Toaru Majutsu no Index:GT Volume4 Chapter3
Chapter 3: The Counterattack Begins – Boy_not_“Dark”.
“I’m sorry to say this year’s nightly tournament project is a Cinderella story for unpopular guys and women who aren’t anywhere near as good looking as they think! The time has come for the 0-1 Grand Prix to determine the top comedian. We’re Double Magnet and we’ll be your hosts this year!”
“Unfortunately, accepting this job means we can’t be contestants.”
“I consider it an honor. They’re competing to be the top of the punished, but we get to do the punishing. It means we’ve reached the next rank as entertainers.”
“Then why even have the tournament? Just give us the 10 million in prize money.”
“We have a tournament to run here, hosts! Quit getting greedy and wasting the whole 2 hours on your prattle!!”
When the secondary comedian interrupted and some obviously staged laughter followed, Shokuhou Misaki tilted her head, letting her honey-blonde hair sway along the back of her babydoll. She frowned and spoke to her roommate, Misaka Mikoto.
“What about this is even remotely funny?”
“Enjoying comedy requires empathy and cooperation, two things you are sorely lacking in.”
They got into a scuffle on the bed, but in a purely physical battle, she had no chance against the chestnut-haired grizzly that was Academy City’s #3. Shokuhou Misaki had made a mistake from the moment she challenged the girl who could slice apart a naval cruiser.
“I paid extra to get this cable broadcast of the comedy channel, so you don’t get to complain!!”
“The polite thing to do would be to wear headphones! Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!?”
“Speaking of polite, can’t you wear something other than that see-through babydoll!? I’m embarrassed just looking at you! I mean, wow. I can see everything through it and it keep slipping out of place!!”
“I am a very delicate girl who can only sleep in her usual nightwear!!”
Pushed back onto the bed with her wrists pinned down, Shokuhou Misaki turned her head to the side and childishly pouted her lips. They probably would have been getting complaints from the other four girls in the room if the others hadn’t already been unable to sleep after ruining their sleep schedule staying up for their Christmas parties.
And Shokuhou’s next line was not “You might have control of my body, but my spirit will never give in.” Instead…
“(Also, well, I have trouble with hospital gowns. They remind me of that old project.)”
“I’m just surprised with you, that’s all☆”
When her psychological powers did not work on someone, Academy City’s #5 kept the upper hand with plain words. But this was only a secondary skill for her, so it was not at the level of that girl who could control every aspect of someone with nothing more than words.
“I mean, I’m surprised you’re watching a comedy show as if you had nothing better to do. I thought for sure you would be using all of your monstrous strength to barge your way in to that trial.”
“Sitting in the same room glaring at him won’t change the outcome.” It was Mikoto’s turn to look away. “I won’t help anyone by fretting over it. And it’s getting so much attention that any channel I might be watching is bound to cut away to some emergency news the instant a verdict is reached.”
“You’re relying on the TV news when you’ll have a flood of trending online news and recommended videos coming your way, saving you the trouble of even searching for it? Besides, don’t modern trials use computers to partially automate the process?”
“Why do you know that? You aren’t manipulating the lay judges, are you?”
“Oh, c’mon. I wouldn’t go that far.”
“And how far would you go?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know☆”
That was when Shirai Kuroko arrived. The rehabilitation rooms were not open this late, but she may have been secretly receiving some counseling related to the previous incident.
But as far as appearances went, the twintailed underclassman was smiling brightly and spreading her arms.
“Oneeee-samaaaa, what are you- brfahflshf!!!??? Th-they’re making a super-sweet macaron sandwich in the same bed!? And Onee-sama is the top!? She’s the dominant one!? How powerful are your pheromones, Shokuhou Misaki!?”
“Shokuhou, did you mess with Kuroko’s brain?”
“Logical brainwashing can’t make someone act like that. It would seem the human body is still a treasure trove of mysteries.”
Just then, Misaka Mikoto’s phone played a monotone melody from the side table.
The three girls turned toward it.
Kamijou Touma walked through the minus-20 weather of Los Angeles.
He had a single goal: find Melzabeth Grocery, who had been set up as the culprit behind the disappearances as part of R&C Occultics’s conspiracy, take her back to her daughter Helcalia, and have her apologize for worrying the girl.
He would fight anything to accomplish it.
Powerful resolve filled his mind as he asked a question with a white puff of breath.
“Umm, where am I supposed to find Melzabeth?”
He was almost in tears. It was 20 below outside. It was closer to midday than morning now, but the temperature showed no sign of rising. He had barely escaped Union Station with his life, but if he walked around aimlessly, he would turn into a popsicle before long.
Othinus sighed in exasperation from his shoulder and recrossed her legs. She also crossed her arms to give him a haughty look.
“In the broadest sense, Los Angeles is a collection of several large cities. Trying to find a single person there on foot is as reckless as plans come. If you still don’t understand the sheer size of LA, keep in mind that there are 375km of pipe drawing water across the desert to the city center here. This is the US’s 2nd biggest city and its economic value makes all that development more than worth it.”
“Y-you mean it’s too large to walk from one side to the other?”
“A splendid answer well worth seeking out a god’s aid for, don’t you think?”
Now he was even more certain he would freeze to death before finding that Indian mother. Just walking brought him closer to death out here, so searching without a single hint was much too difficult.
“Do you think there could be anything more hidden on here?”
He let out another white puff of breath as he pulled out that smartwatch. The square face, the red and black band, and the small scratches and smudges sure seemed to hide some important meaning, but none of it did him any good when he didn’t have a code sheet telling him how to interpret it.
It was like having a list of all the correct answers for a multiple choice test but not knowing what test it went to.
“If you want to pursue Melzabeth Grocery, you do have a few keywords to go off of. 1. Her daughter Helcalia. 2. R&C Occultics. 3. Space Engage. Searching based on those things would probably be the most realistic option.”
Kamijou Touma looked down at the smartwatch again.
“I must be big dumb-dumb cause that didn’t help me at allllll.”
“You aren’t trying to get out of thinking for yourself because you think people find you cute when you’re dumb, are you?”
But if he couldn’t find anything with the smartwatch, maybe it was best to try something else. He also had the phone that synced with the watch.
Needless to say, that Grapple MilliPhone had to be chock full of personal information, but an ordinary high school boy had no way of getting past the lock screen to see inside.
“In that case…hmm, I guess I’ll have to ask her for help.”
“You aren’t even trying to do this on your own, are you? Being stupid will not work out in your favor, you know?”
Othinus sounded utterly exasperated while Kamijou operated a mobile device. But this was not the mother’s phone he had collected.
He used his own Academy City phone to call one of the numbers in the address book.
It was only a phone call, but he spoke with the world’s ugliest attempt at sounding ingratiating.
“M-Misaka-shaaaan? I’d like some help from your zappy powers.”
It was so pathetic that Helcalia Grocery might have reflexively kicked him in the balls if she heard it so soon after trusting him to the point of tears.
However, he was not a private eye or a veteran police detective and there was only so much a high school boy could do.
But he had decided to do what he could.
He would not let that mother and daughter be lost in the darkness, no matter what it took. So if he lacked the skills and knowledge, he would find a way to make up for it. He would not hold anything in reserve. He would use every single thing he could think of. And just because he was a failure of a Level 0 did not mean everyone around him was too.
On the other side of the phone, Academy City’s #3 spoke with ice in her voice.
“So you vanish from the hospital without telling me, but the instant you need some help, you decide to get me involved in your own mess like I’m suddenly a party member again? I see, I see, I see.”
“Kyahh! Is that Kamijou-san!? Why is he calling!? Where is he right now!? Kyah, kyah!!” shouted a mysterious voice, but he couldn’t focus on that right now.
“Please, Biri Biri! This is an international call, not a free calls app!! Your anger is understandable, but I need you to act quickly right now!!”
“Oh, if you have a problem with this, I can always connect you to a mysterious call center in South Africa. Then you can think long and hard about what you’ve done while watching the call time rise on that abnormally pricey connection that refuses to hang up no matter how many times you hit the ‘end call’ button.”
“What in the world!? Did that defunct Dial Q service come back to haunt us as a phone fee black hole!?”
“And please stop shrieking, Shokuhou! Since when are you the giddy schoolgirl type!?”
“I was born this way.”
“And since when did you have hearts in your eyes?”
“I was born this way! Yes, born this way!”
“Well, it stops right now or I’m killing you.”
He heard a physical altercation over the phone, but he could not have this conversation delayed indefinitely. Those girls back in their peaceful country did not know the hell that was international phone rates.
Othinus, meanwhile, sighed with her arms still crossed.
“(She complains a lot for someone who picked up on the third ring. Was she waiting in front of her phone?)”
“Hey, put on that girl I just heard whispering,” said Mikoto. “I need to have a talk with her. And depending on her answer, I might just blow up the lithium battery by your ear.”
Kamijou looked puzzled and Othinus only gave a carefree whistle from his shoulder.
At any rate…
“I need to get past a phone’s lock screen, so can you open it with your powers?”
“A phone, huh? What kind? An Alkaloid?”
“It’s a Grapple MilliPhone. Why don’t you sound too confident?”
“It’d be a cinch if I had it in front of me, but over the internet is trickier. Those small, multifunction devices are so easy to accidentally break. Plus, the MilliPhones are rumored to have a planned obsolescence system called Telomere… Is the data backed up? If I fry the chip, you’ll never be able to see what’s on it.”
“But I really need to track down Melzabeth. The places she normally visits, her hideouts…anything really.”
A bizarre yell suddenly burst from the phone.
He thought maybe Miss Misaka Mikoto had overworked her brain and gone crazy, but apparently not.
“Onee-sama!! I wasn’t done speaking with you! And now you’re having a phone conversation in bed? You know you shouldn’t use phones in the hospital, don’t you? There, justification acquired! Now I can drag her to a mysterious basement of loving and courageous punishment! Calexa, order me a scavenger’s daughter and a pear of anguish!!”
“You don’t have to be so careful about it without any specialized equipment in this room, so settle down, Kuroko!!”
“Pant, pant!! And you, whoever that is helplessly on the other end of the phone!! What do you think is happening to Onee-sama right now? Just what deliciously naughty things are being done to her!? Heh heh heh. Use your imagination to its fullest and strain your ears to pick up every little sound. Weh heh heh. This! Yes, this is the true joy of cuckoldryyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!”
Mikoto seemed busy, so maybe it was about time he hung up, had a snack, and tried again later. The international fees were really starting to scare him now.
But even as he stared off into the distance, the previous intruder said something more.
“Also, what was that about Melzabeth Grocery?”
For a moment, he really thought he couldn’t breathe.
How had she known his question before he asked? Had she heard what he said to Mikoto? But he didn’t remember giving the Grocery last name. Why did someone know about Melzabeth Grocery all the way in Academy City!?
“Wait, um, why do you know about Melzabeth? Because, uh…”
“Sigh. You mean the president of Space Engage, don’t you? Then again, it’s one of that giant IT company’s slave companies now.”
Kamijou and Othinus exchanged a glance.
Why did someone on the other side of the globe – and a first year in middle school at that – know about this?
Shirai Kuroko replied before he could even ask and she made it sound like a silly question.
He was quickly reminded that the students of prestigious Tokiwadai Middle School really did live in another world.
“Um, why do you sound so surprised? My bank and investment firm contact me all the time about these things. And when they tell me about a promising new start-up with private equity, of course I’m going to check it out.”
“Investment firm? Private equity?”
Kamijou glanced down at his Transla-Pen.
But no. He couldn’t give up yet. This conversation was supposedly in Japanese, after all.
“To be clear, I am not an actual trader or marketer. It’s not about making money; it’s about getting a feel for how money moves around. Think of it like a form of social studies. The experts have already gone over all of this before introducing it to me and their reputation is riding on their recommendations. Maybe it’s like a fishing pond for special customers. This is entry level stuff that would get me a derisive snort from the actual mathematicians and financial engineers who are braving the tall mountain to go fishing in the most dangerous streams.”
Shirai Kuroko sounded utterly exasperated. When kids in the Tokiwadai world were taught the value of money, it apparently was not done by pedaling their bike around as a paperboy over winter break.
But even so…
“If you are interested in her keynote speech on private spaceflight, it should still be up on the video sites. You know, that thing so many American start-ups do, where they proudly announce their new project up on stage wearing a casual shirt and jeans. Of course, her corporate policies and principles were wiped out once she sold that new tech to that IT company, so I sold all my stock then. In fact, it doesn’t look like R&C Occultics even intends to let the company survive. They were only interested in the distribution infrastructure and rights to the technology, so they aren’t expected to actually produce those new products. They probably see her company like an empty candy wrapper now.”
It was a completely different tug-of-war compared to the connections he was more accustomed to, like enemy, ally, family, or stranger.
“W-wait!! Are you saying you know a lot about Space Engage? I know they’re completely subservient now, but do you know where their office or lab was during the initial start-up days!?”
“Of course I do. Investigating a company’s assets and equipment is the least you should do before investing. Any prospective shareholder will ask for that data first and foremost. Without that, you wouldn’t know if their proud presentation is within their means or a complete bluff.”
Tokyo was the capital of Japan. London was the capital of England. In most countries, the most developed city was also the capital, but there were exceptions. For example, what was the capital of Brazil? Some might say Rio de Janeiro, but they would be wrong. The correct answer was Brasilia.
Similarly, the world’s most famous man lived in a city much more minor than LA or New York.
The city was Washington DC and his home was known as the White House.
That building was packed full of so much history and tradition, but right now it rang with an intellectual woman’s shouting voice. Her name was Roseline Krackhart and she was a presidential aide with a specialty in national security. Although at the moment, she felt more like the babysitter for an abnormally large baby.
“Why was there a call girl waiting outside!? How many times are you going to do this!? You can’t just pick up your phone and call one here whenever you’re feeling bored!!”
“Now, hold on. Are you saying you sent her away? This is my home and I’m allowed to order whatever I want. Speaking of, what happened to my four cheese and soft-boiled egg carbonara pizza? Really, you sent that back too!? I need my fuelllllll!”
The large Hispanic man added “you could have at least given them a tip” while Roseline silently formed two fists and began pummeling the balance ball in a corner of the room. The White House actually had more stress relief products for the staff than it did its actual resident’s personal possessions.
The bearded man named Roberto Katze would likely have been terrorizing the seven seas as a pirate if he hadn’t become president. In fact, Roseline sometimes wondered if that was the real timeline and his presence in the oval office with his leather shoes up on the desk was proof that this was an unnatural parallel timeline.
“It’s a free country and I’m single, so it’s not even cheating if I decide to cut loose and have some fun.”
“And what if she is a honey trap sent by the opposition party? Besides, the profiles on those sites are all self-reported, so you can’t trust any of it. Oh, god. What if people start to suspect you’re carelessly leaking information to foreign spies? Your political career will be ruined…”
“Quit your bellyaching. Miss Jane I met the other day was a real adult who understands how society works, not some kid like you who never stops complaining. So it’s fine.”
“When and where did you sneak out to meet with this woman!!!???”
The White House was protected inside and out by the secret service and the marines, but this man had developed escape skills straight out of a ninja action film. Whenever justice or his libido were on the line, he had the uncanny ability to transform into a shirtless, Gatling-gun-toting monster who could fight space aliens head on.
Currently, he switched gears to the non-libido side of things.
“How are things in LA?”
“Did you really expect any progress? We still can’t reach the state governor or legislature.” Roseline answered his question with a question of her own and placed her shapely butt atop the balance ball. “Fortunately, Overlord Revenge was run by England and Academy City, so America was not directly involved.”
That was the only way it could have worked. The US military could not fire on their own citizens in their own country, with one exception: if that citizen broke into one of their bases. So they could not make a preemptive strike inside the country. That restriction felt downright silly now that 30 million people had disappeared, though.
Could the actions of a single company really be called a civil war or a revolution?
To answer that, they had to determine what exactly R&C Occultics had done. If it involved nuclear or chemical weapons, they might have the excuse they needed to deploy the military, but so far, they just had an inexplicable mass disappearance. As silly as it seemed, the law could do nothing until they figured out how it had happened. With disappearances alone, they had to seriously consider the possibility of people running away from home en masse. Legally speaking, anyway.
So they could not authorize military action, leaving them stuck and unable to act.
It was true police special forces had militarized a lot in recent years, but they were not trained to endure a real war.
The aide breathed a heavy sigh.
“On the other hand, you will be publicly criticized for authorizing an attack by foreign troops, even if they are allies. I will put together a flowchart of expected questions and their answers, giving you a political defense that will withstand at least 256 different branching possibilities. The Vice President says he will play the role of your criticizer to help you practice.”
“Bleh, that’s not fortunate or unfortunate. It’s trivial.” The President made a verbal attack with his feet up on the desk. “What matters is figuring out what happened to those 30 million. I want to know for sure if they’re alive or dead and, if possible, drag them all out of the darkness alive and well. Only then can we talk about what’s fortunate and unfortunate. Don’t give up on the most important part before you know how it’s gonna turn out.”
The intellectual aide sighed too quietly for anyone to hear.
She was especially careful to make sure the president didn’t hear.
It was his ability to talk boldly here that earned him so many votes despite his unprecedented behavior. He was nothing like the other politicians who always said they would do their best and work towards everyone’s happiness but who were too afraid of going too far or saying the wrong thing to actually give a straight answer when it counted.
The words of this president left a solid footprint in the ground.
And it was that trail of footprints that was defining the future of this country and the world as a whole. So everyone in the United States, regardless of gender, generation, race, or religion, wanted to see where this man would take them.
The way he elevated the country made the election fun for once and he convinced all of the people that they were lucky to have a say in electing him.
And now Roberto Katze took another step forward.
“What about the NSA?”
“They are waiting outside of LA.”
“Keeping them from recklessly rushing in there has not been easy. If they did that, they would probably only disappear along with everyone else.”
“Then we just have to find someone who knows what’s going on.”
Telling Roberto there was nothing they could do was not enough to stop him.
The mysterious occult were not the only ones with secret forces they could covertly send out.
“Still no word from our Overlord Revenge contact? Then we’ll have to contact the people in charge.”
“You’ve heard what’s going on in Academy City. I doubt we would have a chance to speak with the defendant while he’s cut off from the outside world for the trial.”
“What about England?”
“Our hotline is up and running, but who is even in charge of that country? Their elected head of state is already begging our operator to pick up the phone.”
“It would have to be whoever was in charge of Overlord Revenge and whoever would know how things stood right up to the end.”
“That would be the church then,” readily answered Roseline. “You want the Anglicans.”
Kamijou Touma tilted his head and stared down at his phone.
Othinus sighed on his shoulder.
“I get the feeling you wouldn’t recognize Anaheim or Chinatown either.”
Shirai Kuroko had sent him a certain data file. It was not password-locked or anything, but it had an extension he had never seen before and he had trouble figuring out to open it on his phone. That had required nervously downloading a free decompression tool from a sketchy-looking foreign site. Why couldn’t they use a reputable app store?
“Wait, Othinus! This is safe, isn’t it!? If you’re lost, then I’ll be forever trapped in this online world!!”
Everything was done paperless these days, so he opened the file to find a company pamphlet. Except it included a few specialized numbers and names, providing data not released to the general public.
He was unfamiliar with this sort of document, so it took some time to read through it.
It was the afternoon before he knew it.
“Long Beach is exactly what it sounds like. It’s strong in the aerospace and steel industries and its beaches are pretty fancy.”
“Fancy? You mean like an invite-only-”
“They are not nudist beaches.”
“Do you have to glare at me like I’m a bug crawling on the floor!!!???”
Despite wearing little more than a cape herself, that god did not like people who were too eager.
She continued her explanation, sounding like she was only giving the bare minimum she felt obligated to provide.
“But being a nice area means it gets crowded fast, so getting any land there has to be a challenge. So instead of doing launches on a vast stretch of land, they may have run their experiments out at sea. Space Engage is a space company, right? A simulator would be enough for their initial experiments, but practical experiments would be necessary eventually. Even if they only used scaled-down models.”
It didn’t really matter, but it was apparently 20-30km from Downtown to Long Beach. If they did not find some kind of vehicle, it would be time for a marathon in the minus-20 weather.
“This might be exactly what we needed.”
“In what way?”
“You know what I mean.” Othinus crossed her arms on his shoulder. “Melzabeth Grocery screwed up. You could even say you were only following the rails of failure she had set up. The smartwatch was a convenient collection of hints, but following it to the end would only have led to the same fate as her. The best way to use that watch is to play a game of chicken where you get as much use out of it as you can and bail at the last second. You at least need to jump from the car before it plummets from the edge of the cliff.”
In that sense, maybe it was good they had found a new source of information.
This would give them a view from outside that single set of rails.
The world would open up around them.
Every part of the frozen city was marred by sand. Every step had the same crunch as at a busy seaside restaurant, but it was all a remnant of R&C Occultics’s attack.
The sand magic had caused everyone to vanish from Los Angeles.
Kamijou’s focus turned to his right hand.
The Rosicrucian magic was called Citrinitas and the 30 million missing people had been turned into nutrients and absorbed by the sand…or so he had been told.
This was an occult effect, so he might be able to negate it with a touch from his right hand.
He might be able to save the trapped people.
“Don’t even think about it,” warned Othinus. “You can negate the magic, but what happens then is a mystery. You might be able to drag them all out of the sand safe and sound, but what if you negate the special life support effect keeping them alive as no more than nutrients? Then only the nutrient-rich sand will remain and the people can’t be revived.”
“That’s…a good point.”
He could negate it, but he could not define how the occult would be destroyed.
Was this Citrinitas magic similar to a cold sleep device? They did not know if they could safely retrieve the victims by smashing the device from the outside, so it was best to avoid touching any of it until they knew for sure. People’s lives were at stake.
“So would it be better to directly defeat the villain using the Citrinitas magic? I feel like it would save everyone if I destroyed the tool they’re using as a core of the magic. Like a magic wand or a crystal ball.”
“I’m reluctant to agree with that, but it would be fastest to get the defeated magician to tell you what to do. And you don’t need to be friends to get them to talk. You just need to do whatever it takes to win.”
That would require searching out someone.
Maybe the sand magician, maybe Anna Sprengel, and maybe Melzabeth Grocery.
Who would know the answer? Where could they find any hints to their whereabouts?
“What is this? Rental scooters?”
“Use that pen of yours to read the English sign, human. They have a big motor attached, so they can reach speeds of around 50km/h.
“You can use these on the streets? What kind of license does that require?”
“Forget the restrictive Japanese rules. American standards are always scarily relaxed.”
You could apparently hold your phone up and immediately pay to rent one. Othinus sighed when Kamijou held his own phone up to the reader.
“There’s no one here, so you could just use Melzabeth’s phone.”
“I’m not doing that.”
Toys that looked like someone attached T-shaped handlebars to a motorized skateboard lined the sidewalk. He removed the stopper from one and pulled it out with both hands.
“Huh? Why do you look so pleased, Othinus?”
“I have a soft spot for these American toys. Especially two-wheeled ones ridden standing up.”
He took off along the road without a helmet.
It was unthinkable in Japan, but Othinus insisted that you drove on the right in America. His Japanese instincts very nearly led him to his doom. In fact, he might have died almost immediately if LA wasn’t deserted.
The wind was agonizing in this 20-below world. His cheap jacket was no help whatsoever.
He finally understood why Stiyl had insisted on using the dark subway tunnel before.
“My ears are gonna fall off!!!???”
“How is this too much for you? You trekked across frigid Denmark with me, remember?”
Othinus started talking like an old grandmother who insisted rubbing yourself with a dry towel was the best way to fight the cold.
“I don’t care what, just tell me something that will distract me from this biting pain!”
“Fine. You might be interested to know that even America requires a helmet and a license to drive one of these on the streets. Oh, and you broke another law too. You need to be 18 to drive one.”
“Why did I ask!?”
Riding out on the open road felt dangerous, but it was still a relief to rapidly leave the area they had been sniped in earlier.
He saw something slowly pass by overhead in the distance.
“What is that?”
“A Logistic Hornet. One of the 12 mobile delivery bases surrounding the world.”
“Are you sure it doesn’t use magic? It really uses no more than the laws of physics to stay in the air?”
“Does that look like a flying broomstick to you?”
“I-I guess Academy City isn’t the only place with crazy tech…”
From a distance, it looked like a V-shaped boomerang, but it actually had another triangular tail wing attached behind that. But more than that, the center of the main V had a giant hole in it. The centerless aircraft produced a low rumbling.
At the same time, orange sparks flew from it.
The donut-like part surrounding the hole began to glow and then the flashing moved back to the tail wing. Then an orange beam of light was launched diagonally upwards.
Like with lightning, the loud boom shook Kamijou’s eardrums and gut after a short delay.
“Wh-what the hell!?”
“That would be the mass driver that carries cargo outside the atmosphere. A linear motor builds up circular acceleration and then it’s fired from the rear launch port. The orange light is probably the heated electromagnets being exposed to the external air to cool down. I guess you can think of it like a roller coaster where the track ends partway through. …But that one was moving awfully slow. I can’t imagine it would do much more than glide slowly through the upper atmosphere.”
That aircraft boosted the Citrinitas magic by creating sandstorms and other weather conditions made by manipulating the temperature with liquid nitrogen and naphtha.
“I-it disappeared beyond the horizon.”
“You have to look at it on the scale of the weather map. You’ve seen the maps they show during the forecast with what look like the rings of a tree, right? This intentionally creates and distorts those, so their sketchbook has to cover 50 or even 100km.”
Kamijou saw an unnatural sunrise in the southern sky. No, was that the naphtha fire being used to heat the air? It shined for about 10 seconds before gradually vanishing once more.
Even Othinus sounded shocked by the extraordinary American size of it all.
“That thing can carry an obscene amount of supplies. If that was pure napalm that just detonated in the sky, we’re talking about enough firepower to have ended the Vietnam War in three days. I know they needed it to control the wind and carry enough sand to the city for their magic, but this is still impressive.”
“More like absurd… Why even control the weather when they can blast us with that explosion?”
“I’m sure it has its restrictions. It was originally designed for peaceful launches, so the coordinate settings and the mass driver’s movement range won’t allow it to target the nearby surface.”
“Can’t planes flip upside down?”
“You fool, don’t you know what would happen if you flew a large transport plane or strategic bomber the same way as a small fighter? And this thing is 5000m across, so it’s a miracle it stays airborne at all. The tech here is even better than that Radiosonde Castle we used in Gremlin.”
At that size, he wondered if it could change the wind currents by tilting just enough to catch the wind.
“Does it launch everything by noisily blasting it into the air?”
“That would be unnecessarily inconvenient. At 5000m across, its wings can be used as runways. They can also hang transport planes and drones from the bottom and accelerate them like a monorail.”
But Othinus was viewing this from another angle as well.
“The hornet name is a symbol.”
“The rose is the organization, the nectar hidden within the flower is knowledge, and I supposed the hornets buzzing around the flower would be the experts seeking that hidden knowledge. Hmph, quite the name for the tools flying around the world for a massive IT company.” Othinus sounded half exasperated and half impressed. “They function much like an aircraft carrier, but the upwards-pointing mass drivers can also launch flying objects into ballistic orbit. And if that asshole priest is to be believed, the launches cost less than 1% of a multistage rocket launch.”
“How incredible is that?”
“More so than an oil field that never runs dry. Even if it is limited to ballistic flight, this invention makes spaceflight more accessible than the highway. Melzabeth Grocery must be the kind of person who ends up unhappy after winning the lottery.”
A high school boy did not know much about oil fields or highways either, so Kamijou still didn’t really get it.
But more importantly…
“How does that giant thing take off and land? I doubt it can use an ordinary airport.”
“I was guessing either the ocean or the desert, but since we’re on our way to Long Beach, probably the ocean. Then again, they might rely on midair refueling to stay in flight indefinitely.”
“You mean using an air tanker?”
“They went to all that trouble to create stateless mobile bases, but those would require using ordinary airports for refueling. Maybe they send up tanks attached to giant balloons. That would let them refuel from land or sea without needing a stationary airport.”
Kamijou recalled Stiyl mentioning that in the diner. Something about them using gliders and missile launch vehicles to send cargo to the Logistic Hornets. So they might do the same thing to provide fuel and maintenance equipment.
However they worked, they were R&C Occultics’s toys now.
It would not be that easy to neutralize them by cutting off the fuel supply.
Those things were so big that nothing they could do on the surface would bring it down. It was like challenging the moon or the sun.
He was driving at the speed of a motorcycle, but it was still a long distance to travel. And time was passing the entire time. The abnormal weather was bad enough to begin with, but he felt like his body temperature was dropping as time passed.
He finally grumbled a complaint while operating the unusually fast scooter.
“So you’re saying we have to fight that thing? Stiyl said it’s so big it can control the weather and entire meteorological disasters. Isn’t this entire 20-below mess its fault? Not only can it part the ocean or send spears raining down on our head, but it can boost that sand magician’s magic to the point that not even a Saint like Kanzaki could win.”
“So are you going to give up?”
“I didn’t say that.”
He didn’t even need to think about it.
He would find and rescue the missing mother named Melzabeth Grocery, he would take her back to her daughter Helcalia Grocery, and he would make sure this ended happily.
He would do anything to pull it off.
There was no doubt in his mind about it.
They passed by an English sign. Kamijou could not read all of the simple English, but he could read the two biggest words: Long Beach.
“Defendant, can you confirm for us that the adults did not use their weapons or authority to coerce you into these criminal acts and that you chose to kill these people of your own free will? And while they were clones, we are talking about 20,000 innocent people here.”
“Your Honor, this question is deliberately phrased to assist the prosecution! I fear it is a leading question!”
“The existence of this alleged experiment using cloned humans has yet to be proven, so we should not be discussing the possibility of homicides based on that premise. Academy City denies any and all accusations of such an experiment.”
“We have ample testimony and data to suggest the very likely possibility that the defendant is mentally unstable, so is it not highly immature to continue asking him questions in this state?”
“We request a recess. We of the prosecution wish for victory in a fair trial. This trial is meant to reveal the truth, so we request a recess even if it might assist the defense!!”
That ‘human’ gave a snort of laughter.
Academy City’s #1 Level 5 and new Board Chairman, a thorn in so many people’s sides, laughed weakly from the defendant break room’s sofa.
“Hee hee. Ee hee hee. Nee hee. Ah hee hee.”
He also heard another voice laughing.
The papers sitting in a corner of the room and the dried leaves from the potted plants swirled around on their own and finally burst from within, revealing a translucent girl wearing a shabby dress made from English newspapers.
She was a true demon.
She was hard at work this morning too.
“This is certainly a strange situation. I mean, I thought human trials were about the prosecution and the defense arguing against each other, so why does the prosecution keep protecting you by bringing up your mental state, master?”
Mentally unstable. The prosecution was meant to gather evidence, search out witnesses, and win a guilty verdict for the defendant, so that should have been the last card they wanted played. It was a necessary part of the system, but people with something to hide had a tendency to claim it like a trump card.
“Hmph. Getting them to admit to the clone experiment is the real challenge here. Because there’s no evidence. They’re trying to throw out all of my testimony and reports by claiming I hallucinated it all and none of it was real. Far too many people in the city feel they would be better off with that result.”
The defense wanted a not guilty verdict (whether the defendant himself wanted it or not) since that was their job, but even the prosecution wanted to avoid a guilty verdict this time.
It was truly a bizarre trial. Accelerator, the defendant up on the chopping block, was the only one hoping for a guilty verdict that would mean more than 10 thousand years of prison time.
He could not let this be dragged out with a mental evaluation or a reexamination of the evidence. Because the #1 had a good reason for wanting a guilty verdict.
“Can’t say I envy your position there. I mean, you’re exposing your own misdeeds to keep the world from noticing the clone girls you didn’t kill, right?”
Hearing a sneering voice, Accelerator clicked his tongue.
The voice came from Qliphah Puzzle 545, but her shoulders had gone slack, her arms hung limply down, her head lolled, and her eyes were devoid of light.
Like some kind of mistake, someone else’s words came from the crescent moon slit of her mouth.
“What did you do?”
“Did you forget already? Qliphah Puzzle 545 calls herself a demon, but she was originally something like a grimoire created in England. That makes her a lot like me, the Great Dion Fortune, since I’m made from 78 cards. Revealing the Qliphoth and hijacking control wasn’t all that hard.”
The original magician had belonged to the legendary Golden magic cabal and this version now reigned as the Archbishop at the top of the Anglican Church.
“The US President was not happy. Darris Hewlane, was it? Japan will collapse pretty quick without America sticking around as its training wheels, so how about being a little nicer? Academy City – no, that tiiiiny Asian archipelago will be in trouble otherwise.”
“Darris is the Vice President.”
“Oh, excuse me. He’s the more sensible one who actually contacts us, so he came to mind first. …I’m surprised a monster like you actually bothers remembering people’s names. Have you finally learned how to moderate yourself as a leader?”
“Anyway, it didn’t look like I could contact you by phone, so I improvised.”
Dion Fortune made it sound like little more than a minor magic trick.
And for the head of the Anglicans, maybe that’s all it was.
Someone else spoke through the mouth of the demon whose arms hung limply and whose marine tail squirmed on the floor.
“True, it probably isn’t ideal for you to be contacting an outsider in the middle of your trial, even during a recess. You could receive some hint that might overturn the testimony presented at trial, or you could have an outside team cover up some evidence.”
She appeared to be laughing.
She had laid out those rules so she could overturn them.
“Those are your science side rules, so we can ignore them here on the magic side. Overlord Revenge is still ongoing, so we can’t have you ignoring the Japan-UK-US hotline for your own personal affairs.”
England did not care what happened with the #1’s trial.
Wiping out R&C Occultics was much more important.
Was that why she was so concerned about the outcome of the Academy City and Anglican Operation Overlord Revenge? What was that about moderating yourself as a leader? He felt like it was she who had gone soft.
“Listen, Accelerator. This isn’t our first contact, since we already met at Windsor Castle. I get the feeling you don’t think too highly of my abilities and think I’m beneath you. I won’t deny it either. I might be a stranger from a different land, but I will use my endless love and patronizing affection to guarantee you freedom of speech and thought, no matter how tiny those thoughts might be. …Besides, it has long been known that people are much easier to trip up if they underestimate you.”
“So how are things going?”
“The Saint was defeated and the infiltration team fell apart afterwards. So not great. Plus, the HQ building in LA doesn’t really matter. That collection of glass and concrete is far less important than the R Rose drone control server. If they can break that apart and escape the city with it, they can easily rebuild. R&C Occultics can’t be weakened without taking out the 12 Logistic Hornets that act as the cornerstone of their online shopping network and as a global meteorological weapon, so what are they even doing down there?”
“Sounds like I wasn’t underestimating you at all. I was dead on in my estimation.”
“Do go on believing that. That way I win even if I come back emptyhanded this time.”
Dion Fortune did not seem to care.
The slumping demon girl’s lips continued to crawl.
“And do remember that I’m not my predecessor. I’m no good at conspiracies and I don’t much care for them either. So what you see is what you get with me. And let me be clear, that should scare you. That means I won’t compromise, cover things up, make secret arrangements, or guess at what other people are plotting. So let me take this opportunity to make one rule of this new world crystal clear for you.”
She made this sound even more serious than the ongoing end of the world.
“I’m not interested in any sob stories about what went down over there. I know you have Hamazura Shiage hooked up to tubes and cords in the ICU. If he dies, then you’re facing all-out war with England.”
She ignored everything else they had been talking about.
Even the battle against R&C Occultics was of secondary importance.
If Academy City and England started obstructing each other’s efforts, there really would be no one left to stop Anna Sprengel and R&C Occultics. But she was not ignorant of that. That Golden magician was well aware of it, yet she did not hesitate.
That may have been the proof she was of the Golden.
It pointed to the nature of the world’s largest magic cabal once led by Mathers and later joined by Crowley. Individuals were not to compromise themselves for the dreary needs of the world at large. They believed in the will of the individual and they never let the world come between them and what they chose to do.
She did not care that a single mistaken command could lead humanity to extinction over an unnecessary detour. She let her personal issues taint everything, which in turn allowed no room for compromise.
“Humanity itself is only a temporary ruler. Sooner or later, they will die out.”
“So my role is not to provide eternal happiness to the entire population. The planet’s resources are finite and the sun will eventually expand all on its own, so the human race has a limited lifespan and the concept of eternity is meaningless. My job is to delay that destruction by just a bit and to avoid leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. So let me be clear: I do not fear the destruction of humanity. Because technically speaking, I don’t even qualify as human.”
She was arrogant and selfish.
She did not even consider how much explaining her pet theory would distort the world around her. This was exactly how the Golden magicians acted.
A transparent thread dripped from the girl’s crescent moon mouth.
“So I will make full use of the privileges granted me for fulfilling my duties as Archbishop. Hamazura Shiage is my friend, my savior, and a crucial part of not leaving a bad taste in people’s mouths. So if he dies, I will give up on avoiding that bad taste. This is simple arithmetic. I am saying that I will not do what I cannot do. If you hope to trigger a pointless apocalypse, then I hope you have the keys to heaven on hand. To be honest, this is one of the more boring scenarios leading to humanity’s destruction.”
For anyone other than the #1, the tense atmosphere would have suffocated them.
And it ended there.
The air seemed to relax around him.
Dion Fortune was once more turning the gears of conversation.
“So let me ask you once more: Take care of Hamazura Shiage for me. As long as you do that, I will cooperate with you in anything you might want. I will lend you the full power of the Anglican Church, the part of this planet’s magic half that excels in combating magicians.”
Accelerator breathed a disinterested sigh.
And he spoke without hesitation.
“What are you saying you can do?”
“I already told you: my job is to delay the destruction of humanity just a bit and to avoid leaving a bad taste in people’s mouths. And that includes the points of contention in that trial of yours.”
Dion Fortune also spoke without hesitation.
Even though she knew how risky it was to do that in front of the #1.
“Yes, so how about this as a way to support your adorable little legal trickery and our much more important Overlord Revenge? There are still nearly 10,000 clone girls left around the world. With #00000, #20001, Dolly, and Worst, I really don’t know what the exact number is, but don’t you want to give them a place to live and give them true acceptance by the world? In other words, don’t you want to actually save them?”
Los Angeles was a large place, but it was entirely deserted at present. Any noise, light, or other sensory stimulus was extremely conspicuous. And if that noise or light was a gunshot or gunpowder smoke, it would put any observer on guard. Plus, the R&C Occultics HQ building was within visual range.
Thus, Stiyl Magnus immediately relocated.
Even a meter of distance could prevent being sniped if it went unnoticed.
The tall priest carried the unconscious “villain’s daughter” back to where the grimoire library waited and then they moved to a small store. The glass showcases must not have been enough space because a fence had been attached to the wall and display products were attached to that with hanger-like devices.
The products in question were assault rifles and submachine guns with their full-auto capability removed, commercial handguns, extended barrels, stocks, and even modification kits to provide rapid-fire capability. The selection of bullets included softer ones that would be crushed within the body and armor-piercing ones with artificial diamond powder worked into the surface.
Gun shops like these could be found anywhere in America. This was a health-conscious country where bullets were more plentiful than cigarettes.
(What a pain.)
When Stiyl pushed his shortened cigarette into the ashtray, he realized this was his third one in a row. That showed just how much time had passed. If he was having this much trouble making a decision, he must have had more doubts than he had thought.
He would show no mercy even against young children when necessary.
He had thought he could do this without guilt, but maybe he was having difficulties this time.
Because this small girl reminded him of that girl’s past.
He pushed the cigarette into the ashtray and made up his mind.
Helcalia Grocery, the sole survivor, was hiding something. And she showed no intention of letting Stiyl or Index know what it was. She might open up if he took the time to earn her trust, but he did not have that kind of time.
That job was supposed to have been Kamijou Touma’s, but he had refused to share his information with Stiyl. The intimidating priest could try to do it himself, but there was very little chance the frightened girl would open up to him in such a short time.
(Maybe the beer rune would work.)
His rune magic worked by engraving a rune into the target object and then dyeing the rune to activate its power. The rune could then be scraped away or otherwise eliminated to cancel the magic effect.
Rune magic had long been used to give special powers to physical objects. For example, you could carve a victory rune into a sword or a ward rune into a gold coin.
Along the same lines, what if you used a blade to carve a rune into someone’s body and dyed that?
What effect would a talking rune have?
It was like she had read his mind.
No, the silver-haired nun standing protectively between him and the 10-year-old subject had an even greater understanding of rune magic than Stiyl, who trusted it with his life.
He would show no mercy against even young children.
If he intentionally left the suspect unsupervised with so many weapons around, she might just grab a handgun. And if Helcalia was up to anything, she would assume the worst about her situation and act accordingly. But the priest’s assumptions did not play out.
(She’s weirdly hopeful about her situation. Is that because I didn’t let her actually see him get shot?)
Had it been a mistake not to isolate her? Young Helcalia was fighting back tears and hiding behind Index. When had those two built this bond of trust? It felt like he had let bacteria into the wine barrel, ruining the entire batch.
Stiyl sighed and switched gears.
“I didn’t even say anything.”
“Naudiz, #10 of the Germanic Futhark. It phonetically stands for ‘n’ and it means distress. It is also one of the runes needed for the beer rune spell. The spell is said to ensure a wicked woman cannot deceive you. The actual effect of the spell is to split in two if the container contains poison, saving the user’s life. Right?”
As expected, she saw through it right away.
But Stiyl had stopped moving for a different reason.
He could never betray this girl. He had promised as much long ago. Even if the girl glaring back at him now had no memory of it.
“By placing it on the center of a human body, it might split their body in two if they so much as lie. But even without that, I will not let you pick up a blade and leave indelible scars on someone’s body. The Anglican Church is meant to protect people from the threat of magic, so it’s wrong for us to use magic to harm the suffering people we are meant to protect.”
“And who says Helcalia is an innocent victim?” Stiyl quietly clicked his tongue. “We’ve only known her for a few hours. We have no idea what she did before that.”
“But Touma saved her.”
It took all of Stiyl’s willpower not to grimace.
But the girl with the perfect memory may have noticed the beginnings of one anyway.
“I know this is what Touma would do, so I’ll do the same thing.”
Again, Index had a perfect memory. She would never forget something she had seen. So even a minor error in front of her could have a lasting effect. Because she would possess the memory until the day she died.
But Stiyl’s lips still gave a tremble.
He could not help but mutter under his breath.
“I wish that boy’s corpse was here so I could shoot him again.”
Long Beach apparently referred to quite a large area of land. The houses or villas alongside the beach looked like toxic bite-sized chocolates with their red, blue, and pink colors. A retired warship in the ocean had been turned into a museum. If they had not known what address to look for, they would have gotten lost and frozen to death in this minus-20 open world adventure.
Kamijou did not even notice the sunset.
He just knew it had gotten a lot darker and a second night was beginning.
“Wait, it’s this late already?”
“In LA, the sun sets early during the winter. Wait for the five o’clock news and it’ll be dark out.”
Kamijou and Othinus rode long the beach to reach a concrete yacht harbor.
He did not hear any waves along the way, so he looked over curiously to find no movement there. The beach was covered with frost like the inside of a freezer and the seawater had fully frozen.
“For real? This doesn’t even feel like the yearly drift ice showing up. It’s a solid sheet like at a skating rink.”
“The entire population of Los Angeles is missing, but there must have been a large margin of error. The ocean is white out to the horizon. I wonder if that Skybus 550 is all right.”
It felt like seeing the grilled corn from a New Year’s festival frozen solid.
It was physically possible, but why bother?
It felt wrong to see such incredible waste.
The pointy-haired boy kept his electric scooter running as he spoke his thoughts aloud.
“So this is Long Beach…wait, is that it!?”
He pressed one of his shoes against the ground while his voice cracked in surprise.
Space Engage was an American high-tech start-up in the private spaceflight business, so he had expected a smart building covered in glass or a bizarre underground lab.
But he instead found the frozen ocean.
Something unusual sat at one corner of the concrete harbor lined with fancy yachts and cruisers.
It was not even made to float in the ocean.
It looked like a skinny, wheeled shed about the size of an RV. It was more like a rounded capsule than a rectangular container. He was pretty sure it was called a mobile home.
There was no vehicle to tow it around. The rear living space had been separated and left here. If he had not already been given the company’s address, he might have mistaken it for some abandoned scraps no one wanted.
It felt terribly out of place with nothing else like it here. Almost like inexplicably finding skis in the department store swimsuit section.
“Information any shareholder would know, huh?”
“What now, human? Worried you might find R&C Occultics here?”
“Yeah,” he admitted.
He had no idea how stocks worked, but the massive IT company that made the start-up an affiliate and then worked to kill it would have to have been involved. They would know anything he knew, so even if there was a crucial hint here, they might have detected it and disposed of it already. That meant anything he found here could be modified lies.
But Othinus shook her head on his shoulder.
“I doubt it.”
“Let me ask you this: why the mobile home? The official documentation would only have the building’s location – it points to the land. So whenever R&C Occultics was coming for an inspection or examination, she would only have to remove her lab and place an identical mobile home in its place. It’s a simple way of preserving her secrets, so I can’t imagine why she wouldn’t do it.”
“If she didn’t need it, she could get rid of it. The harbor fees aren’t cheap, you know? Yet she still has her original mobile home here. That means it contains something she was reluctant to part with. So be careful. The enemy you’re imagining hasn’t been here.”
Kamijou viewed the frozen mobile home, but he could not see inside thanks to the curtains covering the windows. The metal sliding door did not have a keyhole. Instead, there was something like a calculator’s number pad next to the door. However, most of the buttons were missing.
“The panel colors are…red and black?”
“The same colors as the watch band. The decoy home may have used a different color combination.”
He approached and a bright light dazzled his eyes.
And he heard a gentle woman’s voice.
“Welcome to, ahem, Emptiness Marriage.”
“Yikes!? Eh? What just welcomed me?”
Kamijou gave a start and then glanced down at his Transla-Pen. The god sighed in exasperation.
“It’s a standard security sensor. It makes a lot of light and noise when someone approaches the entrance. But what was that weird sigh in the middle? Did Melzabeth record this herself?”
“Y-you mean no one’s here?”
“It’s too soon to say that, but try holding up that mother’s phone.”
He did as Othinus suggested and was surprised to find the metal door opened on its own. The place may have been hooked up to an external power supply to accommodate a long-term stay.
The inside was still cold, but not freezing.
He found himself in another dimension once he stepped inside.
“This is incredible.”
Kamijou spoke aloud, forgetting all about the possible danger. The mobile home must have been based on an RV. About the same space as a tour bus was divided into a kitchen, bathroom, and bath and the furniture like a table, sofa, and bed could be folded up and stored in the walls. To save space, the TV, phone, and computer were all set to display on the same monitor.
“The walls and ceiling are covered in these colorful things? Is it all spacecraft related?”
He was right. There was so much it obscured the color of the original wallpaper. Clippings from specialist papers were covered with sticky notes scribbled with equations. Colorful masking tape connected them to visualize the connections and possible combability between technologies.
The table was mostly covered by a 2.5m model instead of food. It looked about as big as a decent-sized surfboard.
The model was of a Logistic Hornet.
Othinus sighed when she looked to the walls and ceiling.
“The Melzabeth Method. I see. Now I get it.”
“Remember how I mentioned the difficulties of making a 5000m object fly using wings?” Othinus stood on the table and pointed her thumb at the detailed model covering most of the surface. “5km is enough to reach another train station and a new district. That means a difference in temperature, humidity, wind direction, and even the weather – sunny, rainy, etc. The different wind strength and air resistance on different parts of the craft would ‘twist’ it and ultimately break it apart in midair. But Melzabeth came up with an intriguing solution: human skin.”
“Skin? You mean it uses biomaterials instead of mechanical ones!?”
“It doesn’t have to go that far. It may be an offshoot of neurocomputers that come up with ideas using the same structure as a brain. A spinal cord is artificially created and the Logistic Hornet itself is given delicate cutaneous receptors so it can make adjustments based on reflexes that do not require conscious thought. Just like a fingertip running down your spine makes your hair stand on end. That same reaction is applied to every last part of the 5000m craft to make aerodynamic adjustments by moving the armor scales. That is impressive. There are more than a million of them in all. If you tried to think about each of them before giving a command, you would never finish in time, so Melzabeth set it up to give commands without thinking. The very idea is different from all that junk AI out there.”
“Melzabeth’s own data is apparently used for the aerial attitude control. Those giant launch pads are controlled based on data taken from her subconscious muscle tension and center of gravity control while hang gliding. That means those flying machines include Melzabeth Grocery’s subconscious, from the core of her body to the very last bit of peach fuzz. Ha ha. Who creates an aerial fortress like that? We’re not just talking about an electronically-controlled stealth fighter here. That giant thing’s smooth flight is controlled by nothing more than a mother’s sensitive body. I doubt even Academy City’s Kiharas could have come up with something like this!”
Kamijou was speechless.
Was the word “genius” really enough to cover all of this?
Kamijou doubted he understood even half of what made this so impressive. He felt like the word genius was just a lazy label used to stop thinking about something he did not understand.
All the detailed math made his head spin, but he could not let himself be overwhelmed.
He wanted something to help track down missing Melzabeth Grocery. He pulled out the Transla-Pen synced with his phone. He had no idea if it would work on the text hastily jotted-down on the sticky notes, but he had to try.
No longer would he fear an unknown truth.
Melzabeth Grocery had chosen to hand over her new tech to a massive IT company because they had taken her daughter hostage. She had been ordered to do all sorts of things after receiving their assistance as an affiliated independent company, but she had eventually refused to obey and rebelled.
The current state of LA was the result.
Othinus had said they may have controlled her using some magic like the St. Germain pill. Or they could have threatened her with something other than Helcalia.
Regardless, Anna Sprengel had decided to purge the traitor by making Melzabeth destroy what she most cared about. Anna had sent things up so the mother and daughter would be in conflict. So even if Melzabeth’s actions made her look like a villain involved in the disappearance of LA’s people, Kamijou would save that mother. He had made that decision before he even started working on this. Finding some inconvenient truth now was not going to stop him.
“What is this?”
Kamijou Touma was not all that great with digital things, so his focus naturally turned toward the analog media.
In addition to the many sticky notes, he found a small picture frame in the kitchen space.
An even younger Helcalia stood in the center of the photo. Her gender was hard to tell at a glance at that age. Smiling next to her was a silver-haired brown-skinned woman with a strong family resemblance in the face. That had to be Melzabeth Grocery.
Then who was the man standing on the other side of the girl?
(The most obvious guess would be her father.)
Something was handwritten at the top of the photo.
The writing was large and distinct. It was very different from the birthday present’s card, so it may have been the father’s handwriting.
Kamijou ran the Transla-Pen over it through the protective glass and the artificial voice translated it into Japanese.
“A moon rock tiara for my daughter’s wedding.”
He looked to the photo again and smiled. Helcalia was still too young to easily judge her gender, so her father must have been quite the doting parent.
(But where would you even get a moon rock? The moon has its own gravity, so they wouldn’t fall to earth all that easily.)
He flipped over the picture frame and found nothing more than a cork panel. But when he removed the cork and extracted the photo, he could see something handwritten on the white back of the photo. This was the same flowing cursive he had seen on the message card.
He was unsure if the cheap device could handle cursive, but he ran the Transla-Pen over it anyway.
The awkward translation came out as follows:
Age of death: 29. Multistage rocket Uranus III failed atmosphere exit.
Kamijou quietly clenched his teeth.
He felt like he had stumbled upon a secret origin point.
Had the mother’s obsession with her daughter’s wedding not been hers alone?
Small Othinus looked back toward the kitchen space while walking back and forth along the folding table a short distance away.
“Um…about Space Engage. Did they ever launch ordinary rockets in addition to those gigantic Logistic Whatevers?”
“Of course not. The existing methods are the safe and affordable home turf of the experienced. If a new start-up wants to get into the space development business, they need some new method in order to outdo NASA.”
(Then was Melzabeth not involved in this launch experiment?)
She had lost someone in a state-run rocket launch.
The man had never gotten that moon rock. He had never been able to attend that future wedding. But Melzabeth had truly understood her husband’s reasons for venturing into space as an astronaut, so she had been unable to despise space enough to give up on it.
So she had begun to wonder if there was another way.
A safe way that anyone could use.
That was her dream for space travel.
“Othinus, space is so far away. Its an absurd dream located even higher than the clouds in the sky. So why do start-ups try to reach it without the help of their country?”
“For money.” Othinus coldly sliced through the thoughts in his mind. “There is no fair competition when the state is running the space industry. Only the companies trusted by government officials get any business, so technological development is actually pretty slow. Once a ‘belief’ sets in, all the research goes in that direction. For example, the idea that space shuttles are safe and can keep launch costs down, or the idea that lunar probes should be made out of aluminum even though there are so many nonmetals lighter and sturdier than steel these days.”
“Their neighbors in Russia are even worse. They insist that nuclear energy makes for a clean power system and actually threw a running nuclear reactor out into zero-g space. They ultimately lost control and the entire satellite fell back down to earth. Yet they continue their research into developing a clean nuclear reactor for use in space. But if you let multiple companies compete fairly and compare data, those ‘beliefs’ wouldn’t last long.”
Othinus explained that this was not limited to space. Those “beliefs” were rampant in fields with a small market share. For example, the idea that golf clubs should be made of carbon or the idea that handguns should have a caliber of .45.
In other words, that had been the starting point.
Melzabeth had wanted to change how things were done in the national space program that insisted on continuing down a mistaken path. She had believed she could reduce the number of “unfortunate accidents” if she started a new age where anyone was free to join in the industry and only the company providing the easiest and most comfortable space flight would survive. Giving her daughter a wedding in space sounded like a joke, but she had drawn out serious plans to achieve that dream, all to help give her some peace of mind.
Yet Anna Sprengel had twisted it into something ugly.
Othinus was holding something atop the table she had been walking around. At her size, it looked like a body pillow, but it was actually a USB memory stick even more compact than a tube of lipstick.
“It was inside the model. And I found it in the most important part: the storage room for the digital spinal cord.”
Othinus was 15cm tall, so searching that 2.5m model had to have been an adventure for her.
The only label was a symbolic one.
A large red X had been drawn on the side of the USB memory with a permanent marker.
“This has to mean something.”
Kamijou first assumed it was telling him not to look inside, but then why store it on the USB memory? Any unneeded data could be deleted and no one could ever read the contents if the memory itself was broken in two.
Yet it had been left in an accessible form.
Why do people hide things? There could be many different reasons, but Kamijou already had a reference point to gaze into Melzabeth's thoughts.
It reminded him of how she had hidden the smartwatch in the safe to show how valuable it was.
Thinking back, telling Helcalia to hide in the locker may have been something similar. She had left the possibility of someone else picking the girl up if she could not.
When Melzabeth Grocery wanted someone to find something important, she had a habit of hiding it in a conspicuous location.
“Is there any way to view the data on this? Would her phone work?”
“You can’t directly plug it into the MilliPhone; you would need a dongle. It would be simpler to check it on a computer. Do you see one around here?”
“What about my phone?”
“The hospital recommended it to you for use with their health management app, remember? That cheap senior model is entirely out of the question.”
“Eh!? This is an old person phone?”
He checked around and found a big laptop hidden behind the fridge. It was the size of a drawing board, so he wasn’t sure why you would bother making it a laptop. Thanks to the extra cooling device attached to the bottom, it was thicker than the average encyclopedia. The laptop had been criticized for the size of the computer and its bulky power adapter. Kamijou used both hands to place it on the table and Othinus stared at the enormous laptop that had to be 40 inches.
“Looks like it’s based on an e-sports gaming computer, but it’s only a terminal. This isn’t enough for a space simulator, so I bet it connects to the real computer over the internet. It might not even be in LA.”
“But it’s still a computer, right? We can use it after switching it on, I hope? What if it needs a password or fingerprint?”
“This will be easy if it just wants a fingerprint, but we might not be that lucky.”
Well, it wasn’t a self-destruct device in an old spy movie. When he tried turning on the gaming computer, it connected to the large TV. Suddenly, Kamijou’s face was displayed in a small window. A rectangular cursor appeared over his mouth and a wavy line was displayed at the bottom of the window. The camera at the top of the laptop screen had apparently activated. Othinus doubled over in laughter.
“Ha ha! Voice recognition of all things? Talk about insecure! Or is that digital exhibitionist doing it on purpose!?”
If it used her voice, didn’t that mean they needed the brown mama herself to get in? The legends said she could switch between god and human, but did that antique blonde gal think she could change her appearance and voice at will?
“Were you just thinking something rude, human?”
“Well, um, uh…sorry.”
“Hmph. Since you were honest, I will forgive you this once.”
She picked up a plastic pin a lot like the ones used to skewer bento meatballs and threw it at him. The famous god, whose forgiveness apparently included throwing spears at people, explained her point.
“The worst form of biometric ID is the fingerprint. The second worst is the voice. You stamp your fingerprints all over the place over the course of your daily life and the distinctive ‘traits’ of your voice can be easily recorded these days. That just means we need a recording of Melzabeth Grocery’s voice.”
“And do you remember what made you jump at the entrance earlier? The sensor-triggered message most likely used her own voice, so use it.”
Walking to the front door and back was all it took to get past the login screen. Kamijou actually felt hesitant now.
“A-are you sure this is okay? I mean, the recording meant to keep people from breaking in unlocked her laptop.”
“With tech, the attackers are always a step ahead of the defenders. If you want your device secure, you at least need to use the veins or bones in your palm. Your ear hole or your teeth work as well. Really, any kind of biometric that never leaves your body works.”
Now they could see inside the USB memory.
But something else caught his attention first. The desktop displayed on the synced TV only had one icon on it. It was clear that everything else had been deleted to leave only this there. It was located at the top left and it belonged to a video file.
The filename was “Message”.
She tended to hide the things she wanted found.
“Well, this isn’t a spam email, so I doubt it’s malware.”
Othinus crossed her arms and tapped her heel twice on the laptop’s touchpad to double click. Maybe it was something Melzabeth insisted on herself or maybe this was standard in America, but Kamijou did not recognize the video player that started up and played back an image from the past in a rectangular window.
It appeared to be filmed in this very mobile home.
He guessed it had been done with the laptop’s camera because it showed a woman’s face from a flat, head-on angle reminiscent of a student ID photo.
She had silver hair cut to shoulder length and brown skin.
She looked to be in her 30s or maybe even younger. She wore a baggy white T-shirt and a tight skirt with her legs covered by pantyhose or something. The blue scarf around her neck had a chrysanthemum decoration. It was a casual but refined outfit, but it was unlikely you would find the combination in an ordinary office. It made her look like a company president announcing a new phone.
Kamijou Touma muttered her name.
While picturing a family photo taken with her daughter, not the woman herself.
Unsurprisingly, she did not answer him.
The woman faced the camera dead on and her eyes would occasionally flit side to side. It looked like she was worried about something and overreacting to every little noise she heard outside.
“I could not stop the powerful support…no, the invasion.”
Her face showed agony and humiliation.
And most of all, regret.
He could only get so much information through his clearance rack Transla-Pen, but the raw emotions came through in her untranslated voice and her expression on the screen.
“At first, I thought they sympathized with the dream. I thought business profit didn’t matter. But it changed when they took control of company, including right to speak, and chose to bring tragedy.”
“Either the private equity or allowing a single patron was a mistake,” muttered Othinus.
Kamijou was not quite sure what it all meant, but he could tell she had been deceived in some way.
“The company could only be bound as affiliate. But this original beginning was not told to the parent company. Maybe you are a stranger who happened across it and maybe a colleague who shared my dream. One of the engineers who left is fine too. But if you are an R&C Occultics investigation team, then I have really and truly lost. I pray that is not the case.”
The woman on the screen waved something she held between her slender fingers.
It was the USB memory with the red X on it.
“This is a type of program.”
“The program sneaks into center of Logistic Hornet system disguised as drone network mutual authorization signal and destroys chain of command. To put simply, this one thing can permanently destroy the Logistic Hornet system. …Maybe it is technically called malware or a worm. It should be treated as such unless used for correct purpose.”
Why was she leaving this with someone she didn’t even know?
If she had a trump card like that, why not use it herself?
But that was the wrong way to look at this.
With such a crucial trump card, she would never have just the one copy. And generally speaking, any kind of digital data could be copied.
Kamijou Touma clenched his teeth.
“Did she stay with R&C Occultics so she could sneak into their HQ as a cooperator and inject this into their system?”
“That would be suicide.”
A corrupt corporation had tried to use the private space flight system she had been building to prevent another tragedy like her husband’s and to bring happiness to her daughter. She could not stop it any other way, so she had decided to end the entire project herself.
It was an admirable motivation.
What would bad people do if you gave them great riches? And the Logistic Hornets could cause cataclysms across the planet. She would have wanted to stop that no matter what.
She had been prepared to give up her life if need be. That put a new perspective on her plans for leading someone to Helcalia. Trying to retrieve the girl herself could have put her at greater risk, so she had chosen not to. She had bit her lip and shed tears of blood in order to focus on her final attempt instead.
But the result had been obvious from the beginning. It was plain as day. R&C Occultics was not just an ordinary company. Reading someone’s mind and nipping their attempt in the bud was a piece of cake for a professional magician. If a normal gun was enough to defend against them, then the Academy City element of Overlord Revenge would not have lost so fully.
She had made her attempt and failed.
The smartwatch had been found in a safe within an outdoors base. She must have been attacked by the sand before even reaching the HQ building, so she hid the watch in the safe and then ran toward enemy lines even if it cost her her life. She knew nothing of magic and she attempted to reach the HQ building that not even Stiyl and Kanzaki had been able to reach.
This here was only her “insurance” in case exactly that happened.
“Your own judgment is fine. The decision is left with you. If the Logistic Hornets continue to fly around the world and you find the smallest danger that they guide the world in a bad direction.”
How had she felt when she left this hope?
She had wanted to hold her daughter’s wedding in space.
One by one, the colleagues and subordinates who had sympathized with that simple dream and trusted her had started leaving. And now she was baring her fangs toward their own creation. None of them had understood the painful decision she had been forced to make.
It had meant abandoning her dream of taking space development out of the country’s hands and decreasing the risk to astronauts like her husband through the free competition between companies. She had held onto the company even as so many of its engineers left and she had even earned the suspicion of her daughter.
But in order to protect her colleagues, her remaining family, and the world as a whole, she had chosen a lonely path without the chance to ask anyone else for advice.
Yet even those feelings had been trampled underfoot and her attempt had ended in failure.
How much strength had she poured into this will left behind in case that worst-case scenario played out?
The woman faced forward and spoke the words that seemed to reject everything she had lived for.
“Please destroy this foolish dream we started. Leave nothing left.”
The next thing Kamijou Touma knew, he had slammed his clenched fist down on the table.
Was this the truth?
Was there really nothing beyond this? It ended like this? Were there no words of salvation for this mother? Not even one!?
The boy roared loud enough to tear his throat, but it did nothing to change the past.
The video ended there, the footage flickering out just like her courage and determination had.
Her will was over.
The Rosicrucian magic cabal had hidden in the shadows of history. No one knew what exactly R&C Occultics was, even as it chose to unilaterally influence the entire world. And it was all controlled by Anna Sprengel, who stepped on Secret Chief Aiwass and selfishly wielded power greater than a god.
What did any of it matter?
Did that give her the right to trample on people’s dreams? Some geniuses had gathered their ideas together and finally made their dream a reality, but some asshole had stolen it all away just because it could be used to earn a profit. And she had remade it into a weapon of war, a trigger for meteorological disasters, and an ingredient that would bring misfortune to all!!
And it had all led to someone earnestly begging anyone who would listen to destroy the very dream she had worked so hard to realize.
Kamijou Touma would say it again
He would ask this question as many times as it took.
Who in the world had the right to mock and spit on the dream someone had dedicated their life to and then force that person to throw their own dream in the garbage!?
Kamijou was not naïve enough to think any dream would come true as long as you worked at it.
High schoolers had their own cynical view of such things.
But even so.
Someone had sneered as they selfishly stole away a dream that was already set to come true. She had decided the world’s throne belonged to her and she would force everyone on the planet to do the same. Using big data and AI, she would separate out the achievable dreams from the unachievable ones, harvest the achievable ones for herself, demand people give up on the unachievable ones, and ultimately trample on both.
Maybe it was the most efficient thing to do, but it was unquestionably wrong.
Whether it was to be an athlete, an astronaut, a chef, or a doctor, the people who had made their dreams come true deserved to be happy. Something was wrong if they were not granted as much happiness and success as the effort they put in. And no one had the right to steal away those dreams and their rewards without putting in any effort themselves. Kamijou Touma still trusted in dreams enough to reach that conclusion on pure reflex.
This was worse than just an unfulfilled dream.
As long as Anna Sprengel placed a ceiling on the world, no one could find happiness even if they did achieve their dreams. Instead, her filthy hands would pluck the half-blossomed buds from the stems, suck out all the nectar before the flower had a chance to bloom, and cruelly throw away what remained. And this was not a hypothetical or a possible future. The world had already been remade in that way without anyone noticing.
“A world where you can pour all your efforts into a dream, but the result is stolen away from you. I see. That explains the extremely unnatural ending to Handcuffs. That white monster should have been able to achieve his dream of eliminating the dark side, but some asshole twisted and stole away that outcome.”
“Oh, nothing. Just some magic side stuff.”
The small god cut off that line of thinking.
And she intentionally changed the subject.
“This may have been what Anna Sprengel was after.”
“Didn’t you find it odd?” asked Othinus. “Anna Sprengel holds a position similar to a priestess, but she actually has complete control of a superior being like Aiwass and has become a legendary magician greater even than a Magic God. Yet she always travels on foot and directly appears before her enemies. Why? Sure, you can say she does it for fun or on a whim since she’s the strongest, but I see a simpler theory.”
“You mean she doesn’t have anyone else to rely on?” stated Kamijou in a daze.
He had already clashed with her a few times either directly or indirectly, yet the idea had never occurred to him. Whenever Anna made an appearance, the world revolved around her. She held all the cards. She would mock and deny everything. She had never seemed lacking in anything.
“That may be why she wanted Melzabeth. It had never bothered her before, but once she became aware of it, it bugged her to no end. …Doesn’t that sound like the simple logic that selfish girl operates on?”
And she had sent shockwaves throughout the entire world as a result.
She had destroyed Los Angeles and made 30 million people disappear.
This monster was much harder to deal with than an evil demon king who meticulously built up a master plan.
“Citrinitas is a term found in one of the three sacred Rosicrucian texts. Through conversions to black, white, yellow, and red, an expert void of worldly desire can acquire the supreme stone. Citrinitas is the yellowing stage and it refers to the act of burying it in sand so it can ‘ferment’.” Othinus sighed. “Once something has died and decomposed, it undergoes a beneficial transformation underground, giving it new value. Hmph, Anna is more obsessed than I thought. Even after Melzabeth turned her back on her and betrayed her, Anna was using Citrinitas on her to redo things. To get her to turn back her way.”
“But why? She runs a giant IT company, so she must have hundreds of thousands of employees. So why the obsession with Melzabeth?”
“Because of what Melzabeth did,” answered Othinus with a snort. “Out of those hundreds of thousands around the globe, who was the only one to disobey and display noble justice in the end? Who was the fearsome individual who resisted all of the sweet promises and threats and refused to throw out her good heart even though she knew she couldn’t win? To Anna, that must have shined as bright as a crimson jewel. She must have been smiling even as her pet dog bit her hand and got burned playing with fire. She wants to break her and make her hers. The genius named Melzabeth Grocery has impressed her that much.”
“It seems wrong to start a war to apply pressure to a single individual? Einstein’s brain was removed and preserved. When Saint Thomas Becket was assassinated by four swords, the people nearby gathered up his splattered blood and brains and took it home, believing it to be a panacea. …So in this one instance, we can’t just chalk it up to Anna being insane. Humans are willing to go to such lengths for people in which they sense mystery. We should assume Melzabeth has reached that level for Anna.”
Othinus let out a quiet but heavy sigh.
“If only it was that easy to obtain a true understander. No comfort is found in validation found through brainwashing. A lesson I am sure a certain #5 is very well acquainted with.”
Even Kamijou wished he could have spoken with her sooner. He wished he had gotten to know her so he could have helped her, at least a little bit.
But that would be entirely meaningless if he was forcing it on her for his own purposes.
Melzabeth had her own dream.
She had her pride, her dignity, and so much that she had wanted to protect more than her own life.
If all of that was stripped away and control of her very being was taken from her, then you could no longer call the result Melzabeth Grocery.
Did lonely and isolated Anna Sprengel not realize that?
“And, human. The situation could hardly be worse, but we have not hit a dead end yet. I don’t know if that USB memory is the original or a copy, but the malware does exist. It is not too late to plug that it into the control server deep in the HQ building and destroy the global distribution network and dangerous meteorological weapons created by the network of 12 Logistic Hornets.”
He clenched his teeth.
He clenched them tight because he could only live in the world that existed after that cruel defeat.
“Right!! She left this task with me. She begged me to destroy her dream because she couldn’t, even though she had no idea who would receive the message!! So I’ll do it. I won’t let Anna abuse those geniuses’ original dream any longer!!!!!!”
Then he heard a small sound.
But it came from outside the mobile home’s thin wall. So why hadn’t the security sensor reacted?
Kamijou Touma and Othinus both understood that 30 million people had vanished from Los Angeles, leaving no one to make a sound like that.
And they understood that Anna Sprengel would not hesitate to steal away someone’s dream and she had a childish, short-tempered personality that left her with no patience for anything that stood in her way.
He shouted his response and held his right palm toward the wall just in time.
That very moment, the aluminum and stainless steel mobile home was shredded like tissue paper and blown away.
But Kamijou Touma was not focused on that.
The real threat was the sand. He could not let it envelop him. His right hand obliterated a torrent of pressurized sand flying his way like a laser and, unsatisfied with that, he rolled on out through the newly-formed gash in the mobile home’s wall. He focused upwind and made extra certain he was not swallowed up by the billowing cloud of sand.
Needless to say, the magician did not have to worry about being caught in the scattered sand.
Citrinitas was it?
The search of the mobile home must have taken longer than he thought because it was already dark out. He heard solid clacking sounds out there. Almost like a large dog was pressing its full weight on its thick claws while walking along the asphalt.
Two figures appeared through the murky curtain, as if parting the row of luxury yachts and cruisers brought up onto land.
But…what was that?
One stood tall and held a dog leash.
The other wore a collar and crawled on the ground.
He would have called the second one a dog if their silhouette was not so weirdly alluring. And they were not standing on a pair of front legs and a pair of back legs.
They were down on hands and knees. They were a crawling human.
There was a chance Melzabeth Grocery was being manipulated using some kind of magic.
After doing so much to 30 million people, R&C Occultics was never going to worry about respecting someone’s rights. So there was a concern they would control a captive like that.
Or so Kamijou Touma thought.
But he was wrong.
A chilly breeze swept away the sandy curtain.
The enemy made no real attempt to hide.
Kamijou groaned when he saw the identity of the magician standing in the yacht harbor.
The one figure was wearing a large collar at the end of a thick leash. The dog was large enough to weigh 50kg, or maybe more. If it leaped at him, he would be knocked to the ground and helplessly pinned while it ripped his windpipe out.
Or so he feared.
“The unanalyzed sand magic and largescale weather control using the Logistic Hornet…”
But he was wrong.
Those were not a pair of front legs; they were five-fingered hands.
Othinus clicked her tongue on his shoulder while holding the USB memory like a body pillow.
“I thought it was strange when Kanzaki Kaori lost. She is a Saint, so she can draw on a portion of the Son of God’s power. She should have won, so I had wondered what made her stop attacking. Well, now we know!!”
The thing crawling around like a dog was not covered in clothing or skin. It was a feminine doll with exposed ball joints. The face was covered by something like a cage made by bending panels of black metal about the size of sticks of gum. A section the size of a coffee can stuck out in front almost like a dog’s snout. And it clacked open and closed like a bamboo tube or cup split vertically.
Then who was the figure being weakly tugged along by the leash?
She had shoulder-length silver hair and brown skin.
She wore a baggy T-shirt, a tight skirt, and pantyhose. She wore a blue scarf around her neck. It was definitely Melzabeth Grocery, the woman he had seen in that video. Or was it? There was something wrong with her. Her shoulders were slanted, her head was tilted limply to the side, and there was no light of intelligence in her eyes. A string of drool dripped from the corner of her mouth.
The leash and collar were not playing their intended roles. Like a poorly-trained animal, the crawling doll was dragging the woman around behind it.
It was unclear who was in charge.
Should he simply break apart the ball-jointed doll and save the woman holding the leash since she looked just like the woman in the video? Really??? Yet the doll looked so masochistic crawling around like a dog. Its butt was lifted higher than its head and it kicked at the sand with its back legs. Come to think of it, the doll was a size larger than Melzabeth, so was it possible an entire person had been forcibly stuffed inside?
Was it the obvious answer, or was it a trick?
Or was it a reverse trick?
Where did R&C Occultics and Anna Sprengel’s malice lie? It could be a reverse trick, where the appearance of trickery was used to distance him from the obvious answer. Or was this some larger trap set by the giant IT company? The more he thought about it, the more dark uncertainty roiled within him.
Was it the unsteady woman holding the leash, or was it the collared doll pulling her around? They both demonstrated ways of stripping someone of their dignity.
Who was in control? Which one was being controlled?
What was the crux of the issue?
Who did he need to defeat?
“Which one?” he muttered.
That was when an even nastier problem came to mind.
Kanzaki Kaori refused to kill and she was aware of her great destructive power as a Saint, so she had hesitated to attack.
She had failed to reach an answer out of fear of choosing wrong.
And that moment of hesitation had been her undoing.
Kamijou Touma clenched his right fist in the icy night and spoke his question aloud.
The sand magician had seen him too. Could his right hand react in time to a direct attack? Holding it in the wrong direction could be fatal.
He felt like a grotesquely blossomed rose was swallowing up the world around him.
A precarious tightrope walk had begun.
“Is it the owner or the pet? Which one is the real Melzabeth Grocery!?”
“God, is everyone still talking about R&C Occultics? This is my house, you know?”
“We can’t stop their aboveboard lobbying. An IT company that big can throw a lot of money around, so we have people questioning your decisions from the opposition party and from our own party. Today’s online debate is going to be rough from the very beginning.”
“(You’re not naïve enough to think that aboveboard money is the only thing at play here, are you? Damn them for ruining my chance to hold the entire country’s attention during primetime.)”
Aide Roseline Krackhart quietly caught up to President Roberto Katze and Vice President Darris Hewlane in a White House corridor.
“Excuse me, Vice President, but no phones allowed past this point. I will hold onto that for you.”
“Oh? But this doesn’t use Panda OS.”
“The Patriot Act just had another minor amendment, so all phones are banned regardless of developer. Not even Grapple or Bagel are allowed anymore. They can be used to spy even when powered down.”
“How do you even leak information from a debate being aired live to the entire world?”
This corridor doubled as the stage for any last futile resistance.
The White House was the President’s home, but he could not just wander around the entire place in a bathrobe. And that was especially true of the press room overflowing with so many reporters.
The beautiful aide stuck the Vice President’s phone in her pocket and then whispered in the President’s ear.
“This is an online charity debate, but the opposition intends to go full throttle right out of the gate.”
“And this is supposed to be a relaxed affair used to gather ad money for the disadvantaged.” Roberto scratched roughly at his head with a glove-like hand. “And if I’m gonna have someone mad at me, I’ll take your graceful, polite voice over those smelly old folks on the opposition. Makes me jealous just hearing you’re mad at them instead.”
“Don’t worry. I will never smile for a sexual harasser with no sense of decorum or manners.”
He decided it was best not to ask how she had gotten the scripts and flowcharts the opposition party was using.
“But right now I’m worried about you because you can be so sloppy. Are you wearing a tie? What about socks? Please tell me you’re sober this time.”
“Don’t worry. I’ve thought this through.”
“Which hand do you use when swearing on the bible?”
“I’m insulted you have to ask. You do it like this, mommy.”
“FYI: using a digital bible on a tablet is still controversial. And I have to confiscate it anyway.”
While a phone would fit in her pocket, Roseline was unsure what to do with the tablet.
“Again, they are taking this very seriously. Show any opening and they will lay the blame on you until your political career is dead. So do not give them that opening. Even a bit of bedhead could be catastrophic.”
The aide’s sharp words made Roberto sigh.
“What, more fighting over money?”
“Not just that. The opposition leader’s son and daughter-in-law live in Los Angeles. Her first grandchild was part of the disappearances. You can infuriate a politician just like you can a gang member. Go after a family member too young to be aware what their job is and they go ballistic. She will be attacking you more than her job requires. But if she lets her emotions run wild, you might have a chance to strike back.”
“Forget it. I’m no good at all those brainy tricks.”
“Don’t worry. No one is better than you at infuriating sensible people.”
Roseline turned out to be right.
Among all the reporters filling the press room, the greatest threat was the opposition party leader. The room was not large enough for hundreds of congress members to fit, but they could join the debate through their online social media accounts. Rumor had it that unseen hackers were working to see if they could hijack any of those accounts. Same for administrative access to the teleprompters displaying the politicians’ scripts. Never a dull moment in this country, thought Roberto.
After the President placed his hand on the bible and swore to tell the truth, he saw the genius who had failed to become empress stop herself from biting her thumbnail three times before the moderator from a neutral TV station took over.
“President, is it true you neglected your duties as commander-in-chief of the US military and left a foreign unit in charge of our country’s public order?” she asked, once it was her turn to speak.
“Are you asking if I am guilty of dereliction of duty as well as instigation of foreign aggression?” Roberto snorted with laughter. “We can’t use any branch of our military to resolve domestic issues. Especially for a preemptive strike against an attack that might happen. This is basic stuff.”
“And who is it protecting you in your very own home? The President’s life is guarded by the secret service, SWAT, and – yes – some of the marines, yet you abandon the very people who trust in you and pay you with their taxes? Shall I assume you intend to do absolutely nothing until the entire population of LA is dead?”
(I’m sure she’s trying to bait the President into saying the wrong thing, but this is quite the tightrope walk for her too.)
Roseline nearly clenched her teeth while listening from a short distance away.
During the morning, the US government had given each news company a calm reporting of the facts concerning the disappearance of Los Angeles’s people, but the internet had been unsure how to respond. 30 million people had inexplicably disappeared. It felt so unreal that most of the social media posts assumed even the government’s announcement was part of a promotion for a new movie or drama.
That silly optimism would die here.
The opposition party leader was using it as a trump card to attack the President. And the entire world was watching it live over the internet. How much shock and chaos would this confirmation spread across the country?
And this was only the beginning.
More and more of the opposition party raised their voiceless voices in the form of text. Some truly wonderful messages filled the live broadcast’s comments. They were displayed on the wall filling the space between the President and the opposition leader.
“Do we even know for sure R&C Occultics’s HQ is in LA?”
“If that IT company has broken the law, isn’t this an economic crime?”
“This never would have happened if you had waited until the LA residents and their assets could be safely evacuated before authorizing a military operation.”
There was no actual meaning behind the questions.
They were only bluffs meant to overwhelm the President with the sheer number of questions. It was like a bird’s nest created from tangling countless threads.
Then it was the opposition leader’s turn to speak again.
The look on her face was very different from the smile she gave for the cameras when donating money to the church or welfare organizations.
“President, why are you so hellbent on interacting with our and other countries through the military? When you suspect a crime within the country and you wish to investigate, that is a job for the police, is it not? Then you could have avoided this interference from Academy City and England.”
“Now, hold on. Try to remember what you yourself said earlier. I’m both this country’s leader and our military’s commander-in-chief. Seems a bit unfair to ask me not to think about the military. And if I agreed, I can already imagine you finding a way to complain about that too.”
“You chose to work with Academy City, who I hear has manufactured human clones, a clear violation of international law. Not just that, but a group of them with enough organization to carry out military action. And this is not just a malicious rumor; it comes from their new Board Chairman’s official testimony at his trial. You invited those savages into our country and gave them permission to use military weaponry! …Can you raise your right hand and swear to the American people that you made the correct decision as commander-in-chief? Can you swear that no fault can be found in your choices!?”
“Oh? You paused. I do not know what you are weighing in your mind, but a second’s hesitation can be the doom of a politician. You just implicitly told us all that you cannot wholeheartedly defend your actions. Is there something you are reluctant to tell us in front of the cameras broadcasting across the globe?”
An aide was no more than an aide. With Vice President Darris standing by Roberto’s side, Roseline did not have the authority to push past Darris and give Roberto some advice.
She instead sighed quietly by the wall where she would not be in the reporters’ way.
The opposition leader was so hard to deal with because she wielded truths and falsehoods simultaneously.
First of all, it was only natural for the military to protect the White House. The President was their commander-in-chief and the White House included a shelter and contained plenty of military secrets. Interpret it as protecting their own base and it was not at all unusual for the marines to be stationed here. It was entirely different from deploying them to LA.
But breathe a sigh of relief there and you would come to regret it.
Had allowing in England and Academy City really been the right thing to do? 30 million people had disappeared and they had no solid report on what had happened, so that was not a question anyone could answer immediately. Accurate information was needed first.
(But sending in ordinary forces would only lead to more loss of life.)
Unfortunately, only those who had actual experience with magic would understand that. Roseline had once been caught in the middle of an incident crawling with Gremlin magicians in Hawaii, but things that only a select few understood could not be used to explain official decisions.
If you did not explain your actions with a clear and simple logic that everyone could understand, then they would see you as a dictator.
Whether that was true or not, you would be rejected just the same.
The people were looking for an incomparable genius when they cast their votes, but they hoped for standard and relatable answers once their candidate was in office.
(Besides, tell congress we want to send in the military and one of them might leak it all to R&C Occultics. I don’t know how many of those greedy congress members have been lured in with a stack of cash slapping them on the cheek, but we could end up losing even more people if our attack loses the element of surprise.)
Carelessly making that argument out loud would probably result in the entire opposition party demanding to know what could be worse than 30 million people missing.
Those politicians saw themselves as heroes, but did they realize that whatever had caused the disappearances could directly attack Washington DC next? Since no one knew what caused it or what its range was, there was no way to defend against it. Being on the east coast was no guarantee of safety. Roseline could not believe how secure they sounded making their complaints even though it was all happening in the same country.
Having to helplessly watch it all play out was frustrating, but it was not without merit.
She could easily speculate that R&C Occultics was throwing money at the politicians just like any other aggressive corporation. And that would come in many forms – from honeytraps to taking data from their phones. She was on the lookout for any congress members forcibly altering the course of the debate. The online format was convenient since it left simple records of everything said. If she searched through all of that and drew lines between the friendships and other relationships, she might be able to detect the influence of the IT company.
Once she understood that, the President would not need to make the decision on his own.
(We have to wait for now. It’s too soon to go on the offensive. I just hope that dumbass President doesn’t get baited into dropping any bombshells here.)
The beautiful aide glanced next to the President.
Vice President Darris Hewlane looked oddly nervous.
He appeared overly concerned about every little move the President made. The man preferred a Japanese diet of vegetables and fish for health reasons and his stomach was probably squeezing tight right about now.
(I know exactly how he feels. Or rather, if I have to associate myself with one of the two, I refuse to fall into the same category as that President. But the Vice President worries me specifically because he’s a reasonable person. I hope his nerves don’t make him do something stupid.)
Torturing the information out of her would be easy.
But the problem was Index. She had a perfect memory and would never forget anything she saw, so he wanted to avoid going too far with her around.
It was already dark out and they had moved from the gun shop to a British-style pub. Stiyl Magnus sighed.
(What am I doing here? I thought I had already made my decision here.)
“Ahh!” screamed Helcalia.
But only because she had spilled a cup of water while playing with Index. She snatched up a small box and held it up high while the water spread out across the table and then spilled down onto her thighs and lower stomach.
“Wh-what do I do? Won’t my wet clothes freeze?”
“I don’t have any other clothes, though.”
“I know a way to dry the ones you have. It just takes some guts!”
Index took Helcalia’s small hand and led her to the back of the pub. Maybe it was because Index had complimented the birthday present’s wrapping paper and maybe it was because she seemed like less of a threat than Stiyl, but Helcalia had grown attached to Index despite fearing her so much before.
Stiyl watched them go and only realized a second later that he had let Index leave his sight alone with the daughter of their biggest suspect.
(I’m surprised with myself. Am I not as worried about her as I thought?)
After a bit, he heard the whirring of a motor running.
“Gyah!? I-I think it’s going to blow up!!” shouted Index.
“Driers don’t blow up,” insisted Helcalia. “But I bet it would be bad for my skin to do this while I’m wearing the clothes. I should take them off first.”
“Wow!? Th-that is some mature underwear…”
“Mama’s is see-through.”
“…What are they doing?” grumbled Stiyl.
But he could not let himself go back and forth on this issue. If he did not fully commit himself, he could not build up enough speed and would plummet into the canyon without reaching the other side.
He had chosen to shoot Kamijou Touma and not tell that girl about it.
Had he really thought they could be friends after that?
He did not mind if his own dependence on her led to his failure, but he could not let it bring harm to her.
(I need to focus on just the one task. I need to choose one thing and pour all of my energy into that.)
First of all, the sand magic being used on LA was Citrinitas. It was the third stage of the four said to create the red stone in the Rose tradition.
R&C Occultics had used the dark web to reveal to everyone around the world how they could use magic. But he had checked those sites and none of them mentioned Citrinitas. That meant this was someone the IT company had sent in, not an LA resident who had seen those sites.
(They should be an originalist. Well, they are modifying it with the Logistic Hornet, but when making a cocktail, you want your ingredients to be as close to the original as possible.)
And in this case, the original grimoire would be written in German.
Things were different than before.
Once the two girls returned, they would probably be making a lot of noise again, so he needed to search Helcalia’s things while he could.
Kamijou Touma had managed to dig up a birthday present for her.
Stiyl did not care what was inside. He only needed the card.
Happy birthday, Helcalia.
It should have been nothing more than some flowing cursive writing.
But Stiyl gulped.
(The handwriting has no German elements to it?)
Could you really tell someone’s language history from the idiosyncrasies of their handwriting? Couldn’t handwriting analysis only maybe determine if it was really by a specific person or not? Most any Asian would ask those same questions. But European culture generally used signatures instead of seals and signatures were used to authorize everything from marriage to war, so they put a lot more focus on handwriting.
In fact, handwriting played a role in a well-known story on the magic side. Yes, the story of the letters regarding the establishment of the Golden cabal. Westcott insisted they showed his correspondence with Miss Sprengel who lived in Nuremburg, Germany, but Ellic Howe and other skeptics had some handwriting analysis done, which revealed the spelling used in the letters were those of a Brit pretending to be a German, not an actual German.
It was the same as native pronunciation. A Brit who learned German later in life and one who learned German from birth would have subtle differences in their pronunciations.
Stiyl Magnus pulled out an invisible dye.
He had managed to read some residual thoughts from the Academy City printouts, so with handwritten text, he would be able to hear an actual voice like he was playing back a record.
He breathed in and out to refine the lifeforce circulating through his body into magic power.
He reached something unseen hidden within the message card’s handwriting. An unfamiliar woman’s voice played in his head like he had set the needle down on a record.
“Let’s see, I want this s-sach…? Oh, forget its name. I want this chocolate cake here. No, I don’t want a Christmas message on the chocolate plate. This is a birthday cake! How big would be best for two? Eh? It’s pronounced sachertorte? Spelled like that?”
Stiyl just stared, entirely forgetting to end the ceremony.
That conversation had been nothing more than a mother preparing to celebrate her daughter’s birthday.
But it was devastating to Stiyl Magnus.
The Citrinitas spell had to have been learned by decoding a German original grimoire. That was a requisite step to use the magic directly or to indirectly support it with the Logistic Hornet. Magic and science working together might sound simple enough, but it was actually a risky bit of acrobatics. It required both sides to know exactly what the other would be doing.
Sachertorte was as standard a German word as Kaiser. For that matter, if you pronounced A-B-C as ay-bee-see, you had the foundations of German entirely wrong. She probably pronounced Hamburg the American way too.
Residual thoughts could not lie.
No one could escape an answer they had found themselves.
Admitting to your own mistakes was a form of strength. If you stubbornly bent the truth instead, you were truly lost.
Kanzaki had sacrificed herself to entrust him with this.
But he refused to lose his cool.
In that sense, he was still the same priest he always was. He wrinkled his brow, bit down on the cigarette filter, and spoke under his breath.
“Damn, this means she can’t possibly be involved in the Citrinitas. I was 100% wrong there. And I can’t let an innocent person die because of it!!”
Kamijou Touma knew what kind of person Anna Sprengel was.
He had to choose between the ball-jointed doll wearing a dog-snout restraint and crawling like a dog and the alluring woman being weakly pulled along by the leash. The owner of the beautiful face might actually be her, but the real one could also be hidden within the doll. It was a challenge similar to someone pushing up one of their cards while playing old maid. It was too obvious, which scared him. But reading too much into it could also lead to disaster.
Could he really trust the appearance of the beautiful woman? Could he really deny the possibility of the real one being hidden inside the creepy doll?
Choose wrong and he could not save LA or Melzabeth. It would also leave him open to a deadly attack from the other one.
So he had to analyze R&C Occultics’s cruelty.
But the more he thought about it, the more either option seemed likely. He even came up with new possibilities, like the city being flooded with decoy women and decoy dolls, or a large group of magicians gathering to control Melzabeth.
If he let himself be led astray, it could send his fist in the wrong direction and lead to unnecessary bloodshed. If that happened, Anna was bound to activate whatever trap she had set up, trample on his justice and goodness, and relentlessly mock him.
In other words…
“It isn’t the owner or the pet…”
If you could bury as many mines as you liked, how could you guarantee the enemy soldiers would step on one? Placing just one on the vast battlefield and guiding them toward it with the terrain and psychology was hard, so why limit yourself like that?
There was a reason the term “minefield” existed.
And that was his answer.
“You’re both fakes! Melzabeth Grocery was never a part of this! She’s still trapped in the sand along with the other 30 million!!”
It didn’t matter if he chose the doll in the doglike restraints or the human being pulled along by the dog.
Anna had immaturely laid a trap on every path ahead.
If they pretended to be in pain and agony after he attacked, he would assume he had mistakenly attacked the real one and hesitate. Then they could use that opening to win.
What other possibility was there? There could be more decoy women and dolls hidden throughout the city, or R&C Occultics could be using its status as a large company to control Melzabeth with a large group, each one holding one of the puppet’s strings.
But it wasn’t either of those. If they had magic to control Melzabeth like that, they could just put her in danger to use her as a hostage. If they were placing several options in view to confuse him, then he could at least punch out these two here.
“Ee hee ha!! Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha gee hee hee ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha hee hee ha (■Error analyzing voice. Please repeat that more slowly)!!!!!!”
Maniacal laughter echoed through the biting cold of the night.
It was not that either the owner or the pet was laughing.
The unsteady silver-haired woman and the crawling doll laughed crudely together. Almost like they were trying to strip away the dignity of the real woman who was not even here.
He doubted the Transla-Pen’s poor specs were to blame this time.
The doll raised its head like a howling dog and released a terribly distorted voice.
“Yes, yes. Indeed correct. Only ugly artificials here!!”
He heard a deafening buzzing sound.
But it was not a supernatural phenomenon produced by magic. It came from countless drones that looked like giant crane flies. They had cameras attached to their bellies and could record footage in the same high definition used for TV broadcasts.
He looked up to see them nearly covering the sky overhead.
“Are those reinforcements from the Logistic Hornet?” asked Othinus from his shoulder.
That would mean R&C Occultics was planning to broadcast their own crimes.
But that would not end up being a self-destructive confession.
The ball-jointed doll formed a large vertical curve like a dolphin jumping from the waves. At the same time, the silver-haired silhouette dropped to the ground.
The collar and leash came away and the positions of owner and pet switched.
The doll now held the leash and the silver-haired woman now crawled like a dog with the collar around her throat. Either could play either role. Perhaps there was no real hierarchy between them.
Both mouths shouted at once.
“But so what? The person here is no different in the face than Melzabeth Grocery. The crimes committed by me will all be Melzabeth’s crimes. The truth is easy to twist because the rules are made that way!!”
They drew a circle in midair as woman and doll swapped leash and collar again.
The true defender and trump card of the R&C Occultics HQ.
“Frustrated? Regret-filled? The good person dissolved in sand has no say. Even if the whole world hears this talk, the whole world will decide Melzabeth Grocery has gone crazy and talks nonsense!”
The woman was back to crawling on the ground. She lifted the butt of her tight skirt higher than her head and her baggy T-shirt slid up far enough to see her navel. If this was meant to destroy her socially, they didn’t need to worry how the pose made her look.
“Is that all you wanted to say?” The boy silently but powerfully clenched his fist. “The jig is up. My fist can destroy the likes of you in a single blow and I have no reason to hesitate anymore. …I happen to know a nonhuman magician – a count was designed specifically to hijack people’s minds. But he proved that being made that way doesn’t mean you have to be a bad person.”
That magician had entered Kamijou Touma’s body as a black pill and nearly hijacked his body, but he had instead lent Kamijou his power to resist Anna Sprengel’s atrocities and he had ultimately chosen his own destruction to save Kamijou.
Kamijou did not know what the other St. Germains had been like.
But at the very least, that one had not been an evil being.
He had been a person worthy of the utmost respect.
“So I won’t let you use that excuse.”
A mere high school boy spoke clearly.
He wouldn’t let people take it for granted that a nonhuman being or a user of terrible magic had to be a bad person.
He would challenge that assumption with the life St. Germain had saved.
“You aren’t a bad person because that’s just what you are or because that’s the only magic you can use. No matter what you are, you can always fight it and make a new path for yourself. That makes you actual scum who never even tried to fight it. So I won’t go easy on you. Now that I know you’re both enemies, I’ve got nothing to fear. Nothing can protect you now.”
“Were you even listening?” The crawling woman lifted the butt of her tight skirt high and her smile split apart, looking like drool could drip from her mouth at any time. “My crimes will be Melzabeth’s crimes. I said that, I believe? So! I am saying I will now commit a clear crime that even general society will see that way!!!!”
He heard a solid metallic sound.
No, not just one. They came from the road, the park, behind the frozen trees, and the building rooftops. He was surrounded by them. They came from giant mantises and jellyfish. More than 100 – no, more than 200 – of the bizarre powered suits designed to mechanically reproduce the #3 and #4’s powers were now targeting the one boy.
Those weapons could operate unmanned.
They were hybrid models that could switch between manned and remote-controlled modes, so they could operate in a deserted city.
Hadn’t Othinus suggested the possibility of the Academy City force being destroyed by its own hijacked weapons? And being able to use sand magic did not mean you could not use machines as well.
“The jig is up.”
The enemy mockingly threw his line back at him. The woman now held the leash and the doll crawled with the collar on its neck. They flipped roles like the two sides of a coin and the smooth-faced doll shouted at him. While the woman laughed maniacally.
“And these bullets can destroy the likes of you in a single blow!! Gee gee ee hee hee! Die in this crime-ridden city. And the point is for Melzabeth Grocery to never be able to recover from it!!”
It was disgusting.
It was unbelievably ugly.
Kamijou had been pushed close enough to the brink of death that time seemed to slow, yet his thoughts were on the information mechanically translated for him by the Transla-Pen.
They were going to frame an innocent woman for their crimes to leave her social standing in tatters.
They were going to tear apart her family bonds and friendships, steal her job, and trample her purpose in life.
She would lose any place to live beyond R&C Occultics – no, beyond the Rosicrucians who had connections across the hidden side of the world. They would leave the woman entirely stranded, with nowhere else to turn. Was that any way to act when you were attracted to someone’s goodness and justice and wanted them to join you!?
“Human!! Those are only network-connected machines. Destroy their communications or computer chips and you have a chance. An EMP or powerful microwaves should do the trick! Just destroy some kind of high-power electronic device to create a lot of noise!!!!!”
Kamijou took off running as if physically struck by Othinus’s shout.
The mobile home had already been shredded and destroyed, but there was more to this harbor. A streetlight wouldn’t be enough, nor would a vending machine or ATM. But what about a giant disaster warning speaker attached atop a stainless-steel pole taller than the streetlights? The industrial power supply would be boosted further with a large amp to produce a volume loud enough to reach past the horizon, so it was sure to scatter lots of invisible electromagnetic waves if you destroyed it!
“No use, no use.”
The two figures swapped places again. The standing doll wagged its index finger while the crawling woman shook her head.
“How do you expect to break down stainless-steel pole with puny hands!? I could understand if your right hand shot fire. I would feel cautious if you could shoot out vacuum. But your right hand only destroys illusions!!”
“Please try it if you think your right hand can actually break it! You think good intentions can defeat laws of physics? Then show me a miracle or a synonym! If you are capable!!”
It was not a question of reaching the speaker or not.
Even if he did reach it, he could not do anything with it.
So the enemy did not even bother using magic to stop him. Citrinitas only sent a merciless command to the mantises and jellyfish surrounding him.
The world had slowed to a crawl for Kamijou.
The machines were aiming more than just machineguns his way. These were the #3 and the #4. The attack coming for him a second from now would be true death. He could not move himself in any way that would dodge it. Stuffing paper below his clothing would not save him this time.
He had no way of avoiding death.
And the promised one second passed.
A dull crash range out.
It was Citrinitas, not Kamijou Touma, who raised their voice in surprise.
The silver stainless-steel pole thicker than a human arm had been cleanly broken away at the base.
The power cable running through it had broken and the powerful sparks scattered electromagnetic waves as a secondary effect, knocking out all of the Five Overs.
The pole heavier than a barbell fell atop a nearby yacht, crushing it.
This was undeniably real.
The destruction sounded unusually light because the boat was made of fiber-reinforced plastic, not metal.
Staring at the result in disbelief, the Citrinitas doll and crawling woman spoke in unison.
“Was the metal fatigued due to minus-20 weather? Did the sandstorm weather away the surface? No, no!! I question what happened!! That is not enough to explain!! Hee hee. H-how did you cheat? A normal human fist cannot break pillar of stainless steeeeeel!!!!!!”
He knew that.
Kamijou Touma agreed that this was cheating.
He could not explain it either. Because he was not the one who had caused it!
“It is high time…”
A single footstep rang loud in the frozen world.
“…that you shut the fuck up, coldly warns Misaka while trying to suppress her irritation.”
Kamijou was as taken aback as anyone.
What was she doing here?
She had short chestnut hair. She was short. She was a human clone girl wearing a thick coat over a prestigious middle school uniform, with special goggles on her forehead and a powerful anti-materiel rifle in her hands.
She was one of the mass-produced #3 clones known as the Sisters.
It was obvious how she had broken the stainless-steel pole. If you could not do it with your bare hands, you only had to use a weapon.
“But…why?” asked Kamijou in a daze.
“The Misakas were sent all around the world, explains Misaka. Most of us were sent outside of Academy City to different cooperative institutions. And that of course included some American labs.”
Her eyes remained entirely void of emotion, but there was definitely something there.
“And it is also possible for us to gather in a single location by coordinating over the Misaka Network. We used the information from the British government to rapidly respond to your crisis. From there, we observed you from a safe distance and worked out a plan.”
“Misaka apologizes if the habits she picked up in America show through, but fuck them. Misaka is sick of sitting idly by while those assholes have their way, says Misaka to demonstrate her intent to join the battle. Misaka also cannot bear to watch you take any more punishment.”
A sound like an electric razor thrummed through the air as drones flew by over the two fake magicians.
“I captured that critical moment, you big fool!! The aerial surveillance drones are sending the footage out on a global stream. No way to hide it now. If you are really a clone, then you were doomed before the battle begins!”
The doll tried to deny the value of someone’s life while cackling with distorted laughter.
But then Citrinitas froze.
They were shocked.
Even after being told the drones were filming everything and streaming it to the entire world, the girl stood her ground.
No, not just her. Too many footsteps to count approached the park, the sounds blending together into something like leaves or grass rustling in the wind.
They were identical in every way.
No one could deny now that these girls were clones whose existence violated international law.
They were working to save the life of the boy who had been so enraged by the villain’s actions that he stood up to defend someone’s trampled dignity and was even now struggling to keep fighting.
Yes. They had not hesitated to gather on the battlefield as people with undeniably human hearts!!
“You said every crime you commit here will be blamed on Melzabeth Grocery. You said the rules allow the truth to be twisted as much as necessary.”
The group of girls all aimed their guns.
The Sisters spoke without a twinge of doubt.
“Then just try and twist this truth, announces Misaka. The Misakas here are an army of identical clones. So kiss Misaka’s ass, monster. Let’s see who gets all the attention: the Misakas or your precious twisted truth.”
“Hee, gee hee!”
“Misaka will reveal an answer not even you can hide: that Melzabeth Grocery did nothing wrong. And Misaka is more than willing to use the truth of her existence if it will overflow R&C Occultics’s processing power that lets you manipulate the world’s information.”
They were not really even watching the enemy anymore.
They had their say and did not bother listening to the rebuttal.
The doll took a trembling step back, but was stopped by a tugging on the leash. The identical girls kept their eyes on that, but they also glanced over at the boy.
“An army is best fought with an army, and technology is best fought with technology. Let the Misakas handle these bullet-spewing wimps. And you settle this in a way only you can, says Misaka, confident her war buddy has her back.”
Mechanical sounds came from all around as the incompletely destroyed Five Overs rebooted themselves.
But the clone girls were unfazed.
They readied their assault rifles, shotguns, and anti-materiel rifles like a single giant hedgehog in order to fight back.
“Go save the real Melzabeth Grocery and give us the ultimate happy ending, requests Misaka, knowing you would do it anyway. That is the obvious and simplest answer and it should be the natural way of our world. That is a cause Misaka is willing to fight for.”
“Hee hah hah!! Go to hell! I will crush it all! Clone killing has been added as an option, yes! Ee hee hah, you ***** (■Possible Southern US slang related to nonstandard sexual proclivities?)! I will guide that woman to hell’s depths, by making it all her crimes!!!!!!”
The aide could not hide her grave expression as she whispered into the President’s ear, but Roberto smiled fearlessly.
“I thought he was just a coward with a pointy chin and a pretty face, but looks like he knows what he’s doing.”
A certain boy had intentionally inspired public backlash by confessing to the crime of killing clones.
He had hogged the seat of the wrongdoer by making himself the villain who had killed 10 thousand people.
That distracted people from any hatred or disgust they might have had toward the human clones themselves. He made sure the identical girls were viewed as victims and could not be so easily criticized.
If he had simply built up their defenses to dodge the issue like that, Roberto would not have felt a need to defend him. Academy City’s inexperienced leader could have called it quits there, but he had taken it one step further.
He had revealed them, despite the danger.
He had shown them thinking human thoughts, sympathizing with someone’s trampled heart, and taking up arms for a just cause.
He had shown off how human they were and then asked the world whether or not it would accept those girls.
It was quite the gamble.
If the world was not moved, they might easily conclude that the clones were violations of international law and should be disposed of, no matter how many of them there were.
And when Roberto saw this once-in-a-lifetime gamble made with something that boy cared about more than his own life, he had just one thought in his head.
Go for the big payout.
If you run from what you really want to do and try to win enough small bets that they add up in the end, you’ll find yourself losing more and more as time goes on.
“My fellow Americans!!” Roberto grabbed the mic in his powerful grip and began speaking more like a professional wrestling announcer than a president giving a speech. “Academy City? Clone tech? It sounds like the opposition leader is trying to trip me up with some meaningless detours, but I’m game if she is. After all, taking some detours is a lot more fun than just heading straight home!! Listen up, USN Broadcasting and TV AMB! I’m about to get you the best ratings you’ve had in years!!” He winked toward the cameras broadcasting this nationwide. “I came from outside this country. In fact, I got my start as an undocumented immigrant who crossed the Mexican border with means I’d rather not get into here. From there, I learned to read and do math, I successfully modified the election laws, and then the American people chose me to be the third Hispanic to ever serve as president!! If a high school dropout like me can be elected, then anyone has a chance. I carry the hopes of so many people in this great country. Race? Ethnicity? Religion? Gender? Language? Education? Class? They can all eat shit. Here in the best damn country in the world, we go around tearing down those meaningless barriers, so why the hell should we criticize people for the circumstances of their birth!? Here in the land of the stars and stripes, we need to smile and welcome in anyone who shows up at our doorstep, no matter how they got there. And that goes double for these girls who have chosen to take up weapons and risk their lives to save 30 million of our own people! To take back Los Angeles!! And to protect an innocent woman from being blamed for crimes she didn’t commit!!!!!!”
Roseline’s face crinkled up like she had just eaten a Japanese umeboshi. With the President straying from his prepared speech and providing a deluge of adlibbing instead, even her elite brain was feeling overloaded. Which was usually how these things went.
So it was the Vice President who whispered in his ear. His job was to support the President, so he could not have the man making a mess of things with his excess courage and enthusiasm.
“President, none of this had been confirmed yet. What is the clones’ objective? We do not actually know they are fighting for our sake. They may simply be running wild.”
“No!! I trust them wholeheartedly!! Because whether they’re born from a sperm and an egg saying howdy deep inside someone’s body or they’re born from the DNA extracted from someone’s cells, all people have the same human heart beating in their chest! Those girls in LA have kind hearts! Oh, man! Standing up and yelling has got me a little hard, but I swear it wasn’t from talking about those girls!”
“That argument is nonsensical!!”
“It was the talk of a sperm and an egg that did it! And it’s not a full one, just the startings of one, so it’s all good!”
“Stop talking about that, goddammit!! What connection do those clones even have to Melzabeth Grocery anyway? It seems highly unlikely they would do all this for a complete stranger!!”
“Really, Darris!? You’re getting a lot of gray in your hair nowadays, but don’t trust the legends saying Asian eel will help you get it up. We’re Americans, so when we have trouble in bed, we eat red meat! Go for that pound of sirloin and don’t be afraid to add some garlic!!!!!! …Oh, and one other thing.”
“Yes?” blinked the Vice President.
He could not keep up with Roberto, who brought the mic up to his mouth before continuing. And he was not recommending foods to boost an old man’s virility.
“How did you know the woman being framed was named Melzabeth Grocery?”
For a brief moment, Darris Hewlane could not get his mind to focus on what the President had said.
But then it hit him. He should not have tuned out Roberto Katze’s emotional speech. Roberto had intentionally made the lengthy speech as a distraction. During his speech, he had only said the clones were protecting “an innocent woman from being blamed for crimes she didn’t commit”!
“I thought I might catch someone with that one, but I didn’t expect you, Darris. And unlike those cute clones, you can’t claim you were secretly gathering information in LA while standing here. I mean that’s on the other coast and there’s only one of you.”
“And 30 million people disappeared from LA, including the undocumented immigrants. Pretty unlikely that you would guess the right name out of a pool that large. You might have better odds of guessing the nuclear launch codes on the first try.”
He could seem like he didn’t care.
But the President of the United States actually had an overwhelming presence.
It was not an issue of party. When he put together a plan, it was to make the entire country a better place. When he made a decision that made his own party grimace and when he invited the opposition leader to his own home to have a shouting match, it was all because he trusted that the conflict would lead to a wonderful idea.
Ultimately, he saw anyone who worked to better the USA as his ally.
But he would never allow the opposite.
He was always watching and shaking hands with his American allies, but he would also mercilessly strike down his enemies.
“I’m sorry, President. I shouldn’t have been checking my phone while working.”
“This isn’t one of Japan’s silly closed room trials. This debate is being broadcast nationwide. We have 100 cameras on us – maybe even 200. They’re watching us from every angle and we can check the footage if you really want us to. But if we discover you never once touched your phone since the debate began, then it’s over for you.”
The debate was indeed being streamed live to video sites, but the participants were not allowed to bring their own mobile devices with them. The only online information here was the comments from the congress members displayed on the wall. They could not freely search the web or check the online news.
So no matter how much the news was making waves around the world, the Vice President should have had no way of knowing about it.
The President himself only knew because his aide had whispered it to him.
“For that matter, my cute aide confiscated your phone back in the corridor. Or do you carry two, just like a high school girl? Sounds like you’re pretty young at heart, Darris. Now, if you insist you saw it on your phone, pull it out and show it to me. Assuming you actually have one, of course.”
R&C Occultics had thrown money around, set up honeytraps, taken data from phones, and used their PR advisors to plant deep roots around the country. No one knew where they would find a double-crosser.
But now they had their answer.
Roberto Katze shrugged and Darris Hewlane sighed.
Then they both pulled a semiauto shotgun from within their fancy suit.
The stocks extended just like a folding cane or hanger.
They aimed for each other’s vitals at point-blank range and forcibly held the gun with just their dominant hand, the long barrels intersecting between them. It looked more like a fencing match than a Western shootout.
“I don’t know what has you sucking up to that immoral company.”
The US President, the most powerful man in the world, grinned inside his own home.
“But this isn’t just getting yourself involved in some kids’ fight. You’ve gotten your grimy fingers on a peaceful family only so you can tear them apart. I won’t stand for that kind of behavior in my White House, Darris. As commander-in-chief, it’s my job to protect the American people and the world’s future, so I have to admit I’m mighty pissed about this. So how ‘bout a quick duel?”
Roseline Krackhart wanted to die.
She could understand the Vice President sneaking a gun into the White House since he was a traitor. In the sense that she could see an immoral criminal so flagrantly flouting the rules.
The problem was the other man.
The blonde woman forgot what was going on around her and shouted in anger.
“Why in the world did you bring a loaded gun to a charity debate, you presidential dumbass!!!???”
“Did you forget? We live in the land of car chases, sex, and gunfights.”
Between the Lines 3
R&C Occultics is the True Culprit Theory
Proposer: Kamijou Touma.
A theory suggesting the ball-jointed doll and the silver-haired brown-skinned woman, who can switch between the roles of pet and owner, are both fakes prepared by R&C Occultics and devastation awaits no matter which one Kamijou chooses. According to this theory, the real Melzabeth is hidden in the sand with the other 30 million people.
That would make the real Melzabeth entirely unrelated to the disappearances.
Also, R&C Occultics’s goal was to frame the real Melzabeth for more and more crimes until she had nowhere left to turn and was forced to become a convenient puppet for CEO Anna Sprengel.
Melzabeth Grocery did not want her Logistic Hornets to be misused, so she planned to feign ignorance and sneak into the R&C Occultics HQ to destroy their massive distribution network with a piece of malware she had written. Her attempt was stopped before it even began, but the fact that she resisted to the very end is speculated to have drawn Anna’s interest.
Anna wanted her specifically because she was so noble and pure of heart.
It may be a desire she cannot abandon no matter how much it contradicts her position as a villain.
This theory has Othinus, the Sisters, and President Roberto Katze’s support.
Stiyl Magnus has also confirmed that Melzabeth cannot read German.
Magician Citrinitas and Vice President Darris Hewlane were both successfully revealed to be villains.
The time has come to fulfill the promise made with a sobbing girl.
The only task left is to defeat a powerful foe. Do that and a happy ending awaits.