Toaru Majutsu no Index:GT Volume4 Prologue
Harvas Spring wasn’t really nervous at first. He assumed it was all a big Christmastime prank. Job or not, he never would have been so careless otherwise.
“What the hell is going on here?” he muttered, impatiently tapping his thick fingers on the work van’s steering wheel.
They couldn’t contact anyone in Los Angeles. Not by fiber optic cable, not by high-speed wireless internet, not by satellite, not by airport control, not by the landline phones no one used anymore, and not even by amateur radio.
No one responded to social media, calls, or email.
Remotely checking their phone locations showed nothing more than motionless dots on the map.
That was all it was, yet someone had decided LA’s 30 million people were “missing”.
(The Pied Piper must be rolling in his grave. Helium has more weight than human lives these days.)
The large man was wearing his plain work jumpsuit at 2AM because he worked for an internet provider that set up and repaired communication equipment. He was used to having his ear yelled off after being called out in the middle of the night by a Whatever-Tuber when their internet went out, but this was a big one even for him.
We can’t contact anyone in LA, so go check it out.
Was that really a job for an ISP worker?
Weren’t the police supposed to deal with messes like this? He had always gotten stuck with the worst tasks just because he was a big black guy. He was sick of people assuming that meant he was good at basketball, liked dancing and hip hop, and was all macho and tough on the inside.
(This is more than some malfunctioning equipment. You can’t tell me every single communications company went dark all at once.)
The trains had stopped for the night and the stock exchanges were closed, but that only applied to the US mainland. The European and Asian exchanges were running high-speed programmed trades that moved billions of dollars around a billion times each second. There was even the Guam market across the date line if you wanted to stick to the USA. That meant the wealthy investors needed to stay in contact. You couldn’t tell them to wait until tomorrow morning just because it was after hours.
However, the streets of LA were right where they should be when you checked the Street Eyes that let you search through any city in the world. That meant communications were working. So even if no one could be reached there, it wasn’t a problem with the equipment.
It had to be the old-fashioned “pretend you’re not home” prank. And it was being played by the entirety of America’s 2nd most populous city.
“How long are you going to keep the Christmas spirit going?”
LA’s entire population was missing.
Just as the city’s colorful Christmas parties were ending, everyone mysteriously vanished, like they were waking from a dream. It sounded exactly like the kind of event some rich movie industry people would plan. Maybe it was a largescale promotion for some upcoming streaming drama. People were mostly talking about R&C Occultics lately, but Harvas could see any of the big IT companies pulling something like this. And once one company pushed the envelope, the others would compete to see who could push it the furthest. Morality and laws took the backseat as they all did whatever it took to get their name out there. He could see them beginning a development race to become the first civilian company with nukes…except it was worse than that. These days, the big names in browsers and online shopping were bidding on contracts for strategic AIs and supercomputers to support the US military, who claimed to hold the title of world’s strongest.
(It’s the middle of the night and I work at the Las Vegas branch. I’m not even in the right state! I never should have let everyone know I don’t drink. Even the job request program knows I’m the only one in any condition to drive after the partying is done.)
He turned up the volume to distract himself from his irritation. To cut costs, the company van didn’t even have a radio or stereo, so he had his own phone in a stand. The news mentioned something about a major trial coming up in Japan’s Academy City, but it was too gloomy a topic for him.
“Hey, Seri. Give me a playlist of music that’ll pump me up! I’m afraid I’ll drift off and kill someone!!”
“Why not try taking a deep breath and imaging the sweet flavor of your mother’s apple pie back home?”
Modern AI was so flexible. It could even handle witty banter. If he didn’t still owe a lot of money on this fancy phone, he would have long ago chucked it right out the window since his daughter loved it more than him.
Their company did of course have a branch in LA. Normally, that branch would send a worker out to deal with problems in the city. Yet Harvas had ended up with it. That suggested the bastards at the LA branch had joined in on the citywide prank. It was one thing when it was those filthy rich wannabe aristocrats who seemed to live in another world altogether, but it rankled even more to know he was driving more than 300km across the state line at 2AM because employees getting paid the same miserable wage as him had decided to join some thoughtless prank. His thoughts turned toward the .45 caliber he kept in the dashboard.
Anyway, his job was to inspect and maintain his company’s communication infrastructure. Whether or not those 30 million people were actually missing was none of his concern. Once he visited the 30 vending-machine-sized ground bases scattered across the large city, made sure they had power and a signal, and checked that they were functioning properly, his job would be complete. Once he checked all the “no issues found” boxes on his work tablet, he would drive across the Mojave Desert, cross the state line, and return to his home in a Nevada town not flooded with garish lights. In other words, he had to drive back the entire way he had come. Big cities were great for having fun, but he preferred a quiet rural town to live in.
“What the hell?”
He had some trouble getting through the big city’s complicated junction to leave the highway and descend to the ordinary roads below, so he failed to notice right away. He was a good way into LA before he commented on it.
He noticed a white stain on the work van’s windshield and then it rapidly spread across the rest. At first, he thought the glass was cracking, but it was not.
With his vision gone, he reflexively slammed on the brakes.
“Did it freeze over in an instant?”
Using the wipers and switching on the van’s heater were not enough to melt the thick frost. Surprised to find he could see his own breaths, he parked on the curb and left the boxy van.
He found a biting cold out there.
He sensed danger the instant he stepped outside. The frigid environment caught him by such surprise he might as well have rubbed his eyes and climbed out of bed to find himself in the middle of a snowy mountain.
White frost covered the guardrails, the streetlights, and the billboard with a big grinning image of President Roberto, making them all look like the inner wall of the grocery store’s ice cream freezer.
Utter silence surrounded him.
When he stood still and listened, the silence was downright painful.
His habit of checking his phone when he felt nervous came back to bite him here. He grimaced at the unwanted alert from the weather app.
It was -4 degrees Fahrenheit. He had never seen a number that low since buying this phone. In Celsius, that was around -20. Harvas briefly assumed his phone had broken, but the cold piercing him right through his work jumpsuit told him this was very real.
Small specks glittered in the phone’s backlight.
He was truly dumbfounded when he realized the moisture in the air may have frozen.
(A cold wave…really? This is LA.)
He could imagine this happening in New York or Washington DC, but LA was around the same latitude as Kyushu, Japan. He had never heard of a cold wave here that could freeze all the moisture in the air.
Feeling something rough on his skin and in his hair, he held up his hand and rubbed his fingers together where he could see.
Where had everyone gone? Was this really just a prank?
He finally shivered, but not from the cold. The darkness only partially held at bay by the bright streetlights suddenly felt a lot more hostile. Leaving his van may have been a mistake. The windshield wasn’t bulletproof and the boxy vehicle did not provide much defense, but he still felt dangerously exposed out in the open air.
He wanted to pretend he was only protecting himself from the cold. He felt like admitting to his real fear would cause something to attack him. It was absurd, but he could not shake the feeling.
Then he clicked his tongue.
The van’s door would not open. The slight gap must have frozen.
Whether he was going to complete his job or say to hell with that and escape, he would need that van. LA was a massive connected metropolitan area that combined more than 10 cities and it had been deemed worth developing it until drinking water had to be piped in from 375km away. He was in the very middle of all that. He could never check all of the ground bases on foot. Not to mention leaving the city.
If he could melt the frozen door even for a moment, he could get it open.
Once he was inside, he didn’t care if it froze again, so he took a look around.
(Is there anything here I can use as hot water? Even a coffee vending machine would do.)
His head stopped at an unnatural angle. He had seen something his brain refused to process.
He had failed to notice it earlier because of its unusual location. When people were looking for a car, they would check the road. When looking for a train, they would check the tracks. So they could easily overlook something right in front of them when it was not where they expected it to be.
Something was embedded inside a building wall.
A black, boomerang-shaped bomber was crashed halfway up a fashionable 45-story building.
But that was not all. Once he really focused on his surroundings, more and more things popped out at him like a piece of trick art. An attack helicopter lay on its side after knocking over a roadside tree. An 8-wheeled armored truck was stopped after trying to force its way up the stairs down to a subway station. Were those waterproof military tents covering every last inch of a basketball court situated between two skyscrapers?
Those were not the personal possessions of LA’s residents.
Harvas was not an expert on such things, but even he could tell something was wrong here. This was not the American police that had militarized in the name of stopping the flow of drugs from Mexico, but it was not the actual military either. Any American would notice something wasn’t right. It was like ordering an ordinary burger and getting a teriyaki burger instead. These were not US military weapons.
But then who did they belong to?
And why was that mysterious armed force missing as well?
It all would have made some form of sense if they had done it.
He did not dare approach the malfunctioning vehicles or crashed aircraft in case they exploded, but they were obviously deserted even at a distance. Anyone hiding inside them with the heater off and the hatch open would freeze to death. He could not imagine any reason to intentionally let the white frost fill your vehicle. Had they fled, entirely forgetting the fundamental principle of destroying your weapon to prevent it from being stolen or analyzed, or had they vanished into thin air before they could even do that?
Was this an attack?
Was it an accident?
Or was it a natural disaster?
Everything was left out in the open and plain to see, but the more he learned, the more confused he got. He had trouble even deciding which category it belonged to.
Something flew by overhead in the deserted city. An R&C Occultics delivery drone was leisurely hovering through an ended world.
That one slice of the normal in a very abnormal situation actually scared Harvas. Perhaps that was a sign he was being taken over by the abnormality of the situation.
“What in the world happened?”
His ordinary danger sense had been overloaded by this. He was filled with too many questions to even know what he should do. He did not know where to go or how to protect himself, so he slowly lifted his phone in both hands His ordinary habits took over as he tilted it on its side and prepared to take a photo of the bomber.
But then he noticed the antenna icon in the corner of the screen. It signified the last thing he wanted to see right now: no signal.
He remained motionless for quite a while.
He heard something reminiscent of rippling waves.
It seemed almost abstract. He still felt like he was watching this on a screen from the safety of his living room. Yet if he really was in LA and someone really had maliciously emptied it of people, then their invisible blade had to have reached his throat by now.
Oh, he though, belatedly realizing what that staticky noise was.
But what good did that do him?
Was finding the correct answer powerful enough to rescue someone caught in its grasp?
What could he do when he had already suicidally focused on that small screen instead of the reality around him and left his defenseless back exposed to the threat?
The darkness of LA, that had erased 30 million people, rushed in from every direction to swallow up Harvas Spring’s mind.
Prologue: A Picture Book that Slipped through the Cracks – Magic_Side,Open.
Lights out had passed, so the hospital had gone dark. A hospital at night was the source of so many different fears and a voice seemed to echo up from the depths of the earth inside one room containing six girls.
The voice belonged to Shirai Kuroko. The twintailed 13-year-old wore a see-through purple negligee as she slipped out of her bed and crept toward another bed in the same room.
“It’s amour time, Onee-samaaaaa!!!!!! They say people are influenced by their environment and there are no end to the impure and erotic rumors surrounding a late-night hospital room! Things are bound to work out better than in our ordinary dorm room! Christmas is over, but the 26th is still too soon for New Year’s. Plus, everyone relaxes their guard during winter break. Weh heh heh. No reaction to all this noise? You must be exhausted indeed. But this is why you should always be careful, Onee-samaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!”
The prestigious girls’ school student teleported above the target bed and then dove toward the lump in the blanket with perfect diving form.
But she soon realized her mistake.
“What…she’s gone!? This lump is no more than another rolled-up blanket! That explains why the chest looked awfully large for Onee- bgwahhhh!!!???”
After crawling on the bed like a dog and pulling back the blanket, Kuroko felt a powerful blow to the back of her head.
“It’s 2AM!! Try to keep it down, geez.”
After sneaking from her bed at some point, pajama-wearing Misaka Mikoto slammed her heel into the other girl’s head. That attack was her idea of being considerate. Phones were fine in the hospital room since no special medical equipment was in use there, but who could say what effect a billion-volt surge of power would do. Being too powerful could be inconvenient at times.
Mikoto had shared a room with Shirai Kuroko for long enough that she knew to keep her guard up. Her sensor was not so lax she would allow the girl to attack in her sleep.
But on the other hand…
(I know spending the night at the hospital has her excited, but it isn’t like her to lose control in the middle of the night and cause a scene.)
Shirai Kuroko was a self-admitted pervert, but she also managed to fit right in working for Judgment. It felt wrong for her to just give in to her desires and throw all the public rules and manners out the window.
And if something out of the ordinary was happening, something out of the ordinary must have caused it.
Misaka Mikoto had a pretty good guess what that was. Another girl staying in this very room excelled at that sort of thing.
“Shokuhou!! Did you use just a liiiittle smidge of Mental Out to sic Kuroko on me again!?”
She yelled at the adjacent bed, grabbed the lumpy blanket, and swept it aside like a bullfighter, but then her eyes widened.
The bed was empty. The lump in the blanket had only been a rolled-up blanket stuffed below.
“Damn, she used that commotion to slip out, didn’t she!? That’s just like her!”
“Hm, hm, hm, hm.”
The cheerful humming did not at all suit the late night hospital hallway.
Shokuhou Misaki, Queen of Tokiwadai, let her long blonde hair sway side to side as she walked to her destination in a skimpy babydoll with a cardigan over it.
Misaka Mikoto subconsciously radiated weak microwaves and she could use the reflection of the EM waves to instantly and perfectly detect any moving object in all 360 degrees around her. She had reached the point where she could detect and accurately shoot down the countless porcelain shards blasted her way by a bomb, but even her senses would be dulled while dealing with a commotion like that.
(She has no problem breaking the rules when she can play the justice card, but she never let’s anyone else do the same. So I have to get creative if I don’t want her demanding my hall pass every time I set foot outside the room☆)
But Shokuhou Misaki did not just want a bit of freedom from her cramped hospital life.
She had a distinct objective in mind. She started toward the elevator on habit, but thought better of it, deciding it would be too noticeable. Instead, she climbed the plain emergency stairs one step at a time.
Misaka Mikoto and Shirai Kuroko of Tokiwadai were not her only acquaintances in this hospital.
(If only Dolly…’s sister could have come to this hospital to play.)
The honey-blonde queen briefly pictured two identical girls, but she was no longer in charge of that. She had not received word from the chaperone girl since Handcuffs began, but she assumed no call for help meant the girl had escaped on her own. There were plenty of ways to set things up so she would be alerted if that girl really did go missing. Like the innovative electric water boilers that prevented the elderly from dying alone.
Making a fuss could actually end up giving any enemies extra clues. It was like the scab over a half-healed wound. The Queen had to mentally work to avoid picking at it.
“Pant, pant, gasp. The stairs really take it out of you…”
She worked to calm her sweet breaths and wiped the sweat from her brow when she arrived at her target floor. She quietly peeked out into the hallway. It was identical to the floor she had just left, but she sensed a special, unseen pressure there. Bluntly put, she was nervous. Her Mental Out power made her the #5 Level 5 and she had every form of mental power at her fingertips, but this she could not fight. It was too fleeting and precious for her to blot it out with her power.
He was in this same hospital.
He was a true Level 0, yet he would charge toward certain doom faster than anyone. He would die if he failed, but self-interest played no role when he chose what to do.
She thought it was ridiculous.
Especially from the perspective of the #5 Queen who could control individuals and groups alike and could manipulate everything to her benefit more easily than move her own fingertip.
But maybe she longed for him so much because he existed outside her hierarchy of control and because her power could not reach him.
“He definitely deserves something,” she muttered to herself.
He had been beaten within an inch of his life. He had risked his life to fight the monster named Anna Sprengel and just barely managed to protect the two girls and the entire city. She knew he would simply smile and say he couldn’t stand to see tragedy. She knew he would say no one owed him anything for it.
But she could not just rely on him forever.
After all that effort, he deserved even greater happiness in return.
Even if he was destined to forget every single thing Shokuhou Misaki might give him.
She pressed a hand against the center of her chest and took a deep breath in front of the door.
She was fine. Her throat was not shaking.
She was the Queen of Tokiwadai and the leader of the largest clique, so she hated how she always became no more than a younger girl when she was around him.
But she would do this.
And she would enjoy whatever it might lead to.
She cracked open the door and called softly inside.
Then she slipped inside. This was not a private room and would be shared with several other boys, but she did not particularly care. If any of them were still awake, she could aim her remote at them and zap away their memory of seeing her and their ability to notice her for the rest of her stay. It was selfish, but she did not hesitate.
She had done her research.
She knew exactly which bed was his.
“Now, how about we take another stab at Christmas since our first attempt was so rudely interrupted? Don’t worry. My elimination ability will take care of every last thing that might try to interfere this time☆”
But there was no response, so she hesitantly pulled back the blanket.
She blinked thrice after seeing the rolled-up blanket placed below the main one.
Then her head snapped over toward the window.
She could not see anything from here, but he had to be somewhere out there. And since he had felt the need to sneak out, he must have had some reason that required doing so.
Yes, Kamijou Touma never got a day off and the 26th was no exception.
Shokuhou Misaki held her head in her hands and screamed.
“Oh, god!! I should have known!!!!!!”
The pointy-haired high school boy named Kamijou Touma had walked to a nearby park while still covered in bandages and gauze.
Hearing his name, he turned to see two familiar faces. They were his classmates Fukiyose Seiri and Himegami Aisa. They were both girls with long black hair, but they had very different looks. Himegami was the calm, traditional Japanese type while Fukiyose was the energetic class rep type.
Either because it was winter break or because of the late hour, they were both in their casual clothes. Fukiyose wore a down jacket, a hoodie, and skinny jeans. Himegami wore a duffle coat, a knit sweater, and a long skirt. It was strange seeing them in something other than their usual uniforms. And they were dressed tastefully, unlike the pointy-haired boy walking around outside in his hospital gown.
Fukiyose frowned at his obvious runaway getup, but she still handed him a large paper bag.
“What, did you really escape the hospital to get here? Well, I had a hunch this was trouble when you asked us to bring you a change of clothes in the middle of the night.”
“Thanks a lot.” Kamijou’s face lit up when he checked inside the bag. “I feel bad having you run an errand for me. And looking after the cat too.”
“Don’t worry about it,” bluntly replied Fukiyose. “(I actually always wanted a cat, but our stupid dorms don’t allow pets. I’m all for following the rules, but only the ones that make sense! Yes, winter break is looking up this year. I get to spend it with a cute calico kitty☆)”
“(Well, at least I know where he hides his spare key now.)”
The pointy-haired boy was too focused on the bag to notice the slight change in the two girls.
He even stuck his hand inside and rummaged around for the most important item.
“Yes, yes, this is what I wanted! The Transla-Pen! I bought it thinking I might need it sometime and I hated how it just sat around collecting dust!!”
The two girls tilted their heads.
It was an accessory that synced with your phone, but it was only a toy sold cheaply at discount stores in Academy City. The pen-shaped device had a microphone in the tip that would pick up foreign languages and translate them to Japanese. And by tracing the pen tip over a foreign text, it would translate that into Japanese as well. It was cheap enough that they came as a free bonus when you bought language learning material online.
“Does that mean you are traveling overseas?” asked Himegami, her head still tilted.
“Yeah. I’m not sure of the details, though.”
Before Kamijou could clarify on that vague answer, he was drowned out by a rhythmic beating of the air. A powerful gust of wind caused the dark trees of the park to creak around them and Fukiyose held her hair down on reflex.
This was not a helicopter.
The aircraft slowly descending toward the center of the large park was a tiltrotor that could greatly change the angle of its wings and engines. Plus, they were in the middle of Academy City, yet a foreign flag had been hurriedly printed on the side. Assuming it was not a punk rock decoration, that likely functioned similar to a diplomatic license plate.
It was the Union Jack.
That should be enough to know what country it belonged to.
Kamijou Touma let his shoulders droop and made one last comment with his back to the midsized transport craft.
“I have a feeling there’s some misfortune in my immediate future.”