Toaru Majutsu no Index:GT Volume3 Chapter4
Chapter 4: The Demon Lord’s Young — the_LIGHT.
“Where have you been, Risako!?”
“Mister, Risako-chan is back!!”
The gym clothes girl laughed when she saw the other children gathered around.
“Eh heh heh. A doggy and an older girl saved me.”
They must have been preparing for another move because all the trucks had their engines running. But they had waited until they had found the girl with red hair done up like candy. She was relieved. Having a home to return to was a wonderful thing.
“A doggy, huh?” said the artificial ghost called Frillsand #G.
Her comment made the young researcher fall silent for a bit.
His name was Drencher Kihara Repatri.
That family name was so well known in the dark side that it had become a more powerful classification than beneficial or harmful. The man who bore that name sighed softly to help refocus his mind.
“There is a chance we’ve been located, but we’re faster at the moment. If we move before they catch up, we can reach Academy City’s Greatest Taboo without issue.”
“Do you really think this world will allow any of this to go ‘without issue’?”
“It’s our job to make sure it happens.”
The adults exchanged their views with their voices too low for the excited children to hear.
But a certain boy kept his voice low for a different reason.
The tall boy in the same kind of gym clothes looked troubled for some reason. In fact, he looked close to tears. Risako tilted her head, thinking he was afraid she would get after him about the ball and chemical soap, but this was different.
“So you came back,” he said.
“I was hoping maybe you were gone for good.”
He had wanted that? Did he hate her that much? Risako’s face clouded over, but this was again different. He shook his head and explained.
He was the only one of the children who had started to question these motion sensors they wore for some kind of experiment.
“Because then at least you might have been safe.”
He was afraid of screwing it up, so he started by drawing marks on her back with a marker.
“Hamazura, that tickles.”
The old book had a brush-drawn diagram with no perspective or attempt to make it look three-dimensional. The indicated locations of the organs were clearly not right. Maybe it was like the difference between an aerial photograph of the clouds and the isobars on the weather forecast map. He wondered if this was what all traditional Japanese medicine was like as he drew Xs on his girlfriend’s body. She had even removed her bra and was holding her chest in her hands while showing him her smooth back. He thought his heart was going to burst every time she squirmed from the ticklishness. Even he knew that reaction was inappropriate given the circumstances. Once he finished that, it was finally time to start. He faced the girl while she lay face down on the container lab’s work table like she was sunbathing.
The moxa used for the moxibustion was like fluffy cotton, but he actually had to set it on fire.
It felt wrong doing that on her soft skin and he could even permanently scar her if he screwed it up.
His fear came to the forefront now that it was time to do it, but this was the only way to help her with the fever.
He fought the desire to shut his eyes and placed a small pile of “fuel” on her soft skin. He worked at the lighter with a trembling hand, but he kept failing. Once he finally had a small flame, he slowly moved it in close.
“A-are you okay, Takitsubo?”
He continued the process a few more times. He had his doubts, but when she wiped the sweat from her brow, no more sweat beaded up. It did seem to be working.
He could not thank the hakama girl enough.
He could not waste this chance she had given them, so they had to approach Academy City’s Greatest Taboo.
That card-sized hard drive had been labelled with the word “Lifeline”.
Aneri must have decided the data would be too small to see on his phone because she displayed it a flat screen monitor in the lab instead. It was a series of numbers.
It looked like a calculation sheet made with spreadsheet software, but even that was enough to make the delinquent boy’s head hurt. Maybe it was important data, but he had no idea what he was supposed to focus on.
“This looks like materials data,” said Takitsubo after peering at it from the side.
“Whether they’re beneficial or harmful, the dark side does a lot of research.” She pointed at one of the numbers. “They’re also building a lot of military weapons. But doesn’t it seem odd? Academy City is a mass consumer and it only has so much land since it’s surrounded by walls. You can’t just dig into the ground here and find oil or ores. So where do they get all those materials from?”
“Where? Isn’t that what the cooperative institutions around the world are for? They can work out a deal with them.”
“But how can they do that without leaving any record of it?”
She pointed at another number.
If a citizens group monitoring the flow of money and materials could reveal a secret, then it had never been part of the dark side to begin with.
“Look at this. The dark side is using far more materials than the total amount brought in from outside the city. Cutting off the fat and redistributing it to themselves would not be enough for this. The amount the dark side uses is several times larger. This would show up in the records no matter what you did. Important people like the Board of Directors and its Chairman can only cover up so much. This is too much. It’s well past what you could hide by cooking the books.”
He trailed off when Aneri opened a new window. A single point on a map of Academy City was colored in red. There was a secret there.
“They have an entrance and exit that doesn’t leave any records,” said the track suit girl while viewing the screen.
There were several files that appeared to be saved from message boards and social media pages. Reading through them showed a certain point in common.
If you boarded a train between 4 hours and 30 minutes, you would be taken to another world.
Takitsubo pointed at that bizarre statement.
“There is a way of reaching it and we should see hints of it in the rumors told around the city. Like the ‘!’ signs, a deadly train, kidnappers at the amusement park, babies in the coin lockers, or an underground construction zone where you can dump anything you don’t want found. But none of that gets at the real truth.”
“Academy City doesn’t promote recycling so much just because it wants to make the most of its limited resources. Sending things back to be recycled over and over again masks how much materials are actually being used. They can’t have an investigation revealing that we dump out several times more trash than materials we take in, right? That would violate conservation of mass. So they needed to make it hard to compare those two values. It’s a form of laundering.”
Why was that sleight of hand necessary? How did they reach the impossible result of more waste than raw materials? What was this secret that no one wanted getting out?
Academy City’s Greatest Taboo.
This was the identity of that term they had heard so many times today.
“It…isn’t closed off? There’s a secret route through the walls surrounding Academy City!?”
That could not be. For better or for worse, Academy City was cut off from the outside world. Those thick walls prevented their tech from spreading to the world at large because that could lead to disorder and chaos.
Hamazura used to be part of Skill Out. That was a group of the boys and girls who had dropped out of Academy City but had nowhere to go since they could not get out of the city.
They had been trapped. They had dropped out of school, but those walls had kept them here. If you wanted to take a trip outside the city for just a few days, you needed to submit a ton of paperwork and receive a nanodevice injection. Because if you tried leave without using the official gates, you could be killed to prevent a data leak. There had been burglars and muggers in the back alleys, but none of those expert thieves had dared go anywhere near the walls.
If there was a way to freely move in and out, they may not have felt so much pressure. They could have made a place for themselves.
Their former leader, Komaba Ritoku, might not have had to fight and die.
But the dark side had torn down that number one assumption like it was nothing.
That counterfeiter had stored that information on a card-sized hard drive labeled “Lifeline”. Had he thought he could use that information to get some dark side bigshots to save him?
He must have never imagined he would instead have his brains blown out by a paparazzo. Hamazura was at the center of all this, but he still did not know if that had been planned or a spontaneous decision.
“It’s deep below Academy City.” Takitsubo Rikou calmly read aloud something on such a large scale that talk of an alternate dimension would have sounded more realistic. “The world’s largest particle accelerator is built directly below the city walls, so people are told that digging in that area could break the accelerator’s seal and expose them to radiation and other risks. That was meant to convince everyone that no one would be dumb enough to try it.”
The diagram they found looked like a puzzle ring. It seemed to carefully avoid the circular accelerator facility, but this was a tunnel built by the dark side. There was no chance it met all the proper safety standards.
That was the dark side’s lifeline.
They had built it to continue pumping fuel into their illicit research and its construction showed they did not care at all if they brought chaos to the world. It really was the greatest taboo. It was a dark umbilical cord that could wipe out the Kiharas and everyone else if it was cut off.
“I doubt Anti-Skill knows about this,” said Takitsubo. “So they won’t be able to block it off. We can safely escape the city if we use it.”
The red light displayed by Aneri was in District 10, the city’s biggest slum. The taboo no one wanted was hidden below the district everyone had abandoned.
It was unclear if it had always had this name. They may have changed the name periodically to help hide the truth. All the scattered information was fragmentary witness accounts and some of it would likely be intentional misinformation.
But that taboo’s gaping mouth had sat deep underground all this time.
Like a nightmarish symbol of freedom.
The dot on the map displayed on the small screen had the following name displayed next to it: Vanishing Tunnel.
That was the name of their final destination. Anyone who arrived there was given a ticket to another world.
They were deep, deep underground in District 10.
Few people would think too much about the layout of the subway tunnels below the city. They might know a track took an unnatural curve at one point, but no one would question the online news article about them running across some kind of ruins during construction.
An underground passageway was surrounded by cold concrete and supported by the pillars positioned at even intervals.
The few fluorescent lights on the walls were not enough to fully sweep away the darkness.
That underground blind spot had become the biggest hot spot in the world. A great many people had gathered there. They had not all arrived along the same route. They had each gathered the hints scattered around the city and started to question the city’s biggest assumption. Academy City was surrounded by thick walls, but it was not in fact sealed off.
The brawny men in work jumpsuits were a courier group called Secret Express. The men and women in dress clothes were Concierge, a group that provided hideouts to meet a criminal’s demands. The girls in plain clothing and hiding their faces with sunglasses and hunting caps may have been an extremely popular idol group. The parade of scum included Controller, who used personal information and fictitious bills to threaten the girls he targeted until he had them in digital chains, and Flare, who left behind harmless powder identical to the real deal in order to confuse criminal investigations.
A ruler of the back alleys was there.
A major corporation’s lawyer was there.
A university headmaster was there.
A major entertainment producer was there.
And a few Kiharas from different fields were there.
All sorts of people flooded that underground passageway. People did not end up on the dark side because they were low class, poor, stupid, or criminal. It took all types. The dark side had reached every class of person equally. From worlds no one knew existed to industries everyone envied.
Some had fallen before making it this far and others had attempted a different route instead. In a way, finding this tunnel and setting foot inside made them the chosen ones.
Every last one of them were obstructed and crushed by a certain figure.
The woman had long blonde twintails and she wore a skintight light blue dress and a long loose skirt.
Frillsand #G was like an impassable wall.
All who challenged her crashed into that wall with the intensity of their challenge. After seeing a few of them turned to hunks of flesh and splattered blood, the others must have started wondering if she literally was a solid wall because all of those dark side members had come to a stop. They were pushed back even though she had not taken a single step.
Of course, the ghost was not going to spare them just because they gave up now.
“Next stop: skewering. Repeat: skewering.”
With a wet sound, a muscular man in black was destroyed from groin to head. But he may have been one of the lucky ones. He was gone before he even knew what had happened to him.
“Please look out for the burning and severing.”
Screams of pain echoed through the tunnel. Before long, the dark side members were fighting amongst themselves too. They appeared to have begun an ugly struggle over the concrete column they could use as a shield. However…
“We will arrive at gouging soon.”
Just as the ghost silently circled behind the column, a wet sound exploded out. The victors and losers of the struggle were all turned to mincemeat together while Frillsand #G looked on in disinterest.
“Ah…gahh,” someone groaned.
It was one of the idol girls. Her bottom half was gone and the bottom of her torso was sticking to the floor like a slug.
“But…why? We found the taboo…so aren’t we part of the dark side too? Can’t we all use…the path out together?”
“I have children to take care of. A lot of them.” Frillsand #G did not even look in her direction. “Inviting all of you in with us would only put them at risk.”
“Just…” It was already too late for her, but the top half of a girl still clawed at the concrete floor. “Just in case? You took people’s lives for no more than that!?”
“Next stop: running over. I repeat: running over.”
With a wet splat, the complaints were silenced.
The ghost seemed to be rejecting the idea that grudges lacked the power to kill.
“The rear guard is an important job,” she said in a singsong voice. “But I cannot let that crybaby see this. Knowing of it and seeing it are two very different things.”
The artificial ghost glanced over at something else.
But she soon lost interest, turned around, and vanished into the darkness.
A mere ten meters away, Hamazura Shiage was hiding behind a column and holding his hand over the track suit girl’s mouth.
If she noticed them, they were dead. He felt like his heart, his breathing, his body odor, and the slight static electricity on his clothing could all give them away. He could not even wipe the unpleasant sweat from his cheek as he desperately waited for time to pass.
That ghost really was an enemy.
She had some kind of plan of her own and had saved them on a whim before, but that did not mean he could trust her. If she had saved them on a whim, then she could also choose to throw them out on a whim. And they only had the one life.
This was worse than a sea of blood.
Flesh and blood had lost any hint of their original form, fingers extended into empty space, facial skin was frozen in a look of agony while plastered to the wall. At this point, they were only “things”, not people. There was no dignity remaining.
Each of them was a dark side member who had arrived at Academy City’s Greatest Taboo along a different route than him.
Their endless possibilities had been reduced to zero.
Or so it felt to him.
Was this tunnel really the right path? The further they went, the more likely they were to encounter that ghost woman, so he began to wonder if it would be safer to turn back now and return to the surface.
His girlfriend escaped his hand. He was holding her from behind, so she leaned her head back to look him in the eye.
“Hamazura, I don’t sense her presence anymore. We can keep going now.”
“We can’t give up after coming so far. Blindly returning to the surface won’t save us. We’ll never find peace if we don’t go through here.”
He would have long since broken if he were alone.
But when she pulled on his hand, he managed to work up some small semblance of courage.
Even with the evenly-spaced fluorescent lights, the tunnel was dark. And they had no idea who was in charge of that sparse lighting. What if the ghost could shut off the power? His phone felt all the more important to him now.
“This is a long tunnel.”
They were not speaking much anymore.
This was Academy City’s Greatest Taboo, but did this tunnel really lead toward hope? No matter how far they went, the darkness never went away. As they trudged deeper and deeper, he felt like they had passed a point of no return. Also, who had built this enormous underground facility? Someone must have drawn up the plans, dug the hole, set the foundation, and brought in the rebar and concrete. This was a far bigger project than a bank robber’s hand-dug tunnel into the vault. Such a vast and well-made underground space could not have been built without the involvement of a major construction company.
Who had done it?
It might be a company whose ads he saw on TV every day.
Would all of this come to light one day? But those meaningless thoughts were cut off by Takitsubo.
She had noticed first because she was not holding the light.
“Hamazura, there’s a door.”
It was a thick metal door.
Just the one door sat at the end of the long, long tunnel. There may have been another route, but he did not recall seeing any other paths branching off along the way.
He slowly approached.
It did not appear to be locked. He doubted there were any grenades or other “gifts” left for them.
But that was not what scared him. He had seen all of those corpses along the way. The sight had left him so terrified he barely had it in him to keep his heart beating. He had started to view their fallen predecessors as no more than a piece of the scenery. Because otherwise that shadowy murder scene would have overwhelmed him too much to continue on.
The taboos were piling up.
He and Takitsubo had started this simply wanting to survive, but they too had been corrupted along the way.
Hamazura Shiage reached his fingers toward the doorknob.
He touched it. He squeezed it.
He turned it.
A flood of light revealed a world no one was ever meant to see.
The other world turned out to be a cavernous pit.
This abyss slept deep below the earth, yet it was filled with much more artificial light than the tunnel. That was thanks to the construction lights set up here and there.
It was easily more than 250 meters across and maybe more than twice as deep. The perfectly circular space made of reinforced concrete at the very bottom may have reminded different people of different things.
Some might see it as a common utility duct, a circular colosseum, a switchyard’s turntable, or an underground temple dedicated to a god one must never offer any prayers.
But there was one crucial piece that helped solidify the proper image.
“A train?” muttered Hamazura while peering down over the railing.
It was a turntable.
Concrete columns were installed at even intervals around the edges, but there were none in the central circle. The flat concrete floor had a smaller circle built into it. That would rotate to change the train’s direction. The tracks outside the circle extended in 12 different directions. That made it all look like something else: a giant metal flower.
Yes, there were tracks, signal lights, transformers, maintenance equipment, a control room, and a fifteen-car train in here. It was a freight train.
“That’s the dark side’s lifeline?”
For him and Takitsubo, it was the plank of Carneades that would save their lives.
He doubted that turntable was all of it. There would be a container yard and maintenance zone hidden further out from the center.
They walked along the narrow catwalk built along the circular wall and descended the stairs. There were no corpses in here. Whoever had gotten here first must have used the ghost woman to eliminate any nuisances before they reached this point.
And since the train was still here, that person would still be here.
They shared this space with the slaughterer.
“Don’t worry. I’m with you no matter what.”
“Not that. There’s someone down there. And they’re not alone.”
That was a shock. Takitsubo Rikou could accurately locate people by sensing their AIM Diffusion Field. She could not use that power as well as she used to, but she could still sense it to an extent.
The tension grew.
A single person with a bizarre power was certainly scary, but having a large group approach you brought a different sort of fear. He mentally switched his priorities to at least allowing Takitsubo to escape if things looked bad.
The only exit was up here.
Leaving that would mean being surrounded by dead ends in every direction.
After descending the last flight of stairs, they arrived at the deepest depths.
It felt so much different from when they had been looking down from above. But that was not too surprising since 250 meters was larger than a domed stadium. This was the same as a sports field looking so much bigger from the stands than on TV.
Yes, Hamazura Shiage now stood on the stage. He was no longer an outsider looking in.
“Oh, dear. You actually showed up. What a shame.”
He lasted one second.
His knees suddenly dropped to the ground. He could not keep his shoulders at the same height and his lost strength would not return.
It was the ghost woman.
Was she a beneficial or a harmful?
She had left that tunnel far too bloody to claim she was trying to escape Academy City because she disliked conflict. If anything, she felt more like a vengeful spirit that refused to let anyone leave the city.
She looked like a Western doll with her long blonde twintails and light blue dress. She did not actually punch or kick him. Simply seeing her out of the corner of his eye had done critical damage to him.
A rusty-smelling liquid dripped from his eyes and nose.
He was trying to scream and flip over onto his back, but he was actually curled up and unable to move.
Encountering her meant death.
That was far too sinister a thing to be connected with a simple equals sign like that.
“It is no use.”
The ghost woman walked without audible footsteps. She moved herself from the corner of his vision to the center.
“No one is talking about anything as silly as defending against something with a shield or dodging a projectile with super speed. From the moment you see my face, the attack is complete. If I so much as casually stand in the corner of your vision, I can do continual damage without you even noticing my presence.”
He realized the strange things had always happened when the ghost woman spoke to him. And why had she turned the lights on in that tunnel? Because it was more convenient for her.
If you saw a ghost while driving, you would crash.
If your face, hands, or feet were missing in a ghost photo, you would find unnatural wounds or marks on your body.
Did this mean she even artificially reproduced those aspects of a ghost? He did not want to believe it because it would mean there was nothing he could do.
“You noticed? You must have sharper senses.”
The track suit girl quickly pulled him close, but the ghost woman did not seem to care.
Besides, if seeing her really did mean death, then Takitsubo would have been killed too, but she was fine.
“But I am not talking about anything as poorly-defined as a sixth sense for ghosts. Do you have a power related to AIM Diffusion Fields?”
“There’s no AIM Diffusion Field around you? No, some strong but invisible power is scattering that weaker field.”
“It is known as High Voltage Cutting,” said the ghost woman. “The principle may be similar to the shock diamonds seen in a rocket engine’s flame or the cavitation of air bubbles created around a propeller. The constant emission of a powerful energy will create irregular waveforms and images while it interferes with itself.”
“Gh!? What energy???”
“You can find energy everywhere.” Her tone was light, so understanding how it worked must not have helped avoid its effects. “The carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide you thoughtlessly spread around forms acid rain when it bonds with the moisture in the air. You can acquire electricity simply by sticking two electrodes into a fruit, you know? Copper and zinc are such necessities that you can find them anywhere. Using that, you can produce hydrogen gas in addition to electricity. I only need to absorb power from a civilization battery the size of a city or even greater. That is enough for me to construct a single outlier point within that stable energy.”
“What are the common types of haunted locations? Old homes full of drafts, cliffs and caves eroded by the waves, and mountain roads late at night. They are always full of noise, such as static electricity, pressure differences, the creaking of rusty doors, or the rustling of the trees in the wind. Have you ever heard a ghostly voice in the crackle of excess electricity or the roar of hydrogen gas being ignited? I can exist as I am wherever human civilization exists. If you wish to kill me, you must destroy your very way of life. On a global scale.”
This was too much.
He could not understand her explanation. And even if he thought he did, it still did not tell him how to destroy her.
Takitsubo gasped and spoke while holding onto him.
“I get that the constant use of a massive amount of unseen energy would eventually create something unnatural. But if seeing you is deadly, how do you choose specific targets to—?”
She trailed off.
She had seen something out of the corner of her eye, but not the artificial ghost this time. A unified set of colors could be seen peeking at them from a gap in the door to one of the freight train’s containers.
They were small children wearing gym clothes and some kind of device. There were more than just ten or twenty of them.
All of them were a part of the ghost experiment.
The children must have seen the ghost woman as they nervously spied out. And they seemed to be expectantly waiting to see if she would repel these unknown intruders. They did not know. They had not been told what they were being used for. Simply viewing a ghost photo was harmful and the longer you viewed it, the more damage it did. She embodied that power so perfectly that she had eliminated so many dark side elites.
Yet she had managed to accurately select one out of the many candidates.
That was like shooting the apple off someone’s head. Without explaining any of it to the children who had those sensors attached to them.
The delinquent boy clenched his teeth.
He could barely move, she held his life in her hand, and he had no idea how to fight back. He had to avoid angering her if at all possible. He understood that, but he still shouted up at her.
“Call me what you wish. In fact, I see it as a compliment.”
The ghost woman who resembled a fairy tale princess held her palm out toward him. He only had to see her impossible presence for her to attack, so that gesture was meaningless.
But then her eyes turned unnaturally away from him.
To the side.
A spare container sitting near the train was sliced in two. Something had dropped down from far above like a bolt of lightning.
A red figure wielded a thick machete made of heavy metal.
The android wore a racing swimsuit colored the orange and black of an insect. The bangs of her long crimson hair were cut straight across and she had a slender build.
Cartoony flowers were displayed in her mechanical eyes.
“Hello, hello,” said a twig of an old man in a blue jumpsuit and lab coat. “I hate to interrupt when you seem so busy, but I must insist.”
The ghost woman shrugged.
“Were you hoping to use the train? I thought you were one of the harmfuls who would remain in the city and resist to the bitter end.”
“I have no interest in those categories forced onto the dark side from the outside. All I care about is continuing my research. Academy City was a wonderful environment for that, but if that has changed, I need to leave and search out a more comfortable place.”
“You can see me, can’t you?”
“You should be able to tell by observing my eye movements.”
“And you know what that means?” She gave a suggestive glance over at the machine that had arrived with him. “In case you were unaware, I am capable of causing malfunctions in mechanical lenses and sensors just as well as in the human body. Ghost photographs are a result of ghosts interfering in optical machinery, are they not? That might be your masterpiece, but isn’t it presumptuous to assume she can wield her full power against me?”
She remained untouchable. She could kill someone just by placing herself in the corner of their vision and machines could not do anything to her either. Did she have no blind spots?
“Yes, I imagine so.”
But the old man did not seem to mind.
That mysterious old man known as a Kihara was not bothered that she held his life in her hand.
“You are the strongest when it comes to an individual. Looking at deadliness alone, you might outdo the #3 and the #2.”
Evidently, even ghosts could find something to be ominous.
This world may have been infected with a disease that caused all bad premonitions to come true.
“But in this specific location, I believe you too will find you cannot wield your full power.”
“What are you—gah!!!!????”
He had given her plenty of warning, but she suddenly arched her back and then froze unnaturally in midair. An ominous straining sound continued on and on as her body grew distorted. She bent and stretched, almost like a face pressed against a wall of glass.
Something was happening.
Hamazura had thought the ghost woman was an intangible being, like a mist or apparition. But she was not. She clearly had a spine to strain, muscles to cry out in pain, and organs to writhe unnaturally.
Then a bizarre creaking and cracking noise came from her. Her volume shrank more and more like she was being crushed in from all sides. The old man was holding something up in his special engineering glove. It looked like an empty candy box, but it was not. It had a small pinhole at the very top. The ghost woman was sucked into that small hole like a liquid or a gas. Hamazura did not want to imagine what things were like inside there. He could only say one thing in a daze.
“High Voltage Cutting? I see, a strange theory, but she is still a form of unstable energy. And all energy will move from high to low—unstable to stable. This is enough to break down her form and burn in her image.”
The old man let go of the candy box.
He had the look of a mischievous child who had just realized he could create his own spark show by sticking a metal clip in the microwave.
“This is the appropriate choice for a ghost photo, don’t you think? A digital camera just wouldn’t fit the aesthetic.”
After dropping it to the cold concrete, he crushed it below his heel. He did not even glance down at the flattened box.
“Academy City’s Greatest Taboo.” He tapped on his lower back. “Surely you didn’t think a construction company building a secret tunnel out of the city was enough to earn a name like that. With something like her around, you really should have thought of a different possibility.”
Hamazura felt like the unnatural “curse” had weakened, but he still could not bring himself to get up from the ground. The old man only now seemed to have realized that there was another person here reaching for the plank of Carneades.
Hamazura knew any attention on him would only lead to disaster.
Kihara Hasuu smiled.
“Let me make one thing clear. There is a member of the Board who built a vast fortune by doing unofficial construction work for the dark side, but he knows nothing of this. This massive underground structure just appeared out of the blue one day.”
Out of the blue?
Hamazura had operated construction machinery before, so he knew how absurd that was. Did that old man have any idea how long it would take to dig out a hole of this size?
But the old man appeared to be serious.
“The Vanishing Tunnel does not actually exist.”
Hamazura had no idea what that was supposed to mean.
It made no sense. If that were true, then where were they now???
The old man gave the answer.
“Kazakiri Hyouka was not just a single individual. She is more like one piece of the Imaginary Number District, an entire city created from the aggregation of AIM Diffusion Fields. …It all began with a project meant to cut out a portion of that territory and extract it as a new resource. Unlike the microscopic alchemy performed in the particle accelerator, this would have been on the macro scale and cost very little. But not even the group of researchers who guided all that power through the city could have predicted it would take this form. Academy City’s Greatest Taboo is such a dramatic name. In truth, it was a major failure that needed to be covered up. Everyone involved was at their wits’ end.” He tapped his lower back again. “A nonexistent pathway unofficially connected Academy City to the world outside, increasing the risk of the outer world’s collapse through cultural exchange and technological contamination. The entire world very well could have been destroyed from this single point. While the researchers had hoped to extract materials from the Imaginary Number District, whatever came from there might have transformed the outside world into something truly grotesque. …Yes, that the world still exists as it does now was no more than dumb luck. It was nothing we did on our end. Kazakiri Hyouka and the other inhuman monsters simply showed no interest in that. If something had occurred to them and they had tried it, the world would have ended.”
“You mean…” Takitsubo replied since she had a better understanding of things related to AIM. “You were researching the exact opposite of that ghost? A ghost made from powerful energy and an aggregation of weak powers are opposites, so when they came together, it caused the ghost to malfunction… You were trying to extract inorganic materials from that unseen city, weren’t you?”
“Hard to say if that research was a step forward or a step back. Like I said, they failed. They could not control it, so even the remains of their project you see here cannot be erased. I believe the natural half life was about 12,000 years. In the worst case, the Imaginary Number District could have been converted into real numbers, crushing Academy City in the process. I think the project could have found success if they could have cut off a piece at a workable size and found a way to control it. In that sense, that ghost really is the strongest as an individual and an enviable success.”
Now even Hamazura had a vague idea why the ghost woman had suddenly malfunctioned.
They could not be in the same place.
Two ghosts could not coexist. Just like installing two different pieces of security software on the same computer would cause a conflict.
“It was still a risky gamble, though. The odds were low, but if the tunnel had lost, this temporary space itself would have vanished and we would all have become fossils after being buried deep below the surface.”
Hamazura heard a swooshing sound and looked over to see the android swinging her thick machete next to the old man. Those two had won their bet, so now no one could stop them.
Kihara Hasuu looked away from Hamazura and turned to someone else.
“Now, I have eliminated your bodyguard. Isn’t it time we talked this out like adults?”
“When’s the train going to leave?”
“Oh, mister just left.”
The children dressed up in gym clothes were whispering to each other while peeking out through the cracked-open door of a freight train container.
But among them…
“Ow, that hurts.”
The girl named Risako spoke up in protest.
But Sodate ignored that and continued tugging on her skinny wrist. The bigger boy was kind of scary when he was not saying anything.
“Listen, Risako.” He spoke quickly while walking through the shadows to stay hidden. He seemed to be speaking to himself more than the girl. “You can still escape. It’s not too late. And once you get to the surface, go tell the grownups about this. I know you can do it.”
“Why? The train is about to leave.”
“You still don’t get it!?” He shouted with his hands on her shoulders. “They make us wear these clothes and devices, they keep us separated from the rest of the city, and they don’t let us go to a normal school. We’re Child Errors, so no one will even notice if we just disappear one day. They’re only raising us because they can use us for something. They’re fattening us up to eat us!”
“We don’t even have phones to call for help. It isn’t normal to be this isolated. That’s why I kept leaving behind some sign of our presence: building blocks, picture books, balls, and so on. I left them outside before the trucks moved on and I made sure to write our names, the trucks’ license numbers, and other information on them! But none of it ever reached the grownups. Our efforts never reached anyone!!”
She had thought he kept stealing things because he was selfish. She had thought he would forget those things in his secret bases because he was sloppy. But that was not it.
“They’re relatively peaceful beneficials? Don’t make me laugh. What’s going to change after we board that train and leave Academy City? There won’t be anyone monitoring them anymore!! Once that happens, I just know he’ll stop holding back. He’ll take it even further! So you at least need to escape before that happens!!”
“I’ll give you an opening.” He looked the girl in the eye and spoke clearly. “I won’t let him turn you into a guinea pig no matter what!!”
A somewhat slender man stepped out. He wore a short-sleeved safari jacket and a rash guard, making him look something like an old-fashioned adventurer, but the webcam attached to the side of his head gave him a more modern outdoorsy look. He appeared to be a different sort of researcher from the old mechanic in a lab coat and jumpsuit.
He was an expert at visiting so-called haunted locations around the world and revealing the scientific cause of the strange phenomena there. But he had apparently also artificially recreated such things to use them for his own purposes.
He grinned and raised his hands in a jocular way. Kihara Hasuu asked him a question with the deadly weapon girl still by his side.
“What is your name?”
“Drencher Kihara Repatri.”
“I see. So that’s you.”
The young man’s eyebrows moved slightly in response to the old man’s impressed tone.
“I didn’t expect someone like you to have heard of me.”
“You are rather…well known.”
The way he said that told Hamazura he did not mean that in a positive way.
This was a confrontation between two harmfuls.
The two researchers ignored the boy and girl entirely as they began a verbal rally. Hamazura knew he could not just sit and watch as a referee or spectator, but he had no way of intervening.
“As you can see, we come from different levels of the dark side. If there is no place for us in Academy City anymore, then leaving the city is a valid choice. But is that plank of Carneades really only big enough for the one group? I think it can support both of us just fine.”
That suggestion seemed surprising…but maybe it wasn’t. It was the ghost woman who had been slaughtering all of the other dark side members trying to reach this point. The android may have attacked Anti-Skill, but she had never actively tried to eliminate her fellow dark siders. She had attacked Hamazura near the counterfeiter’s tents, but if she had been trying to slaughter everyone she came across, the ordinary people in the amusement park would not have escaped alive.
The young man shrugged.
“If that means less fighting, it’s okay with me. Not that I really have a choice, do I?”
“Assuming you have no other trump cards.”
“Then I surrender.”
He did not hesitate to respond. Hamazura was actually surprised to see he was willing to back down to save his own life. Hamazura had gotten the impression that the extreme members of the dark side were willing to sacrifice their own life to achieve their goal.
That surprise scared Hamazura. He could tell he had let the dark side influence him too much. He was afraid the damage would be permanent if he went much further. Once he became a harmful, there was no going back.
“She was my prized project, you know? Frillsand #G, I mean. Now, I knew Academy City’s Greatest Taboo would pose a challenge, but I never imagined it was a giant mass of AIM Diffusion Fields.”
“Everything has its compatibility. In fact, I could never have won if we were not down here. Keep this girl from working and I’m helpless.”
The crimson-haired girl did nothing to fight the wrinkled hand rubbing her head.
The two men were reaching an agreement. That was not good. Hamazura and Takitsubo had nothing they could offer in a negotiation. At this rate, they would probably each get a bullet in the head as a parting gift. The only other option he could imagine was being made into a guinea pig for some bizarre experiment.
“Oh, right,” casually began the old man.
If he said “what should we do about those two lumps of flesh”, they were screwed. And Hamazura could not predict what that Kihara would do. He felt a terrible squeezing at his heart.
Finally, Kihara Hasuu continued.
“While we can share the train, I will be in charge there. So if you want a ride, it’s only natural you pay a small fare, don’t you think?”
“Do you want my research notes on Frillsand #G?”
“I’m no barbarian. A scientist’s research notes are a part of his very soul. Those are the fruits of your labors, so take them to your grave.”
“Then what do you want?”
“A few of them.”
The old man’s voice was as casual as ever as he pointed his engineering glove in a different direction entirely. He pointed at the gym clothes children who were peeking out from behind cover, without a clue what was being discussed.
“Just select a few at random. I intend to restart my research once things have calmed down, but the rules are different outside the city. I can’t start abducting people off the street until I have a proper base set up, so I could use an initial supply for that settling-in period.”
Hamazura froze as he listened in.
This was the dark side. This was how the elites of that stagnant world thought.
“That Frillsand #G is important to your research, but not so with those lab rats, right? How many experimental observers’ lives were lost until you managed to properly reproduce that artificial ghost? If your research has entered a stable period, I would assume you are not running through those Child Errors as quickly as you once were.”
“Heh,” laughed Drencher Kihara Repatri.
He weakly lowered his raised hands. He must have decided that was no longer necessary. He too had seen the darkness, so he spoke with the same look in his eyes as the old man.
“It’s true those are all Child Errors. And however they would be treated in the ordinary world, we all know exactly what that term means in the dark side. Yes, I gathered them together and invited them into my lab. I made sure to have a plentiful stock of convenient lives that could be spent as I liked if other forms of research were not enough.”
“Then I can have a few?”
“Go to hell, you son of a bitch.”
Several dry gunshots rang out.
Hamazura Shiage did not understand what had just happened.
His body still refused to do what it was told, so track suit girl Takitsubo had to push him to the ground.
The young man had pulled out a handgun. It was no more than a small revolver, but he still fired it repeatedly from just a few meters away.
“That won’t work,” said the old man.
The android’s crimson hair fluttered while she held her thick machete at the ready with her bare feet planted a step in front of Hasuu. Not only had she deflected all of the bullets, she had used their ricochets as a counterattack.
No more than a small revolver.
Something had gone horribly wrong when you started thinking of things in those terms in this country.
The young man had several holes in his upper body and dark red stains spread across his clothes. Doubling over did nothing to help, so he finally collapsed to the ground.
The old man in a jumpsuit and lab coat spoke up in exasperation while the strongest doll protected him.
“They’re just kids. And it’s not like I’m asking for all of them. Just two or three will do.”
“I wanted to…protect them from the dark side scum who think like that,” spat the young man while struggling to breathe down on all fours. He had given up trying to hold his wounds. “But nothing I did above board did anything to help. I couldn’t even get information on where those children were. The only way to fight the dark side…was to become the dark side. I almost laughed when I saw how many people came running to me then, claiming my research was so valuable. When I said I needed children’s lives to do it, they slapped me on the shoulder and agreed to it all. While happily sipping on a glass of the year’s finest red with their other hand. This city is rotten to the core.”
“Aren’t you Drencher Kihara Repatri?”
“Claiming to be a Kihara was the quickest way to get what I wanted. Ha ha. Those VIPs really were terrified of me.”
“Dammit,” spat out Hamazura Shiage.
The young man saw his own condition as of secondary importance.
It was true the ghost woman had used the children. They had been placed in a position where she could crush their lives at any moment. But had Hamazura ever seen her actually kill a child? What if they had been living in a world where they had to take the charade that far to be believed?
The old man had asked how many experimental observers’ lives were lost until he managed to properly reproduce the artificial ghost, but the young man had never answered.
That was in fact the answer. He had not sacrificed anyone. Not one. He had wanted to gather up those children known as Child Errors and drag them up out of the darkness. There were adults willing to dive into the dark side for no other reason than that.
There really were.
Hamazura suddenly rejected that entire premise. Because if he accepted this, he would have to admit to his own ugliness. Even if saying this would mean revealing he was ugly enough to put up a struggle like this.
“I’ve seen you before. You were at that counterfeiter’s place! You were preparing a passport for yourself so you could abandon those kids and leave the city!!”
“This all would have gone so much more smoothly if that had worked.” The young man smiled weakly. “If I had shown off how I escaped with the passport, Anti-Skill and the dark side’s focus would have turned toward District 23’s airport. Then the children would have had a safer escape underground here. I was never supposed to be down here with them.”
“~ ~ ~!!!!!!”
It felt like they lived in two completely different worlds.
And that young man was definitely the one in the right.
Hamazura felt so pathetic and contemptible for only ever acting to protect him and his girlfriend.
“I know I shouldn’t be asking this.”
The young man looked his way. As if to say it did not matter if he really was a Kihara or not.
His eyes knew how to view the light, but for some reason he now looked to someone as corrupted as Hamazura.
“Maybe it’s for the best if the dark side is destroyed, but please take care of those kids. You’re the only person I can leave them with now. When you saw your girlfriend suffering, you panicked and dumped medical supplies across the ground in your haste. I could see the conscience in your eyes. You had no choice but to fall this far, but you should still have some resistance to the dark side left inside you.”
“Wait, I’m not like that for everyone. Don’t shove this onto me! She’s my girlfriend, so of course I’d work to save her!!”
“Ha ha. Thinking that’s an ‘of course’ is what makes you such an oddity in the dark side. Don’t worry, I know you can do it. Because after falling into this shitty world, you still managed to find someone you care for and you decided to find peace instead of another thrill.”
Hamazura and Takitsubo had first heard of Academy City’s Greatest Taboo from this man.
Hamazura had been cautious because there was no righteousness in the dark side and the man must have had his own reasons.
Was this why?
Had it been some insurance, just in case? Instead of worrying about his own survival, he had wanted some insurance for after he died.
Yet he had also slaughtered the dark sider people rushing toward this exit.
All because he could not let any harm come to the children as those people fought each other. He had rushed down a dark path to prevent a mere possibility.
But on Hamazura and Takitsubo’s way here, hadn’t the ghost woman glanced their way after slaughtering everyone else and then left, as if sparing them?
“Why did you do all this?”
That was the only question Hamazura could find.
That was not something to say to a dying man. He knew that. But after letting the dark side corrupt him while he worked so hard to ensure his and his girlfriend’s survival, this answer was too pure and upright to accept.
“How could you throw away your own life over this!? When you get down to it, those kids are just strangers! How could a goddamn harmful go this far just because you ‘wanted to save them’!? How!? Tell me!?”
The young man smiled.
There was already blood dripping from the corners of his lips.
“Do you need a reason to protect someone? Of course you don’t.”
That was the end of it.
Time stopped for him with the smile still on his lips.
He had no reason. He did not know why. And he had rushed in to save those children without ever finding a reason.
Hamazura Shiage had to admit defeat.
The loser boy clenched his teeth. He moved his battered body, swiped the bloody handgun and some ammo from the young man, and shouted at the top of his lungs.
Losers had their own etiquette to follow.
That scummy old man was still here. Hamazura was not going to let him trample on the young man’s victory.
A dull kachunk echoed through the circular space.
The support AI had taken control of the train and shifted it out of standby, so it slowly began to move.
The turntable had tracks in twelve directions, but he knew where to send it.
He just had to remember what the card-sized hard drive labeled Lifeline had said.
If you boarded a train between 4 hours and 30 minutes, you would be taken to another world.
In other words…
(Hours and minutes. If I apply that to an analog clock…)
“Send it down the five o’clock track!!”
The train took off with so many children in gym clothes on board.
That had been his top priority.
“Is justice contagious these days?” asked the old man with the look of someone viewing a crazy person.
He had already proven that the gun would not work, so he gave Hamazura a look of partial pity now that he had inherited that defeated weapon.
“You risked your life for this, but to no avail. Look, not all of them were onboard. They must have run in fear from the very person who would have saved them.”
“Hamazura, two of them were left behind. We can’t just leave them here.”
A boy and a girl in gym clothes were holding hands a short distance away.
What had they thought when they learned the truth behind that young man’s satisfied smile?
Especially when their own actions had worked against him.
“Well, those two will suffice. I will be taking them as a souvenir. Any more than this would have been a waste of food anyway.”
“Shut up,” spat out Hamazura.
He really should not have been doing this. He had come here to escape to safety. It had been clear from the very beginning that he could not be a great hero or brave warrior. This selfish choice here might put himself and his girlfriend in danger.
A dying man had left this with him. He had been reminded what it meant to do the right thing. There were lives here he could save. He could redo things. And most of all, his girlfriend was watching.
He was done being pathetic. He gathered strength in his sweaty body and stood up under his own power again. He had to.
“Maybe you’re a Kihara and an android.”
His goal was to run away?
No, sometimes a man had to stand up and speak his mind.
“But I’ll take you on, you goddamned dark siders!!!!!!”
He knew it was possible.
He had just seen a man stay true to this way of life.
He could reclaim his humanity. He must have learned something from what he saw here.
Of course, Hamazura could never actually hit the crimson-haired android by firing the 9mm handgun at random. He knew she would deflect the bullets with her thick machete and fill him with holes.
So he did something else instead.
A giant shape suddenly moved right next to the racing swimsuit girl.
A wheel loader used to stack up the railroad-sized containers was being remotely controlled.
What was that machete even made of? She did not even look in that direction as she swung her weapon and sliced apart the snowplow-looking piece of machinery. Even though she was not using any rapid vibrations or heat.
But Hamazura used that moment to pull on his girlfriend’s hand and move from there.
This was a vast circular space, but it was not an empty colosseum.
It had concrete columns just like an underground common utility duct and it had various equipment needed for operating and maintaining the trains, all located where it would not get in the way of the turntable and the twelve directions of track. Transformers were surrounded by a fence, a prefab hut had been made into a control room, giant jacks and a carwash were prepared for maintenance purposes, and more.
Aneri had directly operated the freight train, so he felt safe assuming she could operate all of the equipment here.
He pulled his girlfriend close while hiding behind a concrete column and whispering to his phone.
“Aneri, can you directly hijack that hunk of junk?”
He took that as a no. This did not sound like it was an issue of building up to that or setting something up in advance. That android was immune to cyber attacks on some level he did not understand.
(That means the only option is to destroy her the old-fashioned way!!)
“Hamazura, we can’t hide here forever. If she stops focusing on us, she’ll go after those children. Villains always go for the easiest target.”
“I know that.”
Takitsubo kept trying to wipe the sweat from her brow, but something was not right. The moxibustion should have relieved her symptoms to an extent, but that treatment might not be working as much anymore.
He was worried, but he could not stop now. He hated that fact.
“But using ourselves as bait will put us at risk. Are you prepared for that, Takitsubo?”
“Ask any more stupid questions and I’ll slap you.”
“Okay, it’s time to win your heart all over again!!”
They both ran out from behind the concrete column.
Their eyes met the ones with pupils mechanically expanding and contracting, but they stayed strong this time.
Ladybird had a lock on two targets.
She walked barefoot across the floor and accurately obeyed her instructions, but she also had a question.
Why were the children necessary?
Kihara Hasuu—her Sensei—was researching androids. He had already successfully created one, so he no longer needed to capture biological humans to dissect and observe them. This disagreement appeared to be over ownership of the Child Errors (she failed to realize it was her education by that true Kihara that led her to use the word “ownership” in this context), but why was the old man so insistent on this?
That unfortunate research was a thing of the past.
She was an android built from purely mechanical parts, but she could use an esper power. That meant no more human specimens were needed for esper development experiments. They only had to mess with machines from now on. The Child Errors no longer needed to be captured and used up.
She thought that was a wonderful thing. She could not believe the people who still clung to the old system that required humans to use other humans. Did they wish to protect the status given to them by the current Level system? If they truly believed their fight was just, then they were beyond reasoning with. Machines were not the only ones that could have their memory data rewritten. Humans could have their feelings and thoughts falsified as well.
So she would bring an end to it all.
She was fighting here to end the misfortune and tragedies caused by the esper development program.
The boy raised a meaningless battle cry, ran in, and repeatedly fired his handgun. She only had to block those shots with her machete.
But he had apparently learned how she fought.
She tried to hit him with the ricochets, but they refused to hit. When she deflected a bullet back, it would follow the same straight trajectory. Placing a single piece of plywood in the middle would change things. A bullet’s force was determined by its muzzle velocity. The force of the ricochet would generally be lower. That was obvious enough since bullets were not constantly accelerating like a rocket or missile. So he could set it up so he could shoot her through an obstacle, but she could not break through it on the way back.
Her use of ricochets was similar to Accelerator’s reflection, but all her machete did was knock the bullet back. She could not include the actual vector in that.
(I doubt someone with such a stupid face could do this. He must be receiving assistance with the calculations.)
She considered jumping. Lifting both feet from the ground was usually a bad idea in combat, but not so with her. With her android specs, she could kick off of one column to the next and attack from the air.
She heard the loud roar of an engine while dealing with the bullets.
It appeared to come from a forklift.
“Aneri, surround the kids! I don’t know where that old man got off to, but don’t let him get close!! If he tries it, run him over!!”
“Don’t get distracted.”
He could have gotten a hit in on her by sending the forklift in from the side while firing on her from the front. Not that a blow like that would be enough to destroy her frame.
She swung the thick machete in her right hand while gathering her strength in the space between her eyebrows.
That was how she aimed.
A blast of wind blew away the obstacles between her and Hamazura Shiage. It was more like they were obliterated by an explosion than swept away by wind.
“An esper power!?” shouted the boy.
“It looked to be Level 3 or higher,” said the girl.
She no longer had to worry about the gunfire now that the line of fire was clear. He must have known the risk of ricochets was back because he stopped attacking and hid behind a nearby column, but that was no defense. She could charge in and slice through the column and his torso behind it with a single horizontal sweep of her blade.
She had enough time to reach her other hand to her thigh, pull out the bottle, and take a drink of the discharge machine oil.
A dull boom burst out.
She was only an android modeled after the structure of the human body, but the materials used for her skeleton, muscles, and everything else were bizarre dark side tech. If she wanted to, her horsepower could rival a V12 engine at max RPM.
But even as she chose the correct action, her mechanical head was filled with questions.
She had used a wind power.
But hadn’t she used fire during her previous clash with these people? And what about the time before that?
Androids had the same structure as humans, so a single android should only have a single power. Or could she do what humans could not because she was a machine?
A column of reinforced concrete was sliced through as easily as tofu or thin paper.
Not horizontally or diagonally—vertically and all the way through. After kicking from column to column to gain height, she had apparently dropped down like lightning. She had a human form, but she could perform superhuman movements.
Hamazura Shiage had tried to jump to the side just beforehand, but he ended up tumbling into a roll.
It was not his torso sliced through along with the column. It was a gas drum kept on hand for the facility’s auxiliary power generator.
He grimaced at the pain in his hips as he continued rolling and pulled the trigger repeatedly.
Not even Ladybird could deflect bullets that hit the concrete ground and sent sparks flying.
The vaporizing gasoline ignited into explosive flames that swallowed up the entire racing swimsuit silhouette.
“No, Hamazura! It didn’t work!!”
He clicked his tongue while the track suit girl ran over from elsewhere and pulled him to his feet. A black figure was displayed on the other side of that fiery screen. She showed no sign of collapsing or writhing in pain.
Had she used that previous wind power to affect how the flames spread?
He hoped so. If she was simply this tough, he could not imagine how to defeat her.
“How do you defeat an android anyway? Strangle her or stab her in the heart, she’s still a machine. That won’t stop her!!”
Could he break her motherboard? Or pull out her battery? But he had no idea how many she had or where in her slender body they were located.
The roaring flames were sliced apart. A horizontal sweep of the heavy metal machete conquered the orange barrier. The barefoot android stepped through entirely unscathed. There was no sign of discoloration on her crimson hair, white skin, or orange and black racing swimsuit.
“Something isn’t right,” said Takitsubo Rikou with eyes seemingly more robotic than the machine’s. What was she looking at right now? “An android that uses esper powers is conceivably possible. Mechanical processing may be able to ‘observe’ the waves or particles like a human brain does. And if you developed that far enough, you might be able to purposefully select between different supernatural phenomena. But this wavelength is simpler than that.”
“You mean how she switches between powers?” spat out Hamazura. “That container base in the garbage pile was their lab, right? Then I get why that old man wants those kids so bad. Even if I don’t know exactly how he would use them.”
Now, why were they able to spend so long discussing this?
The delinquent boy made sure to keep his gun aimed, but the android in question was only tilting her head.
A dark liquid was dripping from her eyes and nose.
He had seen that before. Immediately after she had been hit by the hakama girl and fought back with her fire power.
Kihara Hasuu’s voice reached them from somewhere, but it was echoing too much to tell where it came from. Hamazura would have shot the man if he saw him.
“Is it that time already? This is why I wanted to stock up sooner rather than later.”
“Hey.” Hamazura shouted at the unseen man. “Isn’t that cheating? You can’t really call her an android if that’s what you’re doing.”
The boy watched as the girl in the orange and black racing swimsuit held her head and doubled over.
A low straining sound came from her.
Then her back opened along the line from her nape to her tailbone.
The clasp holding together the X-shaped band at the center of the swimsuit’s back popped open and the supports were released in four directions.
Then her soft skin opened wide while supported at her nape.
Her opened back almost looked like a steam locomotive’s boiler or a furnace from hell. The fact that it was smooth human skin instead of a thick metal door gave it the sinister appearance of an insect’s shell opening up.
The top half of her swimsuit fell out of place, but her chest was not visible.
Her long red hair dropped down to cover it up.
She had planted her hands and feet on the ground like a beast.
Something translucent crawled out of her. It looked like a long, narrow blade or like a wriggling snake. It would grab something, drag it inside her, and cut it away. It was an automatic extraction organ.
Hamazura knew what it was for.
“I saw the junk those trash collectors were taking back after searching through those piles of abandoned items. A fridge was full of some brownish filth.”
He felt nauseated just remembering it.
He grimaced as he viewed that monster.
“It was stuffed full of corpses with the contents of their heads removed. When those trash collectors were searching out fridges and washing machines, they weren’t selling them to used appliance stores. They were opening up bloodstained boxes packed full of still-usable organs. And they all came from your lab, didn’t they!?”
“Well, the ordinary corpses were apparently disposed of in District 10’s slums, but there are a lot of people willing to buy up ones fresh enough to make use of their parts.”
Ladybird was not an android with esper powers. She was as harmful as they came. She was a machine that would devour people’s brains when necessary. In Hamazura’s opinion, that meant she did not fit the definition of an android.
“This is a completely different approach from the Rensa model of esper cyborg. Instead of a cyborg made by giving a brain a body, Ladybird-kun is a body given a brain.” Hasuu sounded like he was introducing his favorite grandchild. “Cellulose nanofiber is a carbon material gathering attention for its use in making wires and bulletproof materials, but the point is we can create delicate wires even thinner than the cranial nerves. But unlike a biological brain, leaving them in their active state causes them to automatically replicate and they will try to forcibly fold themselves up for space if they run out of room in the skull. The cerebrum’s frontal lobe is especially troublesome. So a foreign object must be introduced to constantly provide just the right amount of damage to ensure the brain remains the size I want it. Her power changes each time a new foreign object is introduced, but that is due to the change in the rejection and damage pattern. You can think of that as a simple idiosyncrasy.”
A grinding sound came from Ladybird while she seemed to be searching for something. However the old researcher described it, a human brain was apparently a necessary part for her to run. Her movements were noticeably stiff and awkward as she pursued that poison on her own.
“Sensei…but you said this research would help. You said the spread of androids would mean no more human specimens were needed for the esper development.”
“The ladybird—another name for the ladybug—might look humorous, but it is in fact a ravenous carnivore. You have heard that they are good to have around because they eat aphids, haven’t you?”
“And there are a lot of insects that mimic ladybugs. That includes a type of darkling beetle and cockroach, both kinds of bugs people might not normally want around. But that is not actually a type of protective coloration. Ha ha. Instead of trying to blend into their natural surroundings or avoid their predators, that coloration might actually be used to make humans like them.”
How deep did the dark side go?
How disgusting could the dark said get?
“So don’t you see?”
Its attacks were indiscriminate, like a cannibal insect.
The developer spoke to what looked like a lovely girl. And he seemed to be enjoying it immensely.
“That is the perfect name for you.”
text> @I thought there was a problem with the world.
text> @I thought it was wrong for @humans to use @humans for their research in this city.
text> But @I could climb onto the examination table instead.
text> @I can be repaired or remade as many times as necessary.
text> Since my body was made identically to a @human’s, @I would be able to use an esper power as well. Pieces of my body could be freely added or removed, so @I could be examined inside and out more easily than a @human and @I could be modified as they saw fit.
text> No more sacrifices would be necessary for the esper development research.
text> That is why @I fought.
text> @I thought @Sensei’s research was a wonderful thing.
“You know, Ladybird-kun, the term android signifies an artificial human built with an engineering approach. Based on that definition, it seems appropriate to me for a completed android to behave like a human.”
text> @Sensei’s words were like a shining light of hope.
text> @I wondered if @I really was good enough.
text> But @I was happy as long as @I could be of some use. @I think that kind of feeling is not something a simple machine could feel.
text> Does that mean @I am somehow @human?
text> The @humans that @I have seen are like that. They do not hesitate to make inefficient choices without even considering cost performance.
text> That is why @I find @humans to be so incredible.
text> @I have not spoken much with any other than @Sensei, but @I know that is because @androids cannot be made public yet. But @I love the @humans that @I see from a distance.
text> @I will build a path to a brighter future for them—a path to a happier world—so @I cannot allow someone to destroy all that just because they do not understand. So I will not let anyone interfere. Anyone who claims it is right to harm @people cannot be allowed to trample on the future @I can bring them.
“Ah, ahh. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!?”
The lovely girl in a racing swimsuit screamed.
All light vanished from her already mechanical eyes. She had fully transformed into a grotesque predator that roared on all fours.
She wanted to reject the idea, but she could not.
The only way to preserve herself was to devour that raw body tissue and bring it to the most important part of her body. Because intentionally introducing that foreign object would trigger a rejection reaction that would continue to damage her head in just the right way. That truth was more horrifying than needing to soak in a bathtub full of rotting corpses every day. Yet she could not stop. She was not allowed to stop. That had been built into her at the design phase, whether she liked it or not. She would always return to it like a drowning person struggling to reach the surface for air.
Tears spilled from her eyes.
Her mechanical face was painted with anger, hatred, and shame.
Why was she designed to do that?
An ordinary person like Hamazura could not figure it out. What logical reason was there? It almost felt like the cruelty of someone who enjoyed to watch others suffer.
At the same time, everything she needed to survive was contained inside her. Or maybe it was more accurate to say she had been built as an autonomous iron maiden. The victim was thrown into her back, the door to that steam locomotive boiler would slam shut, and the rest was completed automatically. She was made to do that and she must have actually done it several times before.
At that point, it was not an issue of good and evil on her part.
Hamazura could not judge her, but he did have to stop her.
No matter what.
“Grahhhhhhhh!!” she roared.
Takitsubo shouted in a panic because the red figure had vanished.
But the quadrupedal android had not leaped toward Hamazura or Takitsubo. Nor did she leap toward Kihara Hasuu who had made her this way. She went for someone else. She gained height by kicking off the columns and she moved every closer to the smallest and easiest prey: the kids in gym clothes.
Her instincts took precedence over strategy or emotion.
A hacked track inspection car drove in from the side to tear apart an exposed high-voltage power line for the train. The power line whipped like a serpent and tangled around the android.
A great crash followed.
Knocking her to the ground was not going to flatten Ladybird, but it mattered a lot that she had fallen on her right side with the machete still in that hand.
She could not use that to defend with her arm caught between herself and the ground.
Hamazura gripped the small revolver in both hands and fired several times.
Dry gunshots expanded through the enclosed space.
This time, the shots actually hit the android whose back was turned to him. The “mouth” on her back quickly closed before she had even withdrawn the extraction organ that resembled the thin wing of an insect or a giant scalpel, but that was all that happened. It did not seem to do any real damage to her.
She used one arm to tear away the exposed power line wrapped around her like a serpent, freeing herself. At this rate, the forklifts protecting the children would not last long.
There was no time to spare.
“Boy!! Do you want to protect that girl!?” shouted Hamazura from a distance.
He did not wait for a response. The boy’s efforts had backfired badly, but if he did not care about that girl, he would not have gotten her off the train so she could escape.
Hamazura Shiage decided to trust this fellow human being.
“Then be brave and step forward! Falling back only gives her more of a chance to eat you two!!”
When the boy protecting his friend squeezed his eyes shut and stepped forward, Ladybird briefly came to a stop. She needed the soft brains inside those children. That was the poison she needed to damage herself.
But moving up to her was the right choice.
It was just like a cowboy’s lasso. You could swing it overhead to gather strength all you liked, but it would still be hard to throw it around the head of someone who was close enough to hug you. The android’s extraction organ looked like the thin wing of an insect or a transparent sword, but it was very long. That meant it was hard to use against someone right up in front of her.
But this method would only buy a few seconds at most.
Once she moved to the proper distance and tried again, the boy really would be eaten.
Hamazura made his next move before she could do that.
He had picked up a bottle of industrial cleaner presumably used to wash the train and he chucked it over a metal fence to hit a device larger than a refrigerator.
The giant railroad transformer scattered a frightening amount of sparks. And while it was invisible, it also sent out powerful electromagnetic waves.
Those waves’ effect on the human body was unknown, but their effect on a machine would be much more severe.
He heard a scream. That thing shaped like a calm and composed girl was now writhing on the ground in apparent pain.
Hamazura ran over, fired two or three shots at her, and continued on past her. Then he picked up the gym clothes boy still standing in danger and slid along the ground like a baseball player.
He hid behind the concrete column where the gym clothes girl was.
“Well done, boy. It’ll be okay now.”
Maybe someone from Anti-Skill or Judgment should have been saying that.
Maybe someone from the filthy dark side had no right to say it.
But he had taken over for a man who had wanted to say that so very badly.
And while he said that, Hamazura made sure to check his phone where the kids could not see. The screen was dead and Aneri was not responding. He doubted her program had been taken out, but without a device to receive her instructions, he had lost the support AI’s help.
It really would be one-on-one from here on.
But he did not need to let that show on his face.
“Maybe she’s with the dark side and maybe she isn’t, I dunno, but I don’t want to trample on her dignity any longer.” He looked the boy in the eye. “I’m going to end this here. Listen, don’t get yourselves killed. You need to survive if I’m going to save her.”
“What are you going to do?”
The gym clothes boy’s voice was vanishingly quiet, but he still got it out.
Even if he had to suppress the trembling in his body.
“I don’t want to run away anymore. What I did wasn’t brave. If I had faced mister honestly, he wouldn’t have had to get hurt. So…!!”
“Then help me out.”
Hamazura had planned to tell the boy to take the girl’s hand and run as far away as possible on his signal.
But he changed his mind.
Drencher Kihara Repatri, that young man who had wanted to save the children who would be used up by the dark side, was dead and nothing could change that. But this boy’s eyes carried the light the man had instilled in those children. After losing to Drencher, Hamazura could not allow that light to be extinguished.
No matter what.
So he changed his mind.
“I need a few tools to finish this. I’ll buy some time with this gun, so you gather them for me. Can you do that?”
Hamazura recalled the hard sensation in his pocket and clicked his tongue. He tried pulling it out, but its shine was still dull. It was not quite fully charged. The golden shine had yet to make a full circle around the edge of the coin. But that was fine. He threw the coin as far as he could, even though he had no idea if it would draw Ladybird’s attention or not.
He did not regret losing it.
He did not need the Coin of Nicholas.
Everyone already had the ability to switch over the tracks to a different route.
He would take a different route here and he did not need the creepy occult to do it.
He needed something else.
She had found them.
Ladybird planted her hands and feet on the cold concrete ground while she located her target again.
She did not know how this would help her. If she captured them, her horrific feast would begin. But she could not stop herself.
She could not change this about herself. She could not escape her fate, just like a drowning person would subconsciously swim toward the surface.
…Even though she had wanted to protect the humans.
She would eat them.
This suffering would never end unless she consumed a human brain.
…Even though she was supposed to free those children from the darkness by lying on the dissection table herself.
“Oh, oh, oh, oh, ohhh, ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!”
Her vision blurred.
But even her tears were scattered by the blowing wind of her great speed.
Even during unstable bipedal movement, she could rival a V12 engine at max RPMs, so her top speed had increased even further now that she had abandoned her dignity as a girl and gained the efficiency of a machine.
It did not matter if they were an adult or a child.
Puny human legs could never escape her.
She pursued her target as accurately as a precision-guided weapon. She charged toward those distinctive gym clothes.
Handgun bullets attacked her from the side. Even after all this, she had not let go of the thick machete. And without any obstacles in the way, firing on her was suicide. She could accurately kill the shooter with the ricochet by adjusting the angle of her weapon.
Or so she thought.
Instead, the reaction speed of her right hand had slowed by 0.5 seconds.
That was a devastating delay.
The storm of lead hit her and she tumbled along the ground. A 9mm round was not enough to destroy her bones or muscles—the problem was her speed. The impact from the side easily knocked her off balance and she broke through two or three concrete columns along the way.
But what was this?
What had happened? She had been moving on all fours, but that had not affected her right arm’s movable range. When she checked, she found no report of her movement performance having dropped.
The problem must have come before that.
She finally realized there had been an error in her targeting.
A whitish smoke was filling the entire circular space.
It was a smokescreen.
(It can’t be.)
More gunfire. She immediately readied her machete, but that did not work when she could only respond after the fact. She could not protect herself and the bullets slipped past the weapon to slam into her body.
Hamazura Shiage had seen what happened in that container lab buried in trash. The long silver-haired hakama girl had made a desperate attack to save him and Takitsubo. She had grabbed the android’s face with her palm and shoved burning incense in the android’s mouth.
But how did that make sense? If Ladybird had the reaction speed to deflect every bullet fired at her, how had she overlooked a human hand?
“The dark side is coldhearted to everyone. You don’t get lucky for no good reason.”
The weak were always observant. After going through that sorrowful goodbye and seeing the girl suffering from so much pain, he had decided to at least use what she had taught him.
This was the world’s oldest chemical weapon.
That sounded fancy, but it was easily made with ordinary items.
You could use the hexachloroethane found in commercial bug sprays or make a powder out of the zinc used in all sorts of things in everyday life. Hamazura recalled that Hanzou had been an expert at stuff like this.
“A smokescreen!! It might not stop IR and ultrasound, but your high-speed defenses aren’t a threat if your sensors malfunction for even a moment!!”
What did that matter?
The intense hunger inside Ladybird continued to grow. It was more like a desire for oxygen than for food or water.
She was going to kill.
Just the one brain would suffice.
Her thoughts focused more and more on that one goal.
…What had she wanted to save again?
She managed to detect something in the powerful smokescreen.
She spotted a small figure in gym clothes.
…What had once been a girl wept as she raised her voice.
She could not even get out actual words anymore.
Something inside her had fried.
After rushing toward her target faster than a racecar, she opened up once more. The small size suggested this was the girl. Ladybird’s back opened wide and the thin translucent thing burst out. Several of those predatory organs stuck out like thin insect wings or like long tongues. They wrapped around her target to bind them and then she shoved the heavy mass inside herself.
This was the dark side.
The good were not rewarded and the evil were not punished.
When did she notice something was wrong?
The gym clothes had been on a figure small enough to easily lift up in her arms. That much was true. But what was with that weight? Would a child of around ten really weigh more than 200 kilograms?
“It can’t be!?”
In that moment, Ladybird’s heart was filled by a feeling of…
Ladybird was not the only one with their target in sight.
Hamazura Shiage accurately aimed his handgun.
“You didn’t like it when I fired on you from behind earlier, did you? Almost like you didn’t want a bullet getting inside that ‘mouth’ on your back.”
The weak were always observant.
The only way to make up for the difference in strength was to search out a weakness.
“And when you were engulfed in flames by that gasoline, you extinguished it with a swing of your machete. That was pretty scary at first glance, but if it really couldn’t harm you, you wouldn’t need to put out the flames, would you?”
He had not used the smokescreen to reduce the effectiveness of her sensors just to hit her with a few useless 9mm bullets.
But making that attack had convinced her that was all it was for.
This was the smokescreen’s true purpose.
The curtain of smoke had let her see the gym clothes without realizing they were on a metal drum and he had baited her into trying to eat that.
Plus, he had already proven that the handgun bullets were enough to ignite the contents of those metal drums.
He fired repeatedly toward her back.
Toward the centerline down her back that resembled the zipper on a costume. The oversized target prevented her from fully closing her back, so he only had to fire on that gap as if shoving the bullets on in there.
The metal drum she had taken into herself now expanded within her.
When the intense boom echoed out from her, he knew he had won. The blast and shockwave were enough to blow away the smokescreen.
He wished he had not seen what remained afterwards.
He was the one who had caused those remains to be strewn across the ground here.
He bit his lip with the small revolver still in hand.
“Her head moved weirdly in the smokescreen there,” he said. “And then that scream. Something other than her mechanical thought process kicked in. Without that, I don’t think the metal drum would have tricked her.”
Her attack had been running off of a program, so maybe the parameters could be overwritten and the attributes could be switched on and off.
“She must have remembered something.”
He hung his head and looked down instead of at his girlfriend.
Something was lying on the ground there.
“So in that final moment, she did what she could to save those kids.”
The girl’s head had rolled over toward him and it looked to him like she was smiling.
Because now she would never have to kill again.
This was a surprise.
He had not even considered what he would do if this happened.
Kihara Hasuu stood in a daze after being left all alone. Finally, he looked around the vast circular space.
Takitsubo looked to be in pain. The moxibustion’s effects would not last forever.
A sinister metallic click sounded. It came from a small revolver.
“Get the kids away from here. It’s time for a grownup chat with that man.”
“…Okay.” Takitsubo nodded. “Are you sure, Hamazura?”
“Yeah. We have to do this before we run away.”
Once no one else was around to see this, the delinquent boy approached the old man with the handgun in his grasp.
“Got anything else?” His voice sounded cold and hard, like a machine. “You’re one of those rumored Kiharas, aren’t you? Did you modify your own body with that android tech?”
“If not, it’s about time we woke up from this nightmare.”
The revolver’s muzzle rose. His cold voice contained a hint of blatant scorn. Like he refused to accept that this man was unharmed after making Ladybird suffer so.
“You will pay for what you did to that girl. I can’t think of any reason why I should forgive you. I doubt I ever could. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stand on the side of justice. But if I don’t do this here, the justice I couldn’t have will die. I might be dumb, but I can tell that much.”
The look in the boy’s eyes said he could not let this man live. Kihara Hasuu considered that the correct answer. He had not felt anger or sorrow upon Ladybird’s defeat. He had seen a problem to solve and improvements to make. If he were freed from here, he would immediately begin development on the next generation. That would mean many more victims. He knew himself well enough to say that.
And now that there was new research to be done, he had something to live for.
That was his fate as a Kihara.
He did not want to die yet.
He could not let himself die.
No matter what.
“You have set a record here. This will make you the new Kihara Killer.”
“This is over.”
“That is a serious crime. You will undoubtedly become the center of the new dark side. And Academy City will always demand more live sacrifices, whether you want it or not!!”
“Don’t try to stall for time. You’re dead and nothing’s changing that.”
This conversation was meaningless.
Would the boy normally have said so much on reflex? Set a record, Kihara Killer, center of the dark side—Kihara Hasuu’s wording was meant to give his opponent a big head. Was there any way—any way at all—to turn the tables on the boy? The old man was racking his brains the entire time he was buying time. It could be anything. As one who bore the name Kihara, he was willing to break all forms of ethics and standards if need be.
Then he saw it. He noticed something out of place—a gold shine on the cold concrete ground.
It was a Coin of Nicholas.
The clockwise shine had filled the outer edge now. It was fully charged.
He immediately leaped at it and grabbed it in his special engineering glove.
He raised his voice.
He wanted to get started on his next research even if it meant relying on something very unscientific.
“Make his gun malfunction, Coin of Nicholas!!”
Who was to blame for this? The actual phenomenon occurred a moment later.
The result was perfectly fair.
A bullet flew from Hamazura Shiage’s handgun.
Yes, there were more ways for a gun to malfunction than for the bullet to jam or explode inside, blowing up the gun and the wielder’s hand along with it.
It could also fire the bullet without the trigger being pulled.
The old man looked down.
He could not believe that he had been hit in the gut, rupturing his stomach of all things. More than the bleeding, his own vomit contaminated his body where a single germ could ultimately be fatal. He collapsed, suffered for more than five full minutes, and finally passed away. Stomach acid was primarily composed of hydrochloric acid. What did it feel like to be placed on the surgical table, have your gut cut open, and have a bunch of that dumped inside? All without anesthetic, of course.
The old man had lost his life to his own prayer.
A believer in science had relied on something beyond the bounds of science.
This was the fate of someone who stopped trying to do his own work. But in a way, this may have been exactly what he deserved.
If he had relied on his own strength from the beginning, he never would have earned such resentment over Ladybird.
If he had cut out pieces of his own flesh for his experiments, he never would have gotten into an argument over what to do with the children in gym clothes.
If he had chosen that path, everyone who had arrived here maybe could have worked together to survive.
Hamazura did not think the android was at fault.
Kihara Hasuu might agree, but it would mean something very different coming from him. The old man’s crime and punishment had to be defined by his own nature. Speaking as an expert required earnestly facing what parts of science you wished to preserve.
Was this too a present from heaven?
That coin was a trap that provided obvious miracles but also took away all other options you might try.
Hamazura Shiage spoke quietly while viewing the scum still gripping that gold coin after he had stopped moving.
Was his face blank?
Or was he suppressing an inappropriate smile?
“Merry Christmas. Did you enjoy your miracle, mad scientist?”
Below District 10:
Hamazura Shiage – Beneficial
Takitsubo Rikou – Beneficial
Kihara Hasuu – Harmful
Ladybird – Harmful
Drencher Kihara Repatri – Beneficial
Frillsand #G – Beneficial
Between the Lines 4
“It’s over.” Anna Sprengel spoke bluntly behind the cold bars. “That marks the end of the December 25 festivities. I doubt anything more will happen now, so I suppose my entertainment has come to a close. Well, at least I managed to gather up some decent ‘fluctuations’. If everything had gone as planned, I might have been so disgusted I switched it off.”
She received no response from the next cell.
Most likely, no one knew what he was thinking.
The human damage had been far too great to say his silence was the most eloquent answer of all.
“What were you picturing? How did you see Operation Handcuffs ending? I bet your dream wasn’t half bad.”
So only Anna’s voice filled this space.
“You have nothing to be ashamed of. Most any adult can think of some embarrassing disaster from their teenage years. The more you express your dreams, the sooner those dreams will be crushed. That’s why the most effective method is to hide what you want and work to reveal what everyone else wants so you can work against them. Hee hee. If you want to accomplish something great, you first need to hide your primary objective. You were a little too pure. You need to muddy the waters a little.”
A solid clink echoed through the cold air.
The girl who looked only ten had flicked a gold coin into the air and then caught it in her hand.
“The Coin of Nicholas.”
The Board Chairman had lost control.
He had lost the ability to keep tabs on things.
The number of malicious accidents had been far too great. He had tried to give instructions from his cell, but he had been in no position to stop the snowball once it began rolling down the hill.
Because if he did that, the #1 would have once more become the #1 darkness.
He had sealed away his monstrous side.
He had sworn he would.
So. And yet.
“Adding in this one little foreign element shredded the flowchart you had in your head. You had it set up so the dark side would be dismantled and the people would peacefully surrender no matter how things played out, but that happy ending was torn to pieces and everyone chose for themselves to dive into a free world of high-risk death. …Who got them was random, but in the end only one person managed to break free of its bonds on their own. He slipped below my radar. I even contacted him during the day, yet I overlooked him. That is highly unusual.”
She sounded amused.
She almost seemed to place more importance on this than the #1 in the neighboring cell.
“I learned just the one thing from this spare time between experiments,” she continued.
Her voice seemed to have gone flat, like she had arrived at exactly the result she had predicted.
“The freedom of magic wins out over the order of science. No matter how carefully you build everything up, I will still tear it down, overwrite it, and crush it.”
After a beat, she added one more thing like a mischievous child revealing a secret.
“Of course, these categories really don’t mean much of anything in the first place.”
She slid the edge of the golden coin along the crossbar of the barred door.
The scraping of metal on metal almost drowned out the click of a mechanism working.
The door had unlocked.
With no regard for how the lock actually worked.
“This is yet another miracle.”
The cell of science could not hold magic.
It was a very blunt metaphor.
She slowly walked out into the corridor and began to pass by the neighboring cell.
“As the name suggests, the Coin of Nicholas is a spiritual item limited to Christmas. Although it absorbs power directly from the ley lines instead of from the magician’s body, so it is technically more like a grimoire than a spiritual item. This chaos is a dream you will wake from come morning. It will not last long, so don’t worry.”
“How dare you!!”
Something translucent challenged her from behind the bars. She looked like a lovely girl with marine creature elements and bat wings attached and she wore a dress of English newspapers covered in articles that some might consider profane. Metal bars meant nothing to her. She broke through them with a shower of orange sparks and she grabbed at the little girl covering herself with a thin red cloth.
She was Qliphah Puzzle 545, an artificial demon prepared as a trump card by the Anglican Archbishop who had once tried to overthrow the world.
“I’m trying to talk. Don’t interrupt when you don’t even understand what I mean.”
All of a sudden, something stood next to the little girl.
The translucent being was an angel with a falcon head and a powerful body. As soon as a vertical crack ran through him, the angel mercilessly stripped off his entire body.
He was now a sun.
A dreadful light burst out and filled the space as it attacked the demon girl.
Accelerator did not even stir.
The #1 had his reflection.
Yet a red liquid dripped from the corner of his mouth.
“Think before you speak. Just think about it and you should realize that now is not the time for you to interrupt.”
Anna was not even looking in his direction.
She simply waved goodbye.
“My experiment is complete. Things will go differently next time.”
She never did look through the bars. She was already looking to some other place as she walked away.
But she did give a final parting comment.
“Send him my regards.”
Accelerator leaned back against the hard wall, let his hips sink to the cold floor, and lowered his head.
He did not speak a word.
One thing had been proven here. His small dream would never come true.
Not as long as she was here.