VTOL craft on the roof. There’s as much space as a helicopter carrier’s flight deck up there, so he has room. He can also send several remote-controlled ones out along with him to make it harder to target him with anti-air missiles.”
“Well, isn’t he rich.”
Index was looking all around while carrying the calico cat in both hands.
“I saw that person before,” she said.
“Same with that woman and that person eating ice cream. They were in different clothes before, though.”
“Then Anti-Skill is making their move,” said Mikoto.
You could not fool Index’s perfect memory. Anti-Skill officers must have been taking up position in the area while slipping past any mechanical surveillance by frequently changing their clothing and makeup. Since technology was available to good and bad alike, surrounding a target while avoiding detection had grown very difficult.
That building was undoubtedly Neoka Norito’s castle, but it did not belong to him alone. The mall on the lower floors, the offices on the middle floors, and the apartments on the upper floors meant a lot of ordinary people would be coming and going, allowing anyone to move almost up to the very top floors.
There were thick doors in the way and the elevators had several layers of security applied, but they could still break through the ceiling from the floor below to reach him. It was unlikely Anti-Skill intended to just attack the main entrance.
“So what do we do?” asked Kamijou.
“We can let Anti-Skill climb up from below like normal. We wouldn’t accomplish much more than them if we took the same route.” Mikoto pointed straight up. “If he’s going to escape, it will be with his rooftop VTOL craft. So if we can take the rooftop beforehand, it should have a huge overall impact. And no one will notice us if we climb the wall with magnetism. So…”
A moment later, explosives flames erupted from the windows on the highest levels of the building she was pointing at.
They gasped because they had no clue what had just happened.
This undefinable occurrence just about left Kamijou’s mind blank. Much like a computer that had forcibly tried to read a corrupted file. This unexpected event violently ate into his mind, swallowed up his thoughts, and tried to drag him into the deadly depths of the water.
He had caught a glimpse of who that man was before actually seeing him. Unlike Maidono Hoshimi, this man had to be someone who created his own waves. The tiny waves a child like Kamijou could create by gathering up all his courage and willpower would be crushed so very easily.
“Don’t just stand there, Misaka!! The glass is falling!!”
He had to force himself to keep going.
No matter what might happen, they were done for if they came to a stop and the gears of their minds jammed. Time would cruelly pass them by and that delay would force them to accept a horrific conclusion to it all.
His words acted like a slap to the cheek.
After he shouted at her, Mikoto frantically took action. She used magnetism to forcibly move some Christmas decorations like giant stockings and a huge Christmas present and she placed those above the plaza and major road in front of the building. Who knows how much blood would have soaked the ground around the crowd there otherwise.
There was no direct damage done, but there was some chaos. Someone in a snowman costume rolled wildly along the roadside and a reindeer girl selling toxic-colored donuts from a food truck quickly shut off the gas, perhaps fearing secondary damage from a panic.
“Wh-what just happened?” asked a dazed Index.
Kamijou bit his lip because a bad idea had just occurred to him.
Just like with Maidono Hoshimi, this was a stage magician’s sleight of hand. That explosion would cut off the standard route of pursuit.
“Neoka predicted Anti-Skill would be arriving at his castle.”
“So he set his house on fire!?”
“Right when Anti-Skill was showing up. What if it turns out that Anti-Skill took no damage, but he alone suffered from a fire in his home?”
He had never spoken with any of the Directors, but he had seen bits and pieces of how they did things.
They were a twisted sort of clean freak that never wanted to dirty their own hands, so they always had “shields” prepared allowing them to safely win.
And if you viewed this situation from that perspective…
“He’s using the rules as a shield. That’s the most effective method against the people who are supposed to protect the peace here. He’s going to completely flip this on its head and make himself the victim. Anti-Skill didn’t do anything, but what happens if he points at them and claims they nearly got him killed while forcing their way into his home as part of an illegitimate investigation with insufficient evidence to back it up? Anti-Skill will take all the blame, the investigation will end, and he’ll remain free to go around destroying all the inconvenient evidence!”
The methods meant to empower the good would instead be used to attack the good.
And Anti-Skill was not paid enough to continue searching for a villain that might not even exist.
Before even reaching him, they could already see just how nasty a foe this was.
“B-but we handed Maidono Hoshimi over to Anti-Skill,” said Mikoto. “Her phone had real evidence on it, so isn’t Anti-Skill following proper procedure in coming here!?”
“Which is why he needs to buy enough time to go and eliminate Maidono now that she has escaped the dark side.”
Kamijou did not wait even a second before responding and even Mikoto went pale and fell silent at his answer.
Neoka was not acting alone. He had plenty of fighters on Maidono’s level and he would have released them into the city. Something would be moving toward the Anti-Skill station where Misaka Imouto and Last Order had gone. The #1 was there and it would take a lot to break through that barrier, but there was no guarantee that Neoka could not provide a lot.
They could not let his plan continue.
They did not have a feel for the adult power balance, so they had to end this today before that became an issue once more. They could never turn this around then.
Kamijou clenched his teeth.
They could not let the confusion sweep them away. There had to be a way to retake control.
They could not give in to fear.
There was no need to narrow their range of freedom at the thinking stage. They had to come up with ideas based on an ideal version of themselves, like they were a Hollywood star or a mysterious special forces unit.
The answer had to be hidden beyond that leap of logic.
Especially in Academy City where so much craziness could be made a reality with technology.
(If he’s going to weasel out of this with a cheap act, he’ll need to make it look good. In stage magic terms, this is an escape artist’s trick. Escaping the box before it explodes is all well and good, but the audience won’t be satisfied if he’s just standing there in some other place.)
“Neoka Norito is somewhere around here!! Pointing at Anti-Skill and accusing them will be most effective in front of a large audience, so he’ll show off the injuries he gave himself and use that as a shield to bludgeon them with by blaming it on their attack!!”
In that case, they more or less already had the answer.
If Neoka’s intention was to influence people’s view of the situation to reverse the positions of attacker and victim, get the people on his side, and throw the investigation into confusion, then he would want people to see Anti-Skill entirely unscathed while he was all bloody. That meant he would have to harm himself. But could an amateur really do that to himself? He would not want to accidentally lose too much blood and Anti-Skill and the doctors were experts at viewing injuries. They would probably see right through a self-inflicted wound only meant as an act.
So what would he want most right now?
The stab wound in Kamijou’s side started to throb and make its presence known.
He did not need any special knowledge for this one. He only had to use his own personal experience.
“A medical facility,” said Kamijou.
He knew he could not wound himself like that as a form of disguise. If he accidentally nicked an important artery or an organ, the wound would quickly grow fatal.
Of course he would be terrified.
He would want to rely on a medical professional.
Neoka was apparently an expert in firefighting and disaster prevention, but this was about his authority as part of the Board of Directors. Just like the chief or superintendent general of the police was not the best police officer, he might not have the actual skills of those fields himself. And even if he did, he would not want to sew up his own wound with the dirty sewing needle and fishing line he had lying around. That could even lead to an infection of some kind. Partial knowledge would lead to fear and he would get someone else’s help to make up for the gaps in his knowledge.
“If he is going to injure himself, he’ll want a sterile environment and a doctor with all the proper knowledge. And this needs to be done in absolute secrecy. That building is a single giant complex, so it’s bound to have a clinic, a medical room for treating anyone who falls ill, or…” The boy’s eyes stopped on a specific point. “Or at least a first aid kit!! Is the parking garage underground? A surprising number of minor injuries happen there, due to people getting their finger caught in a car door or dropping their luggage on their foot when trying to load it into the trunk, so they might have some specialized emergency equipment along with the fire extinguisher and AED!”
He began running before he had even finished speaking.
That would not provide the sterile environment, but it may have been worth it to Neoka to have something mobile that he could carry with him or have removed from the scene.
Kamijou ran down the slope and into a concrete space larger than a soccer field.
“Th-there’s nothing like that here,” said Index while looking all around.
There was a fire extinguisher at the base of a concrete pillar and an AED in a metal box on the wall, but…
“There’s no first aid kit. Could he have already taken it away?”
Had Kamijou misread this?
It was possible someone as absurdly rich as Neoka would have a personal doctor who never left his side, or he could feel even more desperate than they thought and had decided to injure himself despite the risk.
But Mikoto looked up above.
“It might not be a first aid kit.”
“What do you mean?”
“I said the roof is like a helicopter carrier, didn’t I!? So he can have an air ambulance parked up there. Some of those have more equipment than the average medical room!!”
Why had he started by blowing up the very top floors?
Because that would destroy the elevator pulleys, making the elevators unusable and delaying Anti-Skill’s arrival. Meanwhile, he could appropriately injure himself in the air ambulance and then have the helicopter itself fly away. That would of course require altering the airport’s control data. That might sound absurd, but he would not have let Maidono Hoshimi make such a mess of things if he ever thought he could be captured. He definitely had what it took to pull this off. Once the exhausted Anti-Skill officers had finished running up 70 flights of stairs, he could point at them while all bloody and say the magic words: How could you do this!? These injuries are your fault!
“He definitely gave this some thought, but not enough,” said Mikoto while kicking down an elevator door in the parking garage.
The elevator would never arrive no matter how much they pressed the button, but that was no problem for her. She gave a belligerent smile while staring up the elevator shaft that looked like a gaping mouth of hell leading high into the sky.
“Did he forget we’re in Academy City? I can tear through this puny barrier like it’s nothing!!”
She was Academy City’s #3 Level 5, the Railgun. Magnetism was only a secondary effect of her power, yet it was all she needed to cling to the skyscraper’s wall.
It took no time at all.
The elevator shaft was surrounded by thick steel beams on all sides, so it may have been easier to climb with magnetism than the reinforced concrete walls. The elevators would have fallen after their wires were snapped, but they fortunately did not get in the way. There was apparently a boiler room and other facilities located below the parking garage.
Misaka Mikoto held Kamijou and Index while jumping straight up like this was some kind of ride.
The building was about 70 stories tall, but it took them less than a minute.
There was no need to destroy the elevator door on the roof. The explosion had already bent everything outwards along with the gearbox.
What they found outside was apparently a heliport.
Gray asphalt covered an area just as large as the parking garage – which meant the size of a soccer field – and white lines were drawn all over it in a pattern that an amateur had trouble making any sense of. Mikoto had said it functioned like a helicopter carrier, but it almost looked like a runway to Kamijou.
She had said he would have multiple VTOL crafts and there were in fact three fighter craft, like something out of a movie, stopped on the edge of the roof. However, the white lines formed large boxes around them, so were those hangar elevators like the ones on an aircraft carrier?
Mikoto had said they could be remotely controlled and their pure firepower was frightening too.
However, Kamijou’s group needed to focus on something else first.
Those gray military craft were accompanied by a pure white one. This helicopter was a lot larger than the four-passenger ones used by TV crews. If the four-passenger ones were analogous to an ordinary car, this was more like a van.
It was an air ambulance.
“That’s a crucial piece of evidence, so let’s be clever about how we retrieve it.”
With a dull zap, black smoke burst from the base of the main rotor. She had apparently messed with the rotation rate to damage the engine. If it could not fly on its own, it could not be removed from the scene. And with the bloody medical devices remaining, the Director’s cheap act would be far less convincing.
Kamijou’s group cut across the aircraft carrier flight deck of a rooftop and approached the white helicopter.
The sliding door was open and someone awaited them with a smile.
“Perhaps I should have had the injury done before the explosion. But I would have had no explanation for the injury if the explosion failed to trigger, so I wanted to make sure it worked first.”
“You’re Neoka Norito, aren’t you?”
“That’s Director Neoka Norito to you. I am on the Board, after all.”
The man’s face twisted into a smile while seated on a stretcher and with his wrist held out toward the female doctor next to him.
This was the same person in the photos on the suspiciously clean social media page.
Did that mean he had not edited the photos or used a body double?
He looked maybe 30. Now that they were face to face with him, he definitely felt like an adult, but he seemed more like a friendly homeroom teacher than a principal or vice principal. He wore a fancy suit and had the look of a young entrepreneur who had only ever known success from the moment he was born.
He also seemed like the type to be a twisted sort of clean freak. Maybe it was due to seeing what happened with Last Order and Maidono, but he did not look like someone who would dedicate himself to charity and volunteer work.
Mikoto had likened him to the powerful people of old.
Or as someone who wished he could live in those older times.
The elderly all said the younger generations had it too easy, but those comments had come to a stop at some point. This man was one of the powerful from that newer era.
Electricity crackled and high-voltage sparks scattered from Misaka Mikoto’s bangs.
“Anyway, I’m glad we got here before you could injure yourself. You’re aware this is checkmate, right? Even if you blew up your room with real Anti-Skill equipment you illicitly acquired, you can never brush aside the suspicions with this air ambulance here. No matter how clever a statement you write for the press conference, you’ll have a hard time selling that you got first aid done in an air ambulance that just so happened to be waiting on the roof before the explosion.”
“Probably so.” He gave a snort of laughter. “Which means I’ll have to kill all of you. You could have avoided this fate if you hadn’t spied on me here. On the other hand, some dead kids to blame on Anti-Skill is sure to get the bored common folk on my side all the easier.”
“How do you propose doing that? I’m the #3, so I hope you don’t think firing a bullet at me is going to accomplish anything.”
Neoka seemed stunned she would even suggest such a thing.
Still seated on the stretcher, he tilted his head and answered her.
“I mean, I could always do this.”
Another fearsome explosion erupted out, but this one was pinpoint targeted at Misaka Mikoto.
It happened so suddenly she could not possibly have reacted in time.
If Index had not tugged on her arm with both hands and if Kamijou had not held his right palm out front, her body might have been obliterated beyond recognition.
But what was that?
What just happened!?
He was not holding any kind of weapon, but something had definitely happened.
This time, Misaka Mikoto placed an arcade coin on her right thumb.
This was the Railgun.
Academy City’s #3 Level 5 was named for it. It could not be more obvious what would happen if a mass of metal fired at thrice the speed of sound hit a flesh-and-blood human, but that basic fact may have slipped the girl’s mind. She had decided the person in front of her was dangerous enough to warrant it.
And she was not exactly wrong.
If not for the fact that even this was not enough.
“Construct a fictional port between Au and Cu, aka Path 14.”
With a high-pitched ringing in their ears, the world blurred.
The elite from the Board of Directors was a moment faster due to his lack of hesitation.
He spoke only a single word.
This time something really did fly in at a supersonic speed and ravaged Misaka Mikoto’s soul.
Her weapon was eliminated.
What had that voice command activated? The arcade coin on her thumb was meant to produce great firepower, but something massive struck it and it melted into the color orange.
The attack shot right by her cheek and scorched the air.
Kamijou had been watching from the side, but he had not managed to see what it was that had flown by.
Neoka Norito had yet to even get up from the stretcher.
(What just happened!? The Directors are the elite few adults who control Academy City, so is he hiding some kind of technology that can overpower us!?)
The man slowly stood from the stretcher. He removed his expensive-looking watch, placed it aside, and put on the jacket the doctor handed him.
No one could do a thing.
The monster took a casual step down from the air ambulance.
With a single word, he had taken control of something unseen and bent something inviolable to his will. He seemed to be saying he would play by the childish rules of the children like Kamijou until he had taught them a lesson using this violence.
What was his science?
Kamijou could not figure out what this man’s science was.
“What did you do?”
He had been caught off guard with his right hand still held out in front.
Not only had the mystery attack come as a surprise, but his hand had negated the first one. So whatever this was, Neoka Norito was using a supernatural power.
Why had Maidono Hoshimi remained struggling in the darkness when she had so much power?
He felt like he understood now. At the very least, Neoka Norito would not be bitten by his own pet dog. He would be able to overpower a Level 5 by force and put a chain around their neck!
The young Director shrugged.
“You come rushing at me ready to attack and then you act all offended when I fight back?”
“What did you do!? I thought Academy City’s esper development only worked on children!!”
Academy City’s monsters could be divided into two general categories.
The first was the children with powerful abilities, such as Accelerator and Misaka Mikoto.
The second was the adults who found military uses of next-gen tech said to be more than 30 years ahead the rest of the world.
But this man was different. Did he not belong to either category!?
“It is simple,” he said while loosely spreading his arms like he was welcoming his enemies. “Feuerel Construct a fictional port between Au and Cu, aka Path 14.”
Immense flames appeared out of thin air before spiraling and gathering around the man’s right hand.
Was this an esper power?
“Wasserel. Construct a fictional port between Hg and Ag, aka Path 20.”
It was his left hand this time. The water must have been compressed quite a bit to increase its pressure because it produced a straining sound like an old rope as it gathered around his hand.
This was bad.
Kamijou had no idea what this was, but he could tell it was bad news!!
Then the man made a casual motion. He brought his two hands together in front of his chest. Almost like he was clapping just the once to gather attention from his listeners.
And he made an announcement.
“The two are different, but their essence is equal. So let us combine them to arrive at a new solution.”
That was all it took for a fearsome water vapor explosion to erupt and to cover the entire rooftop in steam hot enough to boil a chicken white in three seconds.
The VTOL fighters stopped on the edge of the roof creaked and the air ambulance he had left shortly before rolled onto its side. The steam must have passed the 100-degree barrier several times over, so if someone contacted that without any kind of special gear, it would be just like being thrown into a steam oven.
“Windel. Construct a fictional port between Pb and Fe, aka Path 8.”
A purifying wind whirled around to allow Neoka Norito to stand in the center of the explosion without batting an eye.
“I see. So this is the Imagine Breaker I have heard so much about.”
Kamijou clenched his teeth while holding out his right hand to protect the two girls.
This was too much.
An adult using an esper power was breaking the rules in the first place, but he had wielded fire, water, and wind, one after another. One power per person was an absolute rule, but had he also broken through that barrier while he was at it to become a theoretically impossible Dual Skill!? Was his power so great he had to split it up using that voice control!?
“Is this really so surprising?” The one who had broken through the barriers made it sound so simple as he smiled and whispered. “This is no more than Minimum Collision Theory.”
“For example, exposing a nitrogen atom to powerful alpha rays will cause the number of protons to collapse. As a result, you will have an entirely different element, such as hydrogen or oxygen. There is no need to rely on a Personal Reality to manipulate the visible phenomena.”
Then was this a product of science?
Had it not left that category?
Kamijou was growing ever more confused, but…
“No matter how complex the world is, you only have to simplify things by cutting them down to a manageable size. Just like elementary particles are made up of only so many different particles. And just like light only has two states – a wave or a particle. I have merely simplified things in a way that allows me to view the composition of all things from a different angle. Using Minimum Collision Theory.”
That sounded like an explanation, but it was not.
The example about nitrogen did not connect to what he had demonstrated. He was forcibly stuffing it all into one big box, but was that categorization really accurate?
Wasn’t he stuffing something entirely different into the wrong box?
Besides, Academy City’s esper powers were a way of forcibly shifting how one observed reality by viewing the world before your eyes with a set of values that only existed in your own head.
That might sound all-powerful, but it only provided the one filter. So an esper who controlled fire would not have a filter for water and an esper who controlled water would not have a filter for wind. Trying to carry both filters at once would only reduce the extent of the “shift” in your observations and you would fail to produce either power.
That was not something you could switch between using a voice activated command. Your Personal Reality would stick with you for your entire life. It was hard to control even for the esper it belonged to, so a lot of kids had trouble developing theirs well. Not even the #5’s strongest psychological powers would be able to freely switch this back and forth. If she could do that, she would likely have been known by a different esper name. Because if she had succeeded in that, she could have developed more than just those psychological powers.
In other words…
“You aren’t using a Personal Reality?”
“I believe I already said so.”
“I know that! That ‘box’ you’ve created for yourself isn’t the point!!”
The box was clearly mistaken.
But was the thing in that box not even an esper power?
An adult was using the supernatural powers that only kids should be able to use. He was also ignoring the restriction of one power per person and freely switching between different types of power.
Or was that not what was happening?
Was he not even an Academy City esper? Then the restrictions against adults and multiple powers no longer mattered. But in that case, why was he dividing things up by chemical element to manipulate whatever classical element he wanted?
Minimum Collision Theory.
What was this thing he had given that mistaken label?
“Hydrogen♪ And helium♪”
Kamijou heard a singing voice. It belonged to the girl who should have been an outsider in this situation – the white nun. And was she simply repeating that science song she had heard someone singing in the city’s crowds?
“Au, Cu, Hg, Ag, Pb, Fe.”
Even those tiny elements could form bonds.
And in this case, those bonds were formed with the knowledge in all of that girl’s grimoires.
“Gold is the sun, copper is the planet Venus, mercury is the planet Mercury, and silver is the moon. No, this process isn’t manipulating metals. 6, 7, 8, 9, 3, 5. Are they being assigned to the 10 Sephirah to reach the 22 channels linking them and thus to control the tree?”
All thought vanished from Kamijou’s mind.
But it made sense.
That would explain the many oddities seen here. It explained how an adult like Neoka could use a supernatural power and why he had ignored Academy City’s hierarchy by overwhelming Misaka Mikoto.
But this should have been taboo.
The people in this city could not be using that kind of thing.
That had to have been part of the rules Kamijou had never actually seen for himself. But that agreement had been between Aleister Crowley and Lola Stuart, both of whom were gone now.
So could it be?
Could it be?
Could it be?
“Are you using magic!?”
The situation could hardly be worse.
But Kamijou Touma had a reason to not back down here.
Before coming here, he had exchanged a few words with someone.
“Um, will you hear what Misaka has to say?”
It was such a ridiculous idea.
Some clone girls had once appeared before him. When he had learned of the experiment meant to kill all 20,000 of them, he had been overcome with rage and risked his life to stop it. But even he had only caught the occasional glimpse of Academy City’s dark side, so he did not have a feel for what that world was actually like.
What did it meant to crush that and get rid of it altogether?
“Can Misaka ask something of you?”
But that may not have been what really mattered.
A girl had been captured, knocked unconscious, and then bound tightly enough to leave bruises, but Last Order had made sure to say this before rubbing at her raw skin, trembling in fear, or sobbing.
So he did not need two options here.
The one was enough.
“Will you fight to save him? asks Misaka as Misaka begs you!”
Kamijou did not know how this would save that boy.
Even if he did defeat this asshole on the Board of Directors, Accelerator would remain behind bars of his own free will. Maybe that was the right thing to do, but that would never be a happy life. Kamijou could not help but wonder if Accelerator would not have had to make that choice if just one person out there had seriously tried to stop him.
He did not know if that was really true, so he did not want to reject the other boy’s decision too quickly. This was the path someone had found for themselves, so he would feel wrong trampling it underfoot. Maybe Accelerator would have reconsidered if someone had stopped him, but some futures could fail to come about if he had stopped.
Kamijou could tell Accelerator knew this would not be an easy thing but was prepared to do it regardless.
Then there could be no exceptions.
Just as Kamijou and Index had their path to walk, Accelerator and Last Order had their path to walk.
It would not be easy, but there was no need to overthink it.
He only had to place the scales in front of him.
Would he work up his courage here and live the rest of his life with his head held high with pride, or would he choose safety here and live the rest of his life hunched over in shame?
Which would he prefer?
The answer was obvious.
“So, uh, how should I put this? Yeah, I know what to do here.”
So the boy smiled and answered.
Because he had wanted to be someone who could smile at times like this.
“We’ll head over to the villain’s place and beat the snot out of him, so you wait for the good news.”
He could not fail to make good on that promise.
Great political power and concrete military might could allow people to trample on all sorts of rules.
But true human strength was found elsewhere.
So Kamijou could do this.
The willpower of no more than a boy could keep that other human on the path they had chosen.
He knew what Academy City’s #1 and the new Board Chairman wanted.
It was time to protect Accelerator’s dream.
Between the Lines 4
Academy City’s Board of Directors had 12 members below the Board Chairman at the top.
They each had their own specialty field and were constantly trying to muscle in on each other’s territory. The complex and antagonistic structure they formed created an untold history of developing new weapons and new technologies that were used above and below the board. And the weapons mentioned here need not be simple blades or firearms. For those old men and women fighting for a larger slice of the pie in that adult world, justice and philanthropy were no more than disposable bullets.
“Good grief. Looks like one idiot has pushed up above the rest.”
A high school girl was whispering in the shadows.
She was not one of the Directors herself. She was the brain who worked below one of those old men.
“A former rescue squad elite, huh? I don’t know where he took such a wrong turn, but I bet he’s a lot more athletic than he looks.”
It had been lost in the confusion of Accelerator butting in as the new Board Chairman, but the old man she worked for had mentioned a “youth” trying to steal the initiative during former Board Chairman Aleister’s absence.
Had he made that bold move because he had a reason forcing him to do so?
Rescue work was taxing and it was even more difficult within Academy City. An unbelievable number of risks could be found in this densely-populated metropolis: chemicals, bacteria, electromagnetic waves, strange next-generation technology, and esper powers gone berserk.
Of course, none of that ever made it to the news. Academy City only stayed in business as long as it remained an ideal city where parents felt comfortable leaving their children. No one would sign on the dotted line if the contract blatantly stated that the city was under no liability if the children under their care ended up dead.
Someone had continually braved those hidden dangers.
So how had he wandered over to the world of money and politics, risen above so many other monsters, taken one of the 12 seats on the Board, and grown so fixated on the dark side where so many people sank into the depths of tragedy? As a fellow Director, Kaizumi had the same authority as that man, but even his computer was not enough to search out the answers to those questions.
“Now, then,” sighed the high school girl. “I need to write up a report on the pros and cons of intervening and of not intervening here. Although as usual, it looks like neither one is quite the right answer. Either option comes with pain, so it really comes down to choosing which on you like more.”
The new Board Chairman wished to eliminate the dark side.
When the rest of the Board heard that, they had only checked to see how it would benefit or hurt them personally. Of course, not a single one of those 12 VIPs had no involvement in the dark side. The old woman named Oyafune Monaka was the gentlest of the bunch and avoided underhanded dealings, but even she had stopped at simply turning a blind eye to the dark side as a whole. But since they all dealt with the dark side differently, the damage they would take from its elimination differed.
Those who would take little damage would welcome it, those who would take a lot of damage would oppose it.
They did not particularly care if the attempt to eliminate the dark side actually succeeded or not. They were only interested in attacking the other Directors when that great wave shook them.
In that sense, Neoka Norito had been the biggest target.
He had sided too much with the dark side in his pursuit of personal interest. If this attempt destroyed that economic foundation out from under him, he would have trouble spending the money needed to maintain his social standing. And once he was weakened, the rest of the Board would attack. They would bite into him, tear him apart, and devour him. There was no camaraderie between those 12 Directors.
“Those 12 forces are too busy attacking each other to stop the attempted elimination of the dark side.”
This was always going to be a hard fight for Neoka Norito’s side.
He must have thought this was his only option if he was to recover. Even if it was a baseless theory and he had not been dumb enough to think it would actually work.
“Then again, I never expected him to join forces with an organization outside the city. That qualifies as inviting in a foreign threat, so I wonder how he intends to end this.”
Neoka Norito was using a type of technology this girl and Kaizumi did not fully understand.
But it was not something he had exclusive ownership of.
Things had been in motion for a bit now.
(Interesting events have a way of falling on Christmas Eve, don’t they?)
A baked good and some strong coffee sat on the side table next to the leather sofa she was using.
“A custom donut decorated with a lucky color based on your birthday, blood type, and such, huh?”
Normally, that sort of occult nonsense would find no place for itself in this city.
But it had instead become a huge fad.
There was no obvious sign of companies pushing it, like there was with the idea of giving people chocolate on Valentine’s day, yet something had grown twisted here.
Academy City was generally atheistic and tried to resolve all things with scientific equations, but maybe it was not too surprising that something occult had found its way in on this day.
The donut itself was not a conspiracy.
If anything, it was more like a litmus test meant to measure people’s hearts.
If a silly product like this could spread so rapidly, then it was also possible for the people of this city to reach for something else they normally never would have.
People’s hearts could be swayed.
Like when they viewed a solemn religious painting or cathedral, or when they saw a giant meteor falling from the sky. Only believing your own eyes was second-rate as a defensive tactic. You might as well be telling people you would be easily taken in by the occult as long as it was shown to you in a visible form.
In other words…
“Gathering local troops via the internet? What a nasty age we live in.”
The girl hit a key on a special computer the size of a drawing board and thus too large to call a laptop. She displayed something on an LCD screen the size of an average TV.
“R&C Occultics. A new giant IT company that specializes in magic, huh?”