Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume11 Chapter 4
Chapter 4: Chance Meeting >> Audience Chamber — Duel_in_the_Mind.
Bees and ants.
They were both known as insects with a high level of society centered around a queen (although a lot of bees lived solitary lives), but the species were actually extremely closely related. By the technical definition, they both belonged to the Hymenoptera order.
But that did not mean they could coexist.
The fiercer bees or wasps would attack ants and the more clever species would even lay their eggs in the ants’ underground colony. Ants on the other hand would mercilessly swarm a bee that lost its strength and fell to the ground and they would carry its corpse back to their colony.
These two separated girls may have been similar.
The Five Over OS was made up of an artificial fat called Designers’ Gel. That wearable weapon resembled a giant cream-colored octopus and one of its tentacles was wrapped around Shokuhou Misaki’s body.
“Our relationship might be similar to Shirai Kuroko and Musujime Awaki’s,” said the girl named Mitsuari Ayu.
She gave a smile that did not at all match her appearance and she pulled out a palm-sized smartphone as if preparing for a card trick.
“It was not the Strobila or the Five Over OS that deflected your power. My power may be weaker than yours, but it is the same. All I did was use it to obstruct the interference you caused☆”
As she spoke, the number of smartphones grew.
It was reminiscent of all the remotes Shokuhou used.
“So that’s why you’ve directed all your hatred ability my way?”
Shokuhou groaned while held by the giant tentacle that looked like it could crush a small car like balling-up a tissue.
“Everything was chosen based on some file called the Parameter List and our futures were decided based on what the adults wanted, so you’re the victim and I’m the culprit?”
“What about it?”
Shokuhou wondered what she would have done if the situation had been reversed.
What if some stranger she had never even met had used her as a stepping stone and stolen every possibility from her?
What if her talent had been crushed?
What if she had never been allowed in Tokiwadai Middle School?
What if she had not been a Level 5?
After considering that, the girl named Shokuhou Misaki spoke.
“Are you an idiot? That’s nothing more than an excuse for falling to a life of crime.”
Mitsuari remained smiling.
And while smiling, a disturbing spasm came over her face at not quite her temple and not quite her cheek. It was as if small insects were running around below the skin.
Shokuhou ignored it and continued.
She found herself able to ignore it.
“Your success was stolen from you? You had talent, but you weren’t placed on the proper stage? You can find similar situations anywhere you look.”
“Do you think every country can provide their Olympic athletes the same funding and equipment? How many countries do you think want to go to space but can’t carry out realistic space development? It isn’t rare for competitions to be influenced by more than just one’s pure skill. Competing in the exact same environment and under the exact same conditions is something you only see in the lukewarm miniature gardens adults prepare for children. That only applies to school tests that have no bearing on your actual life.”
Her words stabbed out at the other girl.
Her words mocked this girl who had lost her way.
And those clear words continued.
“But it’s human nature that leads us to win regardless. If doing everything right isn’t enough to win, the winners will work two or even three times as hard. They’ll show off what they can do by with a method no one else had thought of. That’s what leads to the instant an athlete who trained by running through the wasteland defeats the elite athlete who trained in a cutting-edge gym. If you want to reach space, you make your way to a realistic launch pad even if it means leaving your home country. …When adults fight, it comes down to a conflict between adults with childlike looks in their eyes as they work to both stay true to the type of race their predecessors established and also to produce shocking results that completely overturn those expectations.”
So there was no reason to feel inferior.
There was a reason she had been chosen.
Mitsuari Ayu was no different from the people who shamelessly begged a lottery winner to treat them to something. Except she was not even an old acquaintance; she was someone Shokuhou had never even heard of before.
Shokuhou was not about to let someone like that take everything from her.
The loss of a single possibility had been enough to make Mitsuari rot and she now wanted to be a child with a mature look in her eyes, so she would never have been able to withstand the pressure of holding Academy City’s #5 ability.
“And I happen to know something else.”
Shokuhou continued to challenge the girl even as her stomach was squeezed to the limit.
“I know of an ‘older boy’ who stuck to his own path without rotting despite being a Level 0. On that day back then when he spoke with his back turned and protecting me, he clearly surpassed me and my all-too-pathetic Level 5 ability. Your actual skill doesn’t matter. Coolly calculating out all the numbers is pointless. No matter how many arguments you prepare, you have no choice but to accept defeat once he walks in from beyond the horizon. I am very familiar with a Level 0 like that☆”
What was it that kept Mitsuari from shining like that?
Not becoming a Level 5?
That was not enough to deny someone their humanity.
Having her possibilities stolen by the adults?
If that was enough for her to give up, had she truly put in any effort in the first place?
Did that mean any crime of hers could be forgiven?
That was the same as treating all Level 3s and below like criminals.
“You are weak,” summed up Shokuhou Misaki. “From the moment you could only use your life as an excuse for committing crimes, you insulted that very life. You didn’t notice, you were afraid of noticing, and you went around destroying everything that could make you notice, but you have also crushed your ability to ever gather respect. Even if you managed to reach the position of Level 5.”
At that point, Mitsuari Ayu switched from listening to laughing.
And the crazed expression from before had changed.
“Heh heh heh. Heh heh heh heh. Heh heh heh heh hah hah. Ahh, ahh. It sounds like you met a lovely person, Miss Bee. Was this what you were hoping to say to get me to give up? ‘If you had met him, a different path might have opened for you’?”
It was a calculated expression.
It was not the expression of a girl going mad with rage after having her entire identity rejected.
There was something more there.
Did the core of Mitsuari Ayu lay elsewhere?
“But that won’t work here.”
The ant stood next to the bee and that other queen played her final card with a calm smile.
“After all, I too spoke with Kamijou-kun quite a bit.”
This time, Shokuhou’s mind truly, truly went blank. This blank was larger and deeper than when her own memories had been rejected or when she had learned her own Mental Out powers were the result of being chosen for the adults’ convenience.
“I told you, didn’t I?”
The smile vanished from Mitsuari’s face.
The smile vanished from the face of the girl who had continued to smile even as her very existence and the path she had taken were rejected.
“I’m taking revenge to take back what you stole from me. …How would you feel in my situation? What if someone you didn’t even know stole that person you were so proud of.”
“I was there back then too.”
She approached Shokuhou whose torso was still restrained. With a smartphone in each hand, she gently grabbed the sides of Shokuhou’s head.
The chill of the LCD screens tormented her mind.
And then the decisive words arrived.
“It may be a beautiful past for you, but I was not saved by Kamijou-kun. That is why I can say you stole everything from me. If it wasn’t for you, he would have made it in time.”
She brought her face so close that Shokuhou could not focus her eyes.
And a moment later, Shokuhou felt a strange sensation pass through her mind. It was like invisible wires running through her head had been gathered together and suddenly pulled out from her forehead.
While pressing their foreheads together and placing the smartphones on either side of Shokuhou’s head, the other girl spoke without even a hint of a smile.
“This is Mental Stinger. In my case, I set the target with cameras and my fingertips.”
“Ah…kh!? But with identical types of power, any interference can be deflected regardless of strength!”
“Only if we both reject it.”
With the strange sensation in the center, the outer edges of Shokuhou’s vision grew distorted.
Bright colors danced about.
“But what if I accept it all? What if I intentionally open a port and allow an exchange of identically-formatted packets?”
“This…isn’t your power.”
Shokuhou finally caught on.
“This is an ignition to make me lose control of my Mental Out!?”
“Well done. I can drag you into my head using your own power. Welcome to a life of despair and resignation. It’s time you experienced what I did when you stole everything from me.”
With those words, all of Shokuhou Misaki’s senses far exceeded the threshold of what could be described in terms of the real world.
A girl stood alone on the shore of a geothermal power station’s circular lake.
Her consciousness had been dragged into someone else’s mind. That was what she had been told anyway, but it may have been an image constructed around Mitsuari Ayu’s memories, much like a child listening to a picture book before going to sleep.
However, the feel of the place suddenly changed. The massive amount of water turned to bright green melon soda, the dark mountains turned to masses of cream, the thick trees became cookies shaped like playing cards, and even the round concrete structure holding the water was replaced by an overwhelming amount of chocolate.
It looked like a kingdom of sweets.
The bee and the ant were fighting over the sweet nectar that was their memories of this artificial lake. This may have been how “she” pictured this stage.
The oppressively sweet aroma surpassed hunger and stimulated one’s desire to vomit.
Both salt and sugar were necessary, but too much of either was harmful.
Had “her” memories reached that lethal dose?
The voice came from behind.
Shokuhou turned around and saw Mitsuari Ayu wearing a Tokiwadai Middle School uniform. She wore a summer uniform despite the season.
“I died here. I stuffed lots and lots of large rocks in my clothes, stood on this concrete shore, and jumped into the lake with my hands together like diving into a pool. And I sank. This happened a mere three days before you thoughtlessly tried to destroy your own memories.”
This revelation came suddenly, but Shokuhou did not laugh it off.
Her own memories refused to let her reject this.
On the night when she had met “him” at this lake, she had sprawled out on the ground and pressed her remote against her temple like committing suicide with a handgun. But that scene was now repainted in entirely different colors.
“Wait a second. You mean…the reason he was at that power station so late was…”
She had found it odd.
Meeting him around town by chance was possible.
But District 21 was a long way from District 7 where they lived and most of it was deep in the mountains. Ground Geo was at the peak of a mountain, so he would not simply have been there for a late night walk.
So why had Kamijou Touma been there?
Why had he been able to meet her there?
“He did not make it in time.”
“And to lament that fact, he visited the site of the suicide?”
She recalled what Kumokawa Seria had said.
Shokuhou and Kumokawa had both spent time with Kamijou at the same time in the past, but the only connection between the two girls was that common acquaintance. Neither had set foot in the other’s private business.
Kumokawa did not know about Shokuhou’s incident.
Shokuhou did not know about Kumokawa’s incident.
What if another individual had also spent that time with him and dealt with another incident besides theirs?
“I don’t really care about you or anything, but he isn’t strong enough to handle someone’s death. So don’t go off and die. If you do die, I’ll give you the proper decorations, so make sure you contact me.”
What if those abusive words of Kumokawa’s had held an entirely different meaning?
“And when he arrived, he saw another girl in the same Tokiwadai uniform as the one he had not arrived in time for. He didn’t know what she was trying to do, but he saw a younger girl who was obviously wallowing in despair. He could not help but call out to her. He did not want a repeat of his previous failure.”
Shokuhou remembered the boy she had spent time with when she would occasionally see him around Academy City after that incident at the lake.
She had decided not to peek at his memories.
But what had been her subconscious reason for that decision? Had she not wanted to find any boring reasons or motives behind that small miracle? Had she wanted it to remain pure coincidence?
Kamijou Touma may have been worried about her.
And he may have been comparing her to someone else.
“So why do you think he didn’t arrive in time for me?”
“He has no esper power, he has no superhuman strength, and he isn’t particularly smart. …But for some reason, his drive has saved so many more people than anyone else. I agree with that. But then, why did that miracle not occur in my case?”
“That twisted result would not happen for no reason.”
With those words, the kingdom of sweets crumbled.
The entire melon soda lake flickered like a giant screen and it displayed the kind of intersection found anywhere in Academy City.
An intense tremor filled Shokuhou’s mind.
She recognized it.
That was the intersection at which she had run into Kamijou Touma like a false start. They had simply collided, barely even exchanged words, and then went on their ways. That initial meeting had seemed like some kind of mistake.
But something must have happened then.
Something an outsider like her would not have noticed, but something those involved could not overlook.
“He accidentally gave me something of his,” she muttered in a daze. “There was a cheap cellphone I didn’t recognize mixed in with the things he handed me.”
Mitsuari Ayu agreed with a difficult to describe expression.
It looked angry and on the verge of tears yet also relieved at finally conveying the truth.
“That was why he did not arrive in the very, very end. A simple lack of communication caused that perfectly reachable salvation to slip from his fingers.”
And then Mitsuari had jumped into the lake.
“I was not the only one suffering due to the Parameter List,” she said as if to remind Shokuhou of something that had already ended. “You stood at the center of your own incident, didn’t you? Deadlock. Those poor students who held an unreasonable hatred of the Level 5s and believed your AIM Diffusion Field was the reason for their lack of growth.”
“But that was not the true reason. They may have hated the right person, but killing you would not have put their lives back on track. Just like me, they were fruits cut from the branch thanks to that Parameter List the adults had created.”
When placed in a true dilemma, people had two options: external destruction or internal destruction.
They could blame their failure on society and their surroundings and begin stabbing or shooting random strangers in the name of revenge.
Or they could place full responsibility for their failure on themselves and desire to be “anywhere else” even if it meant taking their own life.
The attackers of Deadlock had made one decision.
The girl named Mitsuari Ayu had made the other.
In that case, Shokuhou Misaki’s bright memories were repainted in entirely different colors.
She recalled their conversation at that artificial lake.
“You’re the guy who ran into me at the intersection with toast in his mouth.”
“I did not have toast in my mouth. Come to think of it, that means you’re the one that brought my phone to Anti-Skill. Thanks for that.”
What had Kamijou Touma really thought back then?
When he said that, he had to have known that the disappearance of that cellphone had prevented him from protecting a life.
Whether by coincidence or not, she had been the root cause of his failure to save a girl. So what feelings had filled his heart when he had seen her blindly wishing for her own destruction at the scene of that very suicide?
He should have shouted at her.
She could not have complained if he had punched her.
So why had he hidden it? Why had he hidden it and worried for her instead?
Just how endlessly good-natured was he?
“I wanted to be saved,” said Mitsuari.
She directly stated her own desire.
“Taking my own life may sound irresponsible and selfish, but even so, I really did want to be saved.”
It was unclear just how serious Mitsuari had been about committing suicide.
Had she truly intended to die or had she wanted to go through the actions so someone would worry about her?
She had waited for her own personal hero, but Kamijou Touma had not shown up.
He had not come.
And so that lonely girl, that life left behind by the world, had felt throwing herself to the depths of that dark water was her only choice.
Mitsuari had said she was taking revenge on Shokuhou for taking everything from her.
According to her, Shokuhou had twisted her entire life even though they had never met and had avoided contact because she would have killed Shokuhou the second she saw her.
It all finally clicked in place.
They had shared the same time in the past, but they also had no real connection.
Even so, every last thing had been related to Shokuhou: the Parameter List that had led to her suicide, the cellphone that had been the final trigger, and even that spot next to Kamijou Touma after her suicide.
What if their situations had been reversed?
Shokuhou might have been able to handle the Parameter List issue.
But what about causing him to lose his phone?
What if the girl who had unknowingly given that final shove was then happily walking by that boy’s side?
(I probably couldn’t have forgiven her. Whatever else may have happened, that alone would be unforgivable.)
As Mitsuari was now attacking her as a real threat, her suicide must have ended in failure. And once she had woken, she would have learned everything. That was what had broken her. That was why she had sunken into the deepest darkness of Academy City and gathered enough power to reach the Strobila and Five Over OS.
“Answer me one thing honestly, queen ant.”
“Just one, Miss Bee?”
“Why did you wear the Five Over OS? The unit made from Designers’ Gel can move on its own, can’t it? Then you wouldn’t need to swell up to that three hundred kilo body.”
“It’s easier to see people for who they are when they look down on you, so I intentionally ruined my looks to-…”
“No, not that.”
Shokuhou cut her off.
The bee and ant were similar.
She had asked the question after already realizing the answer.
And Mitsuari must have realized that because she spoke in resignation.
“I couldn’t exactly let myself be seen like this.”
She was covered in the filth of pitch-black hatred.
And the cracks in that hatred allowed a glimpse of the girl who had to have exited back then.
“I said I wanted to help people. I really did say that during that same time you spent with him. And yet…this was the only path available for me. I could never let him know that the Mitsuari Ayu he knew still lives as the utterly-changed ruins of that person.”
Shokuhou heard those words.
She confirmed her own thoughts.
She had grasped the core of this girl.
And now she could not abandon her.
Shokuhou Misaki had finally found just one thing that allowed her to think that.
She switched to a new train of thought.
A clear difference appeared in the colors filling her vision.
This changed nothing of what Mitsuari had done. She was a criminal who had immersed herself in Academy City’s dark side, altered all sorts of documents, attacked Shokuhou using men disguised as Emergency Aid, used the Strobila and Five Over OS to have her destroy her own memories or personality, and was even now trying to take her life.
But even so, something changed inside Shokuhou.
It may have been the same for that boy. She had been the root cause of that girl’s suicide, she had been the one to give the final shove, and she had even defiled the site of that suicide, but he may have found something inside that thoughtless girl.
It only had to be one thing.
Just the one thing that made you not want to kill them.
“Hey, Mitsuari Ayu.”
“It may be too late and nothing I do now may have any ability to actually change things.”
Shokuhou Misaki made an announcement as if challenging the other girl.
“But I’m still going to save you♪ Because I know that’s what he would do.”
He had saved her like that.
She stood here today because of his decision.
And so no matter how pathetic, ridiculous, or meaningless to others it might be, she refused to reject that salvation.
No matter what.
She thought back over the basic assumptions.
Shokuhou Misaki and Mitsuari Ayu stood at a circular artificial lake of a kingdom of sweets where the scene was constructed from cream and melon soda. In truth, the #5’s Mental Out power had been used to drag Shokuhou’s mind into Mitsuari’s mental world.
(Even if you have a method of doing that, I am the Level 5 with the strongest mental powers. No one would want to expose their mind to me.)
Shokuhou powerfully and deeply searched out the pieces she needed to turn this tiny sensation into a victory.
(In that case, she must have a reason to force herself to use this strategy. For example, what is happening to my body right now? If she had preprogrammed the Five Over OS, it could be dragging my body away, implanting something inside it, or whatever she wanted.)
“Hee hee. I can read all of that.”
Shokuhou frantically turned around and saw all of her thoughts written out in melted chocolate ink on the cream mountains.
“And the work is already done. Even if you begin fighting now, there is no way to turn it around.”
“Is that so?”
As soon as she spoke, her words appeared on the sweet mountains.
Her mouth and the writing had the bizarre synchronization of movie subtitles.
“If you really had that much time, you wouldn’t have needed to reveal everything about your embarrassing past to me. It was valuable to me, but it was meaningless to you. In that case, I can only imagine you were stalling for time. The situation is not progressing as smoothly as you would like.”
“But that changes nothing.”
“I will make sure it does.”
(What is she trying to do with the Five Over OS? Kill me while I don’t have the ability to defend myself? No, then she could leave it to that tentacle that could crush a car. My ability doesn’t work on machines, so Mental Out wouldn’t be a problem if she left it to a program. More importantly, I can’t even sense the pain while my mind and body are separated. This situation doesn’t fit with her supposed intent to take revenge by killing me.)
Even though her thoughts were leaking out, she kept thinking as quickly as she could.
The mountains were already filled with chocolate ink writing and it began to fill the terribly bright night sky that had candy sprinkled through it.
(So she must be after something beyond that.)
She was being buried by her own thoughts, but she did not waver.
She stared out at Mitsuari’s world.
(She must have in mind a crueler punishment than merely killing me. But what is it? How is she planning to use the Five Over OS to bring an end to that awful past that began with the Parameter List and ended with me being saved instead of her?)
“You won’t find the answer.”
A voice disturbed her thoughts.
But it led Shokuhou to realize something: that voice was clearly unnecessary. Her thoughts were getting nowhere fast, so not giving her any new information would be the best option as her enemy.
And yet Mitsuari spoke those unneeded words.
“Just like my words and thoughts are set to be exposed in chocolate ink as time goes on, are you not able to lie inside your own mind?”
“That’s right. But either way, you won’t make it in time. It is already here.”
“It’s already here? Not just on its way?”
“And that is why you did not make it in time.”
She used the past tense again.
A moment later, a great shock ran through that mental world. The cream and chocolate kingdom of sweets melted away as if intense sunlight washed over it.
(This isn’t good. She’s throwing away the mental cage herself. That means she has no reason to keep it around and she has already put my body in checkmate back in the real world!)
“I want to make that past mine and mine alone.”
Mitsuari Ayu’s expression remained unchanged even as she too was swallowed up by the torrent.
“That is why your memories are not needed. And if I can’t alter them with the Five Over OS, I have to bring in a higher-level machine.”
“You don’t mean…”
The Five Over OS was a devilish device that rewrote the scenery surrounding the target and used that twisted information to indirectly influence their memories and mental state.
If there was a truly superior machine, it would have to be…
“It can’t be!”
It resembled a bee or a wasp.
However, this was not a honeybee or giant hornet that created a hive and lived as a group. This was a lone-wolf species.
It was a scorpion wasp.
Like a crane fly, it had six oddly long legs and a slender abdomen. Its most notable feature was the stinger which was formed by a delicate tube that extended more than three times the length of its body. Normally, that stinger was used to pierce into the larvae eating into a tree and then lay its eggs inside them.
This weapon was designed after that bizarre parasitic wasp, its main body was four meters long, and its thin wings were twice that length when extended. Its abdomen was a translucent device filled with a sticky fluid. If anyone had seen it, they might have compared it to a coffin because it was clearly meant to contain a human body.
This was the Five Over Modelcase Mental Out.
It used pure industrial technology to completely reproduce the phenomena of a Level 5’s powers and, unlike the OS, it used the same basic theory as the Level 5’s powers. On top of that, it was meant to exceed the original’s output.
This was the final trump card the ant had hidden away to challenge the bee.
A giant form stood at the center of the world as everything melted together and formed a marble pattern.
It was a bizarrely long and narrow weapon that looked like a crane fly given the details of a wasp.
It was likely due to that weapon that Shokuhou and Mitsuari had been able to “compare answers” in that world of no lies.
“Five Over…?” muttered a dazed Shokuhou Misaki. “I’d heard one modelled after that foolish #3 had been mass-produced, but I didn’t know there was one for me. In fact, I thought even the researchers couldn’t agree how exactly Mental Out works.”
“Hee hee. To be honest, this thing breaks the rules. I doubt the higher ups would have agreed to build it under normal circumstances.”
“After all, it doesn’t contain anything to reproduce an esper’s powers using industrial technology. It doesn’t fit the definition of a Five Over.”
Shokuhou did not understand.
That would mean it was nothing more than a flying powered suit shaped like an insect.
But she rejected that idea.
“No, nothing that lacking in ability would show up after all this.”
“Very true. To correct what you said earlier, I believe they understood the general process Mental Out uses, but the exact distribution was a mystery. Even with a refrigerator full of ingredients, you can’t reproduce the flavor of a restaurant’s dishes without the recipe. This was the same.”
Mitsuari’s voice filled the melting world.
“That is why I will put you inside the machine.”
“I know it’s getting the priorities hopelessly reversed, but it’s the only correct answer. That Five Over is crammed full of eight thousand output devices. By placing you inside and having you activate your powers, it can monitor exactly which devices to use and how. By taking sample data from the real Level 5 just once, we should be able to mass-produce it without end.”
For just an instant, Shokuhou imagined a world where Mental Out could be bought at any store just like a cellphone.
“You’re completely insane.”
“Ha ha! So you’re allowed to have it, but no one else is? No one’s going to listen to you if you say that.”
Mitsuari’s words gave no thought to the future.
She was not thinking about what would happen to the world even three days later.
“And it’s a little late to be shocked by this. This was tested quite a long time ago.”
“Let’s talk about the past again. Remember Deadlock, that group of students who attacked you for the wrong reason, even if their anger was justified? Do you remember one peculiar element of their Queen Diver weapon systems? That’s right. The helmets blocked your mental attacks by putting a program in control once their brainwaves shifted.”
“Are you saying they did more than that? Did those thoroughly scan the brain structure of the people I was controlling and send a report back to someone?”
“In the end, that information failed to produce a working Five Over. That said, I don’t know if it was a simple technical issue or if it was because the adults leading the project were blown to pieces in a highly unusual accidental explosion.”
Mitsuari’s tone was entirely unconcerned.
Based on that, Shokuhou decided those “adults” were not anyone Mitsuari had particularly known and the girl had likely not been involved in the supposed accident.
“And the people leftover decided they would never get anywhere even with data from tens of thousands of victims. They realized they would never create a true Five Over without data from the culprit herself. That meant they needed a system to force your power out of you using electrodes or something like that.”
The present was built on the past, but every single thing was intertwined with “those days”. It felt like the past itself was a giant arm dragging Shokuhou away.
“I will complete your Five Over.”
Was that Mitsuari Ayu’s revenge?
Would she fill the world with Mental Out to reduce Shokuhou Misaki’s value to nothing?
Shokuhou knew that was not it.
The core of that girl’s heart was not her comparison with Shokuhou. That core was somewhere else.
“I have no future and I don’t care who is there now. But…in the past…in those days, I played the leading role. I will take that back. You are not needed in my memories of him, so I will erase you. I will use your own Mental Out to smash your memories to pieces.”
Who exactly was she directing her revenge toward?
Shokuhou Misaki? That boy? Academy City? The entire world?
“Those days should be mine and mine alone. You are not wanted there.”
All of a sudden, Mitsuari was nowhere to be seen.
That melting and crumbling landscape was her mental world, so she might have melted into it.
Shokuhou had lost track of her target.
The already hard-to-bear saccharine smell mixed together even further.
Only Mitsuari’s voice filled that marble-patterned world.
“This is already over. The Five Over simply has to place you inside while you can’t even touch your own body. Once the electrodes are attached across your body and your powers are forcibly drawn out, this will truly be over. You can drown in this melting world until then.”
“Do you really think I’ll let you do that?”
“There’s nothing you can do. Your mind is split from your body and trapped in my head, so you can’t move your body back in reality. You can’t even blink. Meanwhile, both the Outsider and Five Over are programmed to move on their own. And don’t forget you are trapped by the OS’s tentacle, so you couldn’t do anything even if you could move. It is only a matter of time before you are automatically brought inside the Five Over.”
Shokuhou listened to that and thought on that hopeless checkmate.
However, her next words contradicted that.
“Are you sure?”
A tremendous shock ran through the sweet marble-patterned world.
This was blatantly different from the previous smooth flow of melting.
This strange scenery was Mitsuari’s mental world, so any change here signified a change in her.
“I would suggest returning us as soon as you can☆” said Shokuhou in a mocking tone. “I didn’t have enough spare ability to hold back, so could have killed you if you were unlucky.”
“Kssshhh!? What is – kshhhh! – going on here? What did you-…?”
“What do you think?”
“How did you attack my body in the outside world!?”
“How do you think?”
As if forcibly dragged out by her body’s warning signals, Mitsuari Ayu got up on the shore of the artificial lake.
Something was wrong with her organs. They were convulsing and she could not breathe properly.
To find the source of the oddity, she looked down to her stomach.
It was only then that she realized what was happening.
A giant yellowish-white octopus tentacle had sunk into her stomach as if performing a body blow.
“Agh!? Why…Why have I lost control of the Five Over OS?”
She just barely suppressed the rising urge to vomit and slowly looked up.
There she saw the #5 who had been constricted so tightly she should have been spewing her organs from her mouth. However, the girl had escaped the grasp of that giant tentacle.
In fact, the Outsider’s giant form had changed position to protect her instead.
“You…took control of it? But…that’s impossible. Your Mental Out is supposed to be useless against pure technology!!”
Shokuhou spun a television remote around in her hand.
“So here’s a question. You used a variety of methods to locate the bodyguards I had hidden around and I ordered them to leave so those unrelated espers wouldn’t die. But where exactly did I send all those powerful espers?”
“You can’t mean…”
“When I thought about it, it didn’t make sense.”
The #5 lady smiled with her intense exhaustion visible on her face.
“I get why my Five Over couldn’t be mass-produced. After all, it was an incomplete product that lacked its core Mental Out ability, so it had yet to prove itself worthy of mass-production. …But what about the Five Over OS? Its effectiveness has been proven and it has a detailed blueprint, so why hasn’t it been prepared for military use?”
In other words…
“The Five Over OS is a prototype with plenty of unresolved problems remaining. For example, it can’t perfectly overwrite the scenery from just your viewpoint. After all, you’re using the magnetically-controlled monitor to overwrite an entire power station…no, to overwrite the entire landscape visible from here in real time. To pull that off without anything feeling out of place, you need to monitor the entire target area from multiple angles to check for abnormalities.”
Mitsuari looked down at her own smartphone.
“Are you saying you went after that? Did you locate the people providing the Five Over OS’s different ‘viewpoints’, attack them, and steal their lenses!?”
“Correct☆” Shokuhou laughed. “So. What if we took over all of the lenses forming that ultra-wide range network that even crosses into other districts? What if we used those lenses to provide malicious feedback? Could that maybe allow us to take control of your precious toy like tugging on a marionette’s strings?”
“Besides, we are two sides of the same coin. Just like me, you should be ridiculously strong against people’s minds but weak against pure machines. You weren’t giving detailed commands to the Five Over OS, were you? Once the data being sent in from around the area was gathered together, you would give general instructions with small gestures and the machine would take care of the rest. …In that case, can someone so terrible with machines recover from this even if you know what’s going on?”
“You couldn’t possibly pull that off. I have thirty-nine different ‘viewpoints’ that perfectly blend into the city as normal people. Do you seriously expect me to believe you instantly located, attacked, and defeated them all to take control of the OS without me noticing?”
“Think what you want,” said Shokuhou with an air of importance. “But it’s because we can do that sort of thing that we’re called Tokiwadai Middle School’s largest clique☆”
A girl with black twintails ran through the trees at tremendous speed. She ignored the winding mountain road and dashed along the steep slope of that deep forest with the momentum of a racecar.
“Target incapacitated. Please give me the next target.”
In a distant room, a girl with bobbed hair traced her index finger along a map with her eyes closed.
“Next. District 7, exit A2 of Western Mountain Station. The target is a man in a knit hat sitting on a bench.”
A girl with voluminous ringlet curls quietly stood behind a man in a knit hat who blended into the city while messing with a smartphone.
“Understood. I will now incapacitate him.”
It no longer mattered to the girls whether they were being controlled.
They did not care if this would only help the one who stood in the center.
They may not have been powerful enough to be called Academy City’s #5 or #3.
They may not have been powerful enough to be called an ace or a queen.
But one could not forget that they were young ladies of Tokiwadai Middle School.
That position alone meant they played more than minor roles.
Every single one of them did.
While a beehive had a queen, it was mostly run by the soldier bees who flew around the surrounding area.
“Now,” said Shokuhou. “I think I’ll take this toy of yours♪”
The entire landscape changed. Like switching off a television, it transformed into the dreary gray of the artificial lake at night. This scene matched Shokuhou’s memories perfectly.
And the tentacles of the giant octopus device rushed toward Mitsuari.
“Now, how about we enjoy this!?”
“…!! Five Over!!”
As soon as Mitsuari Ayu shouted out, the true Five Over that resembled a scorpion wasp collided with the imitation OS.
The two girls did not follow the weapons with their eyes.
They both pointed their television remote or smartphone lens toward each other’s faces.
They had nothing left to trick each other with.
No further truth remained hidden.
(When it comes down to pure power, I should have the advantage with my upwards compatibility. But her inferiority complex should give her the ability to know that all too well, so she won’t choose to fight that way!)
With a dull sound of impact, the scorpion wasp Five Over slammed into the octopus Outsider. As it did, the long, thick tube that resembled a scorpion wasp’s ovipositor snapped like a whip and forcefully struck Mitsuari’s back.
The impact knocked the breath from her and launched her forward.
As she flew through the air, she turned a look of clear hostility toward Shokuhou.
(She’s going for a physical battle instead of a psychological one!?)
Deadlock had once cornered her in the same way.
To kill her before she could control them, they had approached too quickly for her to use her remote. They had even taken the concept to its extreme with their Queen Diver equipment.
Mitsuari tightly clutched her smartphone and swung her fist toward Shokuhou’s face.
The girl shot toward her.
Shokuhou cried out while forcibly blocking the fist with both her arms.
She once more tried to thrust her remote toward the girl’s head, but the girl grabbed her arm at the wrist and shoved it outward.
And now that she was unguarded, the girl swung her smartphone-holding fist at her face.
Pain could leave one in a dazed state.
A stun grenade was known as a non-lethal weapon that blinded people with a flash of light and loud noise, but that explanation was not quite sufficient. By assaulting people with more information than they could handle, they were left in a daze for a few seconds to a few dozen seconds. A fist to the face could produce a similar phenomenon.
And Shokuhou had not lived a life that left her accustomed to pain.
The gap between Level 3 and Level 5 was obvious, but who could say what would happen if the Level 3 power was used against the Level 5 in the short “gap” this created.
(If you think this remote is my only weapon, you’re sorely mistaken!)
Rather than the machine, she was speaking to the girls of her clique who had stolen all of the nearly forty smartphones which were sending massive amounts of data on the changes to the landscape.
A moment later, a giant hieroglyphic-like eyeball attached to Shokuhou’s body. This was the same method Mitsuari had used. One of the sources of fear that people of all cultures and regions shared was the face of a beauty swinging her hair around in rage. This was an effect extracted from that and it was designed to stir up people’s emotions as much as possible.
Once Mitsuari fell for this and her movements dulled, Shokuhou could use her remote.
However, Shokuhou saw the other girl hold up the smartphone in her palm to cover her eyes.
Instead of using her own eyes, she viewed the scene through the camera after running it through some kind of filter.
Shokuhou recalled that Mitsuari had mentioned the story of Medusa when using this tactic.
In that story, hadn’t a shield polished into a mirror been used to avoid her gaze?
Mitsuari’s other hand grabbed Shokuhou’s honey-blonde hair.
She tugged downwards to point Shokuhou’s head toward her own clothes.
“You will be the one to experience this digital petrification!!”
Shokuhou’s entire body stiffened.
Soon, the fist holding the smartphone flew toward her.
It jabbed into her cheek, shook her head, and briefly blanked out her thoughts with the sudden pain and the vibration of her inner ear.
Mitsuari pointed the smartphone lens toward her.
A disturbing number of blood vessels were swelling out on the girl’s small face. Most likely, she had failed to completely escape the origin of fear used by the OS.
She moved her arms and legs as if they were being eaten into and as if she were breaking free from chains.
She was tenacious.
She had no future and her present contained nothing but tragedy, but the mistaken yet utterly pure heart at the core of her being wished to have the past all to herself.
And for this brief moment, that surpassed all else.
Her fingertips moved across the smartphone and Shokuhou’s vision instantly fell into darkness.
Where was she and what had happened?
For a while, Shokuhou Misaki did not understand anything.
Her cognitive ability had dropped considerably like when half asleep. She could not think logically and even her five senses and sensation of gravity were blurred. Everything around her wavered and she had lost any sense of temperature.
After several seconds, her mind rapidly cleared. It was then that she realized the ambiguous information coming from her five senses was not mistaken after all.
She was stuffed inside the transparent coffin that formed the abdomen of the giant scorpion wasp combat machine called the Five Over Modelcase Mental Out.
Her vision was blurred and her sense of gravity and temperature were unclear because of the pale red fluid filling the coffin.
The coffin was opened on the wasp’s back and Shokuhou found she had no trouble breathing despite being completely immersed in the sticky fluid.
She heard a bubbling sound and Mitsuari’s wavering voice came from beyond the strange fluid’s surface.
“You really are amazing.”
There was no hint of praise in her voice.
“After all that preparation and even some coincidences in my favor, I was only able to knock you unconscious. And you woke up only three seconds later. If you had recovered any sooner, I would have had to grab your hair and hit you again.”
“But it’s already over.”
With a bubbling sound, Mitsuari’s hands sank into the red fluid.
They extended toward various parts of Shokuhou’s body. They pulled up her coat and even reached below her skirt, but the #5 no longer had the strength to move.
The reason why was simple.
“Damn, my fingertips are tingling. I get why the conducting fluid needs a slight anesthetic effect, but why can it get through my suit?”
Mitsuari was attaching wired medical electrodes to Shokuhou.
Submerging her in the conducting fluid prevented her body and mind from resisting and the electrodes would give the specific commands to draw out her power.
If that alone was how the machine was meant to artificially produce Mental Out, it could somewhat be called a success.
But Mitsuari had other intentions.
She would monitor exactly how Shokuhou used the eight thousand output devices to obtain the detailed recipe for controlling someone’s mind. By sending that recipe back into the machine, she would have reproduced the #5’s power with purely industrial technology.
And that stolen power would be used to completely erase Shokuhou’s memories with Kamijou Touma.
Her own power would crush her very core.
Finally, Mitsuari removed her hands from the sticky red fluid.
That satisfied word was enough for Shokuhou to gradually realize what was happening to her.
“Now, it’s time to end this ridiculous revenge. You will lose everything, have every last memory altered, and have nothing left to prove those days ever existed. The only memories will remain in my heart. Jewel boxes are made to be closed, after all.”
She was right.
Shokuhou Misaki had lost.
And that loss meant her only option was to lose everything and live an empty life without even knowing what she had lost.
If she and Mitsuari were the only two in this world, that is.
“Honestly, it’s unbelievable.”
She was unsure if her voice was actually reaching Mitsuari beyond the surface of that fluid, but the other girl may have been able to read something from her expression and the movements of her lips.
“It’s always at times just like this. Everyone can tell it’s checkmate and even the person in question has accepted their defeat, but then someone shows up and refuses to accept that defeat.”
“What…are you talking about?”
“You can’t tell?”
The girl in the fluid could not move her arms or legs, but something floated up from her chest. It was a cheap silver emergency whistle attached to a thin ribbon.
Even if she could bring it to her mouth, it would produce no sound inside this fluid.
And even if it did, it would not reach anyone.
She knew that, but she still placed her small lips on that link to her past.
She remembered his words.
“Use it if you’re in trouble. It might give me more chances to save you.”
Even as a tingling pain reached the tip of her tongue, she smiled inside that coffin.
“Maybe you wouldn’t recognize this since he didn’t make it in time for you. At times just like this, when a girl is facing her ruin and has forgotten to even cry, someone will always come rushing in for them.”
Mitsuari’s face distorted so much it was amazing it did not make any noise.
“No help is coming.”
“Yes, it is☆”
“Nothing has suggested that! He has no information to lead him here!! Besides, he has completely lost his memories beyond anything our powers can do, so he doesn’t know who Mitsuari Ayu or Shokuhou Misaki are. He doesn’t remember us! He can’t even picture our faces!! So…!!!!!”
“Nevertheless, he’ll come,” said Shokuhou. “It has nothing to do with whether he knows the person or not. It doesn’t matter if he has anything to gain and he doesn’t have to follow a proper course of foreshadowed hints.”
He did not have extraordinary athletic ability.
He did not have the intellect or skill of a superhuman genius.
He did not have the fortune needed to run a nation.
He did not have the deductive ability to resolve any incident from his easy chair.
He did not have the beauty to ruin a country with a smile.
He did not have the political power to change history with a snap of his fingers.
He did not have the unbelievable power of a Level 5.
“He is my hero.”
Shokuhou looked straight up at the wavering face beyond the surface.
She was certain it was more than just the fluid and the anesthesia causing that face to waver.
“I don’t care how others see him. He can be someone else’s hero too. The authenticity of his righteousness doesn’t matter. But none of that changes his ability to be my personal hero. …So he will come. Even if he has forgotten everything and even if someone else is smiling by his side, just this once, it’s my turn☆”
“He won’t come,” muttered Mitsuari.
A moment later, two arms burst into the sticky red liquid with an explosion of bubbles.
“He won’t come. He won’t show up like that! After all…he didn’t reach me. He didn’t catch up to me. He didn’t make it in time for me!! Being our hero doesn’t make him almighty. If the conditions aren’t just right, he won’t show up. Because you got in his way, my hero failed to show up!!”
The two slender hands wrapped around Shokuhou’s neck.
They squeezed with unbelievable strength.
She tried to stop Shokuhou’s breathing even if it meant ruining her entire plan.
She wanted her to feel the same pain she had felt as she sank into that dark water while still waiting for him to arrive.
She strangled the other girl with a splendid look on her face.
The thin ribbon around Shokuhou’s neck broke and the physical link to her past left her mouth.
That cheap silver whistle symbolized her bond with that boy and it floated up and away through the fluid.
“You won’t be saved! No help is coming! It won’t arrive in time!! Just like with me. Just like I lost everything. The only path left for you is to be destroyed as you long for someone who will never arrive!!”
With the blood vessels of her neck constricted and heat pressing down on her entire head, Shokuhou forced out what barely counted as a voice.
And she said it.
The pressure on her neck vanished.
With her hands still plunged inside the red fluid, Mitsuari turned her head to look at something.
“It can’t be.”
“Because this is District 21. It’s so far from District 7 and no one would come to an unmanned power station deep in the mountains while out on a walk!”
“That’s what I did.”
“Both of us have vanished from his memory, he would never think to come save you, and he shouldn’t have any way of learning about this or even imagining it could be happening!!”
“He doesn’t have to start from the beginning. It isn’t uncommon for him to show up midway to save someone.”
“He didn’t make it in time for me. He didn’t arrive because he lost his only hint.”
“There’s more to him than just that.”
“But why… Why did he make it this tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime!?”
A tremendous sound burst out and Shokuhou clearly saw the scenery distort around Mitsuari.
Their powers technically manipulated people’s minds by controlling the moisture in their brains. The changes they caused were normally microscopic and they could not cause any physical phenomena visible with the naked eye.
But she overturned that assumption with her anger.
The actual phenomenon may have been similar to freeze-drying. In that process, the pressure was increased by compressing the moisture in the air while the water molecules inside the target were removed to fill the object with microscopic holes like a dried sponge. Here, it created a demonic territory that would cause any living creature to crumble like dried paper mache and that territory burst out from Mitsuari in every direction.
The mechanically-controlled monitor dust turned white while producing the sound of bursting sparks and that color change swallowed up the entire landscape.
Shokuhou was only saved because of the special fluid of the Five Over, but what about the person outside?
She slowly tilted her head and managed to get a view outside the transparent coffin.
Her wavering vision saw a certain boy with an arm in a cast hanging from his shoulder in a sling. Mitsuari’s demonic territory approached him. The magnetically-controlled monitor dust turned pure white and that color began to envelop him.
What he did in response was simple.
He swung that arm to the side.
And it came in contact with that demonic territory.
The cast shattered, his right hand was exposed, and the hopeless attack was eliminated in an instant.
That was the sign that the pointy-haired boy named Kamijou Touma was back.
Most likely, he knew nothing.
He did not know what was happening here, who the people involved were, or what feelings had led to it all.
“Use it if you’re in trouble. It might give me more chances to save you.”
He would not even remember that tiny promise he had made when giving her the cheap silver whistle. Nor would he remember the person who had relied so heavily on that tiny promise.
Nevertheless, he would save her.
He would never overlook a girl suffering before his eyes.
Shokuhou saw Mitsuari’s lips mouth the word “why”.
She was the girl he had not arrived for. This was the scene she had waited so very, very long to see. And Shokuhou felt like she really had heard what that girl said when she saw that scene from the viewpoint of the enemy.
(I have been saved enough.)
That was Shokuhou’s honest thought in that moment.
“This is your homework.”
She mercilessly spoke as if giving a push to the trembling back of that other girl.
“Go get his help. Get enough of his help that you’ll actually accept it this time.”
A moment later, there was a clash.