Toaru Majutsu no Index:RailgunSS1 Chapter4
On the second night, Misaka Mikoto and the others waited until after the roll call with the teachers to head to a restaurant away from the hotel they were staying at.
The restaurants in the hotel were overall of a higher grade, that restaurant had a bit of a messy atmosphere, and it was not all that big, but Mikoto and the others had chosen that place for a simple reason.
A cake buffet was a maiden’s battlefield and those middle school girls were the soldiers who would fight on that day.
“Mfmghmgt!! I can finally have complete conquest over the shortcake festival!! Okay! Let’s head to the chocolate cake heaven next!!”
“Dahh! Uiharu-san, slow down. And they’re bringing in a new shortcake over there.”
Uiharu Kazari was attacking all the expensive-looking cakes with showy decorations and Mikoto was swallowing down small fruit desserts. It was a secret that the small fragment-looking fruit desserts were actually worth many times more than the large cakes.
There was one person there who was unable to participate in that maiden battle.
It was the pigtailed Shirai Kuroko in her sexy swimsuit.
“…Ghh…I-I’m going to head over there and eat a safe sandwich or something…”
“Hm? Kuroko, are you still worrying about your diet or whatever?”
“Still!? What do you mean ‘still’, onee-sama!? That sounds like you’re trying to say it’s too late no matter how much effort I put into it!!”
“No, that’s not what I meant.” Mikoto stabbed her small spoon into a clear jelly with pieces of dragon fruit inside that were sliced as thinly as flower petals. “We’re eating out for every meal this whole week we’re in Liberal Arts City. Our meals aren’t being regulated like at the dorm, so you’re going to end up eating too much no matter how much you try.”
Shirai the sexy swimsuit let out a scream and all of the customers in the buffet area turned in her direction. It seemed a girl’s scream was recognizable the world over.
However, Shirai paid no heed to the surrounding gazes and started muttering something with her head in her hands. Her thoughts circled around and seemed to have no means of escape, but she finally looked up as if she had realized something.
“Th-that’s right! If I exercise like crazy beforehand, I can lose the amount I would gain and it’ll all cancel out even if I eat a cake!! That’s it!!”
Shirai Kuroko let out an excited shout and then ran out of the buffet area. Uiharu spoke while watching that mostly skin-colored back leave.
“Ahh… Once she leaves the buffet area, she has to pay again to get back in.”
“And if she exercised like crazy and then resisted eating the cakes, wouldn’t she reach her goal a lot faster…?” Mikoto muttered in exasperation, but of course Shirai did not hear her as she was already running as quickly as she could along the nighttime beach.
Uiharu used her fork to cut apart a fancy-looking but actually inexpensive chocolate cake and then ate the pieces, but she finally started speaking.
“I wonder what’s wrong with Saten-san…”
“She said she was worn out from having fun today and then headed back to her hotel room to get some sleep, right?”
“Yeah, but it isn’t like that festive girl to give up so easily…”
She must have been worried about Saten because Uiharu’s expression clouded over a bit.
Mikoto was a little worried about the possibility of the officials having tried something with Saten, but for the time being it seemed the officials were waiting and watching as well.
That may have been because they simply had no intention of killing her or Saten as they had claimed in that area with the destroyed flying fish, or they may have felt that secret was on a level where it would be no real problem even if it could not be immediately passed off as an attraction.
“…But what was that today?” Those words contained feelings of searching and of dissatisfaction. “Even if they are just trying to surprise their guests, that show was rather sudden and it happened all across the city. I know it wouldn’t be as interesting with advance notification, but it looked like they had set explosives in buildings’ walls for the show. I think they should have done more of a safety check for the guests with that. What if someone had gotten hurt?”
Mikoto was a bit conflicted about how to respond.
Uiharu was speaking of the explosions that had occurred across Liberal Arts City that day. A group of those flying fish-like crafts had come and fired dozens of missiles at Liberal Arts City buildings and attractions. Mikoto also had a feeling that there had been more explosions than just those.
From what she could tell by listening to other tourists, the attractions were periodically changed and altered, but the flying fish “show” had continued to pop up every so often.
Those with sharper intuitions were starting to detect something dangerous, but when they seriously tried to warn others of possible danger, the over 90% of people who were too used to peace would laugh at them and tell them not to get reality and fiction confused. It was all dealt with as a show in the end.
Normally, destruction on that scale would be impossible to hide, but in that movie city, that large scale was the reason people went there in the first place, so people did not see it as out of the ordinary once they noticed it.
Of course, Misaka Mikoto had realized what was going on.
What she was conflicted over was whether to affirm or deny what Uiharu had said.
Liberal Arts City was hiding something.
It was not a mere theme park that brought in customers to make a profit.
There was something about the city that was calling in outside attackers.
But Mikoto could not deny that unnecessarily stirring up Uiharu’s unease could end up bringing the girl to an even more dangerous place. From the conversation with the official in the hangar full of broken flying fish the night before, she could imagine just how large a risk that could be.
(Now then…how should I respond to Uiharu?)
Just as Mikoto started to consider her options…
“Onee-samaaan!!” Shirai Kuroko said throwing open the door and making her comeback to the buffet area.
“Uuh!? W-wait a second! You couldn’t have worked off a cake’s worth of weight in that short amount of time! You’re just giving u—!?”
“Gwah!? Don’t suddenly hug me like that, you idiot!! H-huh? That’s odd… I have a girl in a swimsuit pressing up against me, but all I can feel is skin…”
“A hug is a free way of calming someone’s heart. Now, onee-sama, you give me a squeeze!!”
“You utter moron!! This free hug thing is not something a mass of lust like you is supposed to do!!”
Mikoto grabbed the skin-colored shoulder and cheek assaulting her and pushed them away.
The intrusion of that idiot knocked whatever she had been thinking of out of her mind.
“Ha. Ah ha ha…”
Uiharu Kazari subtly took two steps back from the other two and tried to keep her distance so as not to get wrapped up in it as she put a giant Mont Blanc on her plate.
Uiharu suddenly had a thought as she watched the two Tokiwadai Middle School ladies arguing back and forth.
Her expression clouded over a bit as she did.
(Really…I wonder what happened to Saten-san…)
The pale orange light of the floor lamp next to her bed illuminated Saten Ruiko’s cheek. She was lying atop her bed while still wearing her swimsuit. She was not really doing anything; she was just lying there thinking.
She was thinking about what had happened earlier that day.
She was thinking about the exploding buildings and the flying fish-like craft that had appeared from within the ground.
She was thinking about the girl named Xochitl.
Saten turned over as if she were moving her cloth-wrapped butt to the side.
Her black hair was reflecting the pale light and the hair spread out on the bed as if following her movements.
She did not think what she had seen that day had been some kind of show. She may have been in a theme park that did everything on a large scale and they probably did hold shows that let the tourists join in, but what she had seen was different. After those kinds of shows, she was pretty sure a member of the staff would at least give a word of thanks…and more importantly, Saten had been able to detect the danger despite how dulled she had been by peace. There had been a feeling of discomfort in her temples and her heart had felt tight like someone was squeezing it. It had not been the enjoyable danger that did not leave a set safety zone like with a ghost house or a roller coaster. The true threat of death had approached before her eyes.
And if that was the case…
(What was that show with the Laveze Squadron and the flying fish I saw yesterday with Uiharu and the others?)
She didn’t want to think it, but she was suspecting that had not been a scripted performance. Had it actually been a real battle? She wanted to laugh that off as ridiculous, but she had a feeling that the flying fish she had seen the day before and the ones she had seen that day had been the same things.
Saten worked her brain a bit to try to figure it out.
There were those flying fish coming to Liberal Arts City and there was the Laveze Squadron fighting to stop them.
And then there had been the explosions in the buildings before her eyes.
Given just that, it seemed like the flying fish were evil pawns and the fighters in the Laveze Squadron were the heroes of justice protecting everyone from the grasp of evil.
The flying fish were evil.
If that were the case, what about Xochitl who had gotten onto one and left?
Saten closed her eyes as if to cut off her thoughts.
She had met that girl in about the worst possible way and she had a feeling the girl had even threatened to kill her if she didn’t do as she was told. But for some reason, Saten had not felt much real danger behind those words. The explosions caused by the flying fish had been terrifying, but Xochitl’s words had seemed panicked and cut off from that kind of direct destruction. It was as if those words had only been on the surface and she was simply asking Saten.
Saten simply could not think of that brown girl as a mere villain.
Saten Ruiko had no ability or experience in peering within people’s minds. She merely did not want to think of the girl named Xochitl as a bad person.
“Xochitl…” Saten muttered.
Then she opened her eyes.
She had realized something.
(…Huh? Didn’t Misaka-san fight to drive off that flying fish in yesterday’s “show”?)
And then there was what had happened the night before.
Mikoto had been wandering around Liberal Arts City and then she and Saten had entered that area filled with destroyed flying fish. Saten had not asked anything at the time, but thinking back, it seemed as if Mikoto had been searching for something.
Of course, an outsider like Mikoto was not a subordinate of Liberal Arts City.
She had no obligation to help them with a mere show and they would not have given her the key to an off limits area.
(Misaka-san knows something.)
As soon as that idea came to her, Saten Ruiko got up from the bed.
It was getting rather late at night, but she did not care.
(I need to ask Misaka-san about Liberal Arts City and those flying fish. And she might know something about Xochitl!!)
She immediately grabbed her cell phone, but Mikoto’s may have been turned off because it would not connect. It was also possible that Mikoto was taking a shower or had even gone to sleep already.
Saten felt a bit awkward about it, but she finally decided to head to Mikoto’s room to meet her directly. She put the IC card that acted as a wallet around her neck and then opened the door connecting her room to the hallway.
Saten Ruiko’s back was swallowed up by the Liberal Arts City night.
She had completely forgotten that she had charged out of her room in a similar fashion the night before and that that had led her to the verge of death.
“We sure ended up eating a lot,” Mikoto said while sipping on an iced tea with quite a bit of milk in it.
There were quite a few cafés and restaurants in the hotel they were staying in and Mikoto was currently in a small café with a difficult to find entrance on one end of the third floor. Perhaps to draw in people who had been driven out of other places by the last call, the café stayed open until about 6 in the morning which was rare for something attached to the hotel.
It might have been due to its location or the time and it might have just been the atmosphere the place gave, but the place did not seem to have many customers. However, that was not a bad thing. Mikoto saw it as a point in the place’s favor. For some reason, she was fond of places like that where you could easily lose track of the time if you did not look at the hands of the clock.
Uiharu looked around while holding a cup filled with cold cocoa.
“Fweh… Misaka-san, Shirai-san, this is your first time in Liberal Arts City, right? How did you find a place like this so quickly?”
“Well, there are a few common points in useful cafés like this. You don’t have to try every piece of food in the entire world to get an idea if you’ll like something, right? Once you have enough experience, you can get an idea of how a place ranks without even stepping inside,” explained Shirai.
“And if the place ends up defying your expectations, you get even more experience points which is fun.”
Shirai and Mikoto gave their explanations as if it should be obvious, but Uiharu could only give idiotic-sounding noises of admiration. She had been staring blankly at the superior skill of those ladies ever since they referred to it as a “useful café” instead of a “delicious café”.
“We spent yesterday and today playing on the beach, so how about we head to the inland mechanical area with the roller coasters tomorrow?”
“They look interesting, but I don’t like the lines. If someone tells me to wait for two hours under the hot sun, I don’t think I’ll be able to stand it.”
“…Actually, Kuroko, wouldn’t your swimsuit be completely blown away in the wind if you got on a roller coaster?”
Mikoto trembled as she imagined that terrifying scene.
“Saten-san said she went to bed early because she was worn out, but she’s usually so festive. I wonder if her body couldn’t keep up with the time difference. I hope she’s back to her usual self tomorrow.”
“Come to think of it, what did she do about dinner? Maybe she just got room service.”
“Well, I don’t know if anything happened, but as long as she isn’t hurt or sick, do we really need to worry too much? If it is the time difference, there’s nothing for her to do but to rest,” said Shirai.
“Hmm… I wonder if she’s okay…” said Uiharu with a puzzled expression.
The girls continued talking while enjoying the atmosphere of that hidden café.
“Huh? Maybe she isn’t back yet… Misaka-san. Hey, Misaka-san!”
Saten Ruiko lightly knocked on the door to a hotel room. Unlike with an apartment or a dorm room, there was no intercom and just knocking might not reach someone if they were showering or sleeping.
On the other hand, she couldn’t just shout Mikoto’s name that late at night. A uniform light illuminated the hallway and the lack of people made the area seem rather dreary.
(What should I do…?)
She thought of heading back to her own room and calling Mikoto’s room with the room phone, but Saten just had a feeling that Mikoto was not in her room.
“Hm? What are you doing here?”
Saten jumped at having someone suddenly speak to her from behind.
When she turned around, she saw the blonde-haired, huge-breasted genius girl film director Beverly Seethrough. She was looking at Saten with a puzzled expression.
“Don’t tell me you…”
“Did you leave your key in your room and get locked out? If so, you should just give up and head to the front desk.”
“I didn’t do anything embarrassing like that,” said Saten while feeling utterly exhausted. “I came looking for someone I know, but she seems to either be asleep or out.”
“Looking for someone, hm?” Beverly looked down at her cell phone to check the time. “…Are you jetlagged? I’d say that’s a rather uninteresting turn of events, too.”
“Actually, what are you doing, Beverly-san?”
“Hm? My work for the day is done, so I was heading to the casino for some fun and to maybe make some money. Due to the state laws, minors can play at the casinos here.”
“…Yeah, where is the casino, anyway? That other place was filled with nothing but junk.”
Beverly stared in puzzlement in response to Saten’s words to herself.
“Well, you should get to sleep soon so tomorrow won’t be too terrible for you. Jetlag can really catch up to you later.”
“I see,” Saten responded and Beverly walked off.
If Saten followed her, she could find out where the casino was, but she did not do so. She had something more important to do.
(I want to find out about Xochitl as soon as possible…)
Saten bit at her thumbnail in a bad habit and her sandal-covered feet made slight tapping noises as she walked along. She wandered back and forth in front of Mikoto’s room before finally coming to a stop.
(I don’t know what organization she belongs to or where she came from.)
In other words, she did not know enough to directly look for information on Xochitl.
(But she has to be connected to one of the things going on here in Liberal Arts City. If the Laveze Squadron and the flying fish are fighting, then there must be something in common they’re fighting over. That means that I might be able to find out why the flying fish are attacking and what Xochitl was doing here if I look into what’s going on in the city itself.)
Saten then headed away from Mikoto’s room.
She was going to investigate what was going on in Liberal Arts City and she had a good idea where the most suspicious place was.
The three girls wanted to just lounge in the café as long as they could, but it would be a waste if they ended up sleeping through the next day instead of enjoying the theme park. As such, Mikoto, Uiharu, and Shirai decided to call it a night.
To head for the elevator hall, they headed from the third floor café to the atrium lobby.
“The theme park sure is beautiful lit up at night like that. Look, they’re using a projector to play a movie directly on the ocean’s surface. The pamphlet said something about swimming in the ocean of wondrous light, didn’t it?”
“I don’t know. The dark ocean seems kind of scary to me.”
“It seems you borrow a bracelet when you swim in the ocean at night. It’s difficult to see someone if they’re drowning, so the bracelet can transmit your location at the press of a button. Also, the bracelet has an oxygen capsule inside that lasts for about 5 minutes.”
Mikoto felt like they could just let you borrow a lifejacket, but she guessed that the stiff lifejackets would make it hard to move and that they were unpopular due to not being very fashionable.
“Well, let’s wait for a night when they’re having a parade and then sneak out of the hotel. We need to make sure the lead teachers don’t spot us though.”
“…We’d definitely get lectured if they spotted us out this late even in the hotel. …Oh, Uiharu, what’s wrong?”
Uiharu had been looking down at the lower part of the atrium, but she hurriedly looked back when Shirai spoke to her. She had a bit of puzzlement in her heart.
(Hmm, did I just imagine that…?)
At the bottom of the atrium on the first floor lobby, she had thought she had seen Saten Ruiko walking along.
She was of course headed for that place.
Saten Ruiko headed straight there. She was heading for the central landmark of Liberal Arts City that was a ways from the hotel. It was the giant set used as a rocket launching pad in the SF movie filmed in the city. The night before, she had mistaken it for the entrance to a casino and had gone in with Mikoto, but…
“Hm? Huh? …It won’t open?”
Saten grabbed the doorknob, but it only made a clacking sound while barely moving. There was a calculator-like device next to the door, but she had thought the door had opened with just a turn of the knob before.
(What’s going on…?)
A normal person like Saten Ruiko did not realize that there was actually a strict lock on the door and that Mikoto had used her power to open it. And even if she had managed to get the door open, there were plenty of sensors beyond it that she was completely unaware of.
All Saten knew was that the door would not open.
That meant she had to find a different entrance.
(But there isn’t just going to be some convenient—Wait a second.)
Saten was not sure what to do, but then she realized something.
There was another entrance.
She did not actually know if it connected to the same place, but she did know one other place that led to a Liberal Arts City restricted zone.
And so Saten came to the place where Xochitl had left earlier that day.
It was the promenade near the shopping mall a little bit away from the beach. It was the place where that flying fish-like craft had burst from the sand.
If that flying fish had come from a restricted zone, then a large entrance should have been opened there.
“There it is…” Saten muttered.
Like it was the scene of a murder, an area was marked off with tape that said “keep out” in English on it. The “entrance” was covered with a plastic sheet like it was a large pitfall.
Saten looked around the area, but she did not see anyone like an official. She ducked under the “keep out” tape and flipped up one side of the plastic sheet.
Underneath were numerous large metal sheets that were usually used in road construction. Saten grabbed the edge of one of them, but she did not think she could lift it up. They were larger than tatami, so construction equipment would be needed to lift them.
(Hmm. What do I do now…?)
Saten gave up trying to move the metal sheet and looked around to see if there was anything she could use.
Suddenly, something struck her back.
When she turned around, she saw a spare metal sheet leaning against a building wall. It had lost its balance when she had run into it, so the bottom of the heavy piece of metal slid across the sand causing it to fall.
“Wah wah wah!?”
Saten evaded to the side. The sliding metal sheet struck one of the other metal sheets covering the hole and slid it to the side.
(Oh, there’s a gap…)
The movement of the metal sheet had opened a gap big enough for a person to slip through. Saten lay down on her stomach and slid into the gap.
Misaka Mikoto returned to her hotel room.
She had been on guard and had cautiously watched her surroundings that entire day, but there had been no sign of the officials trying anything. It also seemed unlikely they were bugging her room. It seemed Liberal Arts City really had no intention of using any violent means as long as Mikoto and Saten did not do anything they shouldn’t.
It all depended on their actions.
If the two of them became what the city considered to be enemies that would cause even more damage, the city would seriously attempt to eliminate them. It might come in the form of a direct surprise attack pretending to be some random attacker on the street or they could use the ocean and pass it off as an accident at sea.
The battle that day between the fighters of the Laveze Squadron and the mysterious flying fish had developed right under the tourists’ noses. And that time, the flying fish seemed to have had the advantage because they had managed to fire missiles at multiple Liberal Arts City buildings.
There did not seem to have been any obvious injuries, but that might not be true the next time.
She couldn’t just let that continue, but…
(Even if I do decide to investigate this, how am I supposed to get close to the city’s secrets? I can’t access the secret information over the network because it isn’t connected, but if I go into a facility directly, I might run into an official again.)
Even for Mikoto, making an enemy of a giant city-sized organization was something she would rather avoid. And if she did infiltrate a foreign country’s secret area, she would end up having to defeat all of the legitimate forces attempting to stop her. She would clearly be treated as a terrorist.
Just because the flying fish were attacking and the officials were hiding something did not mean that Liberal Arts City was in the wrong. In fact, it was possible that the city was doing something good and the flying fish were coming to destroy it.
In the worst case, getting a little violent would be fine, but even if Liberal Arts City had done nothing wrong, she could not stand the situation. Even if she was going to take physical action, she first had to figure out who was good and who was evil.
(Of course, they could both be evil.)
There may have been a limit to how much Mikoto could do on her own.
She thought about the other girls who had come with her from Japan.
(There’s Kuroko and her teleportation and Uiharu-san and her information warfare.)
If she got help from Shirai who could freely move around while ignoring the three dimensional restrictions, she could sneak into the facilities while ignoring the walls, floors, and ceilings. That way, it would not be hard to slip through the blind spots in the security that was set up on the assumption that people would have to pass through the corridors.
And if she got help from Uiharu who worked in Judgment, her efficiency of searching for information over the network would go up. Also, she could just leave all the data investigation to Uiharu leaving herself to focus on the surroundings.
It would definitely be reassuring to have those two on her side, but…
(But if I asked that of them, I’d be getting them involved…)
That was the sticking point.
Mikoto wanted to avoid that if she could.
(So what do I do?)
Mikoto continued to think and did not take action.
She had tried her method of taking action on her own the night before and it had failed. The Ace of Tokiwadai Middle School was not so hasty as to repeat the same mistake twice.
It was a sanitary area.
The corridor Saten walked down looked more like it was from a giant spaceship in an SF movie than in a factory. She still had a lot of sand stuck to her, but she did not particularly care. She was too nervous to care.
Multiple other passageways travelled along the length and width of the area, but along one route, the walls and floor were dented and scraped. That flying fish had likely forced its way through there. Saten followed that path.
She had honestly not expected for things to go that well.
She had been thinking of turning back so as not to be noticed once she spotted an official or a guard, but once she went inside, there did not seem to be anyone there. Before she knew it, she had made it quite a ways from the entrance.
In places, she had to duck under “keep out” tape stretched across the path or push through black sheets blocking the path, but she continued along.
(Where am I…?)
At first she had been walking in an underground area, but she had gone up and down small flights of stairs again and again and was passing through a round duct with a radius of over 2 meters. She had long since lost track of how high up or low down she was.
(The interior seems a bit different here. Does this duct connect to a different building?)
All she could grasp was that she seemed to be walking in a large building on the surface that she had gotten to via an underground passageway.
Saten continued on.
She was determined to investigate Liberal Arts City’s mysteries, but she had not thought at all about what she intended to find. Her investigation was exceedingly risky because she had no idea where her goal was or what she had to find to be successful.
Suddenly, the path before her tapered off. It looked like she had come to a rectangular exit to the tunnel. Saten ran that way and her range of vision greatly opened up.
She was in the place she had come to with Mikoto the night before. It was the large hanger-like area with lots of broken flying fish lined up in it. She had not come in through the same entrance as before, but the area was measured in the kilometers. It would have been odd if there had only been a single entrance.
However, there was something different from the night before.
The hangar that had been wrapped in a sense of cleanliness was utterly destroyed. Multiple explosions must have occurred there. Black circles with 10 meter radiuses were burned in numerous places on the floor like dried flowers. The already broken flying fish had been turned to piles of ash and scraps. It looked like a giant broom had swept up all the trash.
It wasn’t just the stored flying fish that had been destroyed. The building itself had been warped. The metal floor had been ripped apart like torn stockings and about half the lights hanging from the ceiling had been shattered. The steel passageways running along above had also been broken in the explosions and one of them was hanging down near where Saten stood.
Saten did not know what reason they had, but Xochitl and her group had definitely been the ones that had done that.
Those flying fish had destroyed the city.
Thinking that made Saten’s chest feel tight, but she could not stop there.
She approached the scrapped flying fish tentatively because she was afraid of the broken steel passageways falling down on her.
Those were the crafts Xochitl and her group used.
Mikoto had attempted to investigate them the day before. Most likely, the ones the Laveze Squadron managed to shoot down were brought to that hangar. If the flying fish were a real enemy to Liberal Arts City, then their goal was simple. They wanted to investigate their enemy.
However, what was before Saten was truly just a pile of trash. It looked like the flying fish made of wood, cloth, and obsidian had been torn up by giant gears and their remains had been piled up there.
What had Xochitl and her group been trying to do?
Xochitl had spoken with her comrade before Saten’s eyes earlier that day, but that gave her no hint because she had not understood the language they used.
(Was their goal to destroy these flying fish…?)
Saten thought for a bit, but she then shook her head. That wasn’t it. Those flying fish were the ones that had been shot down by the Laveze Squadron. In other words, they were stolen in the middle of the fighting and therefore could not have been what had started the fighting.
There was a greater reason.
But could she figure out what that greater reason was just by searching there? She had a feeling the explosions she had seen earlier that day had occurred all across the city. That hangar may have just been one stop along the way and the main reason they were there was in a completely different facility.
(What do I do…? Do I investigate further in here or do I go elsewhere?)
Suddenly, Saten felt as if something was off.
It had to do with the wall.
The large explosions had dented the large metal wall like it was made of aluminum foil and there were thin cracks running through it in places. However, something was odd about it. Saten moved from the pile of the remnants of the flying fish and approached the thick wall. She brought her face closer and looked carefully.
She soon realized what seemed off.
That wall was a not a wall.
(This is…a door…)
Like in a factory for large passenger planes, one of the walls was made to slide open and closed. The scale had simply been so great that Saten had mistaken it for a wall that entire time. In fact, even if it could slide open, it may still have been correct to refer to it as a wall. After all, it was over a meter thick.
Of course, Saten could not move a door that gigantic on her own.
If she looked around, she might have been able to find a switch to open and close it, but someone would definitely notice if she activated such a large device.
However, the explosions in the hangar had been so great that they had warped the giant door in places. Saten ran alongside the door and finally found the midpoint between the two halves that slid in opposite directions. As she expected, a slight gap had opened between the two warped sections of the door.
The opening was only about a meter up and down and 10 centimeters left and right.
She could not fit her body through it.
Saten peered in through the gap.
On the other side was a reddish light. As expected, there was an even more mysterious place beyond that door. There were no large objects there. After about 100 meters was another gigantic sliding door-like wall. It seemed to be the kind of double door used in sterilization. The true space must have been beyond that other wall.
(C’mon…Just a little further and I could have figured this out!!)
Without thinking, she stuck her hands into the gap in the door, but that of course did not widen the gap.
And then Saten Ruiko saw it.
There was something in that area beyond the gap that was filled with a reddish light.
It was difficult to see because of the colored light, but there was a red label about the size of a banknote. She noticed the label on the floor near the gap, but when she looked around again, she noticed dozens if not hundreds of them plastered over the floor, the walls, and probably the ceiling, too. On that red label that was abnormally, neurotically, and excessively plastered everywhere was a short warning in English. Even Saten who knew no English beyond the middle school first year textbook level knew enough to see how strong a warning it was.
She did not know all of the specific words used, but what it said generally was: Contamination Warning. Off limits to all workers.
Saten Ruiko’s breathing stopped. She put her hands to her mouth and stepped unsteadily back from the gap. She suddenly had the worst possible idea as to why she had not run across a single official or guard and why there had been that “keep out” tape and those black sheets put up.
Saten felt like she had gotten a glimpse of what Xochitl and the others in the flying fish had been trying to destroy and what that thick door was supposed to be protecting.
(What is this…!?)
That was no longer a problem Saten could deal with alone. No, it had not been something she should have been doing alone from the beginning. Shirai Kuroko, a Level 4, and Misaka Mikoto, a Level 5, were back at the hotel. Uiharu Kazari was usually not too reliable, but she was a member of Judgment, the group that helped keep the peace in Japan’s Academy City. She needed to consult them. That threat made the explosions earlier that day seem like nothing. Fear of death accurately pierced into Saten’s chest.
However, Saten’s body would not move.
She had to get away from there as quickly as possible, but she could not move a single finger.
She felt some kind of pressure on her own back. Nothing was actually touching her and no wind had blown, but a vague presence or presentiment removed from her normal five senses pounded an intense sense of danger into Saten Ruiko’s heart.
“You should not have done that,” said a calm adult woman’s voice.
The words were as polite as the words of a receptionist at a large corporation and Saten thought her heart was going to stop when she heard them.
The woman continued from behind her.
“I believe I told you here yesterday that this could not end quietly…”
She had seen something she had not the night before.
Saten Ruiko had found something that Misaka Mikoto had not.
The woman’s words almost sounded sympathetic as she more or less said that Saten was going to be executed.
At that time, Saten Ruiko had no idea what expression was on her face.
She was unable to regulate her own heart as her head was grabbed by the giant invisible hand of fate that slowly, slowly turned her around.
What she found there was…