Toaru Majutsu no Index:GT Volume4 Chapter4
Chapter 4: Beyond the Two Choices – Duel_Against_R∴C∴O∴(for_Save_Mother).
Continuous gunfire erupted in the Long Beach yacht harbor where even the seawater had frozen. The din signaled the beginning of a clash between the mass-produced military clones and the remote-controlled Five Overs. The Five Overs were designed to surpass the original Level 5s with pure technology and the Sisters had failed to match the original, so it should have been a difficult battle for the girls.
But the other two people present did not even turn in that direction.
Kamijou Touma and Citrinitas.
The latter included a ball-joint doll holding a thick leash and a young woman wearing the collar and crawling on all fours. The solid doll and the silver-haired, brown-skinned woman were both fakes. R&C Occultics had set a trap where saving either one would make him look like a fool.
“Gee kee ee hee hee!” The Transla-Pen was not enough to explain away the distortion in their voices. “So you built more? You built up a lot more people beyond yourself? It looks almost miraculous, but does that mean victory? In fact, the more help you borrow, the same amount you lose. Like a house of cards! Because if you lose from here, you can never crawl back out again!!”
“Let them talk.” Othinus crossed her legs on Kamijou’s shoulder and coolly shrugged off the enemy’s scorching malice. “I’m sure you can tell this is a lonely magician, who doesn’t know the first thing about friendship, imagining what it must be like and critiquing the neighborhood birthday party based on that. Don’t worry. No matter how reasonable any one of their claims might sound, it doesn’t fit together. …As your understander, I guarantee you the power you hold in your hand is great enough to reject the destruction of the world.”
“But that solid core is why I want to see your face when it breaks in twoooooooooooooooooooooooo(■A portion of the voice has left the human audible range)!!”
With a dull sound like a car’s shift lever moving, the crawling woman’s jaw joint opened wider than should have been possible and something glittered deep in her throat.
A great roar followed, but was that the sound of all the sand spewing from the pet’s mouth like a laser cannon, or was it the sound of the boy’s right hand obliterating the attack?
It happened so fast it was impossible to tell the two apart. If he had not already known Citrinitas used a spell capable of slicing through reinforced concrete, he would have been decapitated before he even put up his guard.
And negating the one attack did not end the battle.
Kamijou reacted to Othinus’s shouted warning by sliding to the right instead of charging straight ahead. That kept him from being caught in the cloud of sand that billowed out like cotton candy. Turning his back on the magician, the edge of the harbor, and the ocean was dangerous, but he could always stand on the frozen ocean if he had to.
Citrinitas referred to a type of fermentation.
That magician remade humans and all other life forms into nutrients and absorbed them into sand to trap them alive. That meant they fought by claiming territory, not by violently striking the enemy.
Kamijou would be caught by an unavoidable insta-kill attack if he was surrounded, enveloped, or swallowed up.
But on the other hand…
“I can touch the surface just fine. As long as I focus on its presence in 3D space, your magic doesn’t scare me!!”
“Is that a fact!?”
Kamijou circled upwind and then rushed in toward the enemy.
His target was the poor doll holding the leash and being pulled about by the collared woman. He clenched his right fist as tight as he could and threw a punch toward the doll’s smooth face. The owner and the pet were both highly unnatural. If they were made from magic, they could not survive his right hand.
So he could defeat Citrinitas if he got in just one direct hit.
He felt something soft.
The doll had spun around to face him.
But this did not feel like human flesh and bone. It was also strange to feel something soft on a ball-joint doll. A pillar of sand thicker than Kamjou’s torso had risen from the ground a moment earlier, distributing the impact of his fist.
The next thing he knew, the doll had spun around in midair to begin crawling like a dog. And like they were on opposite sides of a revolving door, the woman now held the leash, facing Kamijou.
Had they switched modes?
“Hee hee. I thought magic doesn’t scare? Disproving yourself pretty fast there!!”
Whether it was Imagine Breaker taking effect or not, the sand pillar came apart and exploded in every direction.
It was enough to force Kamijou to fall back. In that brief opening, the doll once more grabbed the leash and the woman put on the collar. She crawled on all fours, not caring that the collar of her baggy T-shirt created a tunnel toward her chest, and opened her mouth abnormally wide.
The attack was powerful enough to tear through the scenery, concrete and all. The faint curtain of sand was shredded by the compressed sand laser.
Kamijou quietly clicked his tongue while hiding behind a grounded cruiser.
“Damn, they’re indiscriminately slicing through the boats. Is a simple yacht not enough to block that?”
“A simple yacht? That boat you’re leaning against now costs about 30 million.”
On second thought, go ahead destroy all of them, silently cursed the boy with only 5800 yen to his name (that he could not currently access with the ATMs not running at the end of the year), but that would actually mean no more cover for him.
“So Imagine Breaker can negate their attacks, but the attacks remain deadly afterwards? That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a huge pain!”
“Yet Citrinitas does not keep themselves surrounded by a sandstorm at all times.”
Othinus hinted at a terrifying possibility.
If the enemy built a 360-degree barrier of deadly sand, a close-range fighter like Kamijou would have no way of approaching them.
“There is no rule forbidding Imagine Breaker’s user from also using weapons,” said Othinus. “So are they hesitant to obstruct their own vision in the great gun country of America? Or are they afraid the fine sand will damage their lungs? Either way, this gives us a chance.”
“Okay, I get that it could be worse, but that doesn’t actually tell me how to win this.”
“Of course you aren’t going to find the answer to everything right away. This is a Rosicrucian elite.”
A cruiser was sliced through horizontally.
Kamijou crouched down and got to work. The sand in the air was indeed frightening, but nothing around here would work as a shield when the enemy could bring down a broadcast tower. Keeping his distance would only give them a chance to target him. That risk remained at close range, but at least he would be in punching range.
He heard a quiet thunk like a knife chopping through a radish or a carrot, but instead he saw a transparent blade stabbed into the harbor’s frozen concrete ground.
It was glittering somewhat.
Sharp glass shards were raining down from overhead.
The yacht harbor jutted out toward the frozen ocean, so there weren’t any skyscrapers with windows to break. That left just one explanation:
“Sand!? They can turn it into glass!?”
“Not just once!” shouted Citrinitas. “Did you think this was only a park sandbox debut!?”
He frantically twisted his body and knocked over the joint lever of a towing vehicle parked on a nearby road. Its yacht collapsed on its side and he rolled beneath the thick sail.
He now had a waterproof fabric roof sturdier than a tent.
The deluge of noise was even higher pitched than pouring rain. The mass of noise exploding from the concrete ground was so loud he thought it had to be directly damaging his eardrums.
He felt scorching pain in his thigh.
(It pierced the sheet!?)
Screaming would only let Citrinitas know the attack was working, so he grimaced, clenched his teeth, and touched the shard embedded in his leg. He felt the transparent blade become sand once more.
He did not have time to stop the bleeding.
The crawling woman opened her mouth wide and fine sand spilled from the corners of her mouth. The wind gently swept the sand into the air and then pressurized it into a 2m box.
It was a like a sea lion playing with a ball.
“Is run away and hide all you can do? Then it can never end!”
The crawling woman jumped up to lift the cube resting on her head and the doll began to crawl instead. The standing woman slapped the falling cube with her hand.
She almost seemed to be rolling a giant die. Except that was a block of sand weighing more than 5 tons. It smashed up the fallen yacht as it rolled through.
Kamijou had no choice but to rush on out.
He covered more distance than expected because the force of the exploding yacht pushed on his back, launching him through the air.
“Tch. Rolling would have been more fun because of you shredded by glass. Sparkle, sparkle.”
The two parts of Citrinitas kept switching the pet and owner roles while they spoke and laughed as one.
(Damn. I thought yachts were economical boats that used the wind to move!)
His back felt hot.
He tried to strip off his cheap jacket, but it caught on something. Then he realized the heat was not from burns. Some shards – glass and metal ones the size of his little finger’s tip – had stabbed through the jacket and into the skin on his back. He preferred not to imagine how many there were in all.
It looked like those two did not fight by having the crawling woman chase their target like a hound and then having the doll supply the finishing blow. If anything, they may have seen each other as weapons or tools, like a witch’s broom or a crystal ball.
Not that there was any point in asking which one was the master and which the servant.
“You failed, don’t you think you did?” The standing doll and crawling human cackled and moved in bizarre synchronization. “Your fight is empty. No guarantees are found in real battle! Isn’t that the truth!? Then you should have told the clones to quit. From the moment you agreed to their offer of help, you dragged them into inescapable battle!!”
“No.” He cut them off. He clenched his fist, stepped forward, and rid himself of all hesitation. “I believe the Sisters’ good will and kindness will be rewarded. They are far stronger people than a mere high school boy like me. I trust them enough to rest easy knowing they have my back!! So I won’t worry about them!! I refuse to believe this was wrong. They created this miracle by standing up for Los Angeles, for Melzabeth and her daughter, and for everyone’s happiness! So I’ll make sure they don’t regret it!!!!!!”
At the same time and same place, short bursts of gunfire rang out.
In the quiet of the deserted city, only Long Beach rumbled louder than a fireworks show. An intense firefight had broken out between machines that surpassed the #3 and #4 and clone girls who had failed to reach that point.
But so what?
Firing a powerful railgun was not enough to win anything and everything. Combining railguns into a Gatling gun did not guarantee victory over espers. The ones who had fought on the front lines and the ones who had remained on standby around the world had their brains electromagnetically linked. The nearly 10 thousand Sisters formed a single massive parallel processing network known as the Misaka Network. Their overwhelming processing power could calculate out the answer.
They dodged with the smallest of margins.
They sniped joints and sensors like threading a needle with their bullets.
And during it all…
“What’s wrong? Taking a break already? asks Misaka #19559.”
A girl spoke to an identical girl seated with her back against a sliced cruiser.
The seated girl fell silent for a bit with her assault rifle still between her head and shoulder.
“Sorry,” she said. “Misaka was listening, honestly confesses Misaka #10089 while looking up into the night sky.”
The other girl understood.
That boy was not linked to them by the invisible network, but he still trusted they had his back. It was simple enough to say, but could anything be so valuable?
So the girls reflected on the words, relished them, accepted them, and whispered quietly to themselves.
“Took you long enough, baby.”
Their break was over.
The girls stood back up, readied their guns, and directly faced a headwind of death and destruction. Muzzle flashes blossomed in the cold night. The identical girls tossed each other spare magazines, bought each other time to reload, and otherwise supported each other as they destroyed their targets.
“Misaka cares deeply about someone.”
They marched across the wreckage of the obliterated yachts and cruisers.
One of them fired a finishing blow on the mantis head lying at her feet.
“And if this will help him and it will save the people of Los Angeles…”
Several clones formed a thick shield to protect another who leaned forward to aim an anti-materiel rifle.
They supplied devastating attacks and marched onward while making an announcement to the world.
“Then a threat this minor is not even worth fearing!! declares Misaka.”
That was when they heard some deep mechanical noises.
If anything, it reminded them of a precision computer operating.
A nearby cruiser shattered like glass.
If the identical girls had not immediately coordinated via the Misaka Network and gotten own on the ground as a group, they would have been shredded and bloodied by the many shards.
And they recognized this storm of blunt weapons.
It was the result of vector control.
“No, this does not appear to be vector control itself, calmly analyzes Misaka #16360.”
Several solid sounds of impact followed. After blowing away the cruiser it was using as cover, the new foe had nowhere to hide.
It looked like a crab monster larger than a van.
The mechanical weapon held out shields that nearly covered its silhouette from the front. And those shields were its true weapon. A CD-like rainbow sheen moved slimily along its surface because it was covered with something like sea anemones too small to see.
Five Over OS – Model Case: Accelerator.
“So Misaka’s final obstacle is named after you? It would seem fate has a sense of humor, comments Misaka #19559. …But the real one would never get in his way.”
“You cannot call it fate when people were involved in setting it up, calmly retorts out Misaka #10089 while testing her reaction speed.”
The Five Overs were weapons designed to reproduce a Level 5s power through pure technology and match or exceed the original’s destructive power. The #3’s was the most obvious example there. Equip a machine with an even more powerful railgun and you had yourself a Five Over.
But those with the OS designation, which stood for Outsider, were different.
“Those weapons use a method other than the Level 5’s to produce a similar effect.”
“Does it use over a billion group-controlled cylinders thinner than hairs, or does it use a distributing electrocontractile gel? How exactly it gives the appearance of vector control should be the key to defeating it.”
“Either way, this is a product of compromise. It only exists because they could not find a way to reproduce the real power. But even if it is a failure, Misaka will not go easy on it. As a fellow failure, she knows just how painful it is to have someone condescendingly hold back, decides Misaka #16360.”
The girls all aimed their weapons.
If this machine did not actually control vectors, they had a chance. If it could only defend itself in the direction of those shields, then it felt nowhere near as intimidating as the #1.
“You are not the real one, so Misaka does not fear you. You are no reason to abandon someone who trusts us to have his back, says Misaka #10089 while she declares war by raising a choice finger. Fuck you.”
An online exchange of criticism began in a pacifist country of faraway Scandinavia. They called the girls savages for using guns and asked if they thought traveling to a foreign country and shooting up the place was their idea of a relaxing hike.
But then someone made a certain post.
It was more than enough to silence those armchair idealists.
“I bet you’re only trashing them cause you’re jealous. They’re out there looking like heroes while you’re throwing stones while hiding behind your anonymity. They look a lot more human if you ask me.”
In a fancy French hotel, a bunch of young people carrying homemade signs flooded into a press conference where some prideful academics were preparing to officially denounce the use of human cloning technology.
The scene descended into chaos, but the young people were clearly enjoying themselves as they shouted in front of the cameras.
“How can you talk about what’s ‘humane’ when you’re demanding the execution of 10 thousand girls like you’re just stamping some paperwork!? When those girls heard about the crisis in LA, they chose to fight for their fellow human beings, but you want to have them lined up against the wall and shot!?”
“Do you think you can get away with anything since none of it’s happening here!? You people are advocating mass murder just to make a name for yourselves, so I say you’re the real disgraces to humanity. We need to set an example for those clones!!”
“Yes, rules are necessary, but those rules should be punishing the people who made them, not the girls themselves. Welcome to the world, girls. Allow us to introduce you to this wonderful society of ours.”
In an American home, someone was clanking around in the garage.
“What’s going on, mom? Why are you pulling out the shotgun at this hour?”
“Oh, my fairy, haven’t you seen the online video? I don’t care if they’re clones or what – that’s a bunch of young girls out there fighting. I can’t bear to sit idly by and watch a live video of some teenagers getting gunned down when they still have such promising futures ahead of them! That’s not the American way!!”
“But LA is 300km away?”
“300 is nothing. What do you think my Harley is for? Roar down the highway on that huge-ass bike and I’ll be there in no time! I don’t know what help I’ll be, but I’ll find something to do or my name isn’t Monoetta Spring! It’s time to charge headlong into someone else’s business in the name of justice! Cause that’s the American way!!”
“Look, if you’re if you’re going to go out and smash up dad’s bike, why not go looking for him instead? No, forget dad – I want a MilliPhone! There are apps I can’t get for my Alkaloid.”
In Japan, someone used the internet to distribute instructions for a 3D mask anyone could make with some cardboard and a printer, so Shibuya and Roppongi were flooded with boys and girls wearing the same face.
In South America, a surprise club event was held where SF authors and movie directors drank beers and cheered for human equality.
In the Vatican, the Catholic Pope solemnly stated that no sin was committed in the clones’ creation since no embryos were destroyed in the process.
In China, a social media post went viral for saying their country had 1.3 billion people already, so what’s 10 thousand more?
Two girls held a phone on its side and pressed their cheeks together to watch the footage.
They were Misaka Mikoto and Shokuhou Misaki.
“Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no. How am I ever going to explain this to Kuroko!?”
“Count yourself lucky. Kouzaku-san might actually kill me over this.”
Mikoto’s phone would not stop ringing. She was receiving a flood of messages from her parents and friends. She had never seen a number that big on the unread messages icon. They all had to be wondering what was happening.
But that aside…
No one had ordered them to do this. Those girls had had chosen for themselves to take up weapons to protect some people in need. The Ace and Queen of Tokiwadai’s eyes gently narrowed as they watched it.
The two Level 5s spoke softly while watching those girls take their first steps into a larger world.
They whispered like they were dazzled by the beauty of it all.
“You’re looking pretty cool out there.”
The minus-20 air bit at his skin.
At a yacht harbor in Long Beach, Los Angeles, Kamijou Touma continued his confrontation with the strange magician known as Citrinitas. He clenched his right fist tight and readied it.
He would win.
He had to win no matter what.
“If I stay here, the downpour of glass will get me, but any shield will be torn apart by that sand laser or a sand boulder. And that sandbag that blocks my punches is pretty bland, but no less of a pain in the ass!!”
“Do not call me bland. It injures a small amount.”
The Transla-Pen picked up the comment made by the collared and crawling woman while she pouted her lips like a child, but then her jaw dropped, opening her mouth wide, and an ultra-compressed sand blade was released.
Trying to run away was not a long-term solution. So with extreme fear clutching at his heart, he stayed low and charged toward the two leash-connected bodies of Citrinitas. He threw his right fist, but the woman jumped up like a dolphin, the doll began to crawl, and a thick sandbag rose up to block the path of his fist.
Othinus viewed their surroundings.
“Is there a tanker truck around here? A septic tank would work too.”
“Citrinitas uses sand,” said Othinus. “They use it in different forms, like a compressed blast, sharp glass, or a heavy boulder, but that means they are restricted by the nature of sand. So we only have to use that against them. And what’s a basic camping technique right alongside boiling your drinking water? A standard step you should always follow before drinking any water from rivers or springs?”
“A filter made with…gravel and activated charcoal?”
“Yachts and cruisers use them for recycling rainwater. And they include sand as well. A handmade filter cleans filthy river water, but they don’t break conservation of mass. That means the filth is caught in the filter and builds up there. And in there, it’s concentrated several times or several dozen times normal!!”
They had already noticed that the doll and the woman never covered themselves in the thick cloud of sand. They had even guessed it was to keep their view clear or to avoid breathing in the fine sand.
But sand itself could be dangerous when used wrong.
So what if Kamijou and Othinus made it a lot more harmful?
“The fugu does not create its own toxin. Plankton eats faintly toxic bacteria, small shellfish and crabs eat the plankton, and the fugu eats those things. All of the initial toxin is concentrated inside the fugu’s body until it reaches a lethal level. This magician is the same. An ordinary substance found in small quantities in the air all around the globe could bring an unnatural level of harm to Citrinitas due to their unnatural magic!!”
Kamijou saw something out of the corner of his eye.
He saw a boxy device smaller than a vending machine with a handgun-like nozzle and a thick hose on its side. He had no idea if these fancy boats used gasoline, diesel, plutonium, or red wine for fuel, but this looked a lot like the pumps found at gas stations.
Hadn’t Othinus given a tanker truck as an example?
Citrinitas’s creepy laughter rang through the deserted city where 30 million people had disappeared. This may have been the cleanest Los Angeles’s air had ever been.
The pair made another vertical rotation, resulting in the silver-haired woman crawling and the ball-joint doll standing up with leash in hand. Something was about to happen.
“Naïve, naïve. If you want to use special sand…you need to use it this far!”
A large shadow fell on Kamijou.
The sky above was blotted out even more unnaturally than during a solar eclipse. The culprit was a giant structure. The 5000m-wide aerial spacecraft launch pad had a V-shape with a gaping hole in the center and a triangle swept back from it like a tail wing.
“You should have known this answer already. I vanished 30 million people all by myself!!”
With a deep rumble and flying orange sparks, something accelerated around the circle and was then launched skyward from the tail wing. At the same time, drones were launched from the V-shaped wings like a swarm of bees.
Either naphtha or liquid nitrogen was being accurately distributed.
“You know what that implies? When used correctly, this can produce one big move that swallows up all of Los Angeleeeeeeeees!!!!!!”
The atmosphere moved.
An entire city’s meteorological conditions were entirely changed.
Technically speaking, the Logistic Hornet’s massive cargo transportation ability was being used to scatter naphtha or liquid nitrogen wherever it wanted. By manipulating the temperature differences, it could alter the density of the air and thus the atmospheric pressure, allowing the operator to set the weather at the tap of a touchscreen. It was no more than scientific technology. The unnatural cold wave keeping the more southern city of Los Angeles at minus-20 was the Logistic Hornet’s doing.
But this was not about that surface-level effect.
A gust blew in from a direction very unnatural for the seasonal winds. Could the winds be set up to spread the sandstorm across all of LA!?
The standing doll spread its arms with a solid creaking sound.
An inescapable reverse flood, pushing from land to sea, was approaching from behind it.
The Academy City and Anglican Church participants in Operation Overlord Revenge may have seen something very similar.
It spread horizontally in front of Kamijou.
It reminded him a thick wall rising up toward heaven or like a massive dry wave. It fully engulfed the skyscrapers and villas and mercilessly attacked the beach and ocean, not allowing a single scrap of land to remain. The wall of sand was so massive it felt like witnessing Noah’s flood.
A woman had built this new technology to overcome her husband’s accident and make her daughter’s dream come true.
But now it was being abused so that none of those original intentions remained.
“Oppose my ultimate attack if you think that is possible, challenger!!!!!!”
US President Roberto Katze and Vice President Darris Hewlane.
The two men did not speak a word while aiming their shotguns at each other’s chests from less than a meter away.
Unlike the pump action variety usually seen in movies and dramas, these semiautos did not need the forend to be slid to load each shot.
As long as the initial round had been sent to the chamber, it could produce a hail of death each time the trigger was pulled.
With a loud bang, Roberto’s body twisted around. No, he had pulled the trigger and let the recoil swing him around. The ordinarily-impossible action caused Darris to miss his target at point-blank range. His specks of lead burned through empty space and obliterated the clock on the White House press room’s wall.
To reiterate, a semiauto shotgun did not require a loading action. You only had to pull the trigger to fire the next round.
Still twisted around, Roberto Katze aimed his shotgun up toward the Vice President’s jaw. He did not hesitate to unleash the deadly attack.
Barrel collided with barrel to throw off the President’s aim, so he used the recoil to fall back and pretended to be preparing another shot, but instead crouched down and rushed back in toward Darris. Barrels heavily collided, gunshots threatened to burst their eardrums, muzzle flashes shined bright, and colorful shotgun shells fell at their feet.
Screams and shouts erupted as the gathered reporters scrambled toward the exit.
There were armed secret service members in the White House, but they were all too shocked to do anything. Besides, the current President and Vice President were aiming guns at each other, so who were they supposed to aim at? And even if they knew that, their shots could easily hit the other one with those two so close together. These were truly unprecedented circumstances not covered by their training and they did not have the guts to figure it out on the fly.
Aide Roseline had built up some resistance to the President’s unprecedented behavior, so she managed to yell at him from a short distance away.
“Wh-what is wrong with you!? How do you intend to clean up after this mess!? And while you can go hide in the White House if you want, I have to go stand in front of the press. This one is bad even for you, so how am I even supposed to smooth things over at the next press conference!?”
“Hey, Rose? I’ll listen to your loving lecture later, so you keep your head down and escape outside the White House!!”
“Oh, how I wish I could just throw him in a holding cell right this instant!!”
“Please. If a stray shot hits you, I might actually kill him.”
Their conversation ended there. The secret service grabbed the silenced aide’s arm and hurried her out of there. They must have decided this was better than just standing around doing nothing.
With that, it truly was one-on-one.
And it still could not exactly be described as a gun battle.
If anything, it was more like an old-fashioned knights’ duel where the two sides took up swords to defend their honor.
The two warriors pushed the long shotgun barrels against each other like two locked blades and roared at each other from less than 10cm apart.
“Ha ha!!” laughed the President. “A 12-gauge? You were really trying to kill me, weren’t you!?”
“Says the man using slugs. Those will punch a fist-sized hole through a bulletproof jacket and the chest below it!”
“Quick question: what did R&C Occultics promise you? America is a country that values freedom but is also weirdly religious. What was your reward for betraying me? I’m the President, so I’m aware there are prizes beyond money in the political world.”
For example, people would swear on the bible in government institutions like the courts and congress. Religion also played a big role in elections. In addition to policies, campaign promises, campaign funding, and celebrity endorsements, a candidate’s campaign was influenced by the specific religious denomination they belonged to. That was because the voters felt an affinity with someone who believed in the same rules as they did.
Would they ban immigration, or welcome any and all immigrants?
In politics, a candidate had to secure the votes of as many people as they could by showing sympathy for their views on issues of that nature as well. Even in the Christian church, the Catholics and Protestants followed different rules. Of course, not all mythologies and religions could become a majority within America. But if the opinions of those minority groups could reach the majority and trigger a chemical reaction, it could lead to a change in the country’s morals and manners and lead to a different breadth of acceptable policies a politician could advocate.
“There is one way for a Vice President to get a promotion. You know what that is, don’t you?”
“The President must be removed from office in one way or another. Then the Vice President will take over the position as an emergency replacement.”
“So you tricked me into giving England and Academy City the go-ahead prematurely? All while knowing 30 million of LA’s people would be lost?”
Asking why he could go that far for political power would not reach the heart of the issue.
Roberto Katze narrowed his eyes and then asked the real question.
“You never could get over that I was chosen instead of you, could you?”
“The Vice President is not chosen by the people.”
The deep shadows in Darris’s eyes were too lukewarm to call hatred.
They were only a shadowy darkness.
“You appointed me as your right-hand man. I am only allowed in the White House as a consolation prize! This was supposed to be my party. You were only supposed to be the spokesman. But the next thing I knew…!? I had won it all. I had everything you didn’t. And yet no more than fleeting popularity and a simple fad took it all away!!!!!!”
Roberto Katze was not particularly smart.
Or so his officially released academic records said. How much bearing that had on his actual abilities was a separate issue.
The first time people had heard his academic history, they had been shocked to find a high school dropout had been elected to congress.
He had known the reaction he would get, so he had easily turned it into a joke to earn laughs.
So yes, it must have been humiliating for Darris Hewlane, a “traditional” politician who had been born to a well-established family, graduated top of his class from an Ivy League school, and used his many connections to work his way up from secretary to politician.
You could be elected President without all that work?
Was there no limit to the USA’s freedom?
Everyone’s dreams have an equal chance of coming true. It’s never too late to pursue your dreams. Those sayings sound nice and all, but from the perspective of someone who had been surpassed when someone else skipped several steps with a rocket booster, it felt more like having all of his life’s hard work thrown out with the trash.
“My fellow Americans!! Do you like sex!!!???”
Time seemed to freeze.
Darris Hewlane seemed to forget they were engaged in a life-or-death shotgun battle.
His mouth moved wordlessly at that question that had no business being asked in the White House.
“Wh-wh-what is the meaning of this?”
“Because I sure do. Hell, I love it!!!!!!”
“What are you talking about!?”
Darris gave up on a direct hit and pulled the trigger to rattle the President’s eardrums with the earsplitting gunshot. That forced Roberto to pull his shotgun away, but it hardly mattered. With his eyes shining bright, he raised the gun in one hand again and slammed the barrel against Darris’s like it was a sword.
Living the life you wanted to live provided a type of strength. But academic history and family status were no guarantees of safety. Everyone was free to do what they liked, but they were the ones responsible for their own words and actions.
“You idiot. Grab a kid off the street and they’d be able to answer ‘yes’ to that one. How do you expect to earn the people’s votes if you can’t even admit to the most basic truths and if you try to whitewash your life and file off all of the negative aspects? Are you planning to pump wax into all your holes and create an eternally preserved human model!? I’m not the best at anything really. But no one’s going to trust some boring old man whose answers to social media questions are stiffer and more boilerplate than an AI assistant!!”
“If you want people’s trust, it isn’t academic history, funding, popularity, or charisma that you need. What you need is honesty, Darris.”
Despite his unprecedented behavior, that President somehow always managed to meet people’s arguments head on and tear them to pieces.
An honest and open argument was a sword, not a shield. Any politician should know that and it was used against Darris here.
“The clones scare you? Fine. You don’t understand all this strange new technology? That’s a valid opinion. So why hide it? Why find all sorts of mealymouthed excuses to avoid giving a clear yes or no answer? The way you lay out a bunch of arbitrary but meaningful-sounding statements and then desperately try to give it all the most advantageous meaning after the fact makes me feel like I’m speaking with Nostradamus. Can you not even discuss the weather without setting everything up so you can act all-knowing no matter what happens? Don’t you get how you look more pathetic each and every time you try that trick?”
“You are nothing but a scandal generator. You are a mere mascot that has confused gathering negative attention for charisma, yet you dare presume to teach me about politics!?”
Now Darris went on the attack.
Several gunshots rang out, the stench of smoke scorched the air, and they once more locked barrels.
They pushed with all their might.
“It’s all those commentators playing things up for the cameras who decide the things I say are scandalous. They only become scandals once those people package them up just right to cause an uproar. I’m only selling a knife that makes cooking a lot easier, so you can’t blame me if someone else uses it to stab someone. What’s wrong with telling the plain truth? Is the President you long to be some cowardly fellow who slinks around, eyes darting furtively, and hesitantly speaks up only after figuring out what everyone around him wants him to say?”
The bearded President actually licked his lips while using his body weight to just barely keep his opponent’s shotgun aimed away from him.
His life was at risk, but he derived joy from staying true to himself even now.
“So take it from me, a President everyone in the world can look up to!! Making love? Bedroom activities? Since you’re too scared to come out and say ‘sex’, I’ll do it for you!! I love women, I love booze, I love fast cars, I love big guns, I love gambling, I love comics, I love theme parks, I love Hollywood’s cheap but moving stories, I love popcorn, and I love greasy burgers so damn much!! I love this country from sea to shining sea!!!!!! And more than any of that, I love seeing boys and girls act based on their still immature ideas of justice. Even at my age, it just makes me want to root for them, you know? And I’m not ashamed of any of it because that’s just who I am.”
Even as they pressed the barrels together, the Vice President clearly did not know how to respond.
He wanted to reject everything the President had said to him, but there was also envy in his eyes.
The man who had wanted that life roared at the man who had failed to obtain that life.
“You can’t say it, can you? You can’t do a damn thing without thinking about how it’ll affect your approval rating, the stock market, public opinion, your likeability, the critics’ 5-star ratings, or whatever the hell else. You’ve lost sight of who you even are. You’re so afraid of losing votes, you’ve changed everything about yourself until you’re as bland as a soybean patty between unbuttered buns. You can’t speak from the heart anymore. So I’ll protect this country for you. I love soda, I love preservatives, I love junk food, and I’d prefer if it was served to me by a pretty lady in a cute uniform. What’s wrong with that!? Maybe it sounds silly, but the people chose me to lead this country where we’re free to speak our minds, so I’ll take up a gun and risk my life to protect it!! Whether they’re an immigrant family or some clone girls, everyone has a right to life from the moment they’re born, so I won’t let a single one of them be lost!!!!!!”
There was no more strategy to his actions.
The Vice President kicked the President away to break free of their locked barrels and wielded his semiauto shotgun like a rapier while he clenched his teeth with hatred in his eyes.
“You refuse to make any sacrifices, you refuse to even clean up your own room, and you’re as self-centered as they come!! I cannot leave the fate of the United States and the world in your hands!!!!!!”
“Now, that’s more like it. You’re starting to look like a man now, Darris. This is a one-on-one duel, so it was getting boring being so one-sided. A real fight has an opponent who fights back!!”
Imagine Breaker meant nothing here.
Even if he could negate the sand with a punch, this big wave could swallow up LA, so the wall of sand would only collapse on top of him. He was done for if the sand enveloped him, so he could not survive that way. In fact, he might be crushed by the pure mass before the magic even took effect.
He had to make up his mind.
He turned away from the enemy. He gestured to the clone girls, but he didn’t know if the message reached them.
He just had to avoid letting the sand reach him directly. And he needed to hide somewhere Citrinitas would not expect, the sturdier the better. That meant the nearby yachts and cruisers were out of the question. There was nowhere to run in those small boxes, so the enemy only had to tear them open from the outside.
He needed something bigger.
Something complex enough to overwhelm Citrinitas enough that they got lost inside.
“I see,” said Othinus. “I will trust your judgment here!!”
Something much larger than the yachts and cruisers could be found along the concrete oceanside. But it was not a cruise ship or a tanker.
The ship was 270m long and built to hold a maximum of nearly 3000 people.
Running up the slanted ramp was not easy. He ignored the pain in his thigh and clenched his teeth as he approached a thick metal door on the deck. Tackling it did nothing. A loud thud echoed out and the impact raced through his body, reminding him of the scorching heat in his thigh and back. The wounds had started to clot, but now they reopened.
He somehow managed to get the watertight door open and collapsed bloodily inside.
This was the USS Iowa. After being retired, the battleship had been opened as a floating museum. The powerful ship had to be even tougher than a reinforced concrete building.
Still lying on the corridor floor, Kamijou kicked the door shut behind him.
A moment later, the outside world was filled with sand.
“Hurry and pull the lever to seal the door!!” shouted Othinus.
“Damn, what happened to the Sisters? I can’t keep up with all this.”
“Worry about yourself for once!”
“I’m the one that thought I’d be trapped like a rat in those yachts and cruisers… They gathered from around the world to save me!! They said they wanted to save Melzabeth and Helcalia after hearing about them! And now…dammit, is there really nothing I can do for them!? Goddammit!!”
“Listen, human.” Othinus did not give him kind looks at times like this. She would not corrupt her understander that way. “If I am caught in their sand and trapped by the ‘fermentation’, I don’t want you to blame yourself and give up. I want you to find a way to defeat Citrinitas as soon as possible and pull me back out from the sand. Got that!?”
“You can’t change the past, so you have to aim for the best option remaining in the present. Fortunately, those clones are in the same state as LA’s 30 million. They aren’t dead yet and there is a way to save them. As long as you, the final survivor, don’t join them there!!”
That finally got Kamijou Touma back on his feet.
He clenched his teeth and forced himself to lift his sinking head.
The USS Iowa was now a museum.
It seemed to tower over you like a mountain from the outside, but it felt cramped on the inside thanks to the narrow passageways and complex arrangements of pipes. He guessed the passageways were half as wide as a school’s hallways.
He heard a horrible scraping from outside.
That would be Citrinitas.
Kamijou’s shoulders jumped and he ducked low, but then he realized the walls were holding. Apparently not even that sand magic could slice through a warship’s hull so easily.
“You can’t just hang around. Get some distance between you, hurry.”
Othinus rushed him from his shoulder, but he could not put her valuable advice to use.
Maybe it was one of the watertight doors, or more it was a vent, but some weaker area was forced open and two large shapes tumbled into the passageway: a doll and a crawling woman.
They did not seem at all worried about the metal shards sharper than glass scattered across the floor.
Not even a real battleship could defend against that sand.
The entire ship was creaking disconcertingly. That had to be more than surface damage. The entire ship may have been bending, with some walls breaking apart like a rotting monster’s stiches.
What would that kind of attack do to a person?
This went beyond simply disappearing when the sand enveloped you.
“Who decided I would be saving people?”
The magician borrowing a mother’s face cackled while crawling on the floor and howling like a dog.
“In fact, what merit does it provide?”
Their sticky malice showed through even through the mechanical Transla-Pen.
“I only need to steal away any place for Melzabeth Grocery and have her give in to R&C Occultics. Hostages not necessary. Killing the 30 million would make me go more viral(■Possible mistranslation?).”
This was something they had discussed while searching the frozen city.
The owner pulled the pet along and the pet led the owner around. Each Citrinitas fought for control with the same leash. But why had they only made people disappear? Killing them would have been easier.
“They’re bluffing,” concluded Othinus, her arms crossed. “If it was really that hopeless, they wouldn’t need to say it out loud to rattle you. If you had no way of avoiding that dead end, they could just ignore you. So why rattle you? Why try to get you to change your mind? Because we’re on the right track. It’s like pushing up one of your cards when playing old maid. This means you’re afraid, doesn’t it, Citrinitas? You’re afraid our hand will move right past the old maid. You wouldn’t bother with these tricks if you really had the upper hand.”
“You didn’t choose not to kill. You could only make people disappear. Sorry, but it’s a theory we already considered. You just aren’t suited for group battles. And I’m the god of magic, deception, and war. You’ll have a hard time slipping a lie past me if all you do is use silly arguments to distract from your own weaknesses.”
Fine sand fell from the mouth of the woman crawling like a dog.
She was cornered, but she sounded delighted.
“I see it, I see it. I see the weak link. If I squish that little one on your shoulder, then your spirit breaks!!”
The air outside began to move again.
The wind was as unnatural as when a train passed through a subway tunnel. The Logistic Hornet could alter the atmospheric conditions as much as it liked by scattering naphtha or liquid nitrogen. A powerful wind blew in from an impossible direction and the deluge of sand moved to cover Los Angeles once more.
At this point, it didn’t matter if they were indoors or outdoors.
The watertight doors were not perfect. Citrinitas had already broken through one of the weaker points to enter the ship. Even without the Logistic Hornet’s assistance, they could slice through a concrete building with that sand magic, so they could create a hole wherever they wanted to call in their sand. Not even a giant battleship could survive multiple attacks like that.
That confusion came from Citrinitas.
Something was wrong in the world visible through the “torn stitch” in the metal wall where the groaning and twisting had burst open a weld.
The thick sand wall, which was hundreds of times larger than a good surfing wave, suddenly collapsed. It was like watching fog clear out. Long before it arrived at the ship, the massive wall could no longer support itself and it scattered in the far distance.
“What happened? Was the Logistic Hornet’s dissemination calculation erroneous? No, the numbers would be correct. Then why did the atmosphere control fail!?”
A low roar could be heard in the distance.
It was the sound of fire consuming oxygen.
That was enough to explain it.
The Logistic Hornet’s atmospheric control was based on altering the density of the air through temperature differences. This was accomplished by scattering naphtha or liquid nitrogen at precisely-calculated coordinates.
So what if something could produce flames even greater than ones made by the 5000m aerial spacecraft launch pad?
A blinding light broke through the cold night’s shadows.
Kamijou knew someone whose magic could grow endlessly powerful as long as he had sufficient rune cards.
An orange fire glowed atop a building rooftop.
It burned at the end of a cigarette in the corner of a certain priest’s mouth.
Kanzaki Kaori had left this mission in his hands. She had known her defeat was imminent, but she had not even asked him to save her. Up in the air with no way to escape, she had used her seven wires to slice apart the curtain of sand.
That had informed him that the Logistic Hornet was boosting the sand magic.
But that wasn’t all.
“Yes, she left this with me.”
The 5000m Logistic Hornet used liquid nitrogen and naphtha to create temperature differences that changed the air density to remake an entire region’s weather conditions as it saw fit. A meteorological weapon that could set the wind direction and produce sandstorms and tornados was the perfect partner for Citrinitas who could dissolve and absorb anyone they covered with sand.
A strategy that relied on pure quantity could be affected by an external force if it was powerful enough.
Kanzaki Kaori had in fact used her Saintly strength to tear through the sand wall so accurately designed by R&C Occultics.
Stiyl knew the numbers at work here.
He estimated them to be at Saint level.
He did not have that kind of inborn talent. He was one of the “talentless” magicians who used knowledge to make up for what he lacked in strength.
However, he could boost the range and power of his rune magic by scattering enough laminated cards around the area.
30 million people had vanished from Los Angeles, but the power was still on and all of its modern conveniences were still accessible. So he could print off as many cards as he needed. By increasing the number of cards to the point that his power was greater, he could mess with the Logistic Hornet’s weather control. Ignoring him had been a mistake.
“Sorry, Helcalia,” he murmured to himself.
That girl was not here and he doubted she would forgive him, but he still felt the need to say it.
“I’ll make up for my mistake here.”
Yes, that thing could only change the atmospheric pressure by heating or cooling the air.
So with firepower greater than the naphtha explosions, Stiyl Magnus could singlehandedly overwhelm that 5000m piece of technology!!!!!!
“Come forth, Innocentius.”
A fiery colossus rose higher than the skyscrapers.
A dull thud echoed through the deserted battleship as Kamijou Touma took a large step toward the Citrinitas ball-joint doll. The pet used the collar to pull on the leash and drag it away, but that established their positions.
Kamijou was the attacker and Citrinitas the defender.
The doll whirled backwards and began to crawl, so the woman held the leash.
That meant the sandbag was coming.
Kamijou ignored the laughter and knocked away that shield thicker than a human torso.
At first, you might think the confined space would fill up with sand more easily.
But the opposite was true.
With walls surrounding them, the wind could not carry over the sand in the air. And with limited space, Citrinitas could not constantly keep their distance and rely on projectiles. Indoor battles were perfect for close-quarters combat. This location worked in Kamijou’s favor.
And do not forget.
While 30 million people had disappeared, the city’s facilities remained intact. With the power on, Kamijou had ways of removing the sand from the passageway.
He slapped his palm against the wall.
Specifically, against the fire alarm.
With a dull roar, the air began to move. The curtain of sand hanging in here was sucked out through an ordinary smoke vent.
Even after World War Two, the Iowa had ended up participating in the Cold War and was ultimately loaded with giant cruise missiles, but none of that mattered now.
Yes, a high schooler like Kamijou had no way of knowing the specific damage control and firefighting equipment the Iowa had, but since it had been remodeled into a museum, he knew it would have modern safety features like emergency exits and fire extinguishers. That meant it had to have the buttons or levers that anyone could use. Thus, he did not need any specialized military knowledge. He only had to rush toward the ordinary things that did not fit the overall look of the ship.
With all interference removed, Kamijou was in complete control.
He didn’t need to run away. This time – finally – he could run right up to Citrinitas!!
The woman’s footwork was not enough to evade. Since he could destroy the sandbag just by touching it, he used as little strength as possible to do so and even used that to throw off her rhythm.
The doll crawling on all fours like a dog forced a vertical rotation to trade places with the woman holding the leash.
That avoided a solid hit from his right fist, but the glancing blow still sent it crashing face-first into the wall.
The doll made of a hard, reflective material held its own face near the nose. Despite the unmoving face, Kamijou still sensed piercing rage in its gaze.
Quiet cracking sounds came from its face and dark cracks ran along the entire face, like small bugs escaping from below the hand holding its face.
Even without a solid hit, Imagine Breaker was definitely working.
The doll’s shoulders trembled with rage as it staggered back and shouted in that distorted voice of its.
“Enough, this is enough!! Send Logistic Hornet to hell. A useless toy is unnecessary. I command you to crash and crush that goddamn fire magician!!!!!!”
“Hee hee. It is a 5000m mass. This is no longer fighting fire with fire. If you have such confidence in your fire, then burn up the Logistic Hornet before it hits!!”
Gunshots, explosions, and the clang of metal on metal echoed through the White House in Washington DC.
President Roberto Katze and Vice President Darris Hewlane dueled in the last place gunshots should have been found.
“Yes, I was scared.”
They aimed at each other with semiauto shotguns hot with gun smoke and sparks.
But Darris bit his lip and spat out a response.
“I’ll admit you all scared me!! I know the US is a country of immigrants and we should welcome anyone with open arms. I do get that, but you have grown too powerful!! Show some restraint, have some tact, and know when it isn’t your turn to speak!! Manners and morals require moderation! You can’t just show up and take over!!!!!!”
“What, is this about the religious balance?”
“No, quite the opposite,” howled Darris while their thick shotgun barrels collided. “It’s about science. That’s what scares me the most. People are free to immigrate and they can work with us if they want, but not when they gather up all the latest technology, build giant corporations, and transform into some kind of monster that absorbs all of our people’s data!! I am willing to live side by side with immigrants, but I will not let them rule over my entire life and trample me underfoot. If the Logistic Hornets had been used for their original purpose, an immigrant-run company could have partnered with god-knows-who and developed orbital weapons!!”
If the Logistic Hornets had triggered a revolution in launch costs as had been originally intended, it would indeed have been the death knell for the state-run space development that relied so heavily on expensive and unstable old-fashioned rockets. If private companies were the leaders in space, it meant the state would be almost permanently lagging behind in any number of current and future fields, such as GPS and satellite communication services, largescale control of drones and self-driving cars, lunar travel, generator satellites, and more. NASA did a lot to improve the world’s opinion of the US government, so maybe Darris was imagining the fate of their country if that agency shriveled up and died.
“Here I was expecting some convoluted conspiracy and it’s just a rehash of the old fear of Japanese cars? Were you also scared of the new Chinese and Korean phones or cheap Indian and Brazilian appliances? This is nothing new. It’s a tired old fear we’ve seen time and time again. It’s like a type of measles that shows up in this country every so often.”
“You could never understand.” The Vice President’s face grew red with humiliation when the President snorted and treated his fears so dismissively. “Not when you started out as an immigrant before earning your citizenship, changing the laws, and finally becoming President!! R&C Occultics will manage all that technology. When all those uncontrollable start-ups start cropping up everywhere, R&C Occultics will keep them in their place and unify them!! America needs that sort of management organization if we hope to coexist with those immigrants while keeping our country safe. The government only needs to interact with R&C Occultics. A company from outside can take care of all those immigrants flooding across our borders!!!!!!”
“I see no freedom or dreams in that.”
“Darris? Since apparently an immigrant like me can’t understand these complex issues, how about you answer me this with whatever knowledge it is you gained from growing up in the closest thing a country of only about 300 years has to an ‘old’ family: You have a pretty low opinion of America, don’t you? Remove the freedom and the dreams and whatever you have left won’t be America anymore.”
“This is a country where anyone can achieve their dreams – a country where honest hard work and ingenuity are rewarded. That’s the America I strive to defend as President. If you want to accomplish something, don’t tear down your rivals. You should have worked harder to make sure none of us immigrants could outdo you! Don’t underestimate us, Darris. Don’t underestimate America. You ran from the fight and stopped trying, so what right do you have to deny anyone in this country their dreams!?”
But a battle was a battle. The extreme tension meant no stalemate could last forever.
In that instant, Roberto pulled the trigger with his shotgun aimed straight up.
The blast sounded like an explosion.
But Darris was the one to frown. A gunshot at close range could rattle the brain. That was why it was worth pulling the trigger even if your gun was pushed to the side of your opponent’s head.
But there was no point in pulling the gun close to your own head and rattling your own brain.
Or there shouldn’t have been.
Roberto Katze roared.
He had already rattled his own brain and numbed his senses, so for this brief moment, Darris’s gunshots could not affect him. The man could ignore the deafening blast and blinding flash even if Darris did fire nearby.
In that moment, the President actually had time to choose from a few different options.
Instead of pressing the muzzle against his opponent and firing, he slammed the collapsible stock against the side of Darris Hewlane’s head.
“You didn’t kill my aide, take her hostage, or harm her in any way. It would’ve been easier for you if you had, but you chose not to. That’s the one good choice you’ve made today, Darris!!”
Without warning, the Vice President’s body vanished.
A close-range shotgun blast could not do that to a human, much less a blow from the stock. It almost looked like his body had turned to sand.
Even Roberto Katze had to gasp. He staggered a bit from the momentum of swinging the stock.
He grabbed the long shotgun like a rapier once more, spun it around, and sighed. He arrived at a conclusion that sounded absurd from a scientific and common sense perspective.
“That wasn’t the real him?”
But in both science and magic, what good was the common sense of an outsider?
Thinking back, he still did not know how Darris Hewlane had gained such accurate knowledge about the goings on in LA. He had not used a phone and no one had whispered it to him. Roberto had assumed R&C Occultics had explained the plan to him in advance, but apparently not.
What if he had been remotely attending the Washington debate while he was actually in Los Angeles? What if that was how he had known something someone in DC shouldn’t have known?
Roberto Katze muttered a comment while somehow certain he would never see the man again.
“You always got way too caught up in your tricks and traps. If you could do shit like this, why not just attack and kill me directly?”
They waited and waited.
And they waited some more.
Citrinitas was the first to speak.
Ignoring the cracks spreading from the doll’s face, the collared woman looked up at the metal roof as if viewing the sky beyond.
“Why is the falling work not completed?” she shouted. “Is my command being refused by the Logistic Hornet!!!???”
The tremor and roar of the comet-like destruction never arrived.
Because someone had stopped it.
Since Citrinitas was fruitlessly repeating the command over and over, this was not just a mistaken input. The villain had been booted out and the massive craft had to be leisurely circling in the sky above LA.
Maybe it could be called a miracle, but this was not some divine act. When something ordinarily unthinkable happened, it had to be the result of some very unordinary efforts.
In this case…
“Why speak that name here?”
Kamijou Touma’s absentminded utterance caused the doll to turn its cracked face his way. If not for the metal restraint shaped like a dog’s snout, its entire head may have been destroyed by now.
The Transla-Pen picked up the magician’s confusion.
“She is the smallest of fries and not even a magician! And she was long since defeated! She was helpless and she still is helpless while a stain in the sand!! Why that woman’s name!?”
“She left that malware with you in case she failed,” whispered Othinus from his shoulder. “But that doesn’t mean she was sneaking into the R&C Occultics HQ with the intention of failing. After setting up that insurance just in case, she would have bet everything on completing that challenge herself. So she could win. All to ensure she had delivered the finishing blow to the Logistic Hornet she herself had created.”
“No, impossible, it can’t be…”
“Maybe she didn’t actually achieve that dream. Your surprise suggests it was you that stopped her.” Othinus snorted with laughter. “But did you forget? The Logistic Hornet is so large it can’t stay airborne in the normal ways. It includes a digital spinal cord developed from optical neurocomputer technology and the basis of its movements as a flying machine came from the attitude control and center of gravity movement data taken from a certain person hang gliding.”
“That person was of course Melzabeth Grocery, the genius who lamented her husband’s death but never gave up on his dream for their daughter’s sake. The Logistic Hornet took in a portion of her neural network, so did you really expect it to keep helping you forever while you were trampling on people’s dreams and making families cry?”
“It learned from her?” said Kamijou in a daze.
“The malware attack may have failed. She may never have plugged the USB memory into the HQ’s server. But the Logistic Hornet still picked up on her regret. It sympathized as another of Melzabeth’s failures! So it chose on its own to stop your attack!! It knows it was built to give her daughter a wedding in space and it felt anger at losing that purpose. Maybe it has no conscious mind, but the artificial nerves of its digital spinal cord still subconsciously sympathized and pushed it to act accordingly. Nothing else could explain this miracle!!!!!!”
Kamijou had sworn he would save her.
But he had been a fool. She had ended up saving them all.
Melzabeth Grocery was not just a symbol or a key item. She was a human being with possibilities all her own. She too was in Los Angeles, so it was possible for her to be the one to bring about their ultimate victory.
This was a free country where anyone’s dreams could come true.
That was not just an ideal and Melzabeth had proven it.
Besides, the Anna Sprengel had wanted the woman so very badly. No one like that would go down without a fight.
Kamijou Touma took another step forward. It was a large step, full of confidence. He also clenched his right fist.
This indoor battle gave him the advantage.
His doubts and his fears were gone.
The pet and the owner trembled.
The doll in the dog-like restraints and the woman crawling like a dog both trembled and shook their heads.
“Hee hee. Go to hell. Go to hell right now. This was only a scenario set up outside our knowledge. This was a tug-of-war between Miss Sprengel and Melzabeth!! It does not mean that I was defeated by a mediocre like you!!”
“True, I’m just a high schoolboy. And the way things are going, I might have to repeat the year.”
“But that ordinary, and maybe even below-average, high school boy will be the one to defeat you. You’re not worth any more than that. I won’t let Melzabeth, Helcalia, or any of LA’s people be your toy.”
That was the end of it.
He could use his right hand to eliminate any sand attacks or sandbag defenses. The fine sand in the air was sucked out of the smoke vents activated by the fire alarm.
Nothing could get in his way.
He could rush right up to his adversary!!
The most crucial move was how he planted his foot on the ground. Just as the crawling woman tried to open her jaws and fire compressed sand, he stomped on the leash attached to her collar, snapping her head to the ground.
He wasn’t going to let them flip around any longer.
He could keep her from moving by holding down that one spot.
And this did not just stop the crawling woman. It also stopped the doll who was being irregularly tugged around by the leash.
“The Rosicrucians and R&C Occultics don’t matter here. If you seriously think you get to trample on people’s feelings just because you have some special magic…”
Once they couldn’t move, he could reach them.
This time, his right fist could end it all!!
“I’ll destroy that illusion!!!!!!”
With a dull sound of impact, the doll was knocked backwards despite the foot on the leash.
Its hand had come off.
The torn-away hand remained on the leash while the creaking body writhed in the narrow passageway of the cold battleship.
“Ah, gah, gah, gah, gah, gah, gahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!?”
It released an inhuman scream, but Kamijou felt like this was his first time hearing its real voice. The hard doll desperately covered its face with its broken hands as if trying to hold its crumbling body together. But something spilled from between its fingers and the destruction began to accelerate.
When it fully broke apart and fell to the ground, it sounded a lot like sand piling up.
The face glimpsed between the fingers had wrinkly skin. It was not even a woman. It was an old man who looked as desiccated as a mummy. Had it never been just a doll? Had he been this way from the beginning, or had he become this way over many long years? With a tattered yellow cloak billowing around him, an old man who looked nothing at all like a certain mother lamented to someone who wasn’t here.
“Why? I…I am a magician of the glorious rose. I am Citrinitas of the 3rd Stage(■May be a poetic metaphor)!! Mine should success be!! By Miss Sprengel I was granted the rank of expertise, so how could I fail herrrrrrrrrrrrre!!!???”
“Citrinitas. Fermentation. Ruler of the 3rd Stage.” Othinus snorted and crossed her legs atop Kamijou’s shoulder. “Or to put it another way, you were a magician who could never reach the 4th Stage and complete the process. The black, white, yellow, and red are the four stages needed to achieve ultimate wisdom, but did you know that the Rose’s teachings say most any magic user can complete the 3rd Stage, but they fail to fully control the bird born in the fourth and final stage? Their worldly desires distract them, so they lose sight of the item’s essence on that very last step.”
“So was that a title that Anna gave you and not one you adopted yourself, Mr. Vice President? If so, this is just sad. It means she never expected much from you. Explains why she sent you out to give her the much more valuable Melzabeth. She was throwing out the trash to obtain someone actually useful. Like catching a tasty fish using a gross worm as bait.”
The battered old man curled up into a ball and trembled.
He was pathetic enough to earn Othinus’s pity, but she showed no mercy. She would do whatever it took to save her understander.
So she directed the boy’s attention.
“Did you notice that, human?”
His right fist flew again.
With a dull thud, the crawling woman pinned by the collar and leash was shattered. She fell apart like sand. Citrinitas’s last chance for a surprise attack had ended in failure.
And when the crawling woman crumbled into a pile of sand, a round object appeared. It was about the size of a clenched fist, it was transparent, and it jiggled like jelly. Something like a partially-formed baby bird was curled up within. It was covered by black feathers and soaked with red blood.
But it did not look like a living thing.
It lacked the glow of life or the grotesqueness of death, so it was not even a dead thing preserved in formaldehyde. No matter how real it looked, it may have been like a wax food sample.
“The beheaded king and queen are dissolved, two types of bonds are used to form the egg, and the egg is buried in the sand to ferment.”
Kamijou did not understand a word of what Othinus was talking about.
But what she said next he understood perfectly.
“That’s the yellow core. Destroy that spiritual item with your right hand and this all ends.”
The unnatural cold wave bringing temperatures down to twenty below ended like someone had flipped a switch. That was thanks to the Logistic Hornet rejecting R&C Occultics’s commands.
The buzz of activity had returned to Los Angeles. Human presences and warmth could be found everywhere. Where the wind had blown the fine sand into piles, people emerged alive, like they were surfacing from a deep body of water.
The identical girls were among them. Those mass-produced military clones known as the Sisters rattled the guns they had borrowed from the Academy City tent base.
“It would seem we are still alive, says Misaka as she looks to the sky and considers how surprisingly easy this world makes it. This calls for a hearty fuck you to destiny, baby.”
The people hesitantly walked out onto the major streets. Some were the people of Los Angeles and some were uniformed Academy City soldiers.
And among them…
Kamijou Touma lent his shoulder to a certain woman. She had short silver hair and brown skin. But when he used his right hand to support her, she did not crumble into sand.
Another small figure stood across the road from them.
It was the girl who had been left in his care.
She was trembling between a priest who reeked of cigarette smoke a nun in a white habit. She looked afraid that this might vanish like a mere dream or mirage.
But the clock was still ticking.
She hesitantly walked across the large road. Her pace picked up to a run.
Kamijou decided this was a time for some tact, so he pulled his supporting shoulder away and pushed gently on the woman’s back.
She took one step and then two.
Then she slowly kneeled down.
To put herself on eye level with the daughter she had wanted to see this entire time.
At that point, the girl no longer hesitated.
Mother and daughter shared a tearful hug in the center of the street.
That signaled the end of an incident.
After making sure they were reunited, Kamijou sighed and turned around.
Someone followed him away. The silver-haired nun caught up to him. She had worked to protect Helcalia while Kamijou was busy chasing after Melzabeth.
“How are things on your end? Like with Kanzaki.”
“She was pulled from the sand along with the other priests and such.”
Only then did Kamijou realize that Kanzaki was not the only magician to be defeated by Citrinitas’s sand magic. R&C Occultics could cause a lot of damage.
But now it was time to take on their HQ building.
Index peered up at his face.
“You aren’t going to name yourself as the person to save those 30 million people?”
“God, no. That sounds like such a pain. Not to mention that we entered LA by climbing over the gate at the empty airport. We’ve been here illegitimately ever since. I don’t know how America’s laws work and I don’t even want to think about how many other legal landmines I’ve stepped on since arriving.” He sighed with Othinus on his shoulder. “Besides, I don’t like to keep score about those things You’re supposed to save people when they’re in trouble, so I don’t want any special credit for it. The world would be a much happier place if everyone did it that way.”
Index laughed and leaned against his side.
“What is it?”
“Oh, nothing. Hee hee hee hee.”
Since they were here illegitimately, they needed England or Academy City’s help to get back to Japan.
But he liked the sound of grabbing a giant burger to eat before he went crying to them.